I have a church.
It hit me yesterday as I looked around that darkened room full of people - 'this is my church'.
After being so hurt by the ex-church, I was slow to embrace a church. Very slow. I was ready to denounce the entity of "church" and just worship in my home with my family and other like-minded ex-patriots. I was disillusioned. Wary. Skeptical. Angry.
I wanted to avoid the body of Christ as I've experienced it - self-centered, proud, pretentious and bloated with "truth." Judgemental, showing favoritism, setting rigid parameters on God's work... blegh!
I hesitate to write some of these things because I don't want to hurt those who participated with me during that time - some of whom are still a part of that body. I don't want to discount the years of pleasant service together, but I also want to be real about the things I observed in my heart after years of believing I was "where it's at" in terms of church. Truth is - I was enmeshed in an organization where my heart was constantly focused on climbing the ladder and believing our "brand of truth" was predominant. More worthy of God's blessing... how it hurt to recognize this sin in my heart - this wrong thinking...
That conceit came crashing down around me when it came time to confront sin. Asia and I were placed in an extremely awkward position of knowing too much and having to bear a heavy burden of exposing truth to people who didn't want to hear it. We were ostracized for taking a stand. When we left - not one person called to check in with us. Ministry leaders we had served with for years ignored our departure. It hurt. It.still.hurts. A lot. But I can see God's hand in all of it.
I do not mean to discount the ministry of the ex-church. I believe God is bigger than all the crap that happened there. And I know there are genuine, godly men and women there who desire to love others like Jesus did. It's just not the place for us anymore. It never will be. God used the circumstances of the last year to turn our hearts toward a different kind of ministry - a different kind of body - a different kind of church.
Our new church amazes me every week. So far, in what we've seen, it's not at all about self-growth. It is, however, about maturity and Christ-likeness. Loving. Serving. Being out in the community and out in the world showing Love to a dying world. Being real. Honest. Vulnerable. Meek. Humble. Sitting with homeless teenagers on street corners and loving orphans in Sierra Leone. No pretense. No politics. Jeans and t-shirt christians trying their darndest to love others sincerely and sacrificially... Of course, it's still a church full of sinners - and I'm sure crap happens there too. But we feel like at least there would be a level of honesty and vulnerability that we didn't experience before. And it's just what we need to see and experience.
The kids love it. This will be the first Christmas we've gone to a church small enough that they can participate in a good ol' fashioned Christmas play... I can't wait to see them up there on the stage. They're so excited. And making friends. And thriving.
The lack of over-programming is also exactly what we need. While there are opportunities for service, they are nothing like the kind of commitments we've sold out to in the past. Our evenings are free. Blissfully free.
The door to my heart is opening slowly to this body. I'm nervous about exposing my wounds to them, for fear that their response will disappoint me. Or that someone will come along and jab me when I'm down. Or I'll reveal too much too soon and everyone will run. But I think I'd rather take the risk and be real than sit in my chair pretending. I've done enough pretending.
Of course, as Rob, the pastor said yesterday, human companions are all going to disappoint. No church is ever going to be perfect. In all our relationships with people, we must recognize that they are tainted by sin. Even the most satisfying human friendships are marred by distance or death eventually... only my relationship with God will satisfy the longings of my heart... no church can ever do that. I recognize that in ways I only gave lip-service to before this journey.
So, here's how God has grown my heart in all of this... I've learned to take personal responsibility for my faith. To seek Jesus with boldness and humility in the absence of a church body to fall back on. I've seen the beauty of saying no to programs that pull my heart away from Jesus. I'm beginning to understand how much Jesus just wants me to love people. He doesn't want my voice, or my organizational skills or my leadership ability - he wants my heart - open and ready to shine on anyone and everyone I meet. Without judgement. Without hypocrisy. Without fear.
I can't wait to see where this new perspective takes us. We are challenged by Rob's teaching and thinking outside the box more than ever. Who knows what God has in store?
I can say now that I am thankful for this past year. Thankful for the pain and the growth and the stretching my heart has been forced to do. I appreciate my husband who boldly stood on his convictions and was unwilling to compromise for the sake of comfort. I love my friends who have walked through this scattering with me. I love seeing Jesus in a new light - as One who is holding my hand and who never leaves my side. Who just wants me to stay in His presence...
I have a church.
I go to New Community Church.