I've been a member of my home church since I graduated high school (about 15 years ago). Since that time, I've been a part of other "faith communities" as well - the church I attended near my college in Greensboro, the campus ministry, a next-gen seeker-friendly ministry, a young-adult Saturday night service, a youth ministry leadership mentor team, my community church in Indiana, an international ministry team, and a young ladies' Bible study. I have been so thankful for all of these experiences, and have grown exponentially in my faith because of each one. But throughout all those years, I still called my home church "home." And this is why...
My Church is my Family.
It's people who truly KNOW me. Some of them have known me since I was little - they saw me get baptized in a polka-dot bathing suit when I was seven. Others got to know me when I was trying to conquer the world with my crazy post-college Super-girl complex. Others are new friends who are just starting to know me. There are people who have prayed for me physically beside my hospital bed, have prayed for me spiritually as I was full-time on the mission field, and have prayed for me emotionally when I was weary and wounded. They've seen me at my best and at my worst. And they still love me.
And I'm heavily invested in people here. I've cried with those who have faced disease, tragic loss, consequences of poor decisions, and unemployment. I've celebrated births, graduations, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, new jobs, ministry callings, baptisms, salvations, and recommitments. I've watched kids that I taught in youth group, girls study, and Sunday school grow up into godly, passionate, and faithful young adults. I've mentored teen girls, and sought out the counsel of older women. I try to serve wherever I believe I can do the most good (even if it isn't my favorite role), and I try to challenge the Family to take risks where I see gaps in our ministry to each other and the community.
And I'm not saying my church is perfect - not even close. They drive me crazy sometimes, like family. Some have made decisions I disagree with, some have done and said hurtful things, and some have made mistakes that have had heartbreaking results. But life gets really messy and sometimes ugly when you are in real relationship with people. And unless we want to just sit in the back and be inactive and complacent, ugly and messy WILL happen, because we are human, and we are broken. The key is to be able to press on - to argue, wrestle, apologize, compromise, become humble, be teachable, be flexible, and be willing to try to trust again... to trust that we are all here by the grace of God, and we all - individually and collectively - need Him desperately. I can't give up on the Family when it is imperfect; I need to be a part of fixing our flaws, healing our wounds, making us stronger, turning our eyes more on Jesus. I do this, not because it is easy or pleasant, but because I need this Family in my life. I love them, and they are precious to me.
There are other things I love about my church, like weekly communion time, plurality of leadership, Bible-based teaching that doesn't water down the Truth, and the clearly presented message of the gospel at every opportunity. I love that it is a smaller church, and that we're kind of a ragamuffin bunch of people of all shapes and sizes (literally and metaphorically), and our one real common factor is that we know God loves us, and that has changed us all.
I am the only person my age in my church, and sometimes that makes me feel a bit lonely. I've been tempted to church-hop and "shop around" to try to find where people my age are... But I'm not really interested in churches that are primarily made up of young people, because I really need older people in my life to teach me and set an example. I'm not impressed by loud music or high-tech lighting or a focus on the latest programs, because I think that's all peripheral fluff that takes focus away from what matters most. I'm turned off by churches that think they are somehow special, and invest in making a name for themselves, because I think John was right: "He must increase, and I must decrease." I don't fit in very well in churches that seem to be preoccupied with being cool or hip or even "relevant," because I don't feel like I am any of those things, and Jesus never tried to be either.
I want to be in a church that is about truth and authenticity, and where the Gospel is our focus and source of life and joy and growth. I want to be in a church that is truly built on relationship that is fueled by the love of Christ in us - working hard to maintain unity and transparency within the Family, and working just as hard to reach out and invest in meaningful and intentional connections in our community. To be honest, my church is not there yet, but I don't know of any church that can claim to have all of this completely figured out. But I think this is the desire of my church... I see my beloved Family wrestling and striving towards these things, so I'm hopeful that we will get there someday together... and that is why I go to my church.