My heart was skipping beats as we made our way to my very first church.
The building was tiny, with every possibility for glam absent. Just a small sign with those plastic changeable letters out front, and a backyard play set squeezed in next to the fence.
The church that housed my faith as a little girl,
the church that felt like it was the only one that existed,
the church that seemed so big…
was the tiniest, wood sided building surrounded by power lines and gravel.
“Jesus wow – I wasn’t expecting this. What is it about this place that moves me to ugly crying?”
I also thanked Him that no-one was actually there, because they may have pulled me in for some counseling.
He very quietly reminded me where my belief began.
Isn’t it crazy how the years of consistency or inconsistency add up and become the launch pad for our faith journey?
I sobbed some more as I heard the choir belting out the Doxology that we sang every single week without fail…
Praise God from whom all blessings flow (and I heard my mom sitting next to me harmonizing),
Praise Him all creatures here below (and the lady who always held her notes a little longer than the rest of us),
Praise Him above ye heavenly host (and all the squirmy kids rustling Sunday School papers and climbing over pews),
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost (and I heard my Dad in his deep bass find the note for the A-men).
I was not expecting such a heart tugging welcome – from an empty church building.
My heart was guided week after week. They loved me and discipled me to Jesus using nothing fancy. Like nothing.
They were truth tellers,
simple-minded hard workers,
and passing on faith to the next generation. Me.
They did not have a resume of church ministry, they did not have a following, a big complicated strategy, any form of online presence, or a weekly podcast. They just lived life for the applause of God, for the eternity of souls.
And that is why this day ate me up. I stood there jaw on the dusty parking lot in disbelief.
This was the place where I was a lamb in the Christmas play.
The place where I recognized my sin and asked Jesus to save me forever by a presentation given on a curriculum called “flannel graph” – that is what I said yes too.
It was simple and impactful because Jesus himself calls people to repentance by His spirit right?
This was the place where I couldn’t see over the baptismal as I voiced my devotion to Jesus forever.
I showed up to this church multiple times a week because #duh… Awana Clubs, and Mom’s Jazzercise class, and choir practice where I learned the ways of Charity Church Mouse. I loved her (ask me to sing you her song).
We sang worship songs hand written on overhead transparencies (google that if you are in your 20’s). I know – the best. We also sang “Friends are Friends Forever” – there’s that.
Fast forward with me now 32 years later and I have been a Pastor’s wife for 16 of those years. Serving in churches sizing from 1000 to 3,500 (small in today’s large church setting) and in buildings that cost millions of dollars, with staffing through the roof, and resources like crazy.
They loved us and others so well – but it hit me standing there, that a big church does not equal big faith at all.
As I watched my life flash before me…I made the simple connection and saw why my heart went to pieces.
My small-town church had mega impact on my life. My Sunday School gals were faithful servants of God – who passed on faith – and cookie recipes to me.
It wasn’t the awesome worship, kids programming extraordinaire, or the cool reputation we had in the state. It also was not the committees of people with big opinions on how to run church.
Heaven help us. Why have we made such an obstacle course out of following Jesus. Wasn’t He simple and helpful and not much into confusion?
Just thinking out loud.
It was the hope of Christ living in them and stretched out before a little girl named Jenny, with enormous coke bottle glasses and huge beaver-like teeth that couldn’t decide if they needed braces – or not.
These people had no clue you guys…
- that my parents marriage would soon crumble,
- that I would develop a heart for full-time ministry to families,
- that I would marry a future Pastor who would shepherd and lead and offer hope,
- that I would be the mother to five children of my own,
- and they didn’t know how deep their impact would have on a now 41-year-old woman looking back.
It was not perfection and families came messy. Aren’t we all? That has for sure not changed an ounce.
To my small church building, I say thank you. Thank you for solidifying the truth in my heart that finances and hype and power do not ever equate to success in faith or favor with Jesus Christ. My early years are rich and you shaped them.
To the simple programming that was built on a together team who shined a bright example to parents in action and words and each other. You made your way into my home – thank you for drawing in my Mother who had a heart to serve and taught me the value in others and welcoming my Father as He met Jesus along the way.
To the actual people who gave away their Monday through Sunday, who brought those pot-luck dishes every week (bless you forever) and who consistently showed up year after year to teach me the way to real faith – thank you for being the church.
I may have not understood the depth of your belief then – but I do now, and I’m wrecked and humbled over it.