Okay, y'all. I've been debating for literally months about whether or not to write this post. But this blog has been my place to express my thoughts, document moments of significance, and share openly since I began writing in June 2008. It wouldn't be fair to my future self (or my kids!) reading through this blog in 30 years not to share what I'm about to.
Let me add one caveat: it's not personal. There's nothing in here that you will read below that is intended to be hurtful to any one person nor group of people. I have nothing but love in my heart for the people whom God has placed into my life -- whether for a day or a season or more -- so please know I do not intend to hurt or offend anyone by the honesty I'm about to share below.
In October 2017, God led my family to make a big move. As in, like, a gargantuan move. After what I look back on now and see as months--even years--of leading, He called my family to find a new church home. If you know me IRL, this may be surprising to you, considering my family has called the same church our home for TWENTY-SIX YEARS! That's basically 2/3 of my life that I've attended and served in just one church. So as you can imagine, leaving was not an easy decision. But as I have learned over the past few months, it was definitely the right one.
Here's a little backstory:
I was raised as a Nazarene my entire life. My family moved to South Carolina the summer before my first year of high school. So, like, 1990-something. ;) Without question, they began attending the local Nazarene church, which at that time was a large, active, thriving fellowship of believers. I enjoyed the youth program there during my high school years, but found it difficult to connect after high school because there wasn't much of a "college/singles" group to speak of at that time. The senior pastor who was there when we first started attending had left to take on a new congregation, and we had a new senior pastor take his place.
Over the next several years, I saw such a decline in the overall attendance of our church. Even worse, though, was a decline in the health of our church. People left in droves. Some of those who stayed behind were often frustrated with the overall (lack of) direction of our church.
It was during that time that I made my first attempt--as a single, working gal in my 20s--to find a new church home. A bigger church. One with an active college/single ministry. One where I could plug in and "do life" with others. And most importantly, one where I could both give of my time and God-given talents through worship, and grow in community.
I was reminded around that time by a great friend and spiritual mentor that nothing will change or improve in a broken church if everyone just jumped ship and walked away in search of something better. The reality was that some people just needed to stay behind to do their part in helping revive the church. Heal what was broken. Serve where servants were needed.
Ultimately I heeded that advice and stuck around. And I served. And I prayed. And I lived out 1 Samuel 12:24. I did all.the.things. I felt the Lord calling me to do. I was only one person, but I believed God would use my efforts--along with others--to accomplish His work. And I feel He did! I felt peace about serving. I felt God was pleased with my sacrifices. But I never truly felt like our church had become all that it was capable of becoming. All that it had once been. I'm sure that's not fair thinking on my part, but this is my blog and I'm allowed to be honest with how I felt, rose-colored glasses and all!
So fast-forward to more recent time (i.e. the past 2 years). I began feeling as though all of the things I had been doing just weren't enough. I was pouring more and more of myself into serving in various ministry areas at the church, and spending less and less time focusing on my family. My husband. My children. They were always so gracious when I'd have to leave home or miss special activities for any number of reasons (practices, meetings, etc.) and I told myself it was fine because all of the things I was doing were for God. For His church. But it started to become too much. I started to see where my marriage and family were suffering due to my commitments to the church. I don't think that's what God had in mind for me or for my family. I became convicted by Paul's words in 1 Timothy: "Anyone who does not provide for...their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
Whoa. That's heavy. And eerily specific to how I was feeling. So I started to pull back a bit. I let go of a few obligations here and there. I stepped down from this ministry or that council. With each step, I felt like the scales were tipping closer to where they should be for the proper balance my family deserved. But they weren't quite there yet. In all of this, I was praying for God's guidance to ensure I wasn't taking a misstep. To be sure my motives were right. To be sure the choices I was making, and the consequences of those choices, were in alignment with His will for my family and I. Through it all, He gave me His blessing. Even when it wasn't easy--for me, or sometimes for others--He gave me His peace. So I continued down that path.
A side effect I didn't expect was that, in my experience, it seemed as though if I wasn't actively involved in serving in one (or more) ministry area(s), the community aspect of the church quickly began to melt away. Now, I'm the FIRST PERSON who will tell you that actively serving in your church is not only a necessity, but is a Biblical command. Ephesians, 1 Peter, Psalms... it's in there, folks! Serve one another so that in everything God may be glorified. So of course it's important to serve in your church. But what happens if you're new? Or what if you hadn't yet found a place to serve? Or if you feel God is calling you to step back from serving for a while? Are you suddenly less than? Are you no longer eligible for community?
I can't say there was a single moment or event that ultimately led to the decision to officially leave our home church. Looking back, it seems it was a gradual thing. It's as if (spoiler alert!) God had a plan in mind all along, and that slowly removing myself from the roles I had served in just so happened to pave the way for my family and I to move on quietly. There were no major holes left behind. No catastrophes. No official goodbyes. Everything went on as scheduled, only we were no longer a part of it. And that's truly a wonderful blessing!
Eventually, however, it did surprise me that seemingly no one noticed. I had been a member of this church for 26 years, blessed to serve in various ministry areas, and suddenly, without warning, my family and I were no longer there. I only need one hand to count how many people reached out to me during the following months as we began searching for a new church home (and I'm so grateful for those faithful friends!).
In reality, what was most heartbreaking for me was that my children, who have never known any other church, never received so much as a one single note, or card, or text, or phone call--anything!--to let them know they were missed. Nothing. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, as even as of the time of this post, hubs and I never received a single message from any member of the staff to inquire about our extended absence, or to let us know we were missed, or to wish us the best, or tell us they were praying for us. And that's okay. Because that which could have easily been upsetting and hurtful, God used as a confirmation in my heart that we were doing the right thing by seeking a new community of believers. That we were following Him wherever He led us. That He had another plan for us. And boy does He ever!
I am SO grateful for His leading and for where we find ourselves now. And I'm beyond excited for the many things He is doing now and for the ways He is going to help us grow in our faith and use us in the days ahead! I give Him the glory and praise and could not be more thankful for everything He is doing in the lives and hearts of my family! It was a scary decision to make this move, but in the end, all it required of us was to listen and obey. And God is taking care of the rest. We praise Him!