To Build a Generation of Church Builders and Christ Followers that are Meant to Last

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.

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3 Replies to “To Build a Generation of Church Builders and Christ Followers that are Meant to Last”

  1. Thanks for sharing Kelly. I’m still as hurt as you sound too. Reading this brought tears to my eyes, because I can feel it. And going back to RHE’s article about failures in churches, I think it was the lack of admission from the church that hurt the most. Not that I think our ministry failed, I think the church failed us in the aftermath. And there was no humility about that, no understanding, no compassion for us who were left without a home. It was 1, 2, 3, you’re done, come back, get over it.

    Well I haven’t. And I’m so glad you found a new church home, because it sounds wonderful and perfect for you. It’s nice to hear how welcomed and included and fed you’ve felt there. But I couldn’t even move on. And the hard part of that is, the church still doesn’t seem to care about that. I guess I they figured I wasn’t built to last.

  2. *hugs*

    You are right they did fail us. I know that folks have said we can’t imagine what God has planned for us. It was all a part of his purpose. I know prayer did go into it, but it doesn’t remove the heartache. I know that is true, but it doesn’t remove the sting that Netcong never really thought about Rockaway, not in the event planning or in supporting it. I just felt like the main campus didn’t invest the time it needed. We should have become our own church. Also, numbers in a church don’t matter if the spiritual maturity is lacking. I like Pastor Jim emphasizing that. Our tiny family knew how to care for each other.

    I’m so sorry they haven’t rallied next to you and wanted to support you emotionally through this. It is difficult to move on. We each process grief differently. I think you haven’t moved on partly because you just want someone from the administration to validate that these feelings of rejection, dejection, and confusion are legitimate. It seems they haven’t. Yet know that your feelings are legitimate. You were deeply invested in youth ministry and then your role was almost being cut out. It was like them saying “thanks we know you did a lot but we don’t require your services anymore.” That’s okay in the business world, not in a church…at least in my opinion. That’s one reason I moved to Calvary. Pastor Jim validated my frustrations and hurts and he wasn’t even a part of it!

    I know that whatever ministry you do become involved in, be it a traditional church or not, you will be a strong force in sharing the gospel in a compassionate and loving manner. It’s a process though and you will move forward when you are ready. Sometimes the grieving process can take a few years. I’m here to console and grieve with you for however long you need me to.

    I, myself, am trying to bring the rage and bitterness before God because that’s where I feel I’m sinning. I can be upset, but not when I speak out against people from Grace. I feel like I might have done that here, especially in calling some followers shallow. It’s not right of me. I should never judge others, but I know that my hurt is contributing to that. So I know they failed me, but I can’t fail them by bad mouthing Grace….I’ve done that a bit here. That’s where I am in the grieving process…I’ve still got a long way to go apparently before I’m healed. I thought I was done, but I’m clearly not.

    Your hospitality definitely draws people towards Christ. He will use that. I know you are built to last, maybe not at Grace—I certainly wasn’t (the only reason I even went there (or at least it’s how I feel sometimes) was because it was Frank’s church, it never really felt like mine). I have invaluable friendships from there, but my vision and theirs diverged. I know that they do great ministry for some and have led many to Christ, but I wasn’t growing. Maybe God was showing me that by dissolving something dear to my heart, I could be freed to allow the Spirit to saturate the beats of my life.

    You are loved sister and I hurt knowing that you haven’t found a place of community refuge yet. I continue to pray for healing and that you will find a niche at some point. In the mean time, let’s get together and hang out. Frank and I love both you and Chad. We want to walk this road with you, even when it feels others don’t. Let us know when you are available. We would love to have you over for a night filled with Bible study, games, and food . It looks like Aug. 2nd (as far as I’m aware) is good for us. Again, we are here for you in whatever capacity you need us to be as we all grieve this loss.

    1. Thanks Kelly! You and Frank have become such good friends and important people in our lives. It’s easy for me to see all the good that came out of Rockaway, because a lot of those relationships are still just as strong as if we were still a community who saw each other once a week. And you’re right, I’ve had a lot of trouble healing because I don’t feel like my feelings were ever acknowledged by the church leadership. And that’s hard, because I doubt that will ever happen. I actually fear for other people who go to Grace, because this could easily happen again if they aren’t going to admit the mistakes and try to learn from them. It’s hard to be wronged by your church, and I hope no one else has to go through it. It does sound like you’re still healing too, so keep bringing it before God.

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