The many changes I have gone through over the last few weeks have left me in a melancholy state. Although I'm not necessarily crying all the time or anything like that, I feel a sort of hollow, gnawing sense of loss within me, like someone having missed several meals. There are a number of reasons for my sadness--too many to detail at this time--but one of them occurred to me last night as I discussed my heartache with Ronnie: I miss my church.
This may not seem like an odd reality for some, but for me, it is a new state of affairs. I have been a member of a few Southern Baptist churches since I became a Christian as a teenager, but none of them was I particularly sad to leave. They had their share of major problems, including, in no particular order, unsanctified leadership, financial mismanagement, seeker-sensitive obsession, and hardened traditionalism. In all these churches, I served as best as I could, seeking in my own sin-soaked way to contribute to the body of Christ.
I made friends in every one of these churches, but still, I didn't shed a single tear over leaving any of them. When it was time to leave, I left. And, I have made little contact with any of the members of these churches since then. I don't say this because I'm proud of it. I'm just stating the facts.
My most recent congregation had it's share of problems, too, of course. Many of them. I won't air our dirty laundry here, but suffice it to say that there are plenty of reasons why I should be relieved to have found "greener pastures" in our move to Ohio. And, don't get me wrong, I'm very pleased to have made this move. But, the sadness remains. So, why is this most recent move different from the ones before? Why am I so very grieved this time?
As I've pondered this in my heart today, I've arrived at an answer: I found church within "the Church." What I mean by this is that in FBC Fairfield, I was able to discover a true, little-C, church, a community of the saints, a genuine experience of Jesus people, within the larger, big-C, church.
In my other experiences of "Church," I was constantly grappling with the problems and intricacies of the institution. Politics, power-plays, and all manner of unseemly and un-Christian activities crowded out what the real church was supposed to be. Now, FBC had all these things and more. Yet, somehow, some way, I made contact with the saints of God within the institution and, with them, found the community of Christ. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:
When I determined in my heart that I was young in the faith and in experience doing "church work," I sought out a mentor with whom I could learn and grow. A pastor's wife of great faith and godliness befriended me and offered me love and acceptance and challenge.
When I was exploring my teaching gifts and seeking to be obedient to God's call to teach his people, I tried my hand at convening a class--first one and then several--to study aspects of God and God's Word. Those who came taught me as much as I taught them, encouraging me in my gifting and spurring me on in my own studies.
When I walked through a dark and desolate period, I told a dear woman of God that I needed prayer and confession to cleanse my wearied soul. She called on other sisters to meet with me and I--a wife of a staff person!--found the freedom to bare my soul to these women and come clean about the truly dark parts of my heart. From them I found forgiveness, healing, and power to begin again.
When I sought to experience deeper fellowship with other women, especially those on the "outside" of institutional church life, I found unlikely colleagues and dear friends in a hodge-podge of hurting women. They shared their hearts and souls with me, and I with them. More than any other relationships, they gave me proof that the Good News is true and powerful.
And, finally, when I was preparing to leave, key friends and fellow sojourners held a private gathering to congratulate me on my journey and bless me as I departed. Their laying-on of hands and fervent prayers on my behalf did more than any ordination council could. They confirmed my calling, offered me strength as I left, and gave me a "defining moment" in ministry.
God was so merciful to help me to discover the church within "the Church." There are plenty of problems with the institutional churches of America and I do not diminish them with this post. But, that does not change the fact that the Holy Spirit of Acts 2, who is poured out lavishly upon all of God's people, continues to work today, drawing together Christ-followers and fostering among them love, faith, and hope. I am deeply saddened by the loss of my community of faith. But, I am equally grateful to God that was I was able to find the church within "the Church" at FBC Fairfield.