I spent eighteen years in the small church. Middle school, high school, college, and seven years post college. I grew up in the small church.
I stood up three times on graduate recognition service Sundays. I have a decade’s worth of t-shirts in my drawers from summer camps I attended as a student and then as a leader. I was baptized in that church, and I took communion for the first time in that church. I made friends in that church, and twenty years later I have keys to their houses and am an “aunt” to their kids. I had mentors in that church, and when my middle school Sunday school teacher passed away the year between finishing my B.A. and starting my M.A., I cried at her funeral because she loved me and believed in me when I was thirteen and awkward and angry and at my most unlovable. And that kind of love can only be Jesus.
When I think about my life at the small church, those are the kind of stories that come to mind – the ones about relationships and community and love crossing barriers.
In much the same way that I’m glad for the healing the big church is providing, I’m glad for what the small church has given me – friends and mentors who love Jesus and who loved me, and a foundation rooted in the Bible. And the people of that church taught me to camp out in the Scripture in a daily way, and to take the truths of Jesus and personalize them so my life reflected Him. They taught me to be wary of false teachers and “fluffy” doctrines, and in so doing encouraged critical thinking and an unwillingness to simply swallow what was being offered from any pulpit.
In these ways, the small church grew me up. And I am grateful.
But, the reality is that the grown-up person that it helped me become couldn’t be contained within its walls.
And so, I understand more deeply the truth of the seasonality of things that Ecclesiastes talks about. There was a season for me in that small church, and it was fruitful and deep and filled with really good people. But that season has ended, and it ended in ugly and messy ways with a lot of hurt feelings. And I figure I can either let this new season be one of bitterness and rage and hurt for the way that I had to leave that small church, OR…
I can let this be a season of gratitude for the small church and for the people it has brought into my life. And in that, I can let this be a season in which the love of Jesus continues to cross barriers, so that I can extend grace and offer forgiveness and let God keep doing the work that makes me more like Him. Because Ecclesiastes also tells us,
“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live” (v. 3:12).
And I want to be a person that does good in the world. I’m making the choice to be that person. So, I think that the “good” to be done in this season is forgiving and extending grace and further surrendering to the God who holds all seasons in His hands. Because love, and forgiveness, and grace, and surrender are the things of Jesus.
The small church taught me that.