There’s SO MUCH beauty in what Jesus has done with the ashes of my life. But, man… the next three years were rough. I wrestled with the Lord. I wrestled with the church. In this post, and for a few posts in the foreseeable future, I’m going to share my perspective of those three years. (And, at some point, my husband and my eldest daughter will share theirs.) It’s important to know a few things going forward: It is INCREDIBLY important to me that I respect all parties involved here. I will never give names of individuals or churches. But, for those who know us, some of these people and places will be obvious. The purpose of this blog isn’t to cause division. On the contrary, my hope is to provide perspective and to share WHY we feel the way we do about the direction of the church as a whole. We are not blameless victims in some of these interaction, but I also hope you see how the Lord has refined us, humbled us, and made us champions for unity. (Though it may not look that way for a bit!)
I’ve learned so much on this journey, each encounter refining me more and more. It has been a painful process that, at one point, led me away from the church, unable to enter the doors on Sunday morning. (It’s a very hard thing to watch someone preach on a stage about the need for repentance and holiness when behind closed doors they refuse to walk it out and those around them refuse to hold them accountable. Something not unique to my situation by any stretch of the imagination.) It happens more often than most people know. There’s a (growing) not-so-secret society of “un-churched” people like me who walk away from the institution because of sinful people. Most of us also know we shouldn’t walk away, because their sin, in the eyes of God, is no greater than ours. But, sometimes the hurt and anger are too great.
About a year after leaving Rhode Island, it became clear that our time at our home church was coming to an end. The problem, however, was reconciling this need to leave with scripture. (Personal preference isn’t a biblical reason.) While our family was church planting for six months, our home church almost doubled in size. On our first Sunday back, finding familiar faces proved difficult. Two strangers came up asking if we were new, wanting to “plug in.” Confession: I had to control myself from twisting up my face and saying, “I’ve been going here since day one. Step the heck back.”
Honestly, I became claustrophobic every Sunday morning. I started having mini panic attacks at church, something I wasn’t familiar with up to that point in life. (But, I became REALLY good friends with panic attacks over the next few years.) For the sake of my sanity, I decided to stick to focusing on my discipleship group as my service to the church community, which sustained me through the year. Until the topic of building a new gathering space came into play.
We had always been told by leadership that church planting was an equally viable and considered option. And we were probably one of the biggest advocates for church planting… and opponents to a new building. Fresh from the church planting world, we saw the beauty of the process. It is a sacred process requiring a dependence on the Holy Spirit for things a business plan could never provide. And with a price tag of $2 million dollars, and only an added seating capacity of 1,000 to 1,200, we didn’t see the construction of a new building as a smart investment. (They told us planting a church would cost approximately $120,000. So, in our minds we thought this was a no brainer. At that price tag… something we also questioned… you could plant 16 churches!)
In the end, they decided on the new building (at a price that, given their final numbers, could have planted over 100 churches). People were quick to criticize us for questioning the rationale for building a bigger space. (They decided to build a church and community recreational center hybrid.) We were met with a “if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us” mentality, which wasn’t completely fair. We were against spending millions of dollars on a building. But we weren’t against the people of the church. We had a hard time finding where the Word of God would support that kind of price tag. (We thought it was better to get groups of people from the church to enter into already existing community centers in their own neighborhoods.) But, we weren’t against people talking us through it and explaining how they felt the Lord led them to that decision.
Here’s the truth: At the time, we thought our family wasn’t called to a big church with flashing lights and loud music. It was easier to say what our family WASN’T called to than to say what it WAS called to. We were a mess. We had left this church 18 months earlier, after being told the Acts church was all but dead, to enter into an amazing church planting experience, where the Holy Spirit was so present… to come back to that same church who wanted to spend more money on lighting and sound equipment than they had ever spent on the homeless, or in a prison. This was almost impossible for us to swallow, and if given enough time, it WOULD have been the reason we left. It wasn’t. (But, given what was ahead, I wish it had been.)