Recently, I was in a church environment that triggered many of my wounds from past spiritual abuse. The sermon was guilt-driven, and I felt a sense of stuck-ness that I hadn't felt since leaving my past church. But a beautiful thing happened, too, because those from my current church were also there. And I was able to look around the room and feel a sense of peace and awe that God had me right where I needed to be.
As I reflect on this moment, three things come to mind that led me to feel confident that I'm in the right church for me:
1. I Truly Admire People's Spiritual Walks
Hebrews 10:24 encourages us to "...consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." We are meant to inspire and show each other who God really is. We're meant to learn from each other and influence each other's lives. So, it can feel discouraging to be in a church where you don't really want to be like the people beside you, or you don't feel spurred on by the way they live their life.
You can feel this way and still love the people next to you and still want the best for them. But when you don't desire for your marriage to be like anyone else's marriage or for your health to look like anyone else's health, etc., the church can feel very stifling very quickly.
But when you can pick out people to learn from because you genuinely want to be like them--want to have their marriage, want to glorify God with their finances as they do, want to have their great spiritual relationships with their kids, it can be life-changing. I feel so proud of the friendships with families and older Christians that I am forming and so grateful for who God has put into my life to mold me in a positive way.
No one is perfect, and no one is Jesus. But I'd encourage you to seek out an environment where in five, 10, or 20 years from now, if your life looks like those around you, you'd be excited about that instead of depressed.
2. I Feel Like I Can Be My Full Self
There is nothing quite like being loved and appreciated for who God made you to be. And even though I am still getting to know the vast majority of the people in my church, I never feel like I have to "edit" who I am to fit into the mold anyone else wants me to be.
I love talking about emotions, finding God in everyday joys, and big-picture, existential topics about God's plans for his universe. And what I am so grateful for in my church is that even if nobody else liked talking about these same things, I wouldn't be rejected for them. Even if nobody else could fully relate, I know that they would try.
We are all image-bearers of the Most High God (Gen 1:27). That means that the quirks and characteristics that make us, us, should be celebrated. So you don't need to be in a church where everyone looks, acts, or talks like you. (In fact, there's so much benefit to the opposite being true!) But you should feel accepted and appreciated by those around you. Even if you don't have anything in common, it's essential to know that people would still fight to relate to you anyway because, deep down, we all have the same basic needs to be known and loved.
3. Everyone Wants to Grow
There is a constant, low-level excitement and hope that I pick up on in my church. It feels the opposite of stuck and stagnant. This buzz comes from people inviting others over for dinner, planning church activities out of individuals' passions and calling, and a conviction to always be getting better and better.
I know people's desire to grow not just from individual conversations, but we also have lessons that invite answers from the crowd, and people share vulnerably and authentically. My young professionals' ministry calls out our shortcomings and bases our lessons and activities around growing in them.
It's the kind of growth that feels slow and steady rather than militant. And I am so grateful that Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches--trying our best to abide in him is what helps us grow (John 15:5).
Your church's growth might manifest entirely differently. Maybe growth looks like new members, teenagers devoting their lives to Christ, post-church potlucks, or heartfelt worship. Growth can take all sorts of forms. But finding a church community where each person is devoted to becoming more and more like Jesus is also essential to your growth. And isn't it so sweet of God to give us something so tangible to help us grow?
Churches come in all shapes and sizes, and not one of them is perfect. But I know how much healthier and happier I have become since finding a community that builds me up in these ways. I pray the same for you!
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Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earrings on Instagram and her website for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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