Sunday, June 9, 2013

How We Picked Our Church

 Photo taken at a different church in our neighborhood. Love their sign. So much.

 Our vision is a neighborhood transformed by Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ.
-St. Mark's United Methodist Church, mission statement

We knew they were planning to pray for him today, but I had no idea what that might mean. Either way, I was grateful. I had no expectations and I've managed to chip away most of the tired, bent-up ideas about what makes a prayer noteworthy, the ones pressed into my conscience like clay in a mold.

I know now that God hears every prayer. He's not standing with a triage clipboard, funneling the loud and fancy prayers through a special, taller gate, making the meek ones, the fumbling ones, the memorized ones wait in line.

Still, I wasn't expecting our pastor to call the whole church up. For some reason, it surprised me when he told them to come, every one, and lay hands on Cory and I. I know by now that Pastor's words beg Jesus. They drip with the quiet power of the holy spirit. They're quiet and certain, well-thought and channeled straight from his heart. But asking the entire body to surround us? Huh. I sort of loved it.

So they came with canes, on unsteady knees. They rolled oxygen tanks on little wheels. They came in ties and in blue jeans. They came as sinners, saved only by grace, and they touched my back, their love burning straight through my jacket.

Every week we sit in wonder at the church God gave us. We lean forward to listen, we keep trying to learn names. We belong already because they made us their own and we took that gift and knew we would hold it.

The number of churches I've attended over the years crosses my right hand and ends somewhere on my left. These churches have grown me up in big ways and small ones. They have shown me Christ in different ways and have loved me well. But I was taught as a girl that I should go where I was "fed". There's a root of truth in that, but it may not go as deeply as I once thought.

My obligation is to find a church, one whose heart beats the Gospel, one that stands in reverence of the words of Christ. These things are not optional. But to us, most everything else is, and our priorities have shifted.

We're not interested in a tricked-out church.

We've grown bone weary of searching for the place that would fill us, shape us, form us, entertain us, train our children, give us a wide social network, provide us with options, cater to our fickle hearts and greedy souls.

Church wasn't tasked with any of that.

We used to be allergic to the different shades of theology, the different political leanings. We got hung up on nuances about communion and Sunday School. A pastor's wife who had chosen to keep her maiden name would have set off every alarm.

We didn't know that those differences would end up spinning us toward each other and that building a community with odd-shaped stones (among which we are surely the oddest) would feel like a fortress, albeit a small one.

We came to this church because God spoke to us about blooming where He planted us - finding a body of believers on our street, so when we invite our neighbors, it's easier for them to say yes. In our obedience to that, we were not guaranteed a single other thing. We didn't know if there would be a kids program or if our short people would like it. We didn't know if the service time would fall on our desired hour or what type of songs they would sing when we got there.

We found what we needed and we found what we didn't even know we needed. We found a church who seems to understand, on an individual and corporate level, its humanity - that in-born knack for screwing things up and getting things wrong. That is an attitude that invites a reliance on Christ.

We found a small group of people, mostly old and entirely unassuming, that doesn't try to stack the deck so people will come to them. They meet together, sing on-and-off-key, hobble up front for prayer, kneel for communion, eat pizza and pie. They do all of those things because they know in their brokenness that they need more of Jesus and that they find Him together. They do all of those things fueled by a singular belief - that they were called to go out - and those are the things that set their hearts right for the going. They are the hands and feet and arms and backs of Jesus. They are humbled sinners and failing humans. Their eyes are fixed on the eyes all around them. This is a church that knows and embraces its mission field. This is a people who finds mutuality in shared brokenness.

There's little pomp and circumstance, other than the felt banners switched out weekly and homemade cookies before service. There's a fritz-prone sound system and a pastor in Teva sandals. There are 2 rows of choir robes, led enthusiastically by the clerk from the auto parts store. The services are short and planned well in advance, two things I was taught as a child signaled discord with the Holy Spirit. There are strands of liturgy woven through the services and I find that I'm falling in love. In Red Letter Revolution, Tony Campolo says, "Members of churches that have high levels of liturgy often have high levels of loyalty to their churches." While loyalty to a particular church is not our goal, I'm starting to understand the truth in his words. Our hearts are becoming bound with the hearts around us in common thought, prayer, and belief. Some may find the Spirit lacking in the rote, but we find just the opposite. We find a meditative opportunity to trust in words we know by heart, words echoed from the lips in the next pew and the one behind.

There's a distinct rhythm to our Sundays, and I walk home wanting more. So God takes a wrecking-ball to all my smart assumptions about church and denomination. He reminds me again, so graciously, of my immaturity and my bent toward knowing it all.

All I know is that no person in the pew, no pastor in the pulpit is perfect. No church is perfect. It's okay to lead with that.

It all shakes straight down the line. It makes perfect sense that in this season where we're learning the full radiance of less, our hearts would find their home at the tiny church on the corner, devoid of all pretense, offering the only thing we need. 


  1. What a beautiful story of the church at work. Such a good reminder that the Gospel and love are what we need. The other things we deem important for our churches are so trivial in light of those things.

  2. This is absolutely beautiful. YES!! My husband and I are pastoring and raising our young girls in a small, mostly senior congregation in a community on the border of rural/suburban life. It has broken our hearts to see so many families walk away from our church in the past five years to attend the big city churches "that have it all." We stay because we have found the lovely beyond measure things you write so well in the above. I want my children to grow up and appreciate that authenticity is worth more than most things in this life, and in this faith. Thank you so much for these lovely words:)

  3. the full radiance of less.

    love seeing how jesus is filling y'all up.

  4. yes, this. simplicity. and joy in that simplicity. He dwells there.

  5. Lovely....just lovely. I really enjoy hearing your heart...

  6. Shared this all over the place. Keep speaking truth, sister. We need to hear it.

  7. Beautiful words about being in a church that is right for you. I am blessed too, in finding a church that resonates with the spirit of Jesus.

  8. a loud and resounding YES -- amen and amen!

  9. I read this tonight and my spirit just shouted a hearty YES! Great words and good reminder about what "church" is really supposed to be about.

  10. What a beautiful thing you have been taught and have learned. I can picture this morning in my mind's eye and it blesses me!!! Btw....the article in the paper was great! GO GOD!

  11. I am so happy I was led to this post tonight. I appreciate the message.

  12. I have the same experience every time I read one of your posts. I hear my heart shout yes! And, then I realize the post is almost over and I wish it wasn't. I end thinking, man I hope there is another post tomorrow because somehow she captures how my heart beats within her words.

  13. This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing your heart. :)

  14. i LOVE this
    with all my brokenness and NOT knowing it all
    with all the things that have happened to my family from the pulpit itself
    and allowed to happen in two other churches...i STILL hold tight to my abba
    who can restore more than a decade a family completely shattered and there
    are days i wonder if i will ever see it this side of heaven. i mourn and get really sad sometimes for what was lost and then He sweetly reminds me He's got this..He has me and them
    and His love and forgiveness are endless and He is not human like me and loves even them...even me
    i still have a deep deep love for God's church. not the kind wrapped in brick and wood but the living breathing brokeness i see walking each and everyday. i know there will be a time to tell my story. it is mind blowing that things can and do happen in churches. in the name of christianity. but by grace i choose to still love and still share my story when needful. for there is alarms to sound...when God says speak even when no one likes jeremiah.
    but to balance it all with love and that is the kicker. that is a God thing.
    i pray to find a body outside of my blog body..that i can connect with. not necessarily in a "church" just a warm body who loves Jesus and the bible and people and seeks to be real authentic and take care of each other and matter what with no strings.
    loved your post sweet girl....xo

  15. while i attend a 'big' church, we actually hold services out of an elementary school. why? so that we can spend more money on our outreach ministering to the broken and homeless teens, etc. so while pews may be comfier, and while we don't know everyone by name because there are so many of us, i am proud that we have our hearts in the right place.

    1. Hey friend. Please don't hear what I'm not saying. Big churches aren't bad! But small ones aren't, either. You're so right, it's all about the heart. Thanks for sharing.

  16. You always seem to speak right into my heart. Our family hasn't commited to a church so many times because of so many of these excuses. It really hit me when you said "finding a body of believers on our street, so when we invite our neighbors, it's easier for them to say yes"
    How true you are! How did I never think of this?
    Thank you.

  17. I'm so thankful for your writing...I feel as though my own family is maybe a few steps behind where your family has gone. I appreciate your honesty, and I'm so encouraged by your story.

  18. I don't really feel like we're "ahead" of anyone, but I understand what you're saying. If it weren't for the inspiration of others, we wouldn't keep moving and pressing forward, either! Now I'm gonna quote Shane Claiborne from the book I linked up in the post. It fits. :)

    "So I think that's where community is really clutch - because it keeps daring us to move further than we already have. We look toward folks who are a little further along, and they take us with them."

    To that I say: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Thank you for sharing this. My church has gone through some rough waters the last couple of years and this reminded me of the people's hearts towards the Lord.

  20. I have been eagerly waiting for this post. We are still searching. Found a church we liked but it was 20 minutes down the highway and not in our community. I read the Irresistable Revolution and have been persuaded that community is key. So although the church we end up at may still be singing "The name of the Lord is a strong tower..." as long as Christ is preached and salvation by faith alone and helping the least of these is practiced the rest is trivial. Your post is more confirmation.

  21. Wow. Once again, you are shaking up my little world. I never would have thought of you in a Methodist church; (just being real!) But I loved this post as all others. IT gives me more to ponder. Thanks.

  22. your closing sentence - the final six words of your glorious closing sentence - amen!

  23. You and your church? MFEO. And Jesus.

    Did you cry when they were all praying over you??? Oh, man, I would've balled my face off probably.

    1. Totally had to Google MFEO. haha.

      And YES...HELLO...I cried my eyes out. Cory even teared up. (shh!)

    2. Ha! Google is forever saving me. I refer to it at least thrice daily for super important things. Like acronyms.

      Awwwwwww Cory. You'd have to be heartless to not tear up.

  24. you always make me smile, and i usually wet my cheeks with goodness too, straight from that midwestern place that yearns for community, pie, and God. thanks for sharing your gifts here. i read each and every one. (i usually save them to read actually, since they are my faves). :)

  25. Hi Shannon, beautiful words. Thank you for sharing what God puts on your heart. I relate because of how you put it all together. I believe the sign you posted a picture of is a Peace Pole. We have one at our church and various other places (schools, parks) in our community.

  26. What a beautiful tribute. Stirring, because I can get discontented in my small-town church but I know that's my messy family and you don't just walk away from your family because you don't like their music (*grin*) or whatever other needling complaint arises. So thankful for your perspective this morning.

  27. Peace pole. That's fun to say. I might put one in my yard. Maybe I will make a miniature version to wack my kids with when they aren't being peacemakers? No? Haha.

    Editing pages and thinking of you and wishing we were in life friends. I stepped out into my neighborhood that has been annoying me. And I can't say why it bothers me. Probably because every sentence I use to describe it starts with "I want". This post reminds me it's what I allow God to make of it and what really has value. Thanks for taking me along with you; sorry I was kicking and screaming for most of it.

  28. Beautifully written! Finding a church is difficult. The church on the corner of our block was my church home growing up. There's just something about having your church close by. Can't seem to find that now. I've thought about driving the 45 minutes to my growing up church, but that's not what I want, so I'm still looking and waiting. You and your family are fortunate to have found such a place to grow spiritually.