Experience changes everything. You can talk about bungee jumping all you want. You can debate the philosophical nuances of strapping your leg to a rubber band and jumping off a bridge, but until you actually experience it, then all you are doing is talking. It's pretty much that way with everything in life and to me, there is nothing more annoying than somebody talking about something or criticizing something that they have never experienced.
Experience changes everything.
When it comes to God it's the same thing. I have experienced God, so you can't tell me he doesn't exist. I have heard his voice, so you can't convince me that he doesn't speak. I have even seen him do miraculous healings, so you simply cannot convince me that he no longer does those things because experience trumps debate every single time.
At SouthPoint Church (the church that I am honored to pastor) we have a value that we talk about pretty regularly: We create a safe-place for people to experience God.
'Experience' is the goal, the 'safe-place' is the environment. If we create the right environment then there are certain things that automatically happen in those environments, and those environments happen when the right elements are put in place. So what elements are needed in a church to produce a healthy environment to experience God? I have a very biased opinion on this topic and you may disagree with me, and that's okay, there's freedom here for you to be wrong.
Element One: Faith not Fear
For centuries the Evangelical church has used fear as the primary tool to get people to turn from their sin and to accept Christ. The fires of hell seem to be continually lapping at the toes of sinners and saints alike. Now I'm not saying that the flames of hell are a joke, but using fear as the motivating factor for life change and charred the church and the mindset of generations. Fear is only a temporary motivator that ellicets temporary behavioral modification. As soon as there is a little bit of space, the fear is lessened and the evils of our behavior surface again.
Romans 8:15 says, "...you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children."
A true life changing moment is when we realize that we are not supposed to be scared of God, but in love with him. That he did everything to pull us close not torment us with the continual threat of hell. Faith, a belief that changes everything.
Element Two: Opened not Walled
People come in to church and allow Christ into their lives, which is awesome, but then the lock him out of various areas of their souls. I think mostly because they just want bad relationships and hurtful things from their past to just evaporate. People have been taught or just maybe wished into thinking the idea that everything in God is glorious. That once you are saved you just ride from mountain top to mountain top and there is never a valley or a bad day.
God isn't that way. He doesn't ignore the scare tissue of our souls, he wants to bring deep healing to those areas. He loves us too much to leave us the way we are. He doesn't just want us happy, he wants us healed and whole and many times that takes difficult seasons of working those things out of us. We can't stay walled up and experience God.
Psalm 23:4 in the Passion Translation says, "Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!"
Element Three: Worship not Pride
Humility is not the opposite of pride. I know, your mom told you that it was, and even your 3rd grade teacher backed that up, but it's just not true. Let me explain it this way:
Lucifer started out as the worship leader in heaven. Due to his pride he fell from that lofty position. His pride negated his worship. The opposite of Pride is not humility but worship.
Pride says, "I got this!"
Worship says, "You have this."
Pride says, "Look at me!"
Worship says, "Look at him."
When we bring all three of these elements into the right environment we will have the joy of experiencing God's presence. He is not distant God. He is ever close and he wants us to experience his presence.