I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the name of Jesus. My family and I were around the Baptist church and its people a lot of the time when I was a girl.
Just As I Am was the favorite hymn for the weekly altar call. I was baptized in front of the entire church after I asked Jesus into my heart. When I was a teenager, my family and I attended church less and less frequently and eventually, not at all. Still, God was with me. I knew it.
During college, God invited me to something deeper. I was curious about the truths I learned as a little girl. Through a Bible study called Experiencing God, the truth of John 3:16 became personal. For the first time in my life I understood, “for God so loved Marie,” and I gave my whole life to Jesus.
In 1995, I helped plant a church in Huntsville, Alabama. It was there, within that community, where I was first encouraged in God’s call to deeper Bible study, to teach, and to write. Others pointed out my gift of listening and making others feel safe. God gave me a hunger for His Word and I spent my spare time in personal Bible study and group studies. I felt the fire Jeremiah wrote about, “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” I wanted to share what I learned with the world. I taught in children’s and middle school ministries for several years.
I loved that my children were part of a church community. I loved that they watched me gather, study, and pray with others. It was important to me for them to know the love of a church family, and to see God’s people live out what I taught them about Jesus. Until 2017, we attended church regularly, served, and nurtured friendships within the church. I’ve written extensively about the reason we left the church we loved and served for eight years.
It took over a year before I had the courage or the desire to start visiting churches again. We found a sweet and safe fellowship, but I haven’t returned since the pandemic shut down services last March.
I Still Love the Church
I served in the organized church and para-church ministries as a volunteer or lay leader for 22 years, because I love the church. I still love the church and I still serve the church in a variety of ways.
Dallas Willard said, “The church is still God’s best arrangement for His people.” I believe this. I’ve always believed it.
I’m just trying to learn exactly what that is. I’m examining the Scripture to see what I might learn about it.
I know this: those of us in Christ are the Church.
Church is not something we do. It’s who we are. I believe we have limited our view of the Church by traditions, history, and extra biblical beliefs. Diane Langberg wrote in her latest book, Redeeming Power: “We need to reiterate that Christ is building his kingdom in the hearts of men and women, not in the externals we have come to love, protect, and praise.”
She wrote, “The faith of a true Christ follower emanates in kindness, gentleness, self-control, patience, and faithfulness. These describe the character of a follower of Jesus, one who is living out of grateful love to Jesus Christ.”
Whether we “do” church or not, let us be the Church out of grateful love to Jesus Christ.