“Father, I’ve found a church I like here. They have a women’s group that meets at the perfect time on Wednesday nights. Other doors to get involved are opening right and left. I get so excited, God, and then I panic. What about when we move?”
As a nomadic, military spouse, I hate one question: “What church do you belong to?”
I can handle, “What church do you go to?”, but the concept of belonging…somehow that doesn’t seem possible for me anymore.
In our nearly eleven year military career, my husband and I haven’t moved as much as some. I’ve lived in four states; my husband has lived in four states and three countries. At our first two duty stations, I dug in quickly. I grew up like a good, church girl, having a church membership with my family at the same building for years at a time. My parents taught Sunday school classes, I went on trips with the youth group, sang in the choir, attended and then helped to lead vacation Bible school.
It felt like the right thing to do as a married adult, to carry on those traditions in a new church home. But that’s just it, it didn’t feel like home. As if uprooting my irises, un-hanging all our pictures and garage selling the least sentimental gifts from last Christmas isn’t enough; as if bidding farewell to my biological mother and father and sisters isn’t enough, now ever few years I am supposed to say farewell to brothers and sisters in Christ that I have sat with, served with, eaten with, laughed with, confided in and studied with.
No, I’m not sure I want to belong anywhere. But then, not belonging feels terribly lonely.
I lifted my pen from the journal page, flipped the notebook closed and stood. My petition and fears now lay at the foot of Abba’s throne. It was up to Him to show me what to do about this inviting church.
Later that day, I listened to a sermon by Paul White as I cleaned the bathrooms.
“We have a lot of transience here, and it’s tempting to wonder why our church numbers aren’t constantly growing. To many, that would signal that we’re doing something wrong. Why are people leaving?”
It was almost an aside to the message, but he believed the words were for someone. That someone was me.
“But I believe Christians are sent out. People are supposed to leave. The point is not to build a big church, but to equip and encourage people in the love and grace of Christ and send them out to share that with others, even within other churches.”*
I love how God often hammers a point home by repeating it through many sources. The next sermon on my iPod was by Ed Young, so I let it continue to play in the background.
Ed spoke on evangelism, the urgent need for believers to be all consumed with sharing the love and rescue of Jesus Christ. He quoted from Matt 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”.
In the original language, Jesus said to the disciples, “As you are going…”. This going out to the nations (and states) is an ongoing thing. I am not called to establish a home in one location, but to be a tent-dweller (2 Corinthians 5:1), uprooting my tent pegs every time the Spirit leads, just like Moses and the Israelites followed the cloud by day and fire by night. (Num. 9:21)
The Holy Spirit tapped my shoulder one more time, to reinforce His point. That evening, as I poured over this new church’s website, reading their mission statement and distinctives, my eyes snagged on this phrase:
“We don’t want you to ‘join the church’ so your name can be on a list or in a database somewhere. We want you to experience the awesome adventure of finding real life in Christ and helping others find it too. Our end goal is not for you to become a member; we want you to partner with us by choosing to Live Big, Love Big and Give Big.”
That was it. I can hammer in a tent peg here and get busy serving with a diligent, nomadic, enthusiastic, committed body of Christ. I may not be here long. Within a year or two, I’ll likely be pulling up stake, uprooting my irises and giving the remaining contents of the fridge to my neighbor. But for now, until it’s time to get going again, I belong.