Still. Small. Silent.
These three words have held my heart in place this past year as I mourn the loss of my community and consider what it means to have a church “home”.
A year ago, I left my church “home” of seven years. The reasons are complex and lengthy, but I knew to stay in that “home” I would compromise my understanding of the reconciliatory work Christ accomplished through His divinely ordained birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. I was not willing to do that, so I walked out the church doors into the “wilderness”.
Being in the “wilderness” provides time to be still, small, and silent, to wonder and wander, to question and explore.
One area that has captured my attention is language around church membership. For example, “I love my church home”, “I love my church family,” or “Everyone is welcome. You’ll find a home here”, are all common phrases.
But what does this even mean? Is that God’s intent for the Church, and is it true?
American churches are most often homogeneous populations. They fill the pews and chairs with people more alike than different. When people gather, they agree to the “Statements of Faith” and to the hierarchical structures in place; they agree to accept the way they read scriptures, take communion, and sing songs. There is church leadership, congregation members, and ministries that are developed, executed and maintained. This provides a sense of identity and belonging.
All of this happens within the confines of a building that requires significant resources and labor to maintain. The church is both a gathering of people and a building. Therefore, our churches feel like “home”.
Jesus didn’t model such a life for us.
In fact, around the age of 30, Jesus stepped away from the religious structures of the day to do the work He came to do. Though Jesus found solace in His early years in His father’s house (Luke 2:49), adult Jesus did not find His “home” in the synagogues of the day.
I’ve wondered why.
Jesus began His years of ministry in the wilderness where He experienced being still in the wait, small in the space, and silent in the solitude. In the wilderness, Jesus found His true “home,” as He abided in His Father’s love and will.
Weakness and temptation forged Jesus’ identity, perspective, and purpose as He learned to trust God to quench His thirst, satisfy His hunger, and supply His every need. In the wilderness, Jesus had space for dreams and desires to grow of what the Kingdom of Heaven was to be on earth; a Kingdom where Shalom prevails through Sabbath and loving care for the marginalized.
After leaving the wilderness, Jesus and His diverse group of followers were mobile. Living attentive to His Father’s leading, through word and action, Jesus revealed the Kingdom of Heaven to Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female, and master and slave. His ministry was fluid, flexible, and contrary to the Jewish religious structures of the day.
Following Jesus comes with a cost; it requires leaving behind what we know to step into the unknown. If this is how Jesus lived, how can we claim to follow Jesus when we are building earthly “homes” in our churches, filled with homogeneous populations of Christians, which have led to division, strife, and hundreds of denominations?
“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)
One quick scroll through social media confirms this crumbling reality.
I’m not against the Church. In fact, I believe a healthy and whole Church reveals the hope of Christ to the world. I believe we have a distance to go to become healthy and whole, and I don’t think we can get there by doing church the way we’ve been doing it these past generations.
Do I have all the answers? No. But I’m willing to ask the hard questions and seek God for the answers.
Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same thinking we used when we created them.”
If we want to live and love like Jesus, we have to begin by stepping into the wilderness to become still, small, and silent, allowing ourselves space to lament the homogeneous religious homes we have created.
We must re-imagine church so it functions more like a launch pad, helping individuals move out to the margins, reach across the boundaries, and sit beside others, rather than condemn, isolate, and infuriate a population of people longing for identity, belonging, and love.
This is the way of Jesus; this is the Way we are called to follow.
Such things can only happen by abiding in Christ, our True Home, for apart from Him, we can do nothing.
I’m a steady-paced runner, who is slowly making her way through the Master of Divinity (Spiritual Direction) program at Portland Seminary. Over the past few years, God has deconstructed, and is now reconstructing my faith, my family, my marriage, and much of what I’ve ever believed about church. I’m a recovering legalist, perfectionist, and help-aholic, who has a deep love for family, friends, and caring for leaders in the Church. I’m passionate about building homes for others in need, serving with Africa New Life Ministries in Rwanda, facilitating space for others to draw closer to God, and beautifully wrapped, fairly traded chocolate.