The clock on my dash marked 10:18 AM by the time I pulled into a parking spot at my church. Though it was only three minutes after the start time of our worship service, it was enough for a single piercing thought to pass through my mind—I could just leave.
I didn’t leave that day. I sucked it up, got out of my car, and slipped into the sanctuary under the cover of darkness. (You know the one—when all the lights go down as soon as the slow song starts.) But I could just leave went deeper than I initially realized. The next week, I didn’t even get up for church. The week after that, I was sick. And by the third week, though I had all intention of going to church, I was still sitting in my pajamas at the kitchen table by the time service began. It turns out that I could just leave went beyond attendance on a particular Sunday. It was a thought that seeped into my bones. It was the quiet cry from a desperate soul, yearning for more.
But how did I get here?
It was a sequence of events really. Perhaps I could start with getting hired as a pastor at a university instead of a local church. The plan, since I was 4 years old, was to work in a local church. But now, my biggest contribution to the kingdom of God was taking place outside the walls of a church. That meant that my service at the church was a different kind than what I was used to. I was not a pastor there; I was a lay leader. It came out of my personal time, and it felt like too much.
At first, I was somewhat relieved when responsibilities were given to others and my load was lightened. But I was also hurt. One duty at a time, I was removed from leadership. Now, I wasn’t even a leader. I was just lay. It didn’t come from any ill intention of pastors on staff. I was simply the casualty of streamlining, but I found myself in the tension of wanting to support the direction of our church while personally feeling the pains of getting left off the bus.
What did church even mean when I was no longer contributing?
Now I was only left to consume. But I found no sustenance. I sat in the pews and left emptier than when I came. Though only a few things had changed on the surface, internally I felt like my soul was dying.
So on that third week of skipping church, I knew this wasn’t me. I absolutely love, adore, and believe in the local church. I’ve preached countless messages on its importance, on how it’s impossible to survive as limbs severed from the body. So how in the world did I get to the point of feeling that survival felt impossible if I stayed?
I got out a notebook and started writing. After delineating my internal struggles, I surmised:
Thus, I conclude that the primary impetus for me to attend morning Sunday worship gatherings is cultural expectation. Ironically, that’s enough for me to give in and keep going. It’s not enough, however, to keep my heart engaged.
What does this mean for me now?
I don’t yet know the answer (though I have some inklings), but I am always committed to Christ. To Him I cling. In Him I dwell.
And then, I started dreaming about the kind of church I’d love to be a part of. Unexpectedly, I drew out a house church structure. That had never been the plan, but it had somehow become what my heart craved. I needed interactive discipleship. I needed a place where I truly knew and understood others, and where I was known and understood by them. I wanted a place where my soul could rest and heal.
Over a period of months as God was challenging and changing how I viewed the role of the local church as a covenant, faith community, He also began reconnecting me with old friends who had similar experiences, dreams, and passions. As we met together over meals, shared our lives, and prayed together, it became clear that God was doing something special. Before long, a fledgling little house church was born.
So far, healing has meant rest and unlearning. I’m holding my plans, skills, and training loosely as God invites us simply to be with Him and each other. We have times for silence. We play board games. We worship with song and hear each other sing, and a friend’s young daughter plays toy instruments. And in all of this, my soul is learning to thrive.
It’s been just over a year since December 4, 2016, when I began sketching ideas about the kind of faith community I yearned for, and even in inchoate stages, it’s still better than I ever dreamed.
Surely, the CHURCH really is the hope of the world. The local church just might look a bit different from what I was raised to believe.