I was raised in a small church of faithful men and women who loved me well for my first two decades.
These people taught me about community before it was a buzzword.
From the time we were waist-high, my brother and I had to run the gauntlet of saints waiting to give us hugs as we filed into the aisle at the end of the service.
It was from them that I received my first ideas about God.
The God that we worshipped within those walls was not one who could be confined to three point sermons or required a jamming praise band to get people’s attention.
He jumped off the pages of the book of Acts and into the center of our services. I walked through those doors each week not knowing what God was going to do next.
This was no prosperity gospel or self-help sermon that was presented to me in my formative years. It was the Good News read straight from the Bible without any additions, deletions or apologies.
It was in that church that I learned John 3:16 and first heard “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”
I don’t think any of us expected that it would end the way it did.
Anyone who has been in church for any length of time knows that there is a dark side to it. Sometimes we forget that men of God are still made of flesh.
There came a time that the most Christlike thing they knew to do was to walk away in peace. Although their hearts were still hurting, they soon joined another body of believers.
All of that happened years ago, but I have been thinking about it a lot lately as I read about how my generation is leaving the church in droves.
A third of adults under 30 reported having no religious affiliation in a Pew Research poll in 2012, and most were not expending any energy looking for a religion that would be right for them.
“Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics,” the report stated.
It is not just atheists or agnostics who take such a negative view of the church.
One of the new trends in Christian publishing is the post-evangelical memoir.
The authors, usually members of the Millennial generation, are still in love with the Jesus that they learned about in Sunday School and youth group, but they have developed potentially irreconcilable differences with the church.
They are tired of superficial Sunday smiles and culture wars, rules instead of relationship.
They don’t want to be part of an institution that builds bigger buildings and establishes more programs but doesn’t do a thing for real people with real needs.
As they see it, the mainstream American version of Christianity is so far removed from the life that Jesus called his followers to that they question how much longer they can be a part of it in good conscience.
It takes courage to walk away from the familiar for a while and search for the Savior in the wilderness.
My first church family showed me that it also takes a deep reservoir of faith to keep showing up somewhere on Sunday and believing that God will meet you there.
Just as sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and get some perspective, some people are called to stay and continue doing the thankless but worthwhile work of the church.
Somebody has to be willing to bring about change from within an imperfect structure composed of imperfect people while also finding ways to be His hands and feet outside those walls.
Whether in the wilderness or in the pew, it is important to remember that our hope is not in a congregation, a denomination, a preacher or even in ourselves.
We are resurrection people.
The story of Easter is that God can make all things new, no matter how lifeless or broken. He makes everything beautiful in its time, including his bride.
Jennifer Cohron is the features writer at the Daily Mountain Eagle. She can be reached at (205) 221-2840 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org