Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Love Church


Our church is struggling.  Like really struggling.  Like Can't-pay-bills-or-people struggling.  And there is a part of me that hesitates to say that because no one likes to talk about money or the lack thereof.  It makes people nervous when you say things like that.  But when a church can't pay its staff, the staff struggles, too.  So here we are, me and Jake, in the midst of this thing, this depressing thing, fighting off thoughts of doubt and frustration.  We are worried for our church families.  We are worried about the community that God has placed us in.  We are worried that more people might leave. And on the real, personal side of things, we are worried that we might not keep our jobs.   And we love our church and our church family.  And we are just at the beginning of things.  We have only been here a year.  Nothing has really happened yet.  No God-ordained growth explosions.  No God-sized miracles.  Just the day-to-day struggle of a sweet pastor with health problems, dwindling finances, an unfinished building, minimal resources, and the twinge of abandonment that I feel every time another family leaves.  And there have been blessings.  Kids have been saved, prayers have been answered, spiritual growth has taken place.  But these things are often overshadowed by the gray skies of doubt and uncertainty.

The thing I have noticed most about our most recent struggles, though, is that they seem to be front and center in all of our hearts and minds.  They are the thing we think about, talk about, pray about.  I have spent entire worship services with my hands raised high, not knowing how to pray, but just saying "We need you, God".  And we do.  Because this thing is overwhelming.  I don't even know what to pray for anymore.  And the trouble has become the focus.  And I hate this.

Several Sundays ago, I saw a group of elementary aged kids riding their bikes in our church parking lot.  Our church is located in a strip mall in a residential area.  The neighborhood kids love to use the parking lot for scooters, rip sticks, and skateboards.  I walked outside, introduced myself to the kids as a children's pastor, and told them they should come back sometime.  They looked at me like I was crazy and rode off.  Throughout the week that followed, though, I became increasingly convicted about my focus.  I have been so focused on the problems that I have neglected my purpose.  I am still studying and teaching kids each Sunday, but my concern for people has just been kind of lying dormant.  Not dead, just buried underneath layers of worry and frustration.  So I made the decision that I was going to spend some time on Saturday going into the neighborhood and talking to people.  Getting face-to-face with real, actual people that have real problems and need Jesus.  And I invited friends to go with me.  Last Saturday afternoon, we went to a local park with little invitation cards I had quickly printed up.  We talked to a few families.  One man professed to be Mormon.  One woman did not speak English.  But the third, the last woman, was open.  She is looking for a church.  She is new to the area, and she wants a place that has a thriving children's ministry.  We had a great conversation, and we were excited at the possibility that she might come.  I spied another group of kids on bikes, and I gave them invitations as well.  They told me that we had already met in the church parking lot the week before, and I was happy to see them again.  And you know what?  On Sunday morning, those kids came.  Five of them.  Five sweet little kids woke up early and rode their scooters and bikes to church.  I couldn't believe it.  I gave them visitor cards and sent them home to have their parents fill them out.  They promptly returned with parent signatures.  They sat with me in the service, and they participated in the lesson and small groups time.  And when the service was over, they gave me hugs and promised they'd be back.  And I was instantly reminded about why I do what I do.  Because there are kids who want to come to church.  They want to know about Jesus and how He wants to be involved in their day-to-day.  There is a gospel that can change the course of their lives.  And that is bigger and greater than financial problems and church problems and past due paychecks.  And the church is not this building that we can't really afford.  It is not the budget.  Our church is made up of people.  People that I love.  People that are all feeling the same thing, but we still show up because we trust God and whatever it is He is doing here.  And we have a job to do.  We have a gospel to preach.  We have people to reach.  We have a God that longs to be glorified for the way He works and provides. And I pray that that is where our focus shifts.  To Him.  To people.  And to remind me, I am carrying with me gifts that were given by a couple of those sweet visitor girls.  Made with pencils and crayons and glue and affection for a Children's Pastor they didn't even know, a picture of the two of them, connected by a heart that says these three words "I love church".  I do, too, girls.  I do, too.

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