This is going to be a deeply personal, and lengthy post. I don't want to write it, but I feel like I need to, because this is my story, and I need to tell it to anybody who will listen. I'm not using real names of churches or people (except for my wife) because the point of this is not to cut anybody down, or talk crap about any particular church or denomination. If you know me personally, you already know who/what I'm referencing anyhow. This may be a longer post, so if you read it and make it to the end, go buy yourself some ice cream as a reward. Or a beer. Or both.
From the years of 2003-2006, I was a youth pastor at a smaller denominational church in the town where i went to college. We ran roughly 300 or so on a Sunday, and I had between thirty and fifty students on any given Sunday morning.
I was, in a sense, following in my dad's footsteps. My dad had been a children's pastor and youth pastor for nearly 20 years up to this point, and as I had grown up in that culture, it was a good fit. I knew what I was doing, enjoyed my job, and genuinely loved life. Balancing full time college with a full time job was hard, but I made it work. I'd go to school 3 days a week, and leave the other days open for church work. It was perfect. I got paid to hang out with Junior High / High School students.
The building we met in was massive. It had been built roughly a decade earlier, by a pastor with grand hopes for the church, obviously. It sat roughly 1200 people. This at times, made the 300 or so that came, feel quite small. We did what we could to make it work, and honestly, having that much space was pretty nice.
Along with space, our church was saddled with an immense amount of debt. Building a building that large came at a price. By the time I got there, the church was 1M+ in debt. Not a great place to be.
In the fall of 2005, our pastor and elder board decided to get serious about getting the church out of debt, which we all agreed was a great idea. A church saddled with debt is limited in what it can do for those that it is called to reach. So deciding to tackle this was somethign we all agreed on.
What we didn't all agree on was the plan. How do we go about this? What was decided upon was something that I vocally disagreed with then, and disagree with now. We hired a consulting firm, and launched a "debt reduction campaign." We had materials printed. We hired speakers. We built curriculum. A lot of money was spent.
It all came to a head when we ended up pulling a bunch of key leaders in the church together to "launch" the campaign with a catered dinner at the local country club.
Let that sink in.
We were catering a dinner at a country club. To raise awareness. For debt reduction. For a church that was over a MILLION dollars in debt.
I lost it. I went home and told my fiancé. I couldn't take it. I had to get it out. This seemed so backwards to me. What were we accomplishing at the country club that we couldn't do in the church basement with pizzas?
Around this time, our pastor popped into my office and said he needed to see me. The church was out of money, and was paying bills/salaries out of savings. He told me that if giving didn't pick up in the next month, my job was going to be done away with. He was sorry, but as an unmarried guy with no family to support, i was lowest on the totem pole (my words, not his.)
Giving picked up that month, so my job was safe for another month. But it became clear towards the end of that month that we were in for a rough couple of weeks. My job was over at the end of the month. So now I got to tell the kids that I pastored that i was leaving. This is where it got fun.
I was given "talking points" so that I might communicate exactly what the pastor and board wanted to be said. The pastor was in the room when I made the announcement. They wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to say something damaging.
"sorry kids, the church spent all their money on country club dinners and now they can't pay me so I have to go find another job."
The best part of the whole thing, was that after that, the pastor asked me if I'd stay on and volunteer with the youth group to help with transition "so that it would be easier on the students."
You can guess what my answer was.
For the next year, I was numb to church. I went because it's what you do on Sundays. It was obligation. I went because it was expected of me. I didn't sing. I didn't lift my hands. I didn't give. I didn't establish a single relationship. After my wife and I got married, we went to a local church for 9 months and I couldn't have told you a single person's name.
About that time, we stumbled (God lead us to) a local church here in our town. We walked out after the gatering was over, and looked at each other and at the same time said,
"This is where we belong."
It's been a journey over the last 6 years. There have been, and there are still, times when I want to write the church thing off altogether. Times when I think the whole place is full of hypocrites focused on themselves. Times when I think it's all a show.
But God keeps tugging me back. God keeps giving us relationships and saying to us,
"This is where i have you."
This is home. It's not perfect. No church is. If you spend your life looking for the perfect church, you'll never stop looking. That's because church isn't about you. Church isn't about your preferences. Not that preferences are bad, but too many people today treat church like a buffet. Sample a bit from here. I like the worship over there. The teaching is great over there. They have a great free BBQ every Sunday over there. We bounce around like we're going to find the perfect church.
If you believe in the perfect church here on earth, you're idolizing the church.
Preferences are fine, but find a church body of like-minded believers and put down roots. Or heck, if you can't find a church, start your own. Gather with believers. Eat meals. Share burdens. Pray for one another. Do life together.
God does amazing things when his body comes together, unified around Him.