The Day the Church People Came Undone: On Loving and Leaving My Church
A friend of mine recently told me about a pastor friend of his. This pastor led a small town church of about 100 people. They weren’t a wealthy community, just your average small town country church. One of their members was confined to a wheelchair. So, the pastor and his congregation decided to raise a bunch of money and convert a section of the church into an elevator. My friend commented – “Wow, you did all of that work and spent all of that money for one person? That’s amazing!” The pastor replied “Well no, we did it for the other 99 of us.” We need each other. We really do. This community understood that.
If there’s one thing that my parents taught me about church, it’s that loyalty is everything. I’m a writer, so I suppose I speak in hyperbole... so, almost everything. They’ve seen their fair share of up and down seasons being on “church staff”. Anyone who has ever worked with the church has. This has nothing to do with the church they attend. That place, my childhood home church, is amazingly generous, sincerely loving, and warmly welcoming. Truth is spoken, talent is abundant, and hearts are genuine. The changing of seasons has to do with the fact that the church is made up of humans.
I think their loyalty to that community tells their friends and family a lot about who they are, who they have been, and who they will be. It speaks of Jesus… of His commitment… of His faithfulness.
I think it’s a valuable lesson as we live in a very “church-hoppy” society. It’s a condition of the greater mentality. If it doesn’t “work” for me, if it doesn’t make me happy, if someone upset me, hey, there’s a church on every corner. (At least there is in the Midwest.) Or, as Miranda Lambert says it in her new hit, “Automatic”, “staying married [is] the only way to work your problems out.”
Time for the caveat for those that are helplessly broken or just peeved at me now: Yes, there are times to leave the church. Yes, abuse happens. God forbid. Yes, sometimes people stop preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. God forbid. Beyond that, perhaps we should question some of our other reasoning.
“I was fighting with so and so. I’m DONE here.”
“I don’t like the music. I’m DONE here.”
“I don’t agree with the pastor on this issue. I’m DONE here.”
With as many opinions/convictions/panties-in-a-wad-type-stuff that we have, we might as well all have our own church.
Perhaps this is especially why the last month at church has absolutely blown my mind. It’s been on the heels of many people leaving. (This is no secret by the way.) And revival has come.
People have come UNDONE.
About a month ago, I wept at what I witnessed. Not just during the service, I wept for 2 weeks and still do when I write about it. Our church, in my opinion, does the hard work it should when it comes to justice issues, serving in broken places, encouraging discipleship, and creating all things artistic. That particular week, our senior pastor put it all on the line and reminded our congregation of who calls us to this, Jesus himself. He drew the line in the sand regarding salvation. It felt less non-denominational, and more old-school-Baptist. I come from a long line of Orthodox-Catholic-Baptist-Methodist-Church of God lineage. I’m a church mutt and am familiar with this type of round up… Where will we spend eternity?
After a message of asking this and other very pointed questions, he sat on a chair placed on the stage and took his shoes and socks off. Lots of the other
minions church staff came out from the woodwork and opened up the floor where the baptismal was ready to go.
The water was warm. There were clothes waiting backstage for anyone who would come forward. There were pastors ready to get in the tank. Everything was set for anyone wanting to make a decision. The staff had no idea if anyone would come.
They came. One after the other. A steady stream for four. straight. services in a row. Older couples being baptized together. Teenagers. Children. Mothers and fathers with their on looking kids.
At one point, our sweet little 7-yr old family friend ran to the tank. Her daddy was leading worship. He saw her and started taking off his gear. And his shoes. And he got in the tank. UNDONE.
Over 325 people were spontaneously baptized. And I witnessed it with my own eyes. I came UNDONE.
What struck me more than anything though was one particular “type” of baptizee. Living in what is known (at least within the last few years) as the seventh wealthiest county in all of the US, there are many churchgoing women who look and seem like, well, they live in the seventh wealthiest county in the US. Nails – DONE. Hair – DONE. Makeup – DONE.
So when the church ran out of clothes in which people could change and these women walked the aisle to the tank anyways, going unabashedly into the water and coming up with flat hair and streaming mascara, I found it to be the most powerful vision in all of the experience. They came completely UNDONE for Jesus. Expensive clothes hung wilted as they rose out of the water – completely saturated in the loving new robe of a rebirth. UNDONE.
I’m thankful that any little tiff or rift that I’ve experience with a fellow human that happened to be in my church community did not cause a gap that caused me to leave before getting a glimpse of this beautiful promised land. Praise God from whom all blessing flow. Praise Him for this revival.
“I see a near revival stirring as we pray and seek. We’re on our knees. We’re on our knees. Hosanna!” ~ Brooke Fraser Ligertwood (Hillsong)