Church Shopping: It sounds so.....irreverent, to say you're church shopping but in all honesty it describes the process of looking for a new church home quite accurately. When Tim and I made the decision to leave what had been our church home for years in Lexington in search of a smaller community we felt we could better connect with and be involved in - it was PAINFUL. Once you've been a part of a church body for any length of time you get used to the routine of things...where to park, how you're greeted, the order of service, the style of worship, the way communion is presented and taken, the way offering is talked about and taken up, where you take your kids and what their Sunday school routine is like, etc. We get comfortable and all of those things you get comfortable with become your church "normal" and dare I say even expectation. Because you've established that normal or expectation of "church" in your mind, going into a new church setting with all new ways of doing things can be hard...we as believers can be harshly judgemental of everything from the parking lot layout to interior decor to how the pastor dresses and what the praise and worship team look like, etc. etc. etc. Because I'm married to a pastors son and am blessed enough to have several friends who are heavily involved in ministry I'm thankful that I've heard the "other side" of such critiquing and judgement...how painful it can be when it seems people have hastily jumped to conclusions before seeing the heartbeat of the church body and or mindset of the leadership at churches. When we looked in Lexington, unless something was just completely off putting or something occurred that we just didn't feel like we could endure - we committed to going back more than once to decide if that church would be a place we could call "home".
It's only normal that each of us will have desires of a church and I don't think that's a bad thing. For example, we knew we wanted an active children's ministry for Kennedy to be a part of. Tim and I were both fortunate enough to grow up in church's where people knew us and could pour into us...love, guidance, wisdom, etc. We want the same for our kids...we want people to know them and to say "hi" to them and call them by name in the hallways and at events. I want to know that my kids will have strong bonds with not only friends who are also believers but other adults too...people they can go to if they don't want to or are scared to come to us. So...if we visit a church that has a poor children's ministry (disorganized, not passionate, lacking in leadership, no Biblical lesson being taught) we are likely to "cross it off the list" so to speak. So...children's ministry is huge and of course he and I have other things we desire too but ultimately we want to be a part of a body who is passionate about loving God and loving people. I want to feel...really feel the leaderships desire to be doing God's work in their church....letting God "steer the ship" and not the desires of what's "in" or what they feel will be best received by members, what will make them grow the fastest, etc.
Well, we found our church home in Lexington and we LOVED it! Leaving Southern Acres Christian Church in Lexington was one of the hardest things about moving to Charlotte. There were tons of things we loved about Southern Acres...the worship, the staff, the eldership, the AMAZING kids ministry, the people, Activate groups, the list goes on and on but truthfully we wouldn't have loved it near as much or grown into it like we did had we not jumped in two feet first once we realized it was a place we could call home. "Plugging In"...it's what ties you to a place and makes you feel a part...it's what bonds you to the mission and to the people.....it's completely and totally necessary to feeling like you are truly a part of the body of Christ. It can be hard....volunteerism is usually an area totally lacking in churches sadly. When the church has sponsored events throughout a work week if both parents are working...it can be tough to make it out to those events. Even early morning Men's Bible studies on Saturdays...though incredibly rewarding can be hard to commit to when that is your only day to sleep in. What I feel like we learned in Lexington is that making those things happen...making yourself available and committing to truly being a part of THE CHURCH...it makes all the difference in your walk with the Lord. Bonds are formed, people get invested in you and in your family...i.e. they TRULY care and the body becomes the body like the Word talks about...your church family really feels like family and it's hard to walk through life and all it's struggles without a family of believers rallied around you...ready to be there and love you and go to God for you in prayer whenever you need it.
Moving to Charlotte has been such a God thing in so many ways...being with my sister (living in her basement) has been an indescribable blessing...helping each other, supporting each other, watching our kids grow and play and become best buddies: there are no words. Tim has made better relationships (it seems...my opinion here) in this office in the two months we've been here than he did the entire time he worked at the office in Lexington. Being at home with the girls has been amazing...I truly didn't realize how much stress the constant state of rush we were living in was causing our family. Now, it is no walk in the park being at home...whew: these girls can wear me out...especially pregnant/hurt back me. The rewards way outweigh the work though...I can see specific benefits to being with them more and for the opportunity we've had for me to do that in this season (because it may not last forever) I am so very thankful and feel so very fortunate.
Despite KNOWING with certainty that this is where God wants us to be...there are times when I'm fearful: did we do the right thing, are we ever going to find a house, is it really all going to work out (me raising our three children in a basement for who knows how long...meanwhile our 2 dogs are in WV and our kitty is in KY and I miss them terribly). There are times where I rest in knowing God will provide and there are times when I doubt and I start welling up with emotion and frustration. This past weekend we went out with our realtor to look at five properties and the end result = no offers were made and won't be. Each time we go out I am hopeful but each time we go out we are met with what seems to be our reality - what we need cannot be found in our price range. With that realization comes other irrational fears...I'm going to end up going back to work, we're going to end up in a tee tiny house and be on top of each other and at each others throats 24/7, we are going to have to get rid of half of our belongings, etc. etc. etc. I know in my rational mind those fears are not from God...they are from the devil, but when they start seeping in they can do crazy things to your heart and mind. In those moments I ask for help outside of myself...I ask family and friends to pray and this past weekend I was so humbly blessed by some of the responses:
"Keep your faith, God will provide in His own time. He has been good to your family with this move and he has a plan. I love you and I will continue to pray"
"We are praying. Your God WILL supply all your need. He never cometh late. Rest in His arms and trust His timing. Her knows what you need and He sees the =big picture and what you will need down the road. Be encouraged!"
"God has a plan. We will just keep praying He reveals it sooner than later."
"God is good and works for the good of those who love the Lord. He will provide. Stay hopeful".
"I'm standing in agreement with you in prayer. He will answer your needs"
Wow! Therein comes the body being the body, Amen? As if that wasn't enough of God's provision through encouragement, we went to the same church we've attended the past three Sundays and Tim and I heard what we needed. The sermon was about fear and the Pastor preached about Elijah and it just resonated. I wouldn't have necessarily classified all my house hunting woes as fear...but they were...the fear of the unknown, the what - if's. I'm sure for both Tim and I different parts of the sermon spoke to us in different ways, but regardless...we were both spoken to and for that I'm grateful. I'm so glad God meets us where we are....he ALWAYS does. We feel encouraged and strengthened thanks to our friends and to a church here in Charlotte that we are coming to really enjoy - (a recommendation from our pastor in Lexington): Elevation. I'm not sure if it's our new home, but I'm sure it's where we'll be going for a while until we know.
Here's the sermon link from this past weekend if anyone is interested: http://www.elevationchurch.org/sermons/
I promise you won't regret the time spent listening =)
When I was reading last night before bed (in a book I've been trying to finish for months), would you believe she referenced the very same scripture that was preached about yesterday morning? There it was again....the illustration of God's provision...even in the face of our fears. Our job as believers isn't to be fearless, it's to weather those fears/struggles by relying heavily on our faith so that our faith pushes the fear down to a point where we are trusting God. So...I'm trusting and believing that we WILL find the house God has for us...in his perfect timing.