I was in the 4th grade when we started going to my church. My family had hopped around from church to church, never finding a right fit or denomination for us, until the boys across the street invited us to Sunday School one week and my sister and I enjoyed ourselves so much that my parents tagged along the following week and the rest is sort of history. Though it had changed in a lot of ways by the time we’d joined, it was the church my mother grew up in and it became the church my dad found God again in. It’s a small old building that rests on a hill at the corner of two of the “major” roads in my little town, rooted pretty deep in the customs of the Southern Baptist that founded it. There are hardly any original members left alive, but one of them, Mrs. Silva-Jean sits in my pew with my family; her and my Maw Maw are best girlfriends.
In the time I’ve attended Towne Baptist, we’ve seen several pastors lead our church. When the first one passed away, a younger, hyper man took his place. When God called that guy to serve in another state, one of our own members got ordained and became the Pastor. That Pastor got involved in the mismanagement of church money and was ultimately asked to leave and at his exit, much of the church fell apart. Members left in anger or disappointment, others got tired of waiting for the “right” pastor to come and fill the void. And when we finally got a new Pastor, most of my church experience changed in a big way, for the better.
When I was younger, I mostly liked church for Sunday School and VBS and church camping trips. These things made it fun to learn about God. But when I graduated high school and could decide for myself whether I wanted to go to church or not, I mostly stopped going altogether. It was around this time when the drama surrounding the mismanagement of money started to create a hostile environment in a place that should be all about peace. Alliances were made and gossip was spread and the cattiness of it all was just too much for me. Even though I know you’re supposed to turn your cheek and forgive, most of us just couldn’t and the hypocrisy in that made me look at organized religion in a negative way. I was of the belief that you could worship God anywhere; you didn’t need a building and all that drama to find Him. While I still feel this is mostly true, I made the decision to come back to church when they finally found a suitable Pastor to fix the brokenness at Towne, because I felt myself needing to go to church; it was way too easy to drift from God without it.
Maybe it’s something about being older and having a better understanding about life in general, but that new Pastor awakened a desire in me that I didn’t even know existed. He didn’t preach AT you, he didn’t proclaim to be holier than us. His sermons weren’t always the uplifting, feel good types that have become so common in mainstream Christianity. He wasn’t afraid of touchy subjects, he told Bible stories from an obviously well-educated perspective and connected them to real life scenarios, and he could even laugh at and acknowledge his own mistakes when preaching. Lots of older people probably had a problem with him from the start because he’s only a handful of years older than me, which made him way younger than the average pastor we’d had for the last few decades when he first came on board. They also had a hard time adapting to his new age methods of spreading God’s word. In his time there, our church held functions most Baptists think are sinful to even entertain, like Halloween’s Trunk or Treat, and the reach in our community was huge. Literally hundreds of people who might have never even given our church a second thought showed up. The use of social media as an advertising platform also didn’t jive so great with the older members of congregation because, like some might say, “FB is the devil.” While I might agree that it can be a hellish place, I think the ways in which we reach new followers has to change with technology. You’re far more apt to reach someone with a FB post or Ad than you are by them driving by the church and noticing a sign inviting them in. In my eyes, he was already doing so much more than any of the Pastors before him and it didn’t even stop there. The guy is seriously an overachiever in life. Someone missing from the praise band for the 8:30 service? No problem, Phil can play every instrument up there and sing too. There’s something both unbelievable about his seemingly endless abilities and also really freaking impressive. I can’t tell you how many times I wondered how he’d managed to excel at so much in this life in only a handful more years than I’ve been alive. If I was a prideful person, I suppose I could see how that might be intimidating to someone who’d achieved less in more years. Luckily, I’m not. 😉
The bulk of people from Towne or who had departed Towne prior to his arrival never made it easy for him to do God’s work without some sort of ugliness surrounding his every move. Some even went as far as creating a FB prayer group, of which the Pastor and his wife were a part of, just so they could talk crap about how inefficient they thought he was as a Pastor. It made me sick to watch these “Christians” acting so un-Christian-like, to the point that I found myself wanting nothing to do with the church anymore. This feeling of disappointment in the congregation at my church was enough to even make my parents leave and attending church without them for the last year hasn’t been easy, but I did because Phil’s messages moved me more than anyone before him. His sermons are the kinds that make you take notes; that lingers with you long after you’ve left the sanctuary.
A few months ago, Phil told us he was leaving. That God was calling him to plant a new church near his neighborhood. And initially, for me, the disappointment felt like anger. The idea of having to leave the church I’ve always went to because I couldn’t stick around through another transition of a new Pastor, because I couldn’t sit by and watch those naysayers gloat over his departure. But then my angry disappointment felt like relief because with my parents already gone, there was really nothing tying me to the church anymore outside of him. And while I might not love the idea of change, even when it’s good for me, I am okay with leaving finally.
So, it’s been 5 weeks since Phil’s last day and now 4 weeks since I’ve been to church and I worry about how long it might be before I actually get to see a service led by him again. Probably I’ll start going to the mega-church my parents go to for a while just so I don’t start drifting, but I’m not thrilled about it. It’s too big, like the kind of church you see on TV. My parents like it because no one has to know them personally if they don’t want – they don’t have to get involved in or know about the drama this way. But big churches like that feel impersonal to me. While I don’t want to be a part of the drama, I do want to feel comfortable in the pew every week, like I’m a part of a 2nd family I look forward to seeing once a week.
There’s a big part of me that feels bad about leaving the church I grew up in all because the leaders gone. Isn’t that just as bad as the people who left when he first arrived? How devoted does that make me? Except that devotion should always be toward God first, not a building. And I’m afraid that the brokenness of my church might never be healed. It’s fueled by too much negative energy and I just don’t think I can be a part of trying to fix that anymore. So until then, I’m sort of churchless. I’ll be honest, it’s a crummy feeling, but I just keep hoping and praying my Pastors new church plant takes off soon and successfully so I can get back to learning about God better than I ever had before him. And in the meantime, I’m pouring myself into my devotionals and prayer journal to keep me on track.
About the Church Plant: Connecting Church, Coming Soon….