On Veterans Day, I wrote a post that referenced the church we attended and had become members of while living in Enterprise, AL. Shortly after we moved there, I started looking for churches online and was frustrated because it seems that the internet is not utilized as effectively or as often as I am accustomed to it being used in the Northeast. We attended a church that was one of the more popular ones in the area and seemed promising. However, it wasn’t until we, as visitors, were asked to stand up and my Southern Man mentioned where he worked, that people actually bothered to even look at us. While we were there, other than the pastor, no one said a word to us. Also, I have what I like to call my “litmus test” of a church. Because my wardrobe is not extensive, (I seem to have either really dressy clothes or jeans–or things that don’t fit), when I go to church, I tend to wear cowboy boots, jeans, and as nice a top as I can find. If I go to a church and am the only one wearing jeans and cowboy boots, it says something to me. Nothing against anyone that likes to dress to the hilt when they go to church, but, as someone who doesn’t have a lot of business-dress clothes, I want to feel at home at a church that doesn’t care what people wear, as long as they are there, in God’s house. It’s what’s on the inside that is important, not the outside, and when a church is all about outward appearance, it turns me off, as it does many people I’m sure.
Anyway, another church that I’d found online was called The Grace Place. I’d also seen its signs around town. One day when we were having a little yard sale, this vivacious, older woman stopped by and after checking out our
junk stuff, chatting with us a bit and finding that out we were new to the area, she invited us to come to a service at–you guessed it–The Grace Place! We went and the first thing that happened was we immediately felt at home. The people were warm and friendly without being pushy or overbearing. They were genuine. They were all ages from all walks of life, some dressed up, while some wore jeans or shorts. Even the pastor was in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, which we later found out was his trademark. The recurring theme we read and saw in action was “Come as You Are; Experience God, Not Religion”.
The worship music was contemporary, uplifting, and led by a band whose energy and joy for the Lord were quite apparent. Ironically, the sermon series was just starting that day and was all about…finding a church. We left there feeling hopeful that perhaps we’d found our new church. After attending it for a couple months, enjoying the worship and sermons, feeling the love for others this church displayed and acted on, meeting new people, and hearing how much our children liked it as well, we decided to become members.
We learned that when the current pastor first came onto the scene, five years prior to us joining The Grace Place, there were only about 50 or so regularly attending members. When we joined, the attendance was up to around 500 every week! When we left Enterprise this past June, after approximately 3 years of attending this church, the church body had grown to 1000 regular Sunday attendees and there were four services, including a Saturday night one! Wow! Every Sunday, people would go up to the altar to pray during the last song and rarely did a service go by where there weren’t multiple visitors, people coming to Christ, believers wanting to get baptized, and people wanting to join. It was truly awe-inspiring to clearly see God at work!
Was the church perfect? Absolutely not. God is perfect, churches are made up of inherently imperfect people, so everything that goes along with imperfect people can and will show up in any church. How the church deals with the issues is what makes the difference. A church with leaders that are bold, sticking to God’s Word and continually seek God’s will, while encouraging and leading their congregation to do the same is a church that will be strong and grow into a body that is willing and able to do God’s work–loving others and helping them in whatever way they can, while spreading the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life through true belief and faith in Jesus Christ.
After being part of such an amazing church and knowing that no two churches are the same, we realized that it was going to be a challenge to find another one that would compare to The Grace Place. Since moving to our new town, we have investigated dozens of churches online, been to five or six different churches, and been invited to several more. We kept going back to this one particular church called Grace Baptist. The youth area is called “The Grace Place”. Hmmm…. It seems like every time we ask God for a sign, He throws these little humorous tidbits at us. Sometimes though, we aren’t quite sure if we are just reading more into something than it actually is or if our prayers are truly being answered. Well, today there was little doubt that God was giving me the “obvious slap in the face” sign that I have been praying for.
The pastor had put a post on the Facebook page that there would be a very important message and asked that everyone make it a priority to attend. Before he delved into his message, he assured the congregation that no, he wasn’t leaving the church and also apologized to any guests that things would be a little different today, basically talking about “family business” and to please be sure to come back next week, when things would be back to regular business, so to speak. He then started talking about his missionary trip to Guatemala and how the week since he’d returned had been one of the most discouraging weeks of his life and the heartbreak he was going through. Why? Because in spite of all the financial issues this church has, along with other situations that so many churches go through, the pastor came to the realization while in Guatemala, that the church had a heart problem. The love of Christ that a church body is supposed to show to others had become stagnant and, apparently, M.I.A.. He continued on, using scriptural references about loving others, running the race, sacrificing, serving and other things. He basically told the church that they needed to repent of the pettiness, the indifference, the back-stabbing, and other things that we humans get ourselves wrapped up in, and get back to the heart of what God wants us to do both as individuals and as a church–serve others, inside and outside of the church, with the grace and love that Jesus Christ taught, demonstrated, and commanded of us. When he was finished, he invited the church to come forward during the singing, repent at the altar, and make amends with those that they’d hurt or were at odds with. He also told the congregation that he loved them and offered encouragement about the future of this church if we love like we are supposed to.
It hadn’t all been chastisement and lecturing; this young pastor has a sense of humor and is very down-to-earth. He had made a comment while speaking, about how uptight the congregation was the past three years since he had been there. I almost laughed out-loud when he said that. We’d noticed that in this church was an absence of making new people feel at home and a deficiency of joy–not by everyone, certainly, but overall. Even in the band and choir, many of them stand up there singing, but with hardly any smiles, exuberance, or apparent joy to be worshiping; our daughter even commented that some of them seemed like sticks-in-the-mud. The songs are wonderful, the worship leader is great, the band is good, but something is missing and it’s the same with many in the congregation. There was one lady in the congregation who was clapping during one of the songs and I later quipped with the pastor that I thought maybe we’d start sitting near her to start a “clapping section” and perhaps it would spread to the rest of the congregation!
Afterwards, when my Southern Man and I were waiting to talk to the pastor, we both decided that his heart-to-heart talk with the congregation was the slap in the face we’d been needing. We told the pastor that in spite of the church not yet feeling like “home”, we had enjoyed his messages and had kept coming back, praying for God to show us something, which He had done today through the message the pastor presented. We had been wondering if maybe God wanted us to be part of a church that needed to grow and wanted us to be part of that growth, bringing our experiences with the church that we’ve previously attended. After today’s message, we believe that God does want us in this church where He can use us, as well as many others, to help it get back the joy, service, and love for others so that it will hopefully become a beacon of love for Christ in this area and the world. So…it looks like we have found our new church home, finally! We look forward to this new adventure and all the things God has in store for this church and for us. We are also grateful, still, that He led us to The Grace Place church in Enterprise. Not only did we receive healing from all our grief and loneliness, and become friends with so many wonderful people, but we also may be bringing some fresh ideas that this new pastor is excited to hear and, perhaps, incorporate into this church as it grows.