Church is Hard

I think that I’ve had some version of this post swirling around in my head for quite awhile now--I just could never bring myself to sit down and write it because I felt so mixed up in it before I would even start.

But then I realized, I should write from right there. From the messy mixed up space that I’ve been in. That’s my rule anyways, right? To write from raw and fresh spaces to give you the most honest version of what’s happening? I suppose this shouldn’t be any different but it felt different somehow because the topic is so ancient and sacred. I didn’t want to get it wrong when it’s about something that I treasure so much--something that has shaped me so much.

So here goes.

Church is hard.

Church is something that I have absolutely taken for granted--from both sides--and something I certainly won’t ever take for granted again I hope.

I moved back to Seattle almost exactly one year ago. I moved back very aware of the reality I was stepping into. An extremely liberal city where it rains a lot and there aren’t very many churches...or Christians...or at least very many churches and Christians who share similar theologies or hold the Bible in the light that I do. I knew that finding a solid Christian community was going to be a challenge, like a really big challenge. I prayed about it often, even worried about it, for a really long time.

See, the first time I moved to Seattle, it was to plant a church with some of my very best friends and fellow ministry peers from college. I moved into a tough city with a solid group of friends and the ability to make church whatever we wanted it to be. Of course it was hard and challenging to bring people in, but even still I was constantly surrounded by community and real friendships and I had Biblical truth being poured into me often. It was hard, but healthy. Granted, we built the church we went to, but we had church and we did church and we didn’t really think anything of it. It was just what we were called to do and who we were called to be. It was busy and we were forever trying and failing at new methods and approaches and planning events and making friends on busses. And for 3.5 years we met in a tiny two bedroom apartment and we ate together and we prayed together and we worshipped together and we just met people where they were at with Scripture and with Jesus.

So again, I knew that coming back to hardly any community--not much Christian community--and needing to find a church was going to be tough, I just didn’t realize how tough. I didn’t realize how much I had taken church for granted until then. That place I went to week after week. The place where my friends were. The place that I heard God’s Word and learned how to apply it and teach it. The place where I discovered my love for kiddos and my desire to serve them. The place where I realized my calling to ministry and grew up in it. The only place or thing my parents could ground me from that I actually cared about missing. We were there every time the doors were open no matter what they were open for. My parents raised me with church and faith and most importantly Jesus, central to everything we did--to who we were.

I know that some people, maybe even you, write it off as a religious institution that’s just after people’s money to promote their own agenda. I know that a lot of people have been hurt by the church---I have been deeply hurt by the church, or rather the people in the church, myself--I know that it’s a place people go to out of guilt and maybe some fear. I know that church is a place and a word that can bring up a lot of mixed emotions for a lot of people, myself included. But overall, churches, my churches, have been homes to me. They have been safe spaces when everywhere else felt wrong and messed up and scary. They have been family when I’ve been far from my own. They have been warmth when the world around me felt so cold and they’ve been familiarity when I was surrounded by newness and chaos.

I’ll digress, because I am not meaning for this to become a piece in defense of or against the church. I don’t mean for this to change your mind about church wherever you might stand with it. I only mean to say that church has been a really beautiful piece of my history--a really large piece of who I am--and a comfort I have deeply missed in this season of searching. I have only recently realized how much I took that for granted for so long.

I guess the saying goes, ”you never know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

I mean, of course I knew that I was blessed with really great churches to call home. In Ohio and in Missouri and in Mexico. Honestly those churches sort of just found me and the people were quick to take me in and call me their own. They are places that I can go back to at any time and gather with family--places I long to go back to often. I just didn’t know how hard it would be to find spaces like that again.

I tried a lot of churches. I tried to be really intentional. I took intro classes and tried to make connections and go out for coffee and volunteer. Which, as a side note, just going to church after you’ve done church for a while is a whole other level of challenging. I was going crazy watching everyone buzz around while I just sat quietly waiting for things to start. Let me add here also--it’s hard to show up as a new person in a church. This season has given me a heightened sense of compassion and sensitivity for those who find the courage to show up. Especially when church has not been their thing or part of their history! I know we preach hospitality from the rooftops of every leader’s meeting, but I’m going to shout it one more time. Walk up to people. Sit down with them. Look them in the eye. Exchange numbers. Give them a way to connect and to join in. It was so intimidating to walk up to people or to jump in and I have spent my entire life in church! So, imagine what that feels like for someone who hasn’t! We have got to go the extra mile, out of our way and off of our morning agenda, to make people feel truly and authentically welcomed and included! It is everything in this journey. I say that to remind myself, because while trying to find my own church, I was really convicted of how I had treated newcomers in the past. I will certainly approach them differently moving forward and with a new level of understanding and compassion.

Anyways, like i said, I tried a bunch of churches. It was often challenging to even get myself to go and to not find a million excuses to just wait and try the following week. Thankfully, I knew up front that’s exactly what Satan wanted--to ostracize me from Christian community and immerse me in the culture here. So, I fought him on that and I did the showing up. Not always or perfectly, but I kept trying again. Sometimes the church was amazing but just really far away and something I knew I couldn't dive into and commit to the way I wanted to without a car.I wanted so badly for their to be a church in my community. Sometimes the church was close by and the preaching was great but I just couldn’t seem to really connect to anyone. It just never felt like home. Sometimes the churches were not theologically solid and so I had to walk away. All the while I kept watching sermons online and listening to podcasts on my morning commute. I was getting fed but longing intensely for a group of friends with shared perspectives.

Finally, back in September, a friend from work let me know that a pastor from her church would be leaving to plant a church in my neighborhood.

My ears perked up. A spark. Something to grab onto. 

So I showed up to the first launch meeting and the second. I was just about the only person not coming out of the previous church, but I willed myself to keep going. I knew this was going to be fresh and new for everyone even if some people knew each other in the process. That excited me. The church was “outside” of my denomination, but theologically and extremely passionate about Jesus and community--that was obvious from the start. People were intentional to reach out--like for real. Not to just wave from the other end of the pew or to shake my hand and politely exchange names during greeting, I mean like really. They came and sat with me. They asked how I ended up there. They cared about my story. They added me to text groups and e-mail lists and invited me to community groups and events and progressive dinners. They gave me rides and they continued to reach out.

We had our first official service this month and lots of great moments for connecting and getting to know each other in between. I’m so thrilled and so thankful to say that after nearly a year of life back here in Seattle, I think I’ve found a church that’s going to be home for me and people that are going to become family to me. A place where I’m going to put down some roots.

I so look forward to Sundays now and all of the things that are happening in between. NOT because I’ve never had anything to look forward to on Sundays before--believe me--I certainly have. Simply because I’ve never struggled so much to find a church and so I’ve never been so hyperly aware of the lack of it in my life. Because I’ve never lacked a strong, solid church community before this.

Guys--it is seriously so important. I knew that. I did. I said it a lot. Now I like KNOW it. Like in my heart of hearts. That a church home and family is worth the long search and the awkward moments. It is essential to feeling alive and vibrant and supported in our faith. It is something I will cherish in a fresh, new light now that I have experienced life without it for a little while.

I’m not sure where you fall on the spectrum with church. Perhaps you haven’t stepped foot in a church in years and you don’t intend to any time soon. Perhaps you’ve lived and breathed church for as long as you can remember so much so that it feels a lot like work and going through the motions.

I am by no means an advocate for “church hopping.” NO church is going to be perfect because every church you go to will be full of imperfect people. Land somewhere and plant yourself and put down roots and make a family--make a home. But find that. Even if it’s hard work and the showing up takes a lot of energy and courage for a while. Fight for it. And when you do finally find it (perhaps you already have) treasure it and appreciate it and never ever take it for granted.

***If church is a place or a word or a concept that you struggle with, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of us. I write this from a “no judgment zone” knowing that church can be challenging from every angle. We would love to have a conversation with you publicly or privately on the subject and we’d love to pray with you to be able to find a Christ centered space where you can grow.

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