I realize her experience does not speak for all congregations, but it does speak for many. Performance and guilt so easily replace love and grace, even if they still talk about love and grace. This is from an email I got a few weeks ago:
I also would like to thank you for sharing your journey as your podcasts and books, especially Finding Church, have been such a relief for me. I have a somewhat amusing story to share about how Father led me to you. I had been unable to attend ‘church’ for a few years for health reasons and discovered that I grew closer to Father than ever before during that time away. When I recovered I spent years struggling with the “yuk” factor as I searched endlessly for a local church congregation.
It seemed every time I went to church it was as if a big wedge was driven between me and Father. I’d find myself automatically back in “performance mode” and hyper focused on all of my behaviors (not surprising as I have found in my personal adventures that most well-meaning sermons while mentioning the word “grace” go right into a lecture on sin, doing the devil’s dirty work for him, and missing the forest for the trees when it comes to the Cross). It felt like I had just spent years digging out of a grave to freedom only to have dirt shoveled back over me each time I entered a church building. (but) I still assumed God must want all of His children in a local church and spent years searching for a congregation and praying and waiting for God to choose the ‘right church’ for me and my family (all the while struggling with guilt, pressure and judgment from church goers).
Long story short, I finally was getting so weary and burned out and confused in this ‘church search’ that I felt at the end of my rope with the subject and let Father know it. I told Him wherever He told me to go I would go, even if I felt sick to my stomach the entire time…that the choice was entirely up to Him and I needed His answer fast. Well, it was then that He led me to realize that He hadn’t been ignoring my question the whole time but answering it. I started to realize that I had never been “out” of His church, and I was where He wanted me to be the entire time I was searching. I was so busy assuming what Father must want that I was blinded to any other possibility.
Soon He led me to your books and podcasts as further confirmation, and I was so relieved to find out I wasn’t all alone and that so many others had gone before me and experienced so many of the same challenges. I praise Him that I have FINALLLY ‘found church’, bringing me the peace I was so desperate to find, and for people like you who openly share their journey.