I’ve often heard, “It’s not about the destination, but the journey.” In my younger years, I dreamed of where I would be when I was 40 years old, and now I’m rapidly approaching 50. Like most people, I have put a lot of emphasis on the destination, and obviously, I want to finish well. How many conversations have I had with my girls of “What will you be when you grow up?” Too many too count, I’m sure.
So far in my life, nothing has really turned out like I expected. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Once, I sat in front of a former pastor, when he asked me, “What’s your purpose in teaching here?” I struggled to answer, because I just taught to have something to do to get me to whatever that grand purpose for my life was. Granted, I felt inspired in the classroom at times, and I loved the kids, but it wasn’t “the dream” I was looking for.
My pastor pulled a piece of paper out of his office desk, placed it on the table, and drew two dots, point A and point B. “To get from point A to point B, you would think you would draw a straight line like this.” Picking up a pen, he made the horizonal line across the paper connecting each point. “But this is the way God takes people.” Continuing to draw, he now penned a long, curvy line creating somewhat of a circular pattern, connecting the two dots. “You think life is going to be a straight line from point A to point B, but that’s not how God does things. He takes you on a journey, that may seem like it will never end, but it is the journey that teaches you what you need to know, to be able to thrive at point B.”
That may have been some of the best advice I’ve gotten, for almost thirty years later, there are things I’m just now beginning to see take place in my life, that I thought would have happened twenty years ago. Without that gem of knowledge, I would not have valued all of the journey, but instead would have been frustrated in how long things were taking or maybe even had become disheartened, believing I would never see point B.
There have been many times I’ve fallen into a hopeless place, wondering when, if ever, point B would come into view. (Whatever point B was anyway?) Thankfully, now, I’m beginning to see my journey through different perspectives, and continuing to learn to value all the experiences along the way.
One such example is my journey with organized church, which has been a huge influence and been part of our lives since birth, considering we’ve always been members of a church somewhere. Three weeks ago, we began a new journey, by stepping out of a church we’ve been involved in for almost three decades. That’s a long time, I know. I don’t ever remember a time in my life of not having a “church home”. It’s really odd for me to even think about, but this new path is challenging me on some belief systems that I’ve had, that I didn’t even realize where there or that they were an issue.
One paradigm shift for me is that I have always been taught I must have the spiritual covering of a local body or else something bad would happen: I would be out from the protective umbrella of God’s ordained authority; therefore, the enemy could wreak havoc on my life.
Please understand that I think it’s great to be involved in a local church, but not for some supernatural spiritual protective umbrella. It’s important to have a place to serve others, love others, have some accountability, and grow in community. And just for those who may wonder, we do have a circle of friends and family to which we have and will continue to be accountable to, so we havent rebelliously or with any bad feelings left “church” to go on out on our own, but we are being led down a different path.
For me, having come from a childhood of twisted, abusive authority in my home and in the church, then through an adulthood of witnessing other types of church abuse, to now walking in a place where we are simply going every day where we feel the Holy Spirit is leading us, it feels like a mixture of freedom and fear. Freedom, because I absolutely love God being my covering as He should be and not being “under” or “beneath” another man as my go between. Fear, because I have a life time of thinking I had to have this perpetual umbrella over me or else.
Over the course of the last two years, my whole paradigm of what “the church” is supposed to look like has been changing. I love being cared for, protected, loved by those in authority over me. I know that local churches have to have structure to keep the ship running, and there is value in that for everyone. According to the Bible in Eph. 4:11-14, pastors, teachers, evangelist, etc. are ministry functions that people operate in with the purpose of bringing the Body into maturity. They are just a different part of the Body meant to build it up, like a heart pumping blood to supply life or the brain sending electrical messages, so that we can think, feel, and move. They aren’t any more valuable, than the one cleaning toilets. In fact, how long would a church last without clean toilets?
A few weeks ago, I sat in a group of believers who had been badly wounded by church leadership. Many had walked away from abusive relationships, and in desperation sought help from their church leaders, only to be either sent back into abuse, and/or if they didn’t obey the authority, were subsequently, rejected from the local church body. I’ve heard this story over and over again, regardless of denomination, and seen it play out in my own life growing up. The amazing thing about this group though was that they weren’t lashing out, but instead were offering forgiveness, hope, and understanding. They were being “the church”, loving God and each other well, but also being brave and voicing issues that need to be addressed.
The church was never supposed to be set up like a governmental system. Yet, so often it is set up in that way, which can lead to problems. We are supposed to be a body, a bride, a family, not a business or an enterprise. We were supposed to have Jesus as our head, not the pastor, though pastors have important roles to play in helping others be cared for, being the hands and feet of Jesus. Yahweh, though is our covering. We hide under His wings, running to Him as our strong tower. From what I understand now, it’s idolatry to look to a man for that. And yet, because this has been so ingrained in me, I find myself nervous, wondering if God is going to be enough. He is of course more than enough!
A couple of weeks ago, we ventured to small congregation in a depressed, rural area. We’ve met the pastor there several times through a mutual friend, and love his huge, welcoming heart for people. An old, dead Presbyterian Church now houses hungry worshippers of Jesus. We were greeted with a hearty hug, which warmed my heart. Everyone took their seats in the worn-down pews. Sunlight streamed through a stained-glass window portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd to my right. During the worship set, their sound system completely tanked, but those leading the worship never missed a beat leading everyone to sing all the louder their praise. As the pastor began his sermon, he said, “I wasn’t planning on talking about this, but let this be an illustration to you all. We can have the best sound system, lights, building, but one day this will all burn.” He threw his arms out in dramatic gesture. “What matters is the kingdom of God, us, the true church. We are the Church. That’s what matters.” The next day, the Notre Dame Cathedral caught on fire. An image I saw on the internet summed it up, for burnt wreckage lay all around, but the cross stood rising up out of the ashes. Though I know it was an immeasurable loss, the timing caught my attention. Man-made structures of church will burn one day, but Jesus’s redemption bought on the cross with His blood will remain, and how well we have loved Him and others, building His true Kingdom will last.
On Good Friday, we gathered with believers in remembrance of what Jesus paid for us. I was delighted, because every day, normal people got up and shared something that God had showed them about the final words of Jesus. Each person’s presentation was a unique, precious sharing of what the scripture meant to them. It was one the most beautiful experiences I’ve had. Someone organized the event, of course, but there was no governmental, “I’m the head, this is the tiered leadership, and you are the congregation at the bottom.” It was just a room filled with lovers of Jesus who cared for each other and wanted to worship their King.
In contrast, Easter Sunday, we sat in an Episcopal Church with family. As we sang traditional hymns and the orchestra behind us played, the sweet presence of the Lord wove through the air like incense. I imagined what the heavenly temple must be like, celebration like none we’ve ever known, with one day His spotless Bride united fully to Him. It was the presence of Jesus that made the difference. No matter if we worship in a pew, or are in our living room with friends, we are the body of Christ, and HE is present when we yield to Him.
Where will we end up next? I don’t have a clue. Will we ever land in another local church building? I expect we will at some point. But I’m learning more of what it means that we are the “church”. We are the living “temple” where God meets with us. I’m loving the process of discovering what being the “church”, outside of the four walls, looks like.
This journey has only begun for us, but I look forward to unexpected, new experiences, on which I will learn many valuable things about myself; hopefully, ridding myself of old mindsets that have been toxic, and embracing newfound truths more fully. I’m not even sure what the destination looks like. The journey is much different than I expected, but I can trust the One leading me. He is faithful and true.