The only way I’d be more of a church girl is if my mom birthed me while she was teaching Sunday school. That didn’t happen, but it could have, I think. Most of my afternoons growing up were spent playing “school” in the churches where my dad preached, stealing left over communion grape juice, and getting my fill of the local gossip by reading the notes the high schoolers threw away after services.
When my dad left the ministry when I was sixteen, slowly church was no longer an obligation; it was a choice. And for five years, the choice to attend was not one I frequently made. At 21, a friend invited me to hers and after resisting time and time again, I caved. I felt a specific call on my life not to just be the church-going Christian I always was, but to pastor, to commit my life to ministry. At the age of 23, I started full time vocational church work. Going to church was now part of my job (and it wasn’t necessarily a bad part of it!)
Burnout and time, production meetings and countdown clocks, entitled members and abusive supervisors began to overcast the joy I found in ministry with a grey cloud of skepticism and bitterness. This cloud came and went; not every church I worked at was terrible. At 29 years old, I was ordained and sent out by that church to pursue God’s call on my life to pastor by writing and speaking.
So much life happened in the last four and a half years. I’ve spoken at nearly 100 churches that are not my own and I have loved each and every one of them. When Tim and I got married and lived in the Davenport area, it was surprisingly easy to engage with a small church plant. Tim knew the pastor for almost a decade. It was in the mall…by the Sears. There was no countdown clock and they gave so much money away and every week there was a prayer meeting. Other churches and ministries could use the space. People wandered in for counseling or to use a prayer room. Oh, and the coffee house next to it was a part of the umbrella ministry and you know coffee is just as important to me as doctrine.
It was not perfect but it was home for us for those nine months we lived in the Quad Cities. Now we are in Tennessee, complete with baggage from working at churches (and honestly, a tinge of resentfulness that creeps in from time to time), and with two different backgrounds (I consider myself a Baptipresbopalian who favors long liturgy and singing prayers and an altar for weekly eucharist; Tim is a non-denominational somewhat reformed guy who is spirit-led and hates the countdown clock as much as I do). Thankfully, we both desire a church that holds the Bible as its teaching, is crazy-intentional about prayerfulness and discipleship, that doesn’t want to be the biggest, baddest church but solely seeks to be the church God is calling them to be. We appreciate diversity, financial responsibility (holy cow, are we learning so many churches are millions of dollars in debt!), serving the local community, and being known.
Clearly, I realize that sounds like a “What Makes a Church Perfect in Our Book” list but it’s truly not. We’ve been praying for months to find this church, and wow, is it tough.
We live in a world of messaging, analyzing “What does this say?” to anything we hear – church related or not. When I get handed a bulletin printed on fancy paper and as the countdown video flashes sweet images and scriptures on LED screens and I see the church is $6 million in debt, what does that say? When I google “Small church, Franklin, TN” and the top result is a church that says “Come check out our new building!”, what does that say? When a church hands me a program on simple green paper printed from a copy machine and under debt, it says “zero,” what does that say? When a church website says, “We don’t get in your face and won’t impose on your life,” what does that say? When a church lets the homeless sleep in the church, and when a homeless man died on the steps of another church just miles away, what does that say?
As an introvert, this process is particularly difficult. I see the appeal of the large churches and am drawn to that, knowing I can sneak in and out and hide and nobody has to talk to me. That’s a temptation, but one I must fight. We went to a small, 60 person church yesterday and I literally wished I brought my anxiety medicine because I knew they knew we were new and would talk to us. Tim, who’s a bit more extroverted than I am, loved that people came up and said hi and were very warm and welcoming. I hid behind him like a toddler and darted out as soon as I could.
If it’s hard for me, a girl with a very active and intimate relationship with Jesus, who is an ordained minister, a girl who speaks at churches half of the Sundays out of the year, who grew up in the church and worked in churches for almost a decade to feel anxious visiting churches, how much more do those who are far from God or far from the church feel? How does a church welcome those who are extroverted and those who are shy? I appreciate the honesty of the churches who print their finances each week, but if a non-skeptic like me sees a big debt and has concerns, what would a skeptic think?
If you’re in this boat with us, trying to find a church home – not a perfect church – but one who shares important doctrinal values and a methodology consistent with the way God has wired you, you are not alone. Tim and I pray for us, and we also pray for you as you walk this journey. There is nothing Satan would rather do than to disconnect us from other believers, discourage us, and disappoint us so that we slowly walk away from serving and loving and being encouraged and taught and teaching. Stay on the course with us. And we will continue praying (and ask for your prayers, too.)