This is the church

steeple

Church. It seems like it was always a part of my vocabulary. I grew up in church. After learning about Jesus, I asked to be baptized at the age of nine in our Bible church. I sat in “big church” before I could walk and began taking sermon notes by the time I was seven. Being part of a church my entire life shaped me. There is no denying that fact. So, I preface all that I say here with the truth that goes deep down into my bones…I deeply love the church. I love the church as a body of people, not the building or a corporation. I love the church as Christ meant for it to be – people loving others and being united in telling the gospel story. I love it when the church is the hands and feet of Jesus and I love how God uses the church.

I know the idea of church doesn’t bring up warm feelings for everyone. Even saying the word can bring up baggage, myself included.

I get it. And now, I really get it. 

When you mix work with your place of worship it can be a tricky thing. It takes delicate balance to keep the inner workings, leadership issues, and behind the scenes “stuff” separate from worship and personal spiritual growth. When it gets out of balance, it can cause dissension and pain. I am sure there are many who have walked this path before who have more eloquent ways of putting words to the page, but I think God can use every voice and I earnestly pray that He will use mine.

I am uncomfortable at church. Whew. I said it. Even writing that was difficult. The church that has been our home for almost 9 years and our place of ministry for over 5 feels foreign to me. This is a new feeling. I have wrestled with my pain for many months, but it is as raw and fresh as the day it started. Satan wants us to feel like we are the only ones who are going through our trials and the only ones who feel hurt and rejected. So, we nurse our wounds and let the pain fester. Before we know it, we are reduced to walking wounded, bleeding internally from the bitter ache – a mere bump to our heart and we become oozing, open spiritual sores. I think I have been a walking ache for quite a long time now. I am bruised and badly beaten up.

During the wrestling, God reminded me of my own brokenness. It’s hard not to view the church with a golden, shiny capital “C” – as if it is somehow expected to be above reproach simply because it has a cross and maybe even a steeple. But it is not. The world is broken, so churches will be broken, too. This is what the cross is for. We are all broken pieces and together we become the church – every sinful, hurting, cracked, and wounded one of us. We will be wounded. It is a fact. But that is where forgiveness can change the story. (My head knew this, but my heart had forgotten.)

“But God, because of these hurts, I can’t even worship in my own church? What gives? It seems like none of it mattered.”

Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. It mattered,” He whispers.

I have heard Satan’s lies, but I choose to listen to the whispers of God’s truth.

I also choose to remember the stories.

For many years, I saw tear stained faces in the baptism line and heard story after story of how these amazing people found our church. There were so many that traced back to the “yes” we said to ministry years ago. I am positive God would have found someone else to carry out the work but I’m thankful that because my husband was there for that specific time using his gifts and ideas – something was created that gave thousands access to the gospel, including underground churches that are receiving the message of Jesus today.

I would make the choice to do what we did a million times. It wasn’t a choice for ministry, it was a choice for God. That wasn’t a question for me. We were being obedient to his leading in the coming and in the going. Being called out of ministry can be a decision that God blesses, even celebrates. With both decisions, God was clearly leading. Jesus always made it very clear that his church was never to be about a building, but it was to be about the Kingdom…His Kingdom that is not of this earth.

[We are still saying yes.]

This past year, I watched my husband give away many hours of his time to create a website free of charge for a non-profit organization who is helping orphans in Haiti. Recently, through his company, he gave away valuable work to a wonderful ministry who struggled with technology. Because of his help, thousands of Bibles will be able to be translated into different languages and sent around the world. Sacrificing time, resources and love in Jesus name… that sounds like the definition of ministry. It is beautiful and worth it so obviously Satan doesn’t like any of it. This is why he attacks us where we are most vulnerable – our hearts and our open wounds that make us prone to infection.

I’m not going to sugar coat this, I continue to wrestle. And that is ok.

The church is made up of believers who do the hard things, who thirst for righteousness, who love the broken and who are the broken. The church is God’s people who yearn for him in ways the world cannot understand. We are the used, the depressed, the hurting and the cast aside. We are the joyful, the seeking, the desperate and the souls who teeter daily along the beautiful line between vulnerable, questioning doubt and full blown, whole-hearted, dying devotion. We are the church.

Ryan and I were asked several years ago to lead pre-marital couples of our church in a small group mentoring program. We were humbled by the request alone. We have mentored several couples now and every time we do it, we learn and grow within our own marriage. One of my favorite parts of doing this is when the couples reach out and connect with us on a deeper level.

We have had couples call us at two in the morning —because marriage is hard and sometimes you just need someone to listen and cry with you.

(This is the church.)

We have had couples call long after the pre-marital classes ended to meet with us extra weekends –because they just needed more time to figure things out.

(This is the church.)

A few weeks before the wedding, a groom texted my husband and wanted to meet him for a beer and the bride wanted to meet me for dinner –because weddings are stressful and so is the baggage of past relationships. It is necessary to talk it out with people who are safe.

(This is the church.)

When I was minutes from surgery for a needed hysterectomy, still weeping that I was about to lose my fertility, a dear friend from church was the only one there by our side, praying peace and protection over us. I had a car accident this Spring while my husband was out of town on business and within 20 minutes of the accident occurring, this same friend was there making sure I was ok –because not having family in town is hard and leaning on our brothers and sisters in Christ can feel like everything.

(This is the church.)

My youngest daughter made the most important decision of her life this summer at Vacation Bible School at a local Baptist church. She said they explained salvation in a way that she understood. She prayed and said she felt new and “cleaned” after talking to Jesus. I know that decision was the result of many leaders, mentors, and volunteers teaching her about Jesus, praying truth over her and loving on her from the time she was a baby on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings at our church. The Kingdom is bigger –because someone gave their time, their resources, their love, their mornings and afternoons, weekend after weekend, and summer after summer.

(This is the church.)

After a spiritually emotional day, I texted two women who know my heart and my wounds. I was raw and real and broken as I expressed my frustrations and my pain. They listened without judgement and spoke truth to my soul, igniting new hope into my heart. I believe this is where the beauty of healing begins… “Where two or more are gathered in my name…”

(This is the church.)

A church doesn’t need a stage, a worship set list, production, podcasts, websites, or Roku channels. The church just needs Jesus. Through it all, I have been reminded at just how desperately we all do.

(Especially the church.)

If you are struggling because of hurt and it is keeping you away from the God you serve, the life you want to live, from even going into a church building… you are not alone. But don’t let it keep you from Jesus. He is the reason we gather, not the building or even the community. “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Categories: Spiritual Reflections