This past Sunday was a very special day.
We dedicated our dear Christiana to the Lord during the Sunday morning service at our church. As our entire family stood along with our pastor and his wife before our church family and dedicated this newest blessing back to the God who gave her to us I was overcome with emotion on many levels.
I was filled with joy that God has chosen to bless us with this precious life.
I was filled with love for Christiana, my amazing husband, my beautiful children, my extended family, my pastors and my church family.
I was filled with peace knowing that this child belongs to the Lord and that He is in control of her life.
I was filled with hope, awe & wonder at the knowledge that God has a very special and unique plan for her life and that she will certainly be called by God to do great & mighty things for His kingdom.
As I stood there and looked out on the congregation, it hit me that 20 years ago in 1989 we had brought our first born daughter, Michelle to that very same altar, at that very same church and dedicated her to the Lord. Over the past two decades, everyone of our eight children has been dedicated to the Lord at this same altar.
It also hit me that this is a rarity in our modern day mobile society where for one reason or another folks seem to switch churches every few years.
I officially joined this church 26 years ago as a single young college student who after spending the summer as their youth intern decided that I wanted to become a part of this church family. My now husband, Dan became an official member after he decided to commit to being a part of the volunteer youth staff almost 25 years ago.
One of the benefits of staying put over all these years is that many of our important spiritual milestones have taken place within those church walls and with our church family.
- Dan proposed to me at the altar at the conclusion of our youth service on March 18, 1986 (and I said yes!)
- We were given counseling and married by the staff of this church and held our wedding reception in that very same sanctuary.
- We served on staff as youth pastors of our church for four years.
- Besides all of our children being dedicated to the Lord at that altar – one was saved during a children’s puppet crusade there (all the others prayed to receive Christ at home other than one who happened to be at a local gas station), three have been baptized in water at the church, four have been crowned an honor star through the outstanding girls ministry of Missionettes and two have held their Rite of Passage ceremony in the chapel.
- We have sat in the same section in the front left hand side faithfully every Sunday and worshipped together, prayed together, given offerings together, been convicted, inspired, amused and yes even sometimes put to sleep, by the messages, gone to the altar for prayer and ministered to others all in that sanctuary.
- We have taught Sunday School, worked in the nursery, volunteered in children’s ministry, attended special events, rejoiced along with dozens of young couples as they were wed, watched multitudes of baby dedications, baptisms and celebrated the lives of precious saints who went home to be with the Lord…all in that very same building.
Now perhaps you might be thinking, that we found the perfect church since we have stayed and remained faithful all these years. The messages must always be compelling, funny and interesting. The programs must be comprehensive and state of the art with something for everyone from infants to senior citizens. The music must be perfect and pleasing to everyone. The pastor and staff must be kind, compassionate, forgiving, wise, moral, charismatic, friendly, organized, effective communicators, dynamic leaders, ready to drop everything when you need them and willing to go the extra mile. The people there must be wonderful, supporting, encouraging, loving, serving one another – never gossiping, backbiting, complaining, grumbling or…..
…..oh wait – are you laughing yet?
No, my home church is just like every church I know – full of imperfections, flaws, problems and frustrations.
We have had some very amazing and awesome times at our church and we have had some very troubling and terrible times as well. There has even been the “in between” rather dull and boring years with not much happening at all. We have seen hundreds if not thousands of lives dramatically impacted and we have seen people hurt and become bitter and angry. We have gone through three pastors, five children’s pastors, six worship leaders and seven youth pastors. We have experienced an abundance of resources as well as times where we did not know if we would be able to turn on the lights the next Sunday. We have had seasons of favor in the community and years marked with scandal. We have seen people come and people go (and even come back again several times) We have seen them trickle out because they were unhappy with this or that or because they were searching for better preaching or programs and we have seen them leave in droves because of some controversy, offense, disagreement or because of the latest and greatest new church starting up across town.
And yet through it all….we have stayed.
Why??? I am glad you asked.
We have stayed because we see commitment to our local church family the same way we see our commitment to our marriage and family. We have made the commitment for the “long haul” – in good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health and hopefully until death do us part.
Now of course their could be legitimate reasons to leave a church – like moving miles away, being called to minister to another congregation, if the church was to start heretical preaching (I’ll call this church adultery since they are forsaking the true Jesus – I might not leave for this but rather stay and fight but I do understand those that do leave for heresy) or if their is abuse going on from leadership (one of the reasons I have chosen to stay in a church denomination that has a governing body over the local church that can intervene when leadership goes awry – non denominational churches lack such accountability) – but unfortunately the vast majority of people who leave a church do so, not for the reasons stated above, but because they:
- are unhappy, frustrated or bored with the services, teaching or music
- are not “getting fed” (ie – want the preaching to be dynamic, motivating and challenging)
- want a better nursery, children’s or youth services, Sunday school or other program they deem vital
- are angry at some church decision, the leadership or policies
- things are not new & exciting enough
- someone has ticked them off, offended, hurt or sinned against them
Now, I don’t know about you but I would not leave my marriage or trade in my family for any of those reasons. Yes, there are times I am unhappy, bored, angry, hurt, frustrated and not very content with both my marriage and my family. Yes, there are times I want change or feel the need to have something new & exciting but that does not cause me to run off with a new guy or leave my children. And of course on occasion I long for a bigger house equipped with the all the” bells & whistles” and yet that is not what makes a house a home it is my family and our years of memories together that are the most important.
Since the Bible compares Christ and His commitment and love for His church to marriage and how it should operate – I think that we should all more seriously consider our commitment to the church as well.
Maybe it is time to stop church hopping. Maybe it’s time to make a commitment to a body of believers and stick with it. Maybe it’s time to:
- pray during service if your unhappy or frustrated (or look for someone to minister to)
- feed yourself! (one of my biggest pet peeves is when adult Christians say “ I am not getting fed”. Really? Grow up & feed yourself)
- volunteer to make your church programs better or realize that perfect programs are really not that vital compared to what you are teaching your children about commitment & faithfulness by sticking it out through the good, bad & the ugly
- graciously and humbly communicate with your church leadership when you are concerned or have problems and at the same time let them know that you will not leave if things don’t change or go your way
- trust God that He is using the leadership of your church in your life for good even if they make wrong decisions or policies
- forgive those church members who sin against you (definition of forgiveness here – throw it in the sea of forgetfulness and remember it no more – you know – like what Jesus has promised to do for you…whew!)
- remember that “new & exciting” is fun while it lasts….but it always, always, always ends up being old & routine. (so start seeing that as solid, secure, consistent and faithful)
- “get over it” and realize that there is no perfect church – expect that you will at times be unhappy, frustrated, hurt and offended and enjoy the other times when you are thrilled, excited, amazed, touched, loved and blessed. Just like it is at home.
I believe that we have been blessed beyond measure by making such a unshakable commitment to our local church. I also believe that the Lord is pleased that we have chosen faithfulness, commitment, forgiveness, long suffering and love over taking the easy way and “jumping ship” when we were unhappy, offended or discontent.
My one regret is that there are only a handful of others in our church who also chose to have that same type of commitment. Oh how I would have loved to look out at that congregation on Sunday and seen the hundreds of church family members who were there when I became a member in September of 1983, who celebrated with us as we were married in 1986, who were there to commit to helping us raise our children up in the Lord as we brought each one of them to the altar and who played with them in the nursery, taught their Sunday School classes and led their Missionette clubs . Instead most of those folks are scattered throughout churches in our county, yes serving the Lord and yes still part of the greater body of Christ and while we have done our best to stay connected it is just not the same. We have all missed out on the joy, love and blessings of being an intimate “forever church family” while here on earth.
I hope and pray that my children as they grow up and settle down wherever the Lord leads them that they will find a church family that they will commit to and that they will be blessed to have members with that same commitment. Does that exist anymore? I believe it can if we each just start today with our own decision to commit to our church family…..forever.