“Church isn’t a social club.”
A friend shared this simple statement with me and I can’t get it out of my mind. I’ve been reflecting on church A LOT lately. My mindset has always been that unless I move away or get married and go to a different church with my spouse, then I would attend the same church for life. I’ve believed it’s about the congregation, the people, and not just the pastors and programs that come and go. That through struggles and joys and heartbreaks and celebrations, I would be a faithful member of that congregation. But, it’s not about the community of faith. Although that sounds harsh, that’s not what’s most important about keeping me at my church. Sometimes that’s the very thing that can be distracting….if the social aspects become the priority and growing in faith takes a back seat. It’s God and my faith and the challenge to learn and grow in Christ. That’s the church I want to be an active member of. I want to grow spiritually within that kind of community, through those programs, in that place. And, when I am completely honest, my faith has stagnated. I’m yearning for more. I feel I’m at the cusp of a greatness God has planned for me. And, that greatness includes stepping away from my church, from that community of faith that is so familiar, and into exploring this curiosity. I’m stepping out and following God.
Sometimes, my doubts about venturing elsewhere manifest themselves into thoughts that I’m giving up. The ‘honeymoon’ period is over. I’ve been at my church for ten years. It’s all so very familiar. Many relationships go through rocky patches and dry spells and periods of doubt and a ‘desert experience.’ The excitement just isn’t there like it once was. I’m overly comfortable, just going through the motions. But, I feel this undeniable need to explore what else is out there. I’m ready for something new. I want passion and life. I crave deep conversations and new insights to wrestle with and challenge me. I seek new teachers and yearn for a new welcoming community. I’ve had many different teachers in my life and have had a richer faith journey because of them.
‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
But, what about the community of faith? I struggle with this. The community is so very important. The community is who is there when pastors and programs come and go. They’re the ones bringing meals and praying together and opening up their hearts in small groups. They share their faith with me and I share with them. They are the lifeblood of the church. But, what if the community just isn’t enough anymore? What if God wants to shake me from the ultra familiar?
I don’t know what all of this means, so I’ve been listening. I’ve been present each and every week, whether it’s at my current church, or with a new congregation. I’m soaking it all in. It’s humbling to be a visitor again. Aware of the way the congregation treats those who are new. How they reach out to welcome me. The anonymity is a rare departure from my everyday life. In these new settings within other congregations, I’m looking at my faith with a fresh perspective. I believe it is here that God wants to renew me. I believe it is here that He will speak to me in an undeniable way and let me know that ‘this is the place; this is right where I want you to learn and grow and be for the next leg of your journey.’
‘The trail of God at work rarely follows a straight line, which means our prayers may well produce different answers than we expect. For whatever reason – God’s sense of irony, antagonistic spiritual powers, the vicissitudes of a fallen planet – prayers get answered in ways we could neither predict nor imagine.’
–Prayer: Does it make any difference? by Philip Yancey
God’s ways are mysterious. I’ve had the ‘bones’ of this blog post captured since mid-summer, but haven’t been prepared to flesh it out and complete it. I now know why. Since then, I’ve been discerning areas of my life that I didn’t give a second thought to even a few months ago. The ebb and flow of my life and timing of God’s plans for me are always perfect, but sometimes puzzle me.
God’s timing has changed my life. I once met a stranger over lunch at a conference. We had such meaningful conversation that it led me to make connections and move to the current city in which I live. If I hadn’t stopped to eat lunch at that moment and sit at that table with that individual, my life would have taken a different turn. Or, a friend whose boyfriend lost his job precisely at the time he was needed to spend time with a family member who was in need. Or, my grandparents who met and dated, but went their separate ways to see other people. Then, were brought together again years later to date and fall in love and get married and . . . are the reason I’m here typing this today.
Or, my favorite recent story of God’s timing. A former coworker stopped by to surprise me by getting my coffee order and heading to Starbucks. I was unavailable to see her when she stopped by, so she left. But, on her way back to the parking lot, she ran into one of my current coworkers. They had a discussion about a job opening where my former coworker now works and that my current coworker would be a perfect fit for. This chance encounter changed her life. She applied for that job, interviewed, was offered the position, and has been thrilled in her new role ever since. Think of the timing of it all. If I had been available after all; if the girls had parked away from each other in the parking lot; if either of them had been delayed in any way, none of this would have happened. You couldn’t have planned it if you tried. I love the way God works ‘His magic.’ It’s like He’s this puppeteer standing above us, guiding various folks into our path, with inspiring creativity that gives us wonderful stories to tell. I think God has a sense of humor. I love it.
Sometimes God’s timing causes me to reflect and question and wonder. I’ve been struggling with making sense of this curiousity that’s inside of me. It’s a discernment centered around where God is leading me to worship and study. Over a year and a half ago, I accepted the call to serve in a three-year leadership position at my church. I truly believe I was called by God to serve at this time, and yet, even though I’m in this period of seeking what else is out there, I still have over a year and a half of that term remaining. Timing. God’s timing. He spoke to me before I even received the actual phone call to accept this leadership role. Without a doubt, I know I was called to serve at this time.
I met with one of my pastors last week to discuss some church business, but I also shared my struggles with him. He asked me to reflect on why I was called to be in church leadership at THIS time. A simple statement that I have since latched onto. I never assumed that being in this leadership role would be free from difficult decisions, differing opinions, and hard work. Maybe I was called at this time to strengthen my faith in our church’s system of government and order. To trust that the leadership and committees that are in place seek Godly council in their decision making. Or, maybe it’s my time to grow in confidence as a leader, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable to do so. Or, maybe it’s God’s mode of discernment for me . . . that through my work with committees and church leaders, I am reaching and stretching and growing in my faith. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe it’s none of these. I’m still wrestling with this. But, I know God’s timing is perfect. I accepted the call with sincerity and I know He was looking three years into my future, knowing the personal struggles I would encounter, and still led me to accept the call at that time. But, why now? I’m still wondering what the answer to that question is.
I picture God leaning over me with strings like a puppeteer directing a great play. I picture Him with a chef’s hat and a kitchen full of ingredients as he adds a pinch of this and a dollop of that into His great recipe for my life. Sometimes he adds ‘mystery’ ingredients and surprises into His concoction. Sometimes the ingredients are sweet, sometimes bitter, but always the perfect ratio to make it delicious. I’m still in the preparation stage, with chopping and dicing and mixing and stirring. I don’t know how long it will take to finish this recipe, but I know it will be perfectly seasoned at just the right temperature for the exact amount of time needed. God’s timing is perfect. He has shown me before and I have no doubt He has me right where He wants me.