Wooden church tables are heavy. I know, because one fell and broke my toe when I was three years old. This is Shellie, by the way.
My earliest childhood memories usually include some aspect of church life because my dad was a pastor. One memory that stands out is a church that had two organs. Why two organs? Because someone had the ability to play them both at the same time. Crazy, I know! The largest cake I have ever seen in my life was at a church anniversary party I attended as a little girl. I loved growing up in the church. In it I had grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins—not by birth, but by faith. My faith family made an incredible impact on my life. They created environments where I grew in my walk with God.
I clearly remember women from the church gathering around me to pray. Those are precious memories as many of those women are with Jesus today. I cherish those Sunday evening services where I could wait on God in front of the church. Our pianist, Mrs. Faye, could play any song in any key…which was valuable considering my dad frequently jumped from song-to-song and key-to-key. Sorry church pianists, I think this condition afflicted many pastors in the 80’s and 90’s :-). I grew up singing sacred music, including hymns and old choruses, that I love to recall in my abiding times. I had a great childhood of faith.
My parents faithfully attended family camps and made a way for us to attend kids camp, where I would spend evenings praying at the alter, seeking God’s direction for my life. It was during one of those evening prayer times that I felt God showing me I would be a missionary in Africa one day. After that week of camp, I gave my testimony before my church family, telling them God wanted me to be a missionary. The blessing of sharing that testimony provided a group of people to pray for this divine leading in my life. Prayer has always been an important part of my journey with Jesus.
I also had many opportunities to serve in the church. I taught the middle school boys class for a short time. My dad thought every minister-in-training needed to experience the middle school boys class. He may be right; I learned a lot of valuable lessons by teaching that class. I worked with children’s ministry through high school and college. As a gymnast, I was recruited to serve as a clown for street ministry. I mostly just tried to be available wherever I was needed.
In college, I began to experience new ministry methods and models. I got involved with a church plant in Orlando reaching Disney executives. This was my first experience with cultural contextualization of the gospel. It was a stretching time for me as I contrasted the church I had always known with what secular people need to experience in order for them to understand the message of Jesus. It was amazing to work with wonderful leaders who lovingly challenged me to think differently. I also had the opportunity to work with amazing youth and young adult leaders who were passionate about the age group they were targeting. I am so thankful for the wonderful leaders who brought me along and invested in my journey to love the church and maintain a hunger for more of the Lord.
During my third year in college, my college roommate said she was interested in two different guys and wanted to know if I would be willing to go on a pseudo double-date so she could interact with them both, to see who would be a good fit as a future spouse. Considering I was dating someone else at the time, I wasn’t very interested. But, wanting to support my friend, I went along anyway.
Turned out one of those guys was Zach. About a month after Zach and I started talking (after I broke up with the other guy :-), we sat in the stairwell of an academic building and Zach said he needed to tell me something. He needed to let me know his future included serving overseas. I smiled, told him that’s a good thing, because God put it in my heart to go to Africa when I was 7. And the rest, well, we’ll get to that…
Zach here. As we continue to write about God’s leading in our lives and what we see Him doing in the North American church today, it’s important to understand we speak as people who are a product of the American church. We would not be who are where we are today without it.
We love the local church and believe it is God’s redemptive force in the world today.
Shellie and I were both transformed by the church in the form it took in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s.
But we also had opportunity to leave the U.S. for awhile. God brought us back with new lenses. Now we see not only the wonderful way God has used the church in the U.S. to transform people’s lives, like our own, but we see also the challenges it is facing today to fulfill its God-given purpose.
We speak as ones from the inside-out, as pastors’ kids who were saved, baptized in water and in the holy spirit during family devotions, Sunday am or pm services or children’s and youth camps. And we also speak from the outside-in, as people who left the traditional American church setting to see Jesus build His church in Africa and the Middle East. We are very much for the American church and simply want to see it fully realize its potential to change the landscape of our country today as Christians step into the extraordinary life they are offered in Jesus as everyday disciple makers.
We love the American church.
We’d Love to hear from you!
If you grew up in church, what fun or transformative memories do you have? Share your comments below.