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Confessions of a Former Church Critic

I used to be a "big-church" snob. There was really no escaping it, having grown up in the Bible Belt, where there was practically a mega church on every corner; the church of my youth was marked by stages lit up with colored lights, fog machines and stone washed jeans; rock bands and preaching styles that were "easy on the ears;" and a menu of small groups and programs to address every need of every person (if you are not the church-going type, this description of church may be confusing to you. Please keep the image of stained glass windows, brass pipe organs, and hymn books in your head; trust me on this).

Then I married and moved up north and discovered a "desert wasteland" of tiny churches that were doing all the things that kept them from growing. And I complained about it--to myself, mostly. Sometimes out loud.

For twenty years I lived as a self-appointed church critic; every Sunday I sat with arms folded, assessing all the reasons "church up north" was so stunted and uncool. I discussed my findings among fellow church goers, some of whom had joined the greener-grass collective of sheep ranging from "forced to settle but not thrilled about it" to "frequent fence-hoppers."

Then God made me a pastor (along with my husband) and for the next decade I flailed and faltered against the harsh, cold reality that my former criticisms were coming back to bite me, and what was worse, they were absolutely warranted. Turns out pastors don't come equipped with magic wands. Compared to many, our church is utterly modest.

I suppose this rude awakening should render me a sulking heap on the Sunday afternoon couch, depleted of all self-esteem, ready to throw in the towel. I've seen it happen to others.

But that hasn't happened. Instead, I've noticed two things about this former "church snob" that I never expected would happen way back then: 1. I love my pint-size church. I mean that. Back when I used to hear other pastors of small churches say it, I secretly thought, "Oh, you have to say that to make yourself feel better about your small church size." Now I know they might have actually meant it. I know that it's possible to be wildly, madly in love with one's humble but kinda groovy little church.

2. I love other pint-size churches. When I want to watch a church service online or visit a church while traveling, I'm drawn toward the very types I once scorned. Those are the sermons and song services that move me to tears every time; I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's because I know all it took to bring that thing together. I'm well acquainted with private fretting and agony over not having or being "enough."

Or maybe it's because I've come to understand that God can speak just fine and change lives on His own, without the help of stellar production resources or talent; "to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet" (Proverbs 27:7).

To the small church pastors and leaders: keep doing you. And like my mother, a veteran pastor's wife, told me when we first got started, "Just love those people." Don't ever lose sight of that.

To the big church pastors, ditto. God uses all shapes and sizes of churches to reach people; the youth conferences produced by "big church" were a part of my spiritual formation as a young adult.


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