What Matters in a Church

Church and family collided as we hosted David’s game-themed
30th birthday party in the West Hall at NHC. (Ain’t he handsome?)

Because of our upcoming move, David and I are leaving behind the best church I can imagine. The last Sunday we were there before our 3-week trip to Denver for apartment hunting, I cried whenever anyone made eye contact with me. I LOVE these people. Even those whom I don’t know very well. I count most of my personal friends among the congregation. My daddy is an elder. My mama leads the prayer-shawl ministry. I have godsons only because we met our best friends, Adam and Michelle, there. While decorating the week of Anna’s wedding, I ran around the place barefooted for goodness’ sake! Our church is literally our family, and the chapel is literally our second home.

Since that Sunday, we’ve visited 2 very different churches. The first service was what is commonly called “contemporary,” and the second was a blend of contemporary and conservative.  I’ve quickly realized “there’s no place like home,” and I’m going to have to get over that!

  1. A “welcome” isn’t necessarily “welcoming.” This realization hit me hard because I was the coordinator of the Welcome Desk at NHC. Now on the other side of that desk, David and I received an excellent reception from greeters at both new churches, but both left us feeling awkward and out-of-place. There is only so much you can say to someone you’ve just met before it becomes uncomfortable. As a naturally introverted individual, I find those moments torturous. But I’m the only one who can change the situation. I will have to force myself to be open and vulnerable around a new church family before they will do the same with me. That is how relationships are developed–by trusting others to see who you really are–not by signing a card on Sunday morning.
  2. Teaching levels vary. We have been blessed with impeccable, academic-style teaching at NHC. Our church doesn’t have a “pastor” (the leadership is a group of elders), so different teachers rotate in and out with messages each Sunday. Several are seminary graduates; all are men of God with hearts for raising up Christians in their faith. “Salvation” messages are not frequent because most of our church family are more-mature Christians. We’re mostly (though never entirely) done with the “milk” and ready for the “meat” (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). This approach has problems–most obviously the confusion of new Christians–but it has served David’s and my growth needs in a way other churches would not have. I don’t know what “level” of teaching we will find in our new church home, but I realize that teaching isn’t everything. Church is about the people living for God and interacting with each other, not about the 30-minute speech on Sunday mornings.
  3. Ministry needs vary. Every church is colored by its local community and meets the needs of individuals there. Odds are, a Denver church wouldn’t have a bus ministry because transportation is (almost) free and easy in the city thanks to well-developed public transportation; a bus ministry would be helpful in the sprawling Southern countryside where cars are necessary to get from place to place. David and I will have to be flexible with our expression of the gifts God has given us because we will be servants to different people with different needs.

The bottom line: I can’t compare a potential new church to the one I love in Tennessee. That isn’t fair. At this moment, no church building is going to be as homey as NHC because no church member is counted among my family. I’ve been pushed out of my warm little nest; it’s time for me to rely on God to provide for me a new home, new family, and new ministry.

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