footprints in sandI began a new ministry journey that afforded me the opportunity to serve and grow in one congregation and yet physically live and connect with my home congregation.  This opportunity is one that not very many people get – to simultaneously have two very different but both positive church bodies from which to learn and grow.  One was very conservative and unintentionally “run” by a specific group.  Things were a little lopsided but upon closer inspection those that “ran” the church were the ones who showed up to make church happen.  I paid attention to that group dynamic.  The other congregation was considered a “purple church”, a place where scripture can be read and proclaimed and individuals in the congregation wrestle with what God might be saying to them from it.  The congregation isn’t looking for someone to always affirm what they individually believe.  Instead, they receive what God might be saying through the pastor or teacher and then wrestle with it individually and within a small group.  There are people who are more “red” and people who are more “blue” in the same space, and they clearly articulate that unity is not the same as uniformity.  We are united but not all the same.

As I dwelled in a congregation that wrestled with hard topics, prayed together (even without the pastor), brought varying voices to classes, valued every single voice, and served as a community of faith, I saw hearts and minds being transformed.  Heck, I was being transformed.  I experienced what growing in my faith really looked like.  Sure, I’d grown before but never like this!  I had Bible brain knowledge.  I had experienced growing in my faith individually in my heart.  What was new was the openness of community conversations around scripture and it transformed my life by taking my head stuff, my heart stuff, and my soul and then re-creating me.  I saw transformation occur in people over and over and a new person emerged each time.  I saw it several times for some people.  Church growth boomed but change, more change, and lots more change occurred.  It didn’t seem to bother people; I think the church had created a culture of change.  I had to grow accustomed to that kind of change because that wasn’t how I knew church.  It was uncomfortable and if you were to ask my old colleagues, they would tell you how much I had to grow in faith.  Over time, it settled in me too and was beautifully refreshing.

As a new pastor was called to the church I grew up in, and expectations were set, everyone was leery of this new guy.  They wondered if this new pastor was going to be able to change the church to help it thrive.  The brave members of the church worked hard at helping the congregation understand that doing the same thing over and over wouldn’t get a different result.  Though it was uncomfortable, they would have to change - but not necessarily change what they believed.  Rather the congregants needed to leave room for the fact that we are human: God is God… and I could be wrong.  Getting to this perspective would mean growing in faith and trusting that God would take care of the rest.  We humans often think we are right, so it would be a huge shift to be open.  To think to ourselves “Maybe someone else could be right, and that doesn’t mean that I’m not right… or wrong.”  That is the beauty.  I think the people at my home church began to get more comfortable with change once they realized that no one was trying to make them believe something that they were opposed to.  But, humbling ourselves to the very idea that we might have it wrong is where the difficulty shows up.  Our human arrogance gets in the way; we fall trap to valuing our arrogance more than our faith and our ego more than the church family… more than the congregation that we love so much.  Jesus tells us that growing in our faith is necessary and growth only happens through being willing to change, and to seek change out.

Some people in the church didn’t like the direction things were headed.  Unfortunately for the congregation, those people chose to leave.  The church leadership supported them as they looked for new worshiping communities and many flourished in other churches - thanks be to God.  The changing congregation continued to pray, listen, and care for each other and the community around.  Over time as everyone grew individually and communally, church growth began to slowly happen.  Now, this church has added a face lift to the outside of the building and some cosmetic updates inside it.  The last time I visited, there were some different pieces in the worship service; they had found a way to coexist and as a result, to thrive. It’s known in the area for serving Christ by serving everyone in the whole community, but it started with putting Christ before themselves.

My two worlds collided.  The congregations looked vastly different and yet both were faithful and thriving.  Sure, there’s still conflict but both congregations are in much healthier spaces to be able to deal with conflict in a more positive and faithful way.  God does make a way when we are anew and ready to receive it.  Until then we ready ourselves - we grow, we pray, we listen, we serve, we give, we humble ourselves, and we continue our journey.

Pastor Jen