Renewing Your Love for the Church

The usual alarm wakes me up.  It’s the same time I usually wake up for work, except this time, I’m not going to work.  It’s Sunday…time for church.

I want to hit the “Snooze” button, but it’s church.  I can’t skip out on my obligation to show God He matters to me.  Truthfully, what really motivates me to get out of bed is the promise that I’ll be able to take a nap after the service.

My husband and I leave the house a few minutes late.  We have a squabble about the importance of hearing the first song, how it sets the mood for the rest of the service, and if we show up late we’ll not only miss the song but will receive judgmental stares from the congregants who do not want to be interrupted during the first song.  With this new anxiety in mind, we speed our way to church, yelling at cars that are safely driving but are in our way.  We make it into the parking lot on time, but we still have to park the car, get out of the car, walk into the church building, say hello to the greeters, get a bulletin, and find a seat. By the time we get to our seats, the first song is half-way over.  We are officially late to church.

After the usual announcements and the rest of the songs, we sit down, ready to critique the message, hoping it was worth the stress it took to get to church this morning.  The pastor stands up and begins his message talking about Christians all over the world who are being persecuted for their faith.  He looks right at me, as if he knows what I’m thinking, and says, “Praise God for the freedom we have to come to church every morning.”

In the hustle and bustle of the day, in the craziness of my week, I missed the point of going to church.

Needless to say, I made sure I paid extra attention to the message that day!  It was the 4th of July service at our church, and after the crazy week I’d had (conveniently while working at a church during VBS week!) the only thing I wanted to do was crawl back into bed.  I’d confessed my desire to my husband, and prayed that God would change my heart.  I knew it was wrong to not want to go to church, but knowing that did not increase my interest in going to church.

There are a ton of reasons why people (especially but not limited to millennials) are leaving the church in droves.  You can read about those on your own.  Most of them blame pastors/church leadership, and while I agree that pastors should be held to a high standard, completely putting the responsibility on pastors completely takes the responsibility off of everyone else.

My job is to encourage others through writing.  So instead of beating you over the head and telling you to go to church, let me encourage you with some stories that my friends have shared on social media regarding why they call their church home:

“I would have to say the messages of truth. But there is so much more. The warm godly people that I get to call my brothers and sisters. The beautiful worship music we sing to our Lord. The transparency of our church and the dedication of the staff. It is home to me. To Him be the glory in the church.”

“The thing I love most about church is the people. Knowing that people truly care about you, pray for you and want the best for you. I also love being there for others, praying for them, and serving them. There’s no other place like the Lord’s house.”

“This is tough, but I think I’d have to say my pastor. He’s always in the hallway after the service greeting and shaking hands with everyone, and just how real he is. He’s not afraid to speak Biblical truth and he doesn’t shy away from talking about areas in his life where he has failed. Like, he’s honest about his life before coming to Christ and he doesn’t put up a front of having everything figured out. And just his passion for the Lord.”

“My favorite thing about [the church I attend] is feeling at home there. It’s exactly where God wants me to be.”

“What I love about my church is that one member or office is not held in higher regard than the other. We are all servants of Christ and the glory goes to God for any achievements. This is HUGE…The sense of community is awesome. I have so many friends that I do things with outside of church that go to [the church I attend].”

Overall, they feel like home.  They like hearing the truth.  They like not having to compete, to just be themselves, and to feel welcome somewhere.*

Isn’t that what this every broken heart needs?  A place to belong?  A good dose of truth?  A sense of acceptance?

I got saved at the church I attend.  I had many life-changing experiences at the church I attend.  I got baptized at the church I attend.  I learned how to pray, I met my husband, and got married at the church I attend.  It is rare that I have had so many life experiences at my church, especially since I live in a transient area.  Nevertheless, I keep coming back.  God is doing amazing things in His church, and I want a front-row seat to the action!

If you are sick of church, I pray that God draws you back.  Whether it’s the church you last attended, or a church that you’ve never tried before, I pray that you feel welcome, accepted, and loved.  But please, please, be patient as well.  People who lead and serve in churches are broken, imperfect people.  It may take time for you to feel at home.  But if you want hope, encouragement, and guidance, check out what God is doing at the local church near you.

*There was one person who commented on the question I posed on Facebook whose answer I did not use.  This person expressed the difficulty of finding a good church to attend.  Although I did not quote this person’s answer in this article, I believe that this person is also looking for a place to call home, a good dose of truth, and a sense of acceptance.

Photo by Luca Baggio on Unsplash.


Learning from Little Ones

Every week, I have the opportunity to teach a small group of girls about their worth in Christ.  When the world tells them that they are too young to fully understand what it means to be a friend of Jesus, these sweet little ones show love in a more beautiful way than anyone I know on this Earth.

In my group of GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) girls this year, we have been learning about love: how to love and be loved by God, how to love others, and how to love ourselves.  I have such a diverse group of girls, not just in race and body type, but also in personality.  My girls are from all over the world, and their hearts reflect a multitude of different backgrounds, upbringings, and cultures.  I have enjoyed watching them interact with one another and watching them grow closer together.

Unfortunately, because of all that was going on in my personal life this year (ie, planning a wedding, working a full-time job, navigating a new apartment, finding an efficient way to commute to work), it was honestly a struggle for me to make it to GEMS each Monday.  On my way to the church, while running at least ten minutes late, I would pray that God would empower me with His strength, because I truly did not have strength on my own for the fifteen energetic girls that wanted nothing more but to tell me every intricate detail of their days.  I would drive into a parking spot, take a deep breath, and open my door, unsure of what would happen next.

Most weeks, the girls have so much energy and joy that they cannot sit still.  While I try teaching them about respecting one another by listening to one another, they talk over me and make side conversations with other girls.  Despite me asking if they understand what I require of them, and they nod, not even a minute later, they begin another side conversation with someone else.

Occasionally, their attention span cannot last the full ninety minutes we meet.  We work through a book, and when I explain the Bible story to them, some of them whine, “This is boring!  When can we play a game?” Then, when I play a game with them, a clique of girls fold their arms and sit in the corner.  “I don’t want to play a game,” they complain, “I just want to sit by myself.”

Sometimes, I wonder if the girls are really learning, since they are not responding in the way that I expect.  Other times, God surprises me, and I have no choice but to thank Him for His good work.

Last week represented the growth that God has developed in the group throughout the year.  We had a new girl show up, and, knowing my group had been meeting since September, I did not know how the other girls would handle a new person.  I was afraid of what would come out of their mouths, or even if she would be ignored.

Before we had snack, I had the girls line up against the wall.  I told them that we had a new girl, and I instructed the girls to each introduce themselves.  “We have been together for almost a whole year!” I explained after the final girl introduced herself.  “This girl seems very nice, but she doesn’t know anyone here.  You are all friends now, but she doesn’t have any friends yet.  Can you please include her in your games?  Can you please make her feel like she is welcome?”

The sweet little girls giggled, looked at each other, and screamed: “WELCOME!” As if on cue, they all walked up to the girl and gave her a group hug!  Then, as I escorted the girls to get snack, one of the girls told the new girl that she could sit with her.  The new girl was so welcome into the group that she didn’t want to leave when her mother picked her up!  What a blessing.

We played some games, but we always close the night with prayer.  Obviously, to protect their privacy, I won’t share their specific prayer requests, but I must say that they were real.  They were not petty requests that we would expect of children.  They were genuine prayers for their families and their schoolwork.  I asked if a girl would be willing to pray for everyone.  A girl who is very knowledgeable in the Bible but had never prayed in the group before expressed interest.  I encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone and pray as she felt led.  She remembered everyone’s prayer requests and spoke with such confidence.  Since I met her, God has transformed this girl from isolated and insecure to cheerful and sociable.  Now, to see her use her cheer and confidence to encourage others was such a blessing.  To make it even better, one of the girls who had a prayer request went up to the person who prayed and thanked her for praying for her situation.

As I mentioned in my last post, our church had a women’s conference this weekend.  We learned that we can only fully be satisfied in God’s love.  We learned that we must filter everything that happens to us through the lens of the truth that God loves us.  We learned to encourage one another and fight alongside one another as we face trials and temptations in this life.

After what I saw in my group last week, I am fully convinced that God can teach any child at any age about His incomparable, unfailing love.  At age seven (on average), these kids have already begun to understand what it means to fight with one another instead of against one another.  These kids have already begun to understand how much God loves them, and how true beauty comes from the heart (thus, that they are extremely beautiful!).  These kids have already begun their journey of trusting Christ as their best friend.  And I am honored to be a part of it.


The Strength of the “Weaker Vessel”

I pray that this blog helps you to find your strength in Christ.

This weekend, our church had been blessed with the opportunity to have a women’s conference, where 650 women came to listen to a famous female Christian speaker share God’s Word with us.  God opened my eyes to the women volunteering all over the building before and during the event, promoting the event via social media and our church bulletin, contacting vendors and food suppliers, wisely discerning how to properly spend the church money, and herding hundreds of women around the church, all with smiles on their faces.

In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter describes women as “the weaker vessel.”  In a society where women are worthless unless they can do the same things that men can, we don’t like to read this in the Bible.  In the context in which it was written, there is a general consensus that Peter was referring to women being physically weaker than men.  I have no problem admitting this, as my husband can simply put his arm around me to prevent me from moving.  To go slightly off-topic, I wanted to point out that Peter mentions this phrase to demonstrate that men should respect us as the weaker vessels, instead of using their strengths to abuse us (so he’s basically saying that domestic violence and physical abuse is a sin, and that men who do this are completely at fault).

However, I write this blog to shine a light on the women in my life that, although the Bible describes them as “the weaker vessel,” are strong in their own way.  They may not have the same roles as men in their households, in churches, or in society, but they have a different type of strength that does not go unnoticed.

When I look at the women in my church, in addition to the hundreds of women who serve and mentor in a wide variety of ministries (including the wonderful women I work with in the church office!), I see four women who support the men who pastor our church.  Each of our four pastors has spoken from the platform or has taught a class that I have attended, and each pastor has mentioned the value of his wife and what she does for him (as well as for the church).  God holds teachers of His Word at a high standard (see James 3), so pastors need people to hold them accountable.  Our pastors can attest that their wives have spoken the truth in love to them, and have warned them against making mistakes that they would regret.  The pastors’ wives pay attention to detail; they have the patience to do paperwork, prepare the behind-the-scene efforts for events, and handle the stresses of caring for a big church without breaking their character.   In addition to dealing with their everyday lives (whether it’s homeschooling children or helping relatives that live in various states), these women also offer friendship to women in our church.  The pastors’ wives are always willing to help their families and to the church, and they do it all with the joy of the Lord as their strength.

I’m also blessed to have such powerful women in my family.  My mother has used her strength to take care of me and my sister as a single mom, not only providing financially for us, but also mentally and emotionally.  I’d always lived in a clean house that she’d worked tirelessly to maintain.  She has done a great job of encouraging me in my writing, helping my sister in her career path, and being a source of guidance and care to the young women in her life who have had traumatic experiences.  My mother-in-law has used her strength to give excessively.  Between bringing food to her family while they are at work, to offering advice to those around her, she is always willing to give whatever she can whenever she can.  Plus, she raised my husband, and that’s kind of a big deal!  My “stepmom” has used her strength to raise my older brothers and sisters, and she has blessed me by treating me as her own daughter.  She is a lovely grandma to my nieces and nephews, and she makes every effort to share God’s blessings with everyone she meets.

My older sisters (including my sister-in-law) have used their strength to take care of the next generation and raise intelligent, respectable children.  In a society where most parents are absent or negligent, it is such a blessing to see mothers who are truly invested in their children.  My younger sister has used her strength to support her boyfriend, and to help her friends and family hold it all together.  Whenever I’m struggling, I know I can turn to her for a listening ear and for encouragement; I know most of her friends can say the same.  I’m so proud of how mature she has become.

My friends all use their strengths to multitask the innumerable events that they have in their schedules.  Whether they are married with two kids and a dog, they are trying to get pregnant, they are house hunting, they are planning weddings, they are wrestling with their feelings in a season of singleness, or they are involved in various ministries, they possess power that allows them to do it all without going absolutely insane.

Although women are not created to do everything, the women in my life do everything that they do well.  My life would not be the same without these women encouraging me and sharing with me the blessings that they have received from God.

It is time for us women to celebrate our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses.  We are not less valuable than men because we do not have the strength that they possess.  We are not more valuable than men because we can supposedly do everything.  We hold a different kind of value because we have a strength that men do not possess.  We have been created by God to give life, not just with our bodies (as that time of the month always reminds us!) but also with our words, our presence, and our actions.  

God has used the encouragement that I’ve received from my family, friends, and women at church to revive my dead, weary soul.   I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt peace by simply having a woman stand by my side during the moments when I’ve been the most broken.  Their generosity has broken down the walls of my heart and allowed me to receive without fear of rejection and disappointment.  Truly, every strength that the women I know possess, is life-giving.

What life-giving gifts do you possess, and how will you use them to reveal God’s strength in you?