Friday 26 October 2012

My Church Mosaic (Part 5): Authentic Church

Twenty-nine years of the church and I have been shaped by her, become part of her, loved her and despised her and didn't know what to make of her.

These are my stories.

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)


Finding peace in imperfection

That first meeting and the ones that would follow it were everything we had hoped for since losing our Community Church. We met in the evening and shared a potluck dinner each time, breaking bread together in the truest sense, communion at its deepest. We would worship together, discuss the Word together, pray together. Our children played quietly right there with us, looked at books, snacked on cheese cubes and apple slices.

Most of all, there was a sincerity that drew us back each week, hungry for authentic community.

* * *

The boy was drawing a picture of a truck while we discussed the passage. Something was said about Noah, I don't recall, but the boy looked up.

"I know about Noah," he said. "Noah built a boat."

"Yes he did," one of the men smiled. The discussion continued.

My heart swelled with joy. This was what I had been searching for, a place where my children were truly included, free to join in the discussion with the rest of the church. You wouldn't know he was listening, so intent was he on his drawing, but he was. He always was.

* * *

Sometimes I think everything hopeful is too good to be true. Can nothing ever just be what it seems to be?

Things began to change.

First we moved from meeting in homes to meeting in a building. Well, it didn't matter where we met, so long as we kept doing it together.

Next came the children's program. But we'd put four years into gently teaching our children to sit quietly with their activities through church services, had always been able to smile politely and move on when someone would mention their excellent children's program, so we would just continue to do so. Likely some parents appreciated having the option. Still, it was discouraging. Are we so unimaginative? Must we always fall back on what we know?

Then came less Bible, more business. Buzzwords, books, talk of change and growth and just get me out of here, I'm so tired of it always coming down to this. It had all been so good, so very exactly what we hoped for. Now we drove home feeling discouraged, more cynical with each passing week. Maybe we should just forget it. The desert had been so peaceful.

* * *

Backed into a corner. That's how I felt that night.

"The women and children will go to the children's program while the men stay for this quiet exercise, and then then men will go with the children while the women have their turn."

I should have just left. But I didn't. I silently seethed as I allowed my children to attend their first children's class. It was the typical Sunday School experience, cutesy songs and an "age-appropriate" Bible story, then some games and time to run around.

Church was never the same after that. He wanted to go sing and run around - of course he did! - and what used to be a non-issue became a weekly meltdown.

I was torn. Go against my conscience and let him go? Stand my ground and have church become a battlefield, a place of unhappiness for him? There was no winning, whatever I chose.

* * *

Hours. That's how long I would lay in the dark, long after we'd said good-night, writing and rewriting long letters in my head.

Do you know what you've taken from us? We used to drive home after church and all of us would discuss together, and he'd ask, always, "what did they mean by this? what does that mean?" and now nothing, nothing. I ask him what they talked about in Bible class and he can't remember. "Nothin'," he says. "I don't remember." Do we really need silence as we talk? silence as we pray? What of our example? What of embracing a small bit of children's noise in exchange for all the good it does all of us in the long run? Their little observations, their funny interjections, they have such a unique way of looking at things. Let them in! Let them watch us wrestle with the meaning of the text! Let them watch us pray - really pray - for each other! Let them see us cry, let them hear prayers answered, let them celebrate with us! Trust us to teach them in their own language at home, but at church, let us be a family, whole and together and not broken up by age or stage or anything else. You've released so much of the typical Sunday service - can't we let go of this thing, too?

But I never wrote them. Never initiated those conversations. I was too new - what right did I have to criticize their decisions? I was too defeated - what difference would it make anyway? I was too scared - how could I ever explain why this was so important to us?

(And I am the reason nothing ever changes in this world.)

* * *

One night came the official announcement. They had a new vision, one that had arose from much prayer. They sought to form missional communities, first one and then more as the church grew and more opportunities for focused missions arose. They wanted those of us who were willing to commit to that vision to join them in this new expression of church. They would support us, equip us, answer our questions and listen to our thoughts.

We wrestled over the issue together, the husband and I, for weeks. We had our questions, doubts, and uncertainties. We struggled to wrap our minds around these changes; what we had originally joined so perfectly fit our vision of church and we were hesitant to let that go. What had felt organic now felt increasingly structured and constricting. We felt angry, even betrayed. This wasn't what we'd signed up for.

We stayed at the crossroads for a long time.

* * *

It always came down to the same thing. Whatever their vision, whatever our differences, we couldn't deny their authenticity. We'd grown to love this community and their dedication to living a balanced life - inward, outward, upward - even when we disagreed on the finer points. These were people who loved with their whole selves, and that kind of sincere love isn't easy to walk away from.

Truly, love covers a multitude of wrongs.

* * *

We met with the leadership, asked our questions, talked over a shared meal. We were still hesitant, unsure of how this would all play out, afraid we'd be stepping straight back into everything we'd walked away from, the whole church thing instead of a living Christ-centered community.

We talked some more. Prayed some more.

In the end, we chose to commit.

* * *

It's been a year since that new vision was announced. We've stepped outside of our comfort zone and been blessed in doing so. As the dust of new change has settled, we've seen good things come out of it, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in this work and been surrounded by sincere love.

This is a community that pours themselves into each other, breaking bread over a shared meal each Sunday, gathering together throughout the week, encouraging and challenging each other, serving others in the neighbourhood, seeking God throughout it all. This is a church that genuinely seeks to be a family.

We had sat at the crossroads for so long - step out in faith to walk with them towards this new vision, or jump ship before we get hurt again? - and even now we acknowledge that where we are doesn't line up in every way with our ideal picture of church.

(But then, wouldn't we go back to our Heart Church in a second if we were to live there again? Typical church in every way, vocational ministry, Sunday School, programs, preaching...and oh, that beautiful liturgy. Truly, I am a walking paradox.)

But we are finding peace in that incongruity as we witness the ways in which authentic community and sincere love cover over these small differences. So long as God's Word remains the foundation and Love remains the way of life, maybe we can learn to let go of some of the things we clutch so tightly. Open our hands and receive love in exchange.

This feels like the beginning of healing to me.

* * *

Thank you for joining me in the space, for listening to my stories. There are so many more - God in my childhood home, years of summer camps, the incredible blessings and deepest hurts of the greater online Christian community - but it is a relief to have written down even this much. Slowly I am learning to love the Bride amidst this broken institution, discovering a kingdom of love that is already beginning though not yet complete.

This journey will continue, guaranteeing as it does both blessing and pain as broken people walk together towards the promise of wholeness.

Learning to bear with one another in love means learning to allow one another the freedom to follow the leading of the Spirit. Your life experience is just one note of grace among the melodies and chords swirling throughout the assembled throng [of the People of God]. Only together will all of you, and each of you, discover the mighty song that the Spirit of God is singing through you.
- Richard Foster, "Life With God"


Are you searching for a welcoming community of Christ-followers in the Vancouver area? Wherever you are in your own journey, please do feel welcome to contact me if you would like more information on this place we have come to call our church home.


  1. I feel so blessed to have read each piece of this truly beautiful and unique mosaic.

  2. Thank you for these stories. Wish you could recommend a church home in the Los Angeles area :)

  3. Nicely put! Thank you for these stories!!

  4. so, are your kids still with you during worship? I think i'm having a hard time conceptualizing what your new church "looks" like.... Yes, even after reading the wikipedia page.. LOL!

    1. There is still a children's program. Sometimes our boys attend and sometimes they don't (we loosely operate on the same alternating weeks that you mentioned in one of your previous comments), but I vastly prefer the weeks when they stay with us. It was our compromise between my ideals and the boys' desires. I would love to see our church as a whole move towards a more holistic/integrated model of church, but unfortunately the other parents just aren't there yet. It's such a firmly entrenched thing in our (general "our") idea of church, this need for a separate children's program during our times together.

      As for what things look like now, we balance our meetings between weeks where we focus upward through worship, prayer, group discussions, guided teachings, etc; weeks where we focus outward on serving the neighbourhood and/or our particular focused mission field; and weeks where we focus inward on strengthening relationships within our church family (a games night, for example). Each meeting begins with a potluck dinner and then we move into whatever we are doing that particular week. It can be hard to visualize, but living it has been a positive experience overall. :)

  5. Thank you for posting your mosaic journey; I think it represents a common search we all experience in this day. I found your description in the letter in your head to be enlightening. Not being raised in church and the only memories of church as a young child was all related to Sunday School, bus ministry, and camp but now as a young parent I can see the value of having the children in service with you. However, there are two points that are conflicting for me.

    One, as a Sunday School teacher I poured so much prayer into my students, I sought to give them an experience in SS that would leave an imprint on their hearts as my teachers had once done. I def know that some SS programs are meant for babysitting, but not all. As teachers we were encourage to make our classrooms a place child learned about God, His word and most of all a place to learn how to pray. As a involved parent I can understand wanting this role to be solely yours now; but without SS I would have never received these things as a child and would likely be lost as an adult.

    Two, this sort of goes hand in our home church we had a very well established bus ministry. We visited the ghettoes, we ministered to the needs of the poor and were typically welcomed. But rarely could you get the parents to attend church, instead they were insisted on sending their children. We were aware this became like free babysitting for the non-church parents but we were thankful for the opportunity to minister to the children. If we had taken those children, I being one of them and then later a SS teacher myself, and sat the children among the larger congregation, or during bible study and tried to teach them to behave appropriately on the pew then they would end up resenting this non parental adults for instruction. More so, they would not have the ability to discuss messages at home, so essentially SS provided for these children a way they could digest the milk before they were ready to digest meat.

    I guess I just wanted to share my perspective that not all SS programs are the same and in nature are not necessarily design to give adults their quite time. Without SS and being a "bus kid" I wouldn't have the foundation in Christ I now have as an adult.

    1. Thank you for sharing those thoughts. I believe bus ministries such as you described are indescribably valuable. It was those types of ministries that Sunday School was originally developed for (1780, Robert Raikes, Britain, for the purpose of teaching poor children the basics of education), and I don't think we can fully appreciate the lasting benefits they provide.

      Thank you also for the sincere prayer and teaching you poured into your students. I don't want to devalue the role my own Sunday School teachers played in my life; it's a point of mental conflict for me as well. When Sunday School is embraced as a way of reaching those children who otherwise wouldn't be taught those things at home, I can wholeheartedly get behind that. Unfortunately, my only experiences of Sunday School in all my years has been filled with churched kids who come from Christian families.

      I don't think, either, that it has to be one or the other. I think we can both keep "churched" children with their families during the Sunday services while also running a separate ministry (such as the one you described) at a separate time to intentionally reach out to children who otherwise would not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and know the love of Christ. I don't know; I'm mostly just thinking out loud here. I would love, though, to see Sunday Schools regain that focus of ministering to "unchurched" kids while trusting their church members to provide age-appropriate religious education to their children at home.

  6. I've thought about that a time or two when my aunt who also was the pastor's wife would bring up this topic about church kids not having enough time on the pew with their parents, but the problem I see is it would serve to alienate the bus kids... Rosa parks comes to mind, although totally different circumstance! I knew I was different as I went home on the bus instead of in the car with my parents but at church I never felt different during church and I think it was simply because we were all together. At the same time, I have felt the pains of being alienated by some well meaning adults who thought I needed stricter instruction in order to learn right from wrong because my parents "obviously" wasn't teaching me right as they didn't attend church. These adults made me feel less than and lower in class as if my status as a bus kid was my fault. Or being a bus kid period was something dirty.

    This sort of beckons to your message on attachment parenting, a Christian perspective...for some kids their first sight and understanding of God comes from the church folks they encounter--kids or adults. Think of the mass influence of inequality or equality that can leave an imprint on a child's heart whom may go home to drug addict parents throughout the week. In fact this is the very thing my own husband deals with now as an adult; his parents were not examples of God so he struggles today to understand God's justice, mercy and love.

    Anyhow I will add that we only had SS on Sunday mornings, night service and Wednesday was for the church families basically. Anyone was welcomed but we just didn't run the bus. But most of us bus kids didnt know there was three services, we just knew the bus picked us up at X time on Sunday mornings. I do think you can still have instruction at home even if your kid has SS. I also think like you said in your head- letter they have great insight and can add to discussions; think of how invaluable their presence can be in a SS classroom among other kids, bussed or other church kids (not all church kids come from good homes). It is well known that kids learn quite well and sometimes easier from their peers. Think how much of an opportunity it gives them to let their own light shine!

    At any rate, good thoughts thanks again for sharing ~

    1. Oh goodness no, the one scenario that could not happen would be some kids in church while the bus kids were in Sunday School, precisely for that feeling of separation that you mentioned. When I said run it as a separate ministry at a separate time, I meant an entire children's program for both "churched" and bus kids - Sunday afternoon, Thursday evening, Saturday morning, after the church service, whenever, but a full and complete program for all children. I'm so sorry you've felt that sense of alienation or "less than", and while I haven't been in that position, I wouldn't ever want to contribute to another child feeling that way.

      However, even if it was run as a typical Sunday School program during Sunday morning church, I would feel that it had value for all children if it was reaching children outside of the church. Being light, as you said. The benefits in that scenario would outweigh the drawbacks in my mind.

      I've also never been part of a church that had multiple services like you mentioned; that scenario, too, would leave me feeling like my children received the benefits of time in church with their family and wider church family, making the traditional Sunday School experience less of a loss - the best of both worlds, I suppose.

      Interesting thoughts to ponder as I wrestle with my feelings on Sunday School. Thank you for the discussion.