Pure participation doesn’t save souls

By Judy Brandon: Local columnist

Sometimes I think we get participation in church mixed up with real change in our hearts. Let me explain.

As a child, I participated all the time in church. I attended many two-week long vacation Bible schools that were days packed with crafts, cookies, grape Kool-Aid, games and Bible activities. Those my age remember the colored cards with scripture verses for that day. The first day’s verses started out fairly easily, but by the time we received the last card, the scriptures were a little more difficult. When we memorized all the scriptures on the cards, we received an award. Vacation Bible school was where I learned the books of the Bible in order, because dedicated teachers made it fun and exciting to learn.

Then there were the perfect attendance Sunday school pins. Sunday school was a fact of every week in our family — a constant that always occupied our Sunday mornings before church. While living in Kansas City, I received two perfect attendance pins. For every Sunday, I got a gold star in my class for attendance. Then three months of gold stars, or a whole quarter of perfect attendance, was rewarded with a ribbon. When I had four ribbons for perfect attendance during those quarters, I was presented with a perfect attendance Sunday school pin. How proud I was of those pins. I would even wear them to school.

Bible drills, or sword drills as we called them, were another big thing. These were events to see how fast we could locate scripture. Competition among the children was strong to see who took first place and then they went on to compete in the association.

It was my participation in primary and junior choirs where I learned choruses like “Deep and Wide” and “Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain,” and both these choruses were enhanced with matching hand and arm movements. What a scene that was.

Church camp always made an impression on me as well. Something about church services in the mountains at night under an open air tabernacle stirred the very feelings surrounding my deepest spiritual thoughts. I was amazed as missionaries talked missionary from Nigeria for her autograph.

My church participation was strong and consistent because my daddy was the pastor and I enjoyed church very much. My church experiences are the core of my childhood and growing up years.

But does something have to go along with participation? Consider Judas. He had the advantage of being with Jesus in the flesh day in and day out. He really participated. He witnessed Jesus perform miracles. He saw the feeding of 5,000; he saw Jesus walk on water; he witnessed Jesus healing the sick and raising the dead. Judas was an eyewitness and got to be a part of what the Old Testament characters hoped for. He participated in the group with 11 others who knew Jesus. But with all that benefit of being an eyewitness, Judas never changed on the inside where it really made the difference. He participated but missed Jesus.

I have participated in church many times over my lifetime. But it is important to realize that just participating doesn’t bring change. I know that because one Sunday night during all that participation, I accepted Jesus as my Savior and nothing has been the same for me since. Change on the inside comes only when one encounters and receives Christ. I know it is true because it happened to me.

Judy Brandon is a Clovis resident. Contact her at: