After reading this: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/fail-jr-briggs , I thought of something that happened almost a year ago. I hope I’m not writing it out of bitterness, but I know most of it probably is. Please know that it was extremely personal and why the emotion is so raw. It is not meant to be discrediting that institution. It is a good place for some. It wasn’t anymore for me.
A family is more than the nuclear mom, dad, 2 kids (boy and girl), and pet model that has infiltrated society. Family is more about the people you live life with. The church should be a safe haven where you feel free to discuss your hurts, disappointments, celebrations, and excitements. I’ve generally had healthy church experiences. I want the same for my children. However, I want them to know that Christ always comes first. Sometimes leaving a church might be necessary for spiritual maturity.
Roughly 8 months ago, my tight knit family of 30 was torn apart. Some weren’t phased by this separation, others were honest enough to express the anger, the hurt, the frustration. All but one elder seemed distant and removed from this collapse. I guess that’s why it hurt when we, the ones who comprised that family, weren’t consulted by the church “government”.
If I’m truly honest, and forgive me for rash/cruel statements that might follow, the larger “home base” bought into one of Satan’s biggest lies. The main campus bought that numbers meant success. In digesting this lie, they neglected the family “rejects”. Our family of 30 didn’t fit into the bigger church because we felt like grazing cattle being pigeon holed to certain Bible study demographics. This tiny family broke through the mindset that a 20 year old can only meet with another 20 year old, seniors will only get along with seniors, and that children’s ministries fit the needs of all its members. We were a group of individuals building a church facility each week. We knew our family’s ups and downs. When we were told to join the larger “family” again, it is no wonder we felt lost.
I felt like I had just been used by the bigger church. They used me for 2.5 years to try and increase statistics. When I “failed”, I was tossed aside with the fabricated twist that I was meant to be grafted back into the 1000+ body of mindless, roaming believers. When I didn’t bring new folks or produce some of my own, the main church shut me, plus my family of roughly 30 people, down.
Sidebar: Not everyone in that 1000+ body is mindless or roaming but so many of them don’t seem mature in Christ. Most of those 1000+ though have spotty attendance and the spiritual depth of a sprinkle’s puddle. The same folks leading that church or are ministry volunteers within it are the same ones going to the Bible studies.
I was tired of being amongst people who think church is just about hanging out and getting a “good work” checked off, not sharing in the trials and treasures of life with other believers. That’s why I left the main campus and joined the small group. I know I fought God every step of the way until the doors were opened, but I was shown what true vulnerability in a church body looks like by joining the satellite effort.
Now I’m not perfect and please don’t take these statements to mean that I’m thinking myself superior. I just loved my 30+ family because it didn’t feel like a vacant building filled with even emptier souls. (Wow, I do sound really judgmental. I’m so sorry, I don’t want to.) It’s just that this small church lived in the “gritty” life and I was growing. In the bigger church I didn’t feel like I was feasting on spiritual nourishment. My head knowledge and heart’s desire weren’t fulfilled. I was hungry. Hungry for a place where I didn’t feel like my usefulness was to produce children or visitors, to show the world that I had created a generation built to last.
So it was really hard when the main campus, who always seemed to forget about us to begin with (thank you Jeremy Camp concert), decided to close our doors and disperse our family between 4 services. (Yeah…when a satellite didn’t work they started to implement a 4th service before closing us down. Imagine how it felt when they announced this launch and then suggested it as the service we might fit into. Yeah, the service they designed to replace their “failed” idea.)
I know some say that it was God’s intent that the satellite not continue. These individuals said we’d be used for God’s purpose. I am, just not there. I’m told we are missed, but they didn’t grieve this church loss with me. They just pretended we’d never left to be part of a different vision.
That’s why I was so relieved when my new pastor said this wasn’t easy. His eyes welled up with tears as he imagined the hurt of a barred church. I’m grateful that he expressed concern and compassion when my “family” wouldn’t. That’s one of the reasons we switched…that, the fact that I didn’t feel useful on that mount without kids, and “free” breakfast at this new joint, where prisoners learn how to truly be set free—in Christ, not statistics. My new church is about fellowship, sharing meals, prayer, hurt, and joy together. It isn’t perfect either, but it meets me where I’m at. It doesn’t make me feel like I am not productive because I haven’t birthed a child (my pastor also sent me a hand-written condolence note when people I’d known for longer nodded and said just to keep trying). It hasn’t cast me into the sea of brainless attender. In fact, they challenged me to serve. They asked me to join this family. I became adopted when my in-law church wouldn’t do so(it was Frank’s church for 28 years and I never fully felt like I was welcomed).
My Pastor says that he’ll preach it empty so God can preach it full. Pastor says we aren’t meant to see seats filled, we are meant to see lives filled with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. He asks me to be a true Christian, not for my children, my spouse, or my church, but because it is the only way I’ll get to heaven and the only way I’ll really last.