Long ago when Bruce and I were first married, we held values and goals about church that were common to American Christian culture. We looked for churches with strong teaching, we loved hearing from our pastor each week. It was spiritual nourishment to inspire us for the week ahead. We also looked for demonstrative worship, that was always part of our church experience and we craved it.
We wanted to find other people who were like us so we could build relationships with them. Hopefully ones that would last for a long time. We’d raise our children to be friends with each other, and who knows…Maybe one day we’d even be in-laws together. Many a lunch at Sweet Tomatoes was had with toddlers in tow (they ate for free) and large tables of fellow church members.
Along with the desire to attend churches like this, we also pursued the “American Dream”, they seemed to go hand in hand. Nice house, nice neighborhood, nice cars, good schools, good jobs, success in life, and so on. Very little income or ethnic diversity. We lived in ‘value silos’ and we liked it that way.
Evangelical church was going through a major transition during these years. Seeker sensitive church poked it’s head out right as we had our first child. Small groups took the place of Sunday evening service. Frustration was common in our age group, we’d been schooled in a particular type of church and all the rules were changing. All of our culturally inherited cues were gone! It was like someone took away the hymnal and still expected us to know the songs.
I can’t really remember when this kind of experience lost it’s appeal to us. We left the brick and mortar church in 2003 (for reasons other than dissatisfaction) and didn’t return until 2015. During that season we never lost our faith or our values, but something happened to change our expectations of church. We visited churches from time to time, always hoping one would click. As the years went by, our tolerance for church as usual diminished. Bruce’s standard cry was,
“Please, just don’t waste my time”
Time was his most precious commodity, I worked weekends and our girls were in college and needed him. If church was simply going to be an exercise in the current evangelical liturgy (cuz face it, evangelicals have a liturgy too) each week, he had other things to do. If there wasn’t something more, he didn’t want it. It was hard to define what more was, but he felt he would know it when it happened.
Something profound had changed in our souls
Still not knowing what we longed for, in 2015 we ventured to a big inner city church, hoping for something that would ignite our spirits and begin to satisfy that longing. And as the story goes, we found it and are blessed to be part of a thriving church.
But what I’ve come to realize is, it’s not the teaching, though its always Biblical, or the worship, or even the strength of the community, which is amazing. All of those things are still affected by fallen human nature and have their ups and downs. It’s the transformative process that people are experiencing that is so satisfying to my soul. As I told our small group (see, we’ve evolved),
God is still in the business of changing lives!
I’ve come to the realization that if church isn’t about changing lives, then it’s little more than a social club for people with a common cause.
Years ago, I read Floyd McClung’s book “On the Devil’s Doorstep”. He and his family lived in Amsterdam’s red light district as missionaries while their kids were young. They walked among the prostitutes who showcased themselves in windows. Drug culture dominated their ministry. Kids from all over the world traveling the hashish road via Turkey, landed at their door. Their children saw first hand how God changes lives. It created an amazing foundation for them as they matured into adulthood.
That story spoke to me. It gave me courage to reach out to people that fell through the cracks in the church’s ministries. People whose problems were dire. Our girls saw us feed, house, give money and time to problems that required big amounts of Jesus’ love and power. It sure beat complaining about property taxes, hating political parties and whining about lack of good entertainment.
Though we did a lot of that too…
A couple of years ago Bruce had an opportunity to leave IL for a state with better living conditions, including taxes, weather, politics and churches. We talked it over with one of our pastors who asked us this,
“How will it lead you to advance the Kingdom of God?”
Good question! We knew we were serving the purposes of the Kingdom in Chicago, it was very clear to us by the way that we’d become involved both corporately and individually with our church. It was feeding our souls and healing our old church wounds. It gave us an opportunity to serve others in ways we loved. And it went on during surgeries, health crisis’ and unemployment. We came to the conclusion that we couldn’t recreate this life anywhere else.
A satisfying life = a life of purpose
Once we began to look at our purpose through the eyes of the Kingdom, all of our secondary roles became “day jobs” and our real purpose grew to encompass relationships that helped grow other people. It was something that was always in us, but it needed a platform, moving to Chicago provided that for us.
We’ve come to the conclusion that as believers we don’t have the luxury of living merely for the American Christian Dream anymore. Culture has devolved to a degree that everyone needs to think as a missionary. ‘Me, mine and ours’ thinking limits our purpose and dulls our satisfaction in life. Only a Kingdom mindset provides us with the kind of meaningful life all humans crave.
As I said earlier,
God is still in the business of transforming lives!
Especially our own…