Seven years ago, I walked carefully up bare wooden stairs to join the rest of my group in the not-quite-finished upper level of a building under construction. As our leader pointed out various features of the space and explained its future use in detail, I squinted my eyes and tried to imagine it.
This building was going to be the home of our church plant.
Over the next several months, the group that stood amidst those boards and nails and prayed for God’s blessing slowly fell apart. Due to miscommunication, misunderstandings and misaligned priorities, what was once a tight-knit second family determined to share the gospel and bring glory to God became a group of frustrated and – honestly – angry people who couldn’t possibly serve the Lord together.
And out of all the things we disagreed about and struggled over, The Building, as it became known, was a big one. Not merely a sore spot, that building grew into a bone of contention and source of debate until the topic couldn’t be broached without shoulders hunching, jaws clenching and eyes rolling.
The second our focus turned away from God and his people and toward a building and our opinions, we were doomed to failure. But The Building was just one of many things that tore apart the six couples who had, just months before, been so full of hope and excitement and passion. Music, website design, children’s programs and potluck dinners were other things we fought about, both openly and behind each others’ backs. In every area we created discord.
It was impossible for a group so focused on everything but the main thing to succeed. And so we didn’t. Less than one year after setting out to start a new church with our best friends, my husband and I limped back to our home church, devastated and disoriented.
For more than five years, we tried to find a new fit, a new normal in our old church. But nothing was ever the same. Things that we’d loved about that church now rubbed us the wrong way, and people we’d enjoyed spending time with simply weren’t there anymore. Finally, we knew it was time to move on.
Last summer we began “church shopping.” I know. That’s an unfortunate term, but it’s not necessarily inaccurate, either. We tried a few churches where we knew people, but couldn’t quite settle into a new church home. One church had a great children’s church and a creative drama team, but we didn’t like the preaching. Another church had solid preaching, but the music was annoying. One church was too big. Another had uncomfortable chairs.
We didn’t really cross a church off our list because of its chairs or parking lot or worship leader, and we persevered, prayerfully, throughout the summer. Still, the excitement of looking for the place God had for us dimmed quickly as another Sunday came and went without resolution to our search. Finally, I remembered that a friend of mine who lives across the country had told me that her pastor suggested a church not too far from my house. I’d looked it up online but when I saw that it was a church plant, a whole parade of red flags flashed before my eyes.
But after several weeks of shopping, we felt desperate enough to try anything. Even another church plant.
Last July, we went to the early service of the church my out-of-state friend’s pastor recommended. And aside from a few weekends we’ve been out of town or sick, we’ve been back every Sunday since.
Not too long after we began attending this church, I decided to join a women’s small group. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the group met at the church office – located in the very building our church plant had intended to use.
When I walked into the building that first morning, I felt a little shaky. It was just so . . . weird. Of course the building didn’t look the same as it had the last time I’d seen it. It had walls and paint and brick and everything. No exposed beams or wiring in sight. Still, I knew. I was in The Building.
As I introduced myself to the ladies in the group and dove into the book we were studying, my shaking subsided and my mind quit reeling. Over the following months, I grew to love that small group and our new church home. In January, I began an apprenticeship with our pastor’s wife and eventually led that same small group through a spring study.
And last month, I accepted a job with our church as the Admin Catalyst (a fancy title that means I am responsible for volunteer management and care, organization, communication and whatever else they throw my way). My tiny office is in The Building.
Honestly, I can barely wrap my mind around it. The failure of our church plant was the single most devastating thing my husband and I have experienced in our faith journeys. But not only has God redeemed that experience and all that we hoped and desired to do for Him during that time, but He has actually redeemed the physical space that has represented that part of our lives.
Nothing about our church plant experience was wasted. My desire to reach a community and help people find their way back to God? My desire to be an integral part of a growing church, spending the bulk of my days using my skills within a church team? The actual building that caused so much strife, despite its beginning as a holy place dedicated to serving the Lord? Every single part of it has been redeemed.
As I’ve gone through the process of interviewing for and beginning this new job, I can’t stop saying to myself, my husband and anyone else who will listen: It’s just so weird! It is. It’s weird in a wonderful God way, and I just can’t get over it.
I think that’s okay. While there was certainly a [long] time when I wanted nothing more than to “get over” the whole church plant experience, I think there’s something to be said for working through it instead. Now, seeing what God has done, how He has transformed my heart and directed my life’s path, I. Just. Can’t. Get. Over. It. And I don’t think I want to.
of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
By: Mary, Giving Up on Perfect
ABOUT MARY CARVER
Mary is a recovering perfectionist who writes about giving up on perfect and getting on with life. She's also mom to a sweet (and sassy) preschooler and wife to her high-school sweetheart. When...