wordpress stats plugin

Out of the Mouth of a Woman Preacher ~ Finding Church

My husband and I put in quite a few hours in the front seats of our minivan this past week. For much of that time, we sat quiet, alone with our thoughts, using the down time to process things. It’s a good friend who is comfortable with silence.

a lone ranger

It wasn’t until we began making our way towards home that Scott asked me what I’m thinking about church right now. Problem is I still don’t know what I think. It’s all a big swirling muddle. What I thought I knew and what I thought I wanted are all in question. It is very easy for me to think all the way around something, seeing the risks and benefits of any issue or choice. It’s usually good, but this time it has paralyzed me.

We set to work teasing out the various threads in the tangled mess of my head. Most was tension between seemingly opposing ideas.

One is the importance of church. I suspect that I’ve built up the idea of church far beyond what is reasonable to ask or expect of it. However, I also see the significance placed on the early church in the Bible compared to the arms-length way in which many Americans engage with their churches. The body of Christ, the Church, is Jesus’s bride. If I am adopted into God’s family, I’m part of the body, part of the universal church, and I need to find a local body of believers with which to serve. Sure, I want to hold people at arms’ length too, especially when they are a source of pain and conflict. But I don’t think the Bible gives any of us that option.

This leads me to my tendency, both as part of my Western lone-ranger heritage and as part of my Type-A personality, to think I don’t need anything or anyone, especially if they hurt me and set off after Jesus all by my lonesome. However, we were made for relationships, and as I’ve already said, the Bible emphasizes the body of Christ as important. I can’t get away from that.

Finally, I’m torn between wanting to avoid the pain and conflict and discomfort of the past and knowing that God doesn’t promise safety and comfort, not in the here and now. I don’t want to make the safe choice (whatever that is). But I also don’t want to be foolish again, and miss the warning signs of an unhealthy church. Scott pointed out that we bring ourselves to whichever church we join, so we will add to it or fill in some gaps with our gifts, talents, experiences (both good and bad), and even our baggage. That’s part of how God redeems the bad stuff, right?

The very next day, we visited another church, this time one a friend had recommended. It was refreshing in many ways, but what floored me is what I heard in the sermon. The pastor introduced the sermon, on women, and then handed the microphone to his wife. He said this was a first for their church, but he wanted his wife to speak to the women. She preached from the book of Ruth, and I could hardly believe what she said: A godly woman recognizes that following God’s ways is not always going to be easy or comfortable. A godly woman will make decisions with which much of the world will not agree. A godly woman will take risks. We cannot make decisions based on safety or comfort or “this is what we’ve always done.”

I know all of this. We had just discussed it all the day before. Now, it doesn’t completely untangle the mess in my head. We still don’t know what choice to make, but we know that we need to fight hard against our desire to retreat from risk and pain, and we know we want to return to this church again.

How do you sort through conflicting thoughts about decisions? Have you considered whether your church could benefit from your baggage?


Sign up to receive new posts in your email.

I generally post 1-2 times per week. You will only receive an email from me if I have posted something new. I hate spam and promise never to send it to you.


  1. Very cool story, Joy! I think, in God’s economy, our pain or loss or baggage can always be transformed by God (otherwise, we simply transfer it onto others), absolutely. My experiences have shaped how I see and participate and live in community through the Church, but I also want to release my baggage about those experiences. Does that make sense?

  2. I agree with Sarah…I think it NEEDS to be transformed. If we yield to His process in the midst of the pain and not try and hold onto it, milking it and nursing it, the beauty that comes from those ashes is beyond what any woman (or man) could hope for. We need Him to do it…cause I know in the past when I’ve tried to use that pain on my own…it is delivered with bitterness and doesn’t benefit anyone. There’s a saying I learned from some missionary friends, “It’s better to be wronged then to be right.” It’s about laying down our rights…He then gets the glory.

  3. As hard as it is, keep checking places out and waiting patiently for the ‘click.’ I believe there is one. During the first six months of my retirement, we visited about a dozen churches in our community. It seemed important and necessary to take a break from the church where I had served on the pastoral staff. Of those dozen, only two resonated in any real way with where we are in the journey. One we went back to twice – yet I doubt that we would attend there regularly. It’s hard to do this, Joy. Really hard. So talking it through with Scott is so important and listening to suggestions from others, and just plain trying places out. NO place is perfect. But there will be a place for you – stay open, keep praying and talking and ask daily for the trust to let go of the angst in the process. Both your gifts and your baggage will be important pieces of this puzzle – but if you find a place where the teaching and worship ‘speak’ to your souls and where others are welcoming – go again. And again. The two that we felt connected too were very different – one large and more formal, one smaller but with outstanding community ministry and a great spirit of welcome. There are places where you will find home – and they may very well surprise you. Praying for you as you search.

  4. Sometimes, I need to turn off the conflict and just not over analyze it. Sometimes, the conflict creates comparison and sin in my heart. Other times, I know I need to work through things immediately. My blind date last week told me he was familiar with my church and that it was all show and no grow and I wanted to slap him across the face. That was just one of the reasons I knew we weren’t going to be a good fit, so I didn’t bother to get into a debate with him. But it’s been something that I’ve thought about quite a bit since then. I know people don’t care for my church for a number of reasons (it’s too big, non-denominational, too contemporary, or too modern in design)…but I always wonder what those naysayers could get from the teaching if they just quieted their minds and listened – and even what they could give to the church!

  5. I guess I think of suffering/baggage as beauty for ashes in Christ’s church. The Christians I’ve known with the most sparkle by the end of their lives are, like diamonds, the little pieces of carbon on this earth that have undergone the highest amounts of pressure and temperature (refining fire). What would the church be like without these gemstones among us?

  6. I started this last school year, with a daughter beginning her senior year of high school, knowing that I wanted to really focus on learning servant-hood and also wanting to cherish the time with her. Along with that was my growing restlessness in my church and my lack of being fed and nourished there. In the last month, my restlessness gave way to calm. No, I’m still not getting fed, but I’ve come to view my time at that little church as a place where I can tell my story from week to week. Whether I’m just sharing my life with the body as I play piano, or having one conversation (ok one answer to a “how are you?” knowing most people don’t really listen anyway). But somehow it helps me stay connected to God knowing that it’s not about me. I think EVERYone is hungry and lonely and whether they ever admit it or not, i can. and learning to serve, and know that there’s pain in that, has brought me this ridiculous joy. Bubbling up, laughter, joy.

  7. Speaking only for my own story, I needed time to just realize what the heck had happened to me with church. I knew I was hurting and that it was hard to go to church, but I didn’t know how to fix it. A pastor friend from seminary pointed out that I’d been damaged by some church stuff, and in retrospect, I just needed time to heal. At one point church hurt and at another point, it didn’t hurt. I felt freedom to go again and to meet with God again. I don’t think I wanted to admit how bad I’d been hurt. That was the hard part–just stepping back and acknowledging that and waiting a little bit before returning to church.

  8. Great post. We had a guest speaker this week who spoke about his church and their ministry in the most impoverished neighborhood in our city. Their motto is “Love God. Love People. Prove It.” and he reminded us that we’re called to love people, and that it’s inevitably inconvenient, messy, and sometimes painful, but that we’re still called to it. You know it’s been pretty messy for us lately, and I’m not sure what that means for our future, but it was a good reminder that I don’t have the option to avoid the messes of relationship.

  9. I agree with Scott says – a lot of what the church is, is what we bring to the table.

    And I can’t think through your last post clearly. My mind is a blank, like it’s a topic I would like to delve into but don’t have the brain cell capacity.

    Am I getting dumber?

  10. I could have written most of this myself a few years ago. I kept going to church but kept my distance, reassuring myself that I wasn’t like most other Christians, i didn’t agree with this or that, didn’t like this or that, etc. When I first started going to our church now I cried almost every sunday for months, just because my emotions were such a confusing jumble over everything I encountered in the service.

    Now, five years later, I honestly am probably just as different and have the same points of theological tensions as I did before. But…. my heart is settled and open, and I rest in the community.

  11. We will never understand the whys of what He wants us to do and where He wants us to do them. But He will definitely let you know where your new church home is. 🙂 Let Him do the worrying.

  12. I don’t see anywhere in the bible that we are required to trust people, just an encouragement to trust God. There is pain and suffering all around us and if there’s anything I have learned by suffering in a church is that it should be a place where we can experience hurt AND comfort in the safety of grace. We won’t find a community where we won’t be hurt, but prayerfully we can find comfort nonetheless.

    Also, there were times when many in the Bible took time away from their communities. Abraham went out into the wilderness, Paul sought quietness for over a decade after his conversion, and Jesus fled the crowds. After being deeply involved in ministry, being trampled on, and so on, it’s understandable if we take a sequester from ministry and just be. There’s a time to work and a time to rest. There’s no rush, he says that we can rest, drink, and graze in the meadows by the rivers of life. He’s our good shepherd. 🙂