Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I’m churchless.  I have been for a long time.  Okay, before you drop to your knees and pray for my backslidden soul, let me explain. 

I have been in church since I was an infant.  You can read about the Sunday my parents presented me to the Lord for dedication here.  I’m that person that most pastors love to have in their church.  I’ve done everything from free janitorial and secretarial work to founding and pastoring a church.  When my kids were small and we’d come in for Sunday School, there was a significant growth factor in the church immediately.  I was always that person who was there, with the tribe, every time the church doors opened.

When we moved to Tennessee, the Lord directed me to a church not far from where I lived.  I wanted to go to the big splashy church, but God said no, go near where you live.  I did.  I went there for several years.  I was barely in the door the first time when the pastor’s radar went off and within weeks I was his secretary (this time for a meager salary) and also teaching, leading, and filling the pulpit when he was gone.  That lasted until I started a church plant.  Things went well for about…. Three months.  Then we lost our place to meet.  Back to prayer.  We didn’t resume meeting for another 3 years.

In the meantime, I went to that big splashy church.  I hated it.  The people were unfriendly probably because they didn’t know each other.  Even the small group experience was lacking, seriously lacking.  Eventually I found a smaller church.  That went well until I found out the church had some serious doctrinal flaws – later that pastor was arrested on a Ponzi scheme.  The church plant resumed meeting in a new location.  It contracted several times.  Some Sundays looked good.  Others, not so much.  But overall, if I were to tell you about the church I’d like to be a part of, that would be on the list.  God moved.  We bonded in love like I’ve rarely experienced in church.  We all grew in Christ together.  It was special.

Then the move to SD came.  Okay, God??? What gives??? The “wither thou goest” part of marriage sent me to frigid SD.  I never really found a church home there.  Sundays were often spent commuting back and forth to TN from SD (just a short 16 hour one-way trip).  Other Sundays, I had the privilege of filling a pulpit – most memorable was my time at Grandview Covenant Church.  While very traditional, that church would be on my list of best churches too!

So here I am.  Back in TN.  I’ve visited a few church, still traveling a lot on the weekend so not always here.  Just can’t seem to find my place. 

But here is the question I have.  Church – it isn’t four walls and a steeple.  It’s people.  It is the people of God coming together to fellowship, pray, worship, and love each other.  It’s not about the music you sing.  It’s not about the building.  It’s about the people.  That’s what made those two top churches, The Well (that I pastored) and Grandview special.  People who love the Lord, love each other, and work together to build the Kingdom of God. 

Now here is my soap box after living in the buckle of the Bible belt, frozen New England – frigid South Dakota and of course neutral Missouri –

We spend far too much time thinking of the church as a building, or a program, or numbers, or all sorts of other tangible things.  I went to one church for many years in New England that never had a building and that’s all they talked about.  Everything would be better when they had a building.  They got one after 25 plus years – I don’t think it made them better.   We can always say if only we had this or that or the other God would move and it would be perfect. 

The birth of the church came at Pentecost when believers came in unity and prayed.  I think it’s still the same – the church is where believers come together in unity and pray.  The Spirit of God moves among people who come together to worship and love God and each other.  That’s what I’m looking for – and for me, smaller churches work better than mega ones.  How about you? How do you define church?


Andrea York said...

Joyce, this is REALLY well written. Funny and poignant

David-FireAndGrace said...

I am the church - so I guess that means I spend a lot of time in church.

I agree, if God is not moving, I'm looking somewhere else. I don't really care how big or how small... I care about the presence of God. :)

Tracy said...

I'm with you on the church being about God's body gathering; be it in a home, a "church" building, a school, the park, where ever. I also agree about wanting to be part of a group where God leads, and people love one another. I'm praying that you'll find a local group of believers where you're living now; there are few things as precious as being in those relationships. Gosh, I wish I lived near you, simply because you always sound like someone I'd like to be around.

mja2j said...

Great article! Great points about the 'church' being about the people. Whether it is small, big, medium or in my case, a 'house church', it is about the Presence of God and people.

Joyce Lighari said...

Thanks Tracy - that's really nice thing to hear - I do wish you lived closer too - :)

Tony C said...

Something inside me feels uncomfortable whenever I use the phrase "where I go to church." I know it's a practical phrase, but often we use it literally too. That's just not biblical.

You state it nicely that church is NOT four walls and a steeple. That's a building. A tool. A place to gather with other believers in fellowship, for worship and to grow and encourage.

You belong to a church, but you're looking for a congregation. I know God has big plans for you...