I opened my Facebook Messenger app, and was very confused. I had a message from a person I didn’t know addressing me by name, and referencing a conversation we had a “long time ago.” But obviously I knew this person, as I realized when I stopped reading and started scrolling backwards in time to see our conversation – from nearly a decade ago.
I still don’t really remember this person, but she remembers me. Rather, she remembers our conversation and after all these years wanted to report back.
Because I found the conversation so intriguing, I’m sharing it here. For context, at the time I was co-leading our church’s college and young adult group.
Joni: Hi XX, Have you and [your friend] been able to find a church? Those hunts aren’t ever easy. If you’re going to be around this summer, we’re doing a Tuesday night Bible study out at the volleyball pit next to our church (with fire pit and all). Tuesdays at 7 p.m. beginning May 31… Good luck these last two weeks of school.
XX: Everything’s going well with school. I’m taking a break from church for a while, just hasn’t been my thing lately. Thanks for the invite, outdoor bible studies are always cool; however, I won’t be back in Moscow until school starts back up again. Enjoy the sun this week!
Joni: Hope finals go smoothly for you.
I received your note, and have been thinking it over all week. It saddens me that you think church is not your thing, and I’m a little curious as to whether or not that means Christianity is not your thing.
That’s an important question, and one I want you to consider carefully. The church is the bride of Christ. Why would you reject his bride as a whole? Further, why reject the bride and think you’re in good standing with the groom? It’s like someone telling your dad they like him, but despise his wife and don’t want to be around. It would be heartbreaking, and certainly damage that relationship.
I have been in your shoes, and that’s why I’m so passionate about ensuring a person’s relationship with Christ (as a whole!) stays strong in college. It’s a slippery slope that often leads to destruction.
I also have been on the long journey of trying to find a church, and I do know how hard that is. I want to encourage you to keep trying — to be plugged in and find that fellowship. It’s so important. I do care about you and your walk with God, so please know that it’s with your best interest in mind that I send this note to you. Even if you don’t attend my church, please know you can bend my ear, and I will listen. Hang in there!
XX: To say you’ve been in my shoes doesn’t make much sense until you know where I stand. I understand that you have my best interest at heart but I assure you, I’m no amateur when it comes to things of this manner. There are a lot of things about church that I like but more often, the things about it that I don’t like outweigh the positives. That’s when I have a tendency to take breaks from time to time.
To be quite honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of church. There’s a laundry list of things about it that I disagree with. My beliefs about the role of church aren’t the most common of views and that’s the main reason I find it difficult to continue regular attendance.
I fully understand the importance of being in a Christian community/environment. However, I get more from listening to Bible tapes than I ever have from any sermon at church. I have always been and will always be a Christian regardless of my attendance; God and I both know and understand that. These past couple years I’ve been stronger in my relationship with the Lord than I’ve ever been and right now, I don’t see the benefits of church as being particularly appealing.
Many would argue that I can’t feel that way about church and be close with God- I’ve heard the argument countless times from Christians. They don’t understand or think that a Christian can have a perfectly strong and committed relationship with God and not be part of a religious organization. Like I said, my beliefs about Christianity aren’t exactly mainstream so I’m used to hearing this.
I’ve always attended church to get different points of views, to be surround myself with people of similar beliefs, and to take time to refocus my thoughts on God. I strongly believe all of these things are possible outside of church. So basically, I’m perfectly happy and content where I’m at. I don’t see the benefits of attending church every Sunday when I can get everything I need elsewhere. You don’t need to be concerned; I’m pretty solid when it comes to these types of things. I know exactly where I stand as far as my faith, my Bible doctrine and God.
Joni: Based on my couple interactions with you, I have no doubt you are firm in your faith. I do encourage you to look beyond yourself, though. As Christians, we have a responsibility to be an active, healthy part of the body — not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit and health of others.
What can YOU bring to the table, and how you can build up others in the faith, remembering Jesus’ call to make disciples? Best wishes for your faith journey.
That is where our conversation ended. I must have only encountered this young adult a couple of times before she left for the summer, and then we moved out of Moscow that August.
I know God uses us to speak his truth – and he can use all kinds of means to get a message across. I feel that in this instance, in retrospect, it was God speaking because it found its target.
Before I share her response from yesterday, I share this verse from Isaiah 55:10-11.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God’s word accomplishes the purpose and thing for which he sent it. Indeed, God can and does use our words of witness to call others to action for his work in this world. And here’s the proof.
The final note from XX arrived last night. It read:
Hi Joni, it has been a LONG time…Almost 10 years now and for some reason, what you said about church to my hard, stubborn, 20 year old heart really stuck with me all these years. I didn’t understand what you were saying about the importance of church then, but I do now. And I appreciate you reaching out to me in that season of life.
My husband and I lead a life group at our church now and ironically, we just started a book on “belonging to a family of families”, you guessed it: the Church. My views have certainly changed in adulthood and as I was reflecting on my past views of the role and importance of the church, I remembered our chat conversation and thought I would reread it. My angst is appalling! Anyway, thank you for caring, thank you for your work with an age group that can be so tough, and thank you for lovingly representing Christ and God’s word to me all those years ago.
I thank God that his word penetrated the shadows that were creeping in, trying to separate her from the Body of Christ. We are called to be a people of community and relationship. We don’t achieve this in isolation.