Monday, February 26, 2007

Letters to My Non-Churchgoing Friends (#5: "I'm Not Good Enough")

Dear Friend:
I want to discuss another reason that people sometimes give for not being involved with a church.

During my seminary internship, I met one of the most exasperating people I've ever met. Mary, not her real name, was a resident at a nursing home which my internship supervising pastor and I visited monthly. Mary had all her mental and physical faculties. But she had moved to the nursing home to be near a nephew and a niece, her only living relatives. Mary was a sweet person. But what made her exasperating was her complete refusal to believe that God might want to have anything to do with her.

When the supervising pastor and I visited the nursing home, we invited all the residents to join us for a simple worship celebration in which they could sing a hymn, hear a reading from Scripture, and receive Holy Communion. Mary came to these services. She sang the hymns from memory and could recite the Bible passages we read. But whenever we offered Holy Communion, Mary refused. "I'm not good enough," she told us.

I've heard Mary's statement in many forms, not just as a reason for refusing Holy Communion, but also for not being part of a church altogether. "No church would want me," they say. "I'm not a good enough person."

There's nothing wrong with feeling guilt for our actions. Failing to acknowledge our sins erects walls between God and us, between our neighbors and us. That's unhealthy. Guilt can be a trigger for us to admit the ways in which we've hurt God and other people and to seek reconciliation. That's healthy.

But Mary's problem wasn't guilt. And guilt isn't the issue of those who claim that they're not good enough to be part of a church. In both instances, the real issue is shame. There is a difference.

Guilt is regret over things we've done. Shame is regret for who we are. Guilt can lead to a proactive commitment to positive change. Shame leads to psychological powerlessness, a belief that we're worthless. When God showed up on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, He spent time with and forgave all sorts of notorious sinners. You can never be too sinful to begin or renew a relationship with Him or be part of His family, the church.

The Bible says that we are made in "the image of God." In part, that phrase means that in spite of the effects of sin on our characters and actions, God has imparted something of His life and identity to us. To be human is to be something very special in the eyes of God, whatever our faults.

"If I ever came to your church," a man once told me, "the roof would fall in." "I tell you what," I told him. "I'll wear a hard hat and we'll see what happens."

If the roof doesn't fall in when I go to worship, it won't do it when anybody else shows up. The Bible says that, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." So the church is the place--more exactly, the church is the fellowship of people--where we're reminded both of our need of forgiveness and of our access to it through Jesus Christ.

The question isn't whether you're good enough for God. None of us is, yet God wants us anyway!

The real question is whether we're honest enough to admit our need of God and open enough to let Him forgive us and be the most important Person in our lives.


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