Church Is A Lonely Place

If I were to take a poll of the saddest stories you’ve ever heard about the happenings of the Church, you’d probably come up with a few familiar tales… pastors abusing their power, finance directors embezzling funds, etc. But these are only the symptoms of deeper issues that desperately need to be dealt with. Byproducts of a kind of isolation that leaves any person vulnerable to becoming the prey of sin.

By far, one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in today’s Christian church is not the mishandling of funds or sexual indiscretions (sad in their own rite) but rather when cliques form at the expense of those on the fringes. Following Christ is meant to be done together, for sure. But somehow our affinities isolate others. This isolation it’s especially evident on Sunday mornings. The regulars pool together and the new folks sit alone. Without a connection, would they continue to come back? They already feel vulnerable and out of place. So why so often do we leave them to fend for themselves on the outside of our circles? Have we left them for the proverbial wolves?

There are three groups of people that attend our services any given Sunday: the Cynic, the Seeker and the Servant. If you find yourself in either of the first two groups of people, this article isn’t about you. We welcome you to continue to explore what it means to follow Christ within the context of a community of other Christ-followers. But if you’ve been around this community of Christians for more than a couple of months, I’d like to invite you into the third group.

I’ve heard some people within this third circle–members of this church, in fact–comment that they didn’t get anything out of the service. I’ve heard comments like, “Last Sunday morning was a waste of time.” Or, “Why did I put forth the effort to get out of bed, get my kids ready and make the drive to experience something so flat?” Sometimes I think people wish we could somehow make personal calls on Saturday night to say, “Listen, tomorrow’s not gonna do anything for you, so why don’t you just stay home.” Now, I don’t think that this is a majority attitude (at least I hope not), but I’ll bet some of you have thought this at some point.

The problem with this attitude is that it’s nothing shy of arrogance. It’s pompous and self-serving. This attitude fosters the mindset that the reason we gather on Sundays is for you. If you’ve found yourself at the Grove for more than a couple of months, maybe this is the first time you’ve heard it so let me be clear… if you are a regular of this place, Sunday is not designed for your listening pleasure. The songs. The message. The provisions. Not for our members. We expect our members to attend and find a way to serve on Sundays and then participate in Small Groups throughout the week. Sunday is largely designed for our guests. And your presence on Sundays is for our guests, for the people who are looking for a reason to connect to the church. You are not merely just a body filling a seat, you are a connection point for someone wondering why they should stick around. That new couple sitting beside you is wondering what makes you want to come and be part of this community. And more often than not, you keep quiet and people move on in search of a place to belong.

We have a Connecting Ministry at our church. And you’re in it. You may not have been formally recruited. But you are the reason people decide either to stick around for another week or to move on. It’s not the teaching or the music or the kids program. Those are secondary for most people who are looking to connect. People choose to stick around when they feel like they matter. If you’re a member, a servant, you are the connecting point. It’s through your invitation that people move from one circle into the next.

300 Miles to Go, Part I

Man, it’s been a long journey.

We started in August, talking about the idea of launching back out into full-time ministry. It’s been three years and I got really hurt last time. But we both knew the timing was right. I remember sitting on the couch at our house one evening and Kelley asking, “When do we consider this a real possibility?” I couldn’t believe she’d just said that. I’d been resistant before but the timing of her question couldn’t have been more divine.

For awhile I’d been feeling the tug to rejoin the path I’d left a few years back. I knew this could be a big risk. I kept thinking, “Not only is there the pain of past experiences but now I have a family that I’ll cast into this and only God knows where we’ll have to move.”

We talked off and on for the next few days about our options. I pulled out my resume. Added some new experiences to it and posted it to a couple of church job websites. Within a week we had half a dozen promising prospects.

Not a single one of them in Birmingham.

Before too long, three job options began to emerge that we wanted to pursue.

Seattle. Huntsville. North Carolina.

The one in Seattle seemed so exciting and we were convinced we’d be moving our family across the continent. That was a hard idea to stomach but it was a very electrifying prospect. They are a very large Christian resource publisher and I was being considered to write their training curriculum. A couple of interviews later and I received a gracious letter from them to let me know they had chosen another candidate.

We’d been talking (really emailing) the churches in Huntsville and North Carolina to try and setup conversations, possibly even visits if/when the timing was right. These emails and conversations went at a slow but rhythmically predictable pace. We had been at this with a goal of knowing where we’d be placed by Thanksgiving 2009. We had a couple of opportunities to visit with one church and spend an extended amount of time on the phone with the other and started to really get the sense that both of these places were involved in some really spectacular work.

All the while, we knew we needed to get our houses ready to sell (remember, Kelley bought a townhouse before we started dating and after we were married we began renting out). We’d asked a real estate agent we knew to help us sell the townhouse.

We got nowhere.

So, for our house we turned to our good friend, Social Networking. We posted on Craigslist, facebook, Oodle and our own personal website and by the afternoon we had record-interested buyers. We had the pitfalls of some scammers, too, causing us a little bit of chaos and aggravation. Thankfully, we were quickly able to squash them and keep moving ahead. We just knew that with the housing sales still in the crapper, we had to generate some quick interest that would stand out from the other houses on the market in our neighborhood and turn our house around fast.

As most of you may remember, during this time Rosie had been admitted to Children’s Hospital for more than a week, Christmas was only days away and the new year was quickly approaching. This was not a calm stretch of weeks for us. This Holiday season was a little bit busier than others in the past had been. Add to that the stress of not knowing where we’d live once we finally sold – or rented – or leased – our house.

Our plan was to move into the townhouse and live out of our luggage until we knew what direction we’d be heading with these job prospects. Sometime mid-January just before we were heading up for another visit with one of the prospective churches, we signed the lease to our house with the new family moving in February 1. As we were traveling, our agent called to tell us that someone was interested in purchasing our townhouse.

Guess when she wanted to close…

Yep. February 1.

There goes our plan for living at the townhouse. Looks like we’re piling in with Kelley’s folks. Gonna be a tight fit. But hey, saves us lots of money. Still living out of a suitcase, though.

In light of the way God seemed to be working things out, I laughingly told Kelley that I expected to hear from one or both of the churches on February 1.

Meanwhile, we ordered a POD to begin packing up our things to make room for the new family moving into our house. We submitted the order to have it delivered on Thursday. But sovereignly, early Tuesday morning, we were awakened to repeated rings of the doorbell. I threw on clothes and went to the door to find a large 16’ container being dropped off in our driveway. Earlier than we were prepared for but it would turn out in our favor, having two extra days for packing. It’s amazing how our 1500 square foot house fit into such a small space; and humbling to realize that all our earthly possessions are in a little box that is half the size of our garage.

After the final walk-through we said goodbye to the house of all our family memories to date. We were married at this house. We brought our babies home to this house. We celebrated Eli’s adoption here.

Birthdays. Baptisms. Lots of firsts.

It was hard to now see this house so empty after leaving us so full.

We said our farewells, recalled some fond memories and drove away. We needed some rest anyway. “There’s too much limbo in our lives right now. It’d be nice just to have some direction,” we constantly thought. A couple of days later we headed up to West Virginia for a few days of skiing.

Kelley and I finally got a chance to ski together. As we were taking the lift she said, “I wish we just had something concrete. Wish we could make some plans.” And I wished I could give her some answers.

But for now, there’s a long blue run down a snowy mountain calling our names.

We’d only been back to the condo a few minutes when the phone rang. This was it. Could this be the call we were waiting on? Could this be the answer to all our searching? After the conversation played out, we couldn’t have been more excited.

A little scared but really excited.