Our family has been thinking about finding a new church home for months now. We visited a church last summer, but it didn't quite feel right. The kids liked it because they have a great children's worship program, but I felt sort of empty. We'd just come from an enormous mega-church in Smyrna, and I never really felt like a part of things there.
In defense of that church, most of the blame is ours. Dan and I never really made an effort to connect with a small group or get involved in activities. I taught Sunday school because I felt that I should be serving, but never really felt served myself. I had friends there, but I never really joined them in anything church-related. I taught at the preschool connected with the church, Monday through Thursday, but didn't really see people I knew on Sunday. In fact, toward the end of our stay in Smyrna, I stopped going to worship altogether. I'd drop the kids at their class, and then I'd sit in the coffee shop and grade papers before reporting to my three-year-old class. The sanctuary was too cold for comfort, the music was too loud for my ears, and I got tired of repeating the same choruses over and over again. The pastor was a very nice man and I enjoyed his sermons, but I hated sitting in the sanctuary all by myself while Dan worked weekends.
So, long story longer, we have been lazy and stopped visiting Hendersonville churches to look for a new one once school started in August. Yesterday we had a list of possible churches to visit. I wanted to go to my grandmother's church to surprise her, but it's a long drive and we didn't get ready in time. We did the cosmic equivalent of flipping a coin: we decided to get ready and see which church had a service time closest to the time we were ready to go. It just happened to be Bluegrass Baptist Church, which is also the closest church, geographically speaking, to our house.
I think God was really trying to tell us something. After several smacks upside the head, we finally caught on that he was probably sending us signs that this church was the one we were looking for.
When we arrived, the parking lot greeters where so friendly and welcoming, which is kind of their whole gig, I understand that, but it still gave us a great big warm fuzzy feeling right off the bat. When we walked in, I was instantly greeted by an old friend from high school who remembered me right away. Then we met the pastor's wife who, coincidentally, is the fifth and sixth grade Sunday school teacher. Hello? Here's our sixth grader!
Then we went to the worship service. The kids went with us since we'd never been there before and didn't want to take the time to find their classes. Up front, painting a picture of rainbows after a storm while the preacher talked about God's promise to us, was a girl I was on pom-pon with in high school. She's the church's human resources person, so Dan had already met her through AFLAC. In the praise band, there was a guy Dan knows and has played guitar with before. In the middle of the music portion, the worship leader said, "Everyone in the media booth and the praise band and the choir is going to hate me right now, but I really feel like we have to do this song now." Turns out, it was one of my absolute favorite praise and worship songs at our old church in Brentwood, and I'm convinced that he chose it just for me.
Digression:For those of you playing along at home, that was two churches ago, where we were mega-involved (choir, praise band, praise team, softball, women's ministry, taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, and I was the preschool pastor) until I burned out. Long story, but we loved that church for a couple of years and have been looking for that feel ever since.
The sermon was great. The preacher is a real down-to-earth kind of guy. The church is a relaxed, come in jeans if you want to, kind of place and the worship experience didn't feel like a concert performance that was staged down to the last detail. Nobody made me turn and shake hands with my neighbor, which I've always hated. It's very awkward when you're new and you don't know a soul or when you're attending alone. Nothing screams LOSER like sitting alone in an auditorium with hundreds of people and being told to fellowship with strangers. Nobody made me feel guilty if I didn't feel like clapping. Nobody made me feel like less of a Christian if I didn't raise my hands up. You know, if I'm moved to do that, I will, but don't force me. I would rather have five people in authentic, heart-felt worship than one hundred raising their hands because you told them to rather than because they felt moved to. My son WAS moved to. Halfway through the music, I looked over and saw my twelve-year-old singing along, hands raised in praise, totally into the experience.
A little background on this kid, he got to a point where he really didn't want to go to church. We spent so much time at church when I was on staff, that he just flat-out got tired of being there. He wanted to stay home and play with his toys. BUT this year in middle school, he's changed.
One day last fall he announced that he needed to get to school early on Thursday because he wanted to go to FCA. I said, "You want to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes? But you aren't an athlete. What's your sport?" He said, "Wii Sports Resort counts, doesn't it?" I couldn't argue with that logic. Since FCA starts before school at 7:00 and I don't have to be at my school until after 8:00, I was skeptical. But he's been attending consistently and he loves it. Thursday is the one day of the week that I don't have to drag that child out of bed. He sets his alarm and jumps out of bed, ready to get to school before I'm ready to leave. I've heard him talk about the songs and stuff, but I've never witnessed it with my own eyes. To look over and see my child unselfconsciously raising up his hands and belting out the praise...well, I'm getting all teared up just typing this.
Then, on the way out, Ryan ran into a friend of his from school. This is a new friend that he's been talking about a lot lately. We've been trying to get together with him outside of school and the plans keep falling through. We met his parents and set up a time to get them together on Thursday. Ryan said, "If he goes to this church, then we're definitely coming back here."
So far, everyone had received their own special little nudge from God except Aaron. He was excited about the church, don't get me wrong, but he hadn't experienced a little Holy Spirit zing of personal connection like the rest of us had. Well, we went to O'Charley's for lunch after the service. I took the schedule of events for the summer in children's ministry into the restaurant so I could tell Aaron about all the fun things they were going to do. As I was reading it, a young family was settling into the booth behind us. I recognized the mom because she's pretty and wore a bright pink shirt that caught my attention (you know me and pink), and knew that they went to the church we'd just been to. The man turned around and said, "Hey, that sounds familiar. I think I recognize that schedule." Ready for Aaron's personal connection? That guy sitting right behind him is the children's pastor! Zing!
Okay, Holy Spirit, we get it. No need to rent a skywriter or put a neon sign on our front lawn. We'll be back next week. :-)