In 2007, after years of drug and alcohol addiction I began a long, painful journey to health. After growing up deep seeded in church culture, I was angry with religion and consequently, God. The absolute last place I wanted to be was in a large church setting. But God had a cruel sense of humor. Or maybe he just knew exactly what I needed.
My husband was hired at a fast growing multi-site church. Ugh. Initially I refused to attend. I waited, expecting a backlash. The, “Your wife should be here.” “Why aren’t you more involved?” “If you are going to be employed here, there are certain expectations we have.” It never came.
I was still raw and newly clean, but still drinking the first time I attended. I came with guards up. Sat in the back row next to the exit. I was conveniently late so I did not have to sit through worship. I noticed the front where the church employees and spouses were sitting. So happy. So pretty. So saintly perfect.
I kind of hated them a little. It felt like high school.
As the months passed I attended when my broken mind and body allowed. Still, there was no criticism. I wasn't ignored but not pressured either. When I pushed my husband to approach the pastor about my condition, the response was unexpected.
“Tell her to come when she is ready.”
Really? This simultaneously warmed my heart and enraged me. The bitter part of me thought, “I already know that. Thanks for the permission.” But a microscopic part of me that was beginning to heal grabbed on with both fists. “This guy gets it.” I knew this was where I wanted to be. Needed to be.
Over the next months and years my attendance increased. My heart slowly softened. These people were Real. Imperfect. Generous. Authentic. Consistent. Selfless. Somewhere in this ocean of people I found Christ like community I had never before experienced. Better yet, it found me. I began to experience the blessing. The growth is the evidence of their obedience.
I hear a lot of negative things about large corporate churches. And while that may be true for some, it has not been the case for me. The larger the church becomes, with each new site or expansion, the more love and life change I am witnessing. I see a community of imperfect humans pushing hard after the heart of Jesus and spreading the blessing.
This is why church growth matters. Not Status. Not money. The number of seats being filled represent healing. Hearts being changed. Hearts like mine.
I still haven’t led a small group, volunteered regularly or started part time employment with them like many other spouses have, but God is still doing a work in me. It has been a time of preparation I am finally coming out of it. And I know that “when I am ready” to do more, they will welcome me.
So thank you. Thank you Rob and Becca Ketterling. Pastor Lindsay. Thank you River Valley Church. From an incredibly tough sell, you are getting it right. And for that I am eternally grateful. Because I see Jesus here every week. Day in and day out. He sits on either side of me in each service, at each function, in each relationship, in the hearts and lives of other employees and attendees. In you.
And now every time I leave a service I look at the people in the back row by the door and think, “Come as you are. Come when you’re ready. But come."