I almost left my church. It was going to be a pretty blasé yet really epic decision. I mean, I like new things. I used to have an obsessive desire to start over, try new things. I used to try to do that every 8-12 months. I leave churches, housing situations, groups of friends, etc. It’s good fun, you see, never being tied down. It’s easier to leave a little dust on your shoes and keep moving up the trail towards what seems better things. So it was going to be blasé. Not a big deal.
But it was going to be an epic decision because I’ve been at this church (off and on, of course) for about six years. I have long struggled with the established, institutionalized church. While that is a different post entirely, it has to be acknowledged because this part of the reason I loved my church. They’re really laid back and wonderful. On Sunday, we canceled church because the roads were icy. The church I work at had a solid sheet of ice for a parking lot. From the nursery windows I watched old women slide, wrenching their husband’s backs as they grabbed for anything rather than tumbling to the ground. My church family, on the other hand, seemed to care more about our safety so we canceled. Or there’s the time my roommie and I took three girls from our apartment complex who couldn’t sit still and who tried reading the Bible out loud, in broken English during service. No one minded that. No angry glares, no whispers to hush us up, nothing. Just a few glances of endearment towards the children between us and nods of approval to me and Molls. I don’t think that would’ve happened at a typical church. I fit in this church in some ways, because it’s easier and there are no expectations. So it would have been a massive shift to head back to the stereotypical church like the Southern Baptist congregation I had visited with its pews and hymnals.
But I’d been unhappy for awhile, you see. I was hurting and frustrated. I may have even been beyond frustrated, I was exasperated because I didn’t know where to go or what to do to make things better. I felt that we didn’t talk about sin because we were afraid of hurting feelings. I felt shut out because I was actually pursuing Jesus and righteous living, because I wasn’t the same girl as a year ago, and I felt that some people resented that. On the flip side, I didn’t know where to put in effort or where to build into community. I felt that few people wanted me and I struggled to see how leadership was actually helping to build community or spur us on to a race well run. I was fed up. For weeks I talked with friends about leaving. But I kept thinking there was something wrong, something that didn’t seem right in my decision to peace out of a congregation that so frustrated and endeared me.
So I met with my pastor.
I emailed him for two months. We would find a time, then cancel, then not find a time because of school and travels,but finally, we settled on a bright Monday morning at 9am. We even went to the Seminary which was convenient for us both and offered hot coffee in the student center. We sat down after a brief (and somewhat awkward) hug.
And then I talked. We went over niceties at first. Was I dating anyone from Seminary yet? How were classes? Was I making it financially? Was I worried? Did my roommate and I talk about deep things? But ten minutes in I’d blazed through those questions and we were on to the real reason I wanted to see him.
I apologized first, because I’m pretty insecure and I don’t feel like I’m allowed to have complaints and frustrations. So before I laid into my list I apologized and swore that I wasn’t trying to just complain. So he sat, and he listened to my explanation of where I’d been hurt, where I was confused or felt misled. I pointed out specific things in leadership that had been difficult and confessed that I’d been really bitter about a variety of situations. My pastor sat there, the big hulking man with a bald head and scruffy chin, he took it all in, nodded and interjected only occasionally.
And when I was done he said one thing.
I decided, in that moment, I was sticking around.
Because he looked me in the face and he said he was sorry. He said that as a pastor he hadn’t always done a good job, he acknowledged that they were having to clean things up, and he said he was sorry for the way I was caught in the crossfire. I was sort of dumbfounded. I’ve never had someone say that, never had someone take responsibility and be genuinely sorry for how I, as a lay person, had been poorly served by the church.
There was more to the conversation, of course.
He challenged me about some things. He was gently rebuking in a few of my bitter moments. He told me I should be praying for people, and looking for how I could be a blessing to those people I had been hurt by. I think he could have quoted Matthew and said it was me praying for “those who have persecuted” me–even those in the church. But he didn’t. I think he knew he didn’t need to give me scripture. He just needed to remind me that it was written and I should be doing it, if only for the good of my own soul and the obedience we owe to Jesus.
And then he left. I went back to homework.
So this week I’ll be at church, celebrating Big Table and cheering on my awesome roommie when she shares about the ministry at our apartment complex.
At least for the moment, until I think that God has called me elsewhere, I am here. I’m sticking around.