The Church Doesn't Need Me Anymore

by - November 11, 2009

As Vintage21 Church has grown, one aspect I have struggled with is that the church no longer needs me. When there were only a hundred or so of us, we could see our handiwork in the physical space. We looked at a wall and knew that Scooby spent countless hours on the carpentry. We looked up at the massive burlap tree in the rafters and saw the scratches on our knuckles from stuffing the burlap sacks the day before. We heard the song that started, "My days before were filled with darkness," and we knew Tim's story and rejoiced with him. The art, the music, the events reflected our personalities, passions, and lives. If we didn't devote our time and resources, important projects would be left undone. We felt the camaraderie of defying odds, building something larger than ourselves. The atmosphere was warm and charming. We felt known by each other, we liked ourselves as a group. We were darn proud of who we were.

Things now seem to magically happen. I am not sure who does the work (though I am sure there are very hard working men and women making it happen), and decisions are made that I know nothing about. We have an amazing professional designer. Our look is polished. We aren't the hippies we once were. I took a little break to have a kid and when I came back, Vintage21 had become a well oiled machine! And because it didn't seem to miss my help in the meantime, I just figured I wasn't needed after all.

The idea that the church no longer needs me is a two-fold lie. First, God needs none of us to accomplish His work, yet it is the privileged of a lifetime that He does indeed choose us to take part in building His kingdom. It is our pride that needs to be needed and in fact prevents us from being useful. We cannot glorify God while also seeking glory for ourselves.

The second lie is that just because the work can and does happen without us, we are excused from continuing to build. Yes, we built a community and an amazing space in the early days. When the church was small, we were one big family. I tried a couple community groups early on that totally tanked, but it was okay because I felt tied in to the larger body. As the church gets larger, we have to become smaller and work to build lives together.

Joe and I joined a brand new community group in September of 2008. We came from a place of broken community, and I was personally bitter towards the church as I no longer felt connected to the larger body that had grown and changed while I was busy being pregnant and caring for a newborn. We actively decided that we could either live out our bitterness and brokenness in alienation or use our positive experiences in building community to build this new community group with the Astas.

This group has become a smaller church within the larger church to me and a picture of what the body of Christ should look like. None of us knew each other well or had much history together. We have experienced such different lives. But as a group we have clung tightly to the gospel in a way I have never experienced with another group of people. Each week we are sharing our stories, being vulnerable, laughing, crying, showing grace and love, and growing up. I have heard of communities that abandon scripture to spend more time "getting to know each other", but the irony is that nothing grows family like deep exploration of the gospel.

It seems to me that the people who have been here the longest should be the best trained, have the strongest marriages, be the most open and vulnerable, have the deepest understanding of the gospel, be the wisest and hardest working people. Our men should be elders and deacons. Our women should be leading and discipling younger women. Our legacy isn't a charming atmosphere. Our legacy is restoration - showing newlyweds how to love their spouses, redeeming broken marriages, pouring into new leaders, encouraging the pastoral staff, walking people through addictions towards healing, training new parents, living out real community, helping build up new communities, and being Jesus to those who desperately need him.

Instead of praising Jesus for his increased presence in the church, I have often mourned the loss of my own presence. This is such an embarrassing display of pride. Being a follower of Christ is about dying to ourselves, losing ourselves at the foot of the cross, abandoning all things for life in Christ. It is uncomfortable, raw, real, and the only way to find redemption.

"For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Mark 8:34

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him." Philippians 3:7-8

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6 comments

  1. I read the whole post, but I don't think I mentally absorbed much after the 3rd paragraph ("The idea that the church no longer needs me is a two-fold lie...") because the depth there needs to be mined more in my mind. Can I just say that I appreciate your deep-thinking, Paige? Because I do. It's like you jump-start my brain by doing a lot of the work for me. And that sends me along these same lines of thinking to see what I find.

    Thanks, friend.

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  2. Paige~I couldn't help but think about a passage I recently studied in the book of John when I read this post. It was when John the Baptist was giving his testimony about Jesus: John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.

    Your writing and thoughts are just amazing and an inspiration to me.
    Emily

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  3. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts, Paige!

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  4. Emily, that is a great example. I wish I had thought of it myself!

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  5. Paige, I'm so comforted to hear your perspective (and so flattered to read the mention of a "professional designer"). And although UNLIKE you I do see my hand in some of the things that happen at church, LIKE you I am totally desperate for the old days to return - even to the extent of resisting the good changes that are coming. Isn't working for the church supposed to mean increased devotion to its cause and a more Christ-centered life in general? I mean, it's my job right? Instead, I focus on the humanness that exists in the day-to-day and frequently lose sight of why I work there. No matter our role in the church, it's easy to forget just Who the church belongs to. Thanks for the reminder!

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  6. Thanks for the comments, Amynonymous. I do find it interesting that you too experience a sense of loss and longing. Personally, I long for family and being known, and through my cg, some of that is being fulfilled. My heart aches for those people in the church who have not been so blessed to have that yet.

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