My wife Sarah and I recently made the hard decision to leave our church in the suburbs and start attending a church nearby us in the city. Our church in the suburbs had become very much our home. I started attending this church within a couple weeks of moving up to the Chicagoland area in August of 2009. It has been a wonderful space for me to be healed, stretched, nurtured, serve, and given the opportunity to lead. The relationships that I made there have had an incredible impact in my life. Each year that I spent at that church was quite different. The first year I was there, I was fresh graduate from a fundamentalist college, living with my two of my best friends. The second year I attended there I was recently married, but was over 1000 miles from my wife, who was still in college. The third year, my wife and I were finally together. The fourth year, we had our first son. And this fifth year we moved into the city, and Sarah got pregnant with our second son.
Clearly there were lots of life milestones, changes, and transitions that happened to me while attending that church. As I matured as a believer, I was stretched and encouraged in my faith. When I became a husband, couples befriended me and stepped in to encourage and love on us. When I became a father, the church poured their love and support on Sarah and me, and eventually Micah.
I was given the opportunity to serve this church in a number of capacities, including serving on the elder board and leading the men’s group on Saturdays. The respect and trust I received in these roles was so encouraging, and I have learned some incredible things about leadership because of the people I served alongside of. One of the values that I personally have is that living life together is essential for growth. We can’t get through life on our own. To flourish, grow, and mature we need each other. Being around people with not quite the same beliefs as me was sometimes a challenge, but I am all the better for it. Being around those who are much older than I am and have had many more experiences in life than me has propelled me in my wisdom and worldview. The diversity of ethnic backgrounds that attend this church is a gift because of being so close to Trinity International University. Any opportunity I got to learn from those whose cultures don’t look exactly like mine I tried to learn from. It’s the diversity of beliefs, ages, and cultures that really can create a unity that’s incredibly beautiful. Learning to live and do life alongside people not exactly like yourself — it’s an incredible thing.
People complain about the local church a lot. And there’s probably a lot that might be worthy of complaint. But I’ve always been more of a person wants to help be part of the solution, rather than to sit back and complain about the problems. If something needs to change, then “be the change you want to see” — or however that cliche goes. From what I’ve learned through being a part of a number of churches, people just want to have a place they can feel safe and be real in. The problem is that churches often become places where we put on fake smiles and always answer “fine” to anyone who asks how we are doing. We constantly want to look like everything is going ok, and if not, that our faith in God will pull us through. We’d rather suffer alone in misery than ask someone for help. And I think most churches struggle with this — but it doesn’t take much to change the church’s culture.
In leading the men’s group at my church, I experimented with just being open and honest with everyone. Our men’s group was not the stereotypical group which sits around talking about sports and politics and other things that men supposedly only like to sit around and talk about. We talked about times of pain, weakness, grief, as well as the times of joy and triumph in our lives. It was a safe place that the men could talk about the things without fear of being judged or simply told to “man up” or have more faith. I found this experiment to be very successful, and before long we had a close knit group of men sharing from their hearts, and praying deeply for one another.
Our church was not the type of place where you feel you have to put on a show and act like everything in your life is going swell if it isn’t. And if you opened up to someone about things, people were there to support you, to care for you. That church was made up of our brothers and sisters – it was our family. To leave it was like leaving home.
But here we are now, at a new church with a new family to get to know. We finally decided to make the switch because we are about to have our second son and we wanted to have a good community that could help support us through this time. Our other church is 25 miles away, and it’s just not practical or realistic to expect for them to really be able to help us. Plus, a value of mine is to be involved in a church that is in your own community. I want to be attending the closest decent church I can go to and get involved right away. The church is already taking us in quite well, and there are tons of young families who are able to help us as we welcome our second child into the world. We are excited to call this new church our home and hope make lasting relationships like we did at our former church.