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What I Learned From My Search For A New Church

Written by Madeline Twooney, Germany

Since giving my life to Christ nine years ago, l have been on a spiritual odyssey to find a suitable church for my family. I have been happy in some places of worship l visited, and misunderstood in others. I have borne witness to a congregation that glorified God and was Spirit-filled, and in other instances, ran away in shock as a church crumbled under pride.

My search is not over. I am still looking for a church where I hope my family will feel a part of. But what I’m beginning to realize is that perhaps no church will completely satisfy me. Perhaps the church will not achieve perfection until Jesus returns, and the bride finally marries her bridegroom (Revelation 19:7).

In the meantime, I am learning to worship with people whom l may not always share the same demographic, point of view, or worship style with. For ultimately, we are all children of God, united by faith (Galatians 3:26-28).

From my journey so far, here are some of the things I’ve appreciated about the churches I’ve been in and would love to see in any church I worship in.

 

Preaches Christ

First and foremost, Jesus is the cornerstone of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Sermons that are founded on biblical teachings and emphasize the truth of scripture and its continued relevance today are needful. Sacraments, such as baptism and communion are essential, as they allow people to experience the love and power of God in a very personal way.

I also appreciate churches that are committed to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). I’ve seen this happen through outreach projects or personal efforts of church members.

 

Acts as Light and Salt

Our broken world is focused on self-promotion, the latest material acquisition, or striving towards that “goals” relationship. We are called, however, to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), living in the world, but not being part of its trends and pressures.

When churches teach their members to uphold moral and godly principles with humility through sermons, and exemplify it by the lives of pastors and other church leaders, this is carried through to the church members in their interactions with each other.

When we step into a church, it doesn’t really matter if people are wearing suits and ties, or ripped skinny jeans. But are church members squabbling over meaningless details, or are they interacting with love and grace? I’ve learned that we should take time to look at the hearts and needs or people we are worshiping with, and not be distracted by appearances.

 

Is a Welcoming Community

Another essential element of a healthy church is community. Community encourages us and supports us through life’s struggles. It is a haven of kinship from our daily interactions with people who might not know God. After all, as the body of Christ, we thrive in relationship with each other (Hebrews 10:24-25).

On one of my very first visits to a church, I was touched by how welcoming it was—my husband and l had coffee and cake in the kitchen with everyone who had attended that day. We were invited to the pastor’s son’s birthday barbecue for the following weekend, which we gladly accepted.

Yet, I know that how people behave on Sunday services isn’t always a good gauge. It’s hard for me to make new acquaintances during Sunday service, so I often look to sign up for a small group. In the intimacy of a small group, people notice and welcome you more easily, and there is more opportunity for mutual exchange. Friendships take time to build. As you start attending events, you will meet more people and over time, form meaningful friendships.

 

Holds Each Other Accountable

A church that practices accountability will recognize issues that can cause damage and open the door to spiritual attack. Such a church is not afraid to lovingly initiate hard conversations individually as well as on a corporate level.

I believe that this accountability should happen both at the church leaders’ level, and also among lay members. But I recognize that it is not always easy. For example, there are a number of women in my current church, including some in leadership positions, who wear clothing that could be considered inappropriate. It seems like modesty is an issue that needs to be kindly addressed in our church (1 Timothy 2:9-10), but I am still waiting on God to teach me how I can play my part in this matter.

 

Challenges Our Comfort

I appreciate it when a church challenges us in the area of spiritual comfort. I’ve heard someone call this “meat and vegetable” ministry. Everyone loves “dessert” sermons, where we learn about God’s love, peace and our gifts. We all need that balm to soothe our spiritual wounds. However, our spiritual growth is derived from discomfort: learning about spiritual warfare, confronting fear, being encouraged to serve even when we don’t feel like it, or loving others when their views differ from our own.

The church should not be afraid to challenge us. In my own life, I am learning that my own area of spiritual growth is fellowship. Shyness has often prevented me from building meaningful relationships. Therefore, l purposefully sign myself up for service ministries and small groups, in order to put myself out there and meet new people.

 

What Else to Consider

Though not strictly necessary, I really appreciate it when a church goes out of the way in service of the needs of their congregation. I remember the time my husband and l tried out a Spanish church. We were the only ones there who didn’t speak Spanish, yet the pastor brought someone up to the pulpit to translate just for us. I was touched by that thoughtful gesture.

I also value a church that encourages people to serve. One woman in our church recently approached the pastor with the idea to start a new translation ministry. Not only did the pastor thoroughly support it, but he announced the ministry in church and encouraged people to volunteer. Since we all have different gifts (Romans 12:6-8), churches should actively encourage people to serve and be open to proposals for ministries and other projects from church members.

Finding a church has not been an easy journey for me, but it has been an enlightening one. I have encountered various cultures, met people from different walks of life, and learned so much about myself.

If you, like me, find that your search is taking a little bit longer than expected, as in my case—don’t worry. Regardless of where we are, whether we have found our spiritual home or are still looking, God is always with us. And ultimately, that’s all that matters.

I Have Anxiety But I’m Not Alone

Written By Marissa Cathey, Mexico

Walking out of the metro station, I was suddenly met by foreign smells and swarms of people. The ground was covered in what appeared to be soot, and as I pushed through the crowds, I felt my own thoughts being drowned out by the overwhelming noises and sounds coming from street vendors, bargaining customers, and chaotic traffic.

I struggled to find an alley or a side street where I could catch my breath. I was starting to hyperventilate and inwardly panic due to all the disorderly activity going on around me. I finally found a less busy street but soon noticed liquid dripping from the apartment buildings on both sides of the narrow road, all around me. These drops, probably from the air conditioning units, likely carried millions of germs, which led me to freak out even more.

That’s how one of my many anxiety attacks started.

 

My struggle with anxiety

When I moved to Hong Kong in early 2017, I couldn’t have been more excited and overjoyed to finally be fulfilling the call I’d received as a child. Raised in a strong Christian family in Mexico, God put a burden for East Asia on my heart as kid, and with time, I developed a desire to someday use my multimedia skills in a church to help make Christ and the gospel more known.

I have to be honest though. Every day since moving here has been a battle against endless fears: lack of order in public places, being surrounded by crowds, and a number of other anxieties regarding social interactions. I’ve struggled with anxiety since 2014, but it spiked significantly once I moved from my small Mexican town of 2,000 people to metropolitan Hong Kong with 7,000,000 people.

Anxiety can be crippling for me. Most days I don’t even want to leave my bed to face people and ministry responsibilities. On days when I do leave the house, there’ve been times when, because of the amount of people present, I’d start hyperventilating during a church service, and would need to escape the sanctuary until either I calm down or the service ends. On the metro, if it becomes too crowded, I would have to get off at the next stop and let the oncoming trains pass by until one pulls in with less people on it.

Thankfully, my resolve to carry out the duties given to me by the church usually outweighs my desire to avoid crowds. But what has helped me particularly is remembering how God’s presence has been with me in the past, and how He has helped me make it through all the bad days. That’s what motivates me to keep moving forward and being faithful in service.

 

God is with me

Growing up in a Christian household, I’d become accustomed to hearing “God will never leave you” (Deut. 31:8), “God is always watching over you” (Ps. 121:5), or “God is your comfort in the storm” (John 14:27). But I never truly understood these truths until I started experiencing pain for myself. The peace these promises give has been instrumental in my growth and perseverance in life.

In times when I experience sensory overload or near panic attacks in public places, God literally brings calm to my heart by helping me recall a worship song or a Bible verse I’d read recently. When I participate in weekly outreaches in the red light district, or as I learn to lead in my church’s youth group on Friday nights, God gives me a boldness and a love for people exactly when I need His help.

Jesus tells His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, emphasis added). This verse has come to mean a lot to me, reminding me that I can’t experience peace in trials if I’m not in Jesus, if I’m not resting in Him. This trust in Him, this kind of faith—this is true intimacy with the Lord. And we get to experience the safety of this intimacy during our troubles and strife!

God knows the beginning and end of my day. He knows how things will turn out, and He carries me through it all because He knows I am “but dust” (Psalm 103:14). It’s the same for us all. Ultimately, experiencing difficulties while trying to stay in tune with God’s will can help us become stronger in our faith and experience deeper levels of grace with God that we didn’t even think possible.

 

The church is with me

One thing I have found very real in my life is that God uses my willingness to open up to others to bring about healing and encouragement. As I grew to trust people in church, I began to share my struggles with them. And as a result, I felt deeply cared for and looked out for like never before. Each time they sensed me dealing with an anxiety attack, they would come over to randomly give me a hug, pray for me, or text me to ask how I was. This has given me more comfort and peace than I can say, and has shown me what it means when the body of Christ ministers to one another.

Though it’s hard for friends and leaders to understand my full spectrum of anxiety, I have only ever been accepted and treated as a child of God. I have been blessed through fellowship with other believers in both the good and bad times.

At the end of the day, our present troubles are nothing compared to the glory set before us. Our future leads up to one thing: spending eternity with Christ. All our time on earth is meant for us to learn dependence on God and enjoy intimacy with Him. This carries us through trials, sufferings, and storms of all sorts. He wants to use us to bring others into His family, and He also uses our challenges and weaknesses, for in them His image best shines forth as people see more of Him and less of us.

This isn’t to say that my battle with anxiety is easier or done with. Actually, far from it. I continue experiencing good and bad days every week. But I’m still here. And God is still providing for me. He is still bringing people in my life to push me forward. He is faithful even when I’m not. And He is still everything I’ll ever need.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

 

The Star of Bethlehem Was Not the Point

Written By Jonathan Trotter, USA

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

The Star of Bethlehem had a point, an important point. But the star was not the point.

The star fulfilled its role of leading people across cultures and religious paradigms, down dusty roads and around a paranoid prince, to the Child. He was the Point, this Son, and He shone brighter. He, the Child-King, deserved adoration from all peoples, in all languages, for all of time.

And we, the Church, like the star, have a point. But we are not the point. Jesus is.

The star inspired a journey, away from comfort and the great “known.” So may we.

The star led through danger and politically dicey situations. So has the Church, historically, and so do we, presently.

The star challenged prejudice, inviting outsiders in. So may we.

The star incited worship, but not of itself. So may we.

As we celebrate the incarnation of hope, the birth of the Lamb who would be slain, let us pray for ourselves, His glorious Bride, as we wait expectantly for His return and the restoration of all things.

May we, Your Bride, O Christ, rise like the star, guiding people to their King.

May we remember that, in leading people to You, we may lead them into danger, both before they find You and afterwards.

May we inspire people to start journeying towards Jesus, no matter how long or treacherous that path might be. May we show a clear path to You. Not necessarily safe, but clear.

May we encourage people to do things they weren’t planning to do, like forgive, give, or go.

May we draw people from distant lands, astrologers and pagans from cultures distinct and different. And after introducing the Savior, may we allow them to return to the places they’re from, knowing that when they return, they go forever changed, having bowed to the King.

May the first Star of Bethlehem shatter into a million pieces—not breaking, but multiplying into galaxies of stars that light up the world, into churches calling men and women from every corner of the planet, to come and see this thing You have done, this story for the ages.

May we be ever diverse, with layers of cultures and languages, colors and fragrances, incomes and social standings, shepherds and sages, all circled around Jesus, giving our gifts. May we be One, Father.

May we revel in the joy of others as they bring their gifts to Jesus.

May we, the Bride of Christ, stand strong as a bright and pure witness to the passionate love of God, made clear through the Son, Jesus. A guiding light to those who would seek You, their King.

May Your Spirit, O God, be with Your people. Amen.


Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (Matthew 2:1-12)

 

This article was originally published here. This version has been edited by YMI.

How Can I Love the Church that Hurt Me?

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

Seven days after I came into the world, my dad became the pastor of the church that I would grow up in. Unlike my siblings, I never knew a time when my Dad wasn’t a pastor. I quickly learned that people either hold pastor’s kids to an unreasonably high standard, or wait to see when they rebel and fall off the rails.

I didn’t like either.

If I could get away with not having to tell people what my dad’s job was, I would. I did not like being scrutinized. All I wanted was to figure out what I thought about God and church without an audience. By the time I was 20, I had reached my conclusion.

I knew the Bible was true, and I had no problem with God. But I didn’t like Christians, which was slightly problematic seeing as I was one myself.

I could understand non-Christians hurting people. I could even get my head round Christians lashing out in the heat of the moment. But Christians deliberately hurting other Christians?

There had been times as a kid in church when I was the only one who got told off for something a group of us had done. As I got older, I listened to people gossip about my family; their caring tones and concerned faces were merely a cover to finding out what they could from me. Eventually, I narrowed my world to just me and God. I let people in so far and no further. I kept hidden the things that were really important to me as much as I could.

When this kind of hurt led my dad to leave the church we were at, I decided that I had had enough of Christians. God might love me, but His people definitely didn’t.

As I found out about other things that had happened in our church over time—things that were unjust and that hurt my family—my hurt turned to anger. The more angry I felt, the less I felt I could go to God, and the more my relationship with Him deteriorated.

I was stuck in limbo. I did not want to walk away from God because I loved Him and because I knew that the Bible was true. But I did not want to associate with His church, since that was a painful place to be. It became so painful that I finally realized that I needed to do something about my attitude and how I was thinking and feeling.

Passages like Hebrews 10:25 and John 15 convicted me. They told me that the church is God’s plan. Jesus told His followers to “abide in my love” (John 15:9), which sounds great, until He explained that to abide in His love means we have to obey His commandment—to love other Christians (15:12). That part I’m not so thrilled about, because it means opening myself up to potential hurt again.

Because I’m still very much working through this, it’s not been something that I’ve talked about much with my family. But here are a couple of things I’m finding as I address my flawed thinking:

 

1. Christians hurt each other

It may seem obvious, but none of us are perfect, Christian or otherwise. So we will hurt each other; I hurt people. I can feel as defensive and hurt about my injuries as I want, but at the end of the day, I have hurt other people too. I need to be forgiven just as much as I need to forgive.

In Matthew 18, Jesus answers Peter’s question of how many times we should forgive people by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant. The story goes like this. There’s a servant who owed a massive amount of money to the King which he couldn’t pay back. The King rightly wanted to throw the man in jail, but the servant pleaded for mercy. The King, in an amazing act of grace, cancels the servant’s whole debt. The debt-free servant now bumps into a man who owes him a small amount of money and demands that the money be repaid then and there. The man can’t pay, so the debt-free servant throws the man in jail, ignoring his cries for mercy. Word gets back to the King, who is royally furious, and he metes out justice and throws the unmerciful servant in jail.

This story has in some ways haunted me since I was a kid, because I really wanted grace for myself, but I have a hard time giving it out. I was thinking about all this recently and I came to the conclusion that if I met the people who had hurt me and my family back then, I would want them to know that I didn’t hold it against them.

It’s unlikely that I will ever see them again—life has taken me a long way from them—but that doesn’t mean that I can’t forgive them. Forgiving them means not wanting bad for them but praying for their good. And for the relationships I have with Christians now, it means being quick to apologize when I get things wrong.

 

 2. There is no higher standard

Other people may have been holding me to a higher standard of behaviour because of who my dad was, but God wasn’t. God holds us all to the same high standard that none of us can meet. And just as none of us can meet that standard, all of us are offered grace because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus’ blood paid for all of the times we mess up and hurt each other.

Every time we don’t meet that standard, there is grace to make us right with God again. So when I feel like that higher standards are being applied to me, which still happens sometimes, I can put my mind at rest by reminding myself that Jesus has paid for my sin. I don’t have to try and earn my way back in. It’s comforting to know that God isn’t waiting to catch me out, but is waiting with grace and forgiveness.

  

3. We can choose how we respond

I may not like it, but living in this world means that at some point we will get hurt. What we do with that hurt is what counts. Rather than burying how I feel and holding on to resentment, I’m trying to remember what Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32, that I have been shown grace for the times I’ve failed.

Because of the mercy shown to me, I am slowly changing how I respond to people who have hurt me. I’m working on not being quick to judge but being quick to forgive. It’s hard because that’s not my nature, and maybe it’s not yours either. It all feels a bit backwards. But God has shown forgiveness and mercy to me, and in turn I’m trying to do the same.

 Like I said, I’m still working on this, and most of the time I don’t respond in the way I know I should. But I’m learning to take it back to God and let Him continue to work on my heart.

 

I’m a long way from those churches I grew up in, and if I could, I would still keep my Dad’s job a secret. I’m still afraid of being hurt, but I’m trying not to let that fear get in the way. Mostly I fail, but I’ve not given up and I don’t want to. The church is full of broken people who will hurt one another. But they are also God’s people, loved and forgiven by Him.

The church is God’s family, that you are welcome to be a part of. It’s a place that is meant to help us grow in our walk with Jesus, because it’s easier to keep fighting sin with others than when we try to go it alone. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place that is worth sticking with. No matter how bad things got or how painful they were, I didn’t want to give up entirely on the church. And I still don’t.