I used to love church.
I was one of those kids who couldn’t wait to go to church every Sunday. If that sounds strange, maybe it is. I know a lot of people who hated church. People whose parents would drag them by their feet into service. And I understand. Not all churches are the same. Some are toxic environments disguised as sanctuaries. It truly sucks.
My first church was CEMC, Chinese Evangel Mission Church. For the first seventeen years of my life I called it home, and still do. My parents met there when they were teenagers, new to the faith. The generation before me created a space where I felt loved and accepted, a safe place for me to grow spiritually as a child. I made my first movies here. I made my childhood friends here. Most of all, I learned who God was and what He meant to everyone around me.
My second church was LCC, Life Covenant Church. As I grew up, so did my faith, and Life was the perfect catalyst. Here I encountered God’s tangible presence for the first time. I could list all the times I knelt on the floor sobbing, overcome by the Holy Spirit. If that sounds weird, it probably was. Yeah, we were a little charismatic. Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure to be studied. He was someone real and alive, and I discovered that being a young adult at Life.
Then I moved to California.
I visited several churches and liked a lot of them. They had good music. Engaging speakers. Friendly people. I tried serving at one of the churches for a few months.
Remember how I mentioned kids whose parents drag them by their feet into service? That was me in Los Angeles, except my parents weren’t here. My spiritual ghost would drag me to church, telling me I needed to go because church was important. But my heart wasn’t there. One Sunday, I drove half an hour to church, slept for the entire service, then drove straight home. It was getting ridiculous.
Was it the church’s fault for not being “right” for me? Well, I’m supposed to serve the church, not vice versa. Should it matter that I didn’t feel comfortable in the community?
I called my mom the other day. She asked if I was going to church. I told her no. I sometimes played a Francis Chan sermon on the TV and I went to bible studies on Thursdays, but that was it. I wanted something like my home church family, but was too lazy to invest in one. During our conversation, my mom pointed out that all the churches I had been to were megachurches, ranging from five hundred to thousands of people. Yet all my life I had never been part of a community larger than a hundred or two.
It suddenly hit me. I had a friend in Torrance who is a worship pastor. Why don’t I just attend his church?
I didn’t tell him I was coming. When worship started and he saw me in the crowd, he smiled. Mind you, there wasn’t more than a fifty people in the service. We started off with a praise movement song for the kids. Wow. I hadn’t done hand motions to a kid’s song in a while. It felt weirdly…freeing.
The pastor was great. I noticed how much he talked about supporting missionaries. It impressed me, considering the church wasn’t huge, how dedicated they were to missions. Like CEMC.
As we went to the closing worship songs, I felt an invisible glue drip over me, stiffening my movements. I realized I hadn’t been in a worship service in a while; at least, one where I felt comfortable in. One that was a simple band playing songs to God, not some EDM concert that felt designed to please the congregation instead of their Creator.
I often get this picture in my head whenever I’m in worship. I imagine the world around me dissolving into millions of tiny cards, flipping over, transforming my reality into a blank, white void. In that moment, all distractions fade away. I see Jesus, standing before me. Nothing exists except Him and me. And I worship.
My body loosened up. I raised my hands and sang.
I still love church. It helps my life, it really does. Something mystical happens there, not because a song had the right lyrics, or the pastor said something that related to my life. But it’s because I encounter the presence of God there.
And that changes everything.