When I gave up on church a few years back, it was because I had been wounded several times…in several churches. And honestly, I began assuming every church was like the ones where I’d been burned. I know better now, though, because I finally stumbled upon a church that was different. The people there proved me wrong, and they left an indelible mark on my soul.

But now that mark is all that’s left.

To say our pastor had inherited a wounded church would be an understatement. One bitter rift after another had cost it nearly 1,000 members over a decade and a half. And as more and more people walked away, we lost our focus. Our meager budget wouldn’t allow for big overhauls or flashy upgrades, but we continued to think If only we had this going for us–or maybe that thing–then we’d be desirable again.

But somehow, miraculously, this enabled our pastor to plant the seeds of something better. Rather than trying to “make ourselves up” in order to attract others, he encouraged us to simply start being real.

Instead of purchasing new paint and programs, we birthed neighborhood ministries. And unlike so many churches that require everyone to believe the same things in order to belong, our pastor helped us see that people will begin to genuinely believe when they’re first allowed to belong. No strings attached. He also saw me as a potential leader in the church and gave me opportunities to preach. I had finally found a home.  

For most of my life, I believed God was a math equation; the more I studied about Him, the more convinced I became that I was the only one who knew the right answer. Being a part of this church forced a radical change in me.

As much as I’ve learned about God after a decade of following him, I’ve unlearned more. And watching my church create something remarkable from its loss did something for me that nearly a decade of studying couldn’t: it humbled me.

As a whole, though, our historically program-driven church body struggled to see the beauty that was so evident to a handful of us. Long story short: our pastor’s family moved and it was suggested that our church merge with a local church plant that needed a building.

Merge is a generous word. Acquisition would be more fitting. Rather than two churches becoming one as promised, the weaker one was absorbed by the stronger. We were shrinking. They were growing.

I reached out to the new pastor. I knew it would be a matter of time before the two churches’ differences came to light, and I wanted to know if we’d be able to create a unified future together. Things only got worse from there.

I was hoping to be assured that I could still have a place at this newly-merged church, but I found instead that the place for people like me was outside the camp. I had been the black sheep plenty of times before–the quiet charismatic, the t-shirt and jeans in a room of suits and dresses–but I had never been made to feel this badly about it. Out in the dark. Out in the cold. Away from the common table where the body and blood of Jesus were shared. 

I went from being a respected leader to becoming a complete misfit in less than two weeks.

To be frank, this season has been hell on earth for me. The community that originally taught me to love like Jesus loves has been ripped away from me. The community that loved me–me and my sometimes crazy beliefs–is gone.

Our closest friends are grieving the loss of our community as well, and several of us have begun meeting every other week in a friend’s barn. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, I’m cherishing our laid-back liturgy. I’m cherishing our shared meals. I’m cherishing the conversations that are healing our wounded souls. I’m cherishing the sounds of our kids playing outside all afternoon. I’m cherishing God’s presence in this unexpected place.

I still weep. I still gnash teeth. But I also savor every moment of what’s happening in that barn — under the shade of those trees, and in my heart.

Photo by Hadessa Creative/Hadessa Photography
A South Carolina native, Matt Rose now resides in Missouri with his wife of nine years and their two daughters. When he isn’t dabbling in theology books, 
he can usually be found cheering on the Kansas City Royals. 
You can connect with Matt on Twitter @MatthewSRose and  on his blog.

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