*In the past few months, it has been easy to remember and tell the stories of the way that the church has kind of let me down. As a result, I’ve been a little quieter and a little more hesitant to speak, because the truth of the matter is that I love the church. I love it fiercely, and I believe that it is good. It is a heavy thing to consider and wrestle with the possibility of walking away from a local congregation, and I don’t believe that struggle should be overtly public or, most importantly, overly critical.*
So I won’t get into that.
What happened, recently, is that the man and woman who, more than anyone else in the world, have personified the word pastor in my life have received a call to a new church. When I heard, I was getting ready to run my first 5k, and it was just the best thing. I smiled a little all day, so excited for them to be in this new place with such a great opportunity to make a home for people.
Chris and Becky.
There was never a time when I felt like I couldn’t walk through the doors at Woodway. There was never a shame or a thought that I felt like I couldn’t confess. You knew me at my best, and most certainly at my most broken. You watched me succeed, fail, and just plain flounder.
You made it a home.
And I’ve said much, to you and to others, about the way that your presence in my final year of college shaped me. I don’t know that it needs to be said again, but I can’t thank you enough.
The thing I haven’t said is the way you have shaped me in the days since I left. The way that an occasional text or report from a friend or post on Facebook have shaped a theology in my heart that I so desperately needed to build.
You have taught me how to wait. How to sit in the midst of it all and believe that God has not lost track of you in all the change and the shuffle.
If I have seen anything in you, it has been the solid believing that the middle times are not the wasted times. It has been the refusal to act out of fear or anger or cynicism or pride. And I know that college ministry is about equipping and commissioning and sending, and I wanted to thank you for being a faithful witness of the way it looks when your call is not to the sexy or exciting parts of life.
Thank you, for staying in Waco and loving the city as your home. Thank you for loving the church that ministered to you as students with so much of your energy. Thank you for not shrinking back when it was difficult. Thank you for showing me what it looks like to wait well, to abide, I guess.
The love affairs we humans have with the church are so rarely what we wish they were. I think we imagine that God will call us to the wild, far-away places and lead us with cloud and fire. Or maybe that He will bring us to the Promised Land and amplify our voices and raise us up. We think that the church will begin to celebrate us and be a vehicle for whatever it is that we want. And we confuse what we want with what we need.
Sometimes what we need is to be patient. To learn faithfulness when our hearts do not want to be faithful. And these stories are so rarely the ones we hear. We hear the stories about the people whose voices are amplified and who stand up on the pedestals. We hear the stories of the ones who fail, and have to be resuscitated. We hear a lot of stories in the church, and it’s tempting to chase those.
We don’t hear a lot of stories about the people who stay and love the ones who wander by. We don’t hear about the people who invest in dining room chairs instead of a trip to Uganda. We don’t hear about the people who are present week after week after week, the ones who are sometimes the only constant thing in a collegiate world that is prone to instability, fear, and the worship of the new and shiny.
And yet these are the people who shape our lives. They don’t often write books or have biopics. You find them at kitchen tables and block parties and office spaces and budget meetings. And you don’t hear about them, sometimes, because they spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about Jesus, rather than their own lives or stories.
And this is the life that so many of your former students will find after college. A few may go to the exciting places. Most will fall into a routine of school or work or marriage or parenthood. They will begin to realize that the ideals they fought for in college are difficult to fit into life, sometimes. They will wonder if they have somehow missed the chance to be the kind of Christian who ends up on a stage. They will wonder if this hard time of working to build a life and believing that God is in our midst, even here, will ever end.
And those of us who were blessed to know you will remember you. We will remember the way you stayed in Waco, and believed that God could use you in this place. We will remember the way you waited for His timing at every moment. We will remember the ways that you fought for joy and love and community. We will remember the way you opened your home and let us love your children. We will remember the way you stayed up too late at night and pretended not to be completely exhausted. We will remember the way you listened when we had a problem that we were sure was the end of the world. We will remember the way that you fought for the church, even when it was just hard. We will remember the way that you loved us, even though we must have been just the biggest nuisance, sometimes (usually).
And maybe we will realize what it really means to be full of faith. Maybe we will love our postgrad homes and churches a little better, will choose the words that don’t aim to hurt, will look for ways to serve when we feel alone. Maybe we will linger with some of the intention that we have seen in your family.
Maybe we will all be better for it.
As I said before, church in OKC has not been easy for me. It has not always gone the way I wished it would. I have missed you, both of you. But I have learned, by watching you and your ministry, that you don’t give up on the church. You don’t give up on the city. You don’t give up on God’s plan.
And now, seeing Him move to take you to a new season, I am just so happy to remember that He does not abandon us. I know He will use you there.
Thank you for being faithful.