I grew up going to “an old fashioned Bible believing Baptist church.” I asked Jesus into my heart by way of the Romans road in a King James Version Bible. I would and will tell you that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Because I memorized all my verses from the ol’ KJV. I sat in a pew and I wore a dress to church every Sunday. I sang a lot of hymns.
When it was time for me to start going to youth group my Baptist church, unfortunately, didn’t have anything to offer. So I invited myself to my friend’s Presbyterian church and quickly became a part of one of those big, super fun youth groups. I learned a bunch of new worship songs and sang them as they were lead by the really cool high schoolers. Our leaders were college students and 20-somethings. We went on retreats and to camps and on mission trips. We played a lot of games and stayed up a lot of nights.
In high school I fell into the Christian crowd, making friends with a bunch of kids who all went to church together. And because that’s where all the hot guys were, I added the Free Methodist Church into my rotation. So for a year or so in high school I was going to a Baptist church on Sunday morning, a Presbyterian church on Sunday evening (plus weekly Bible studies with the girls who were then and are still now some of my very best friends), and a Free Methodist Church on Thursdays. Plus all the retreats and conferences and camps I could register for.
During my first two college summers I worked for a Presbyterian church in Maryland and actually went to the Sunday morning services. It was more liturgy than I had ever experienced. Their program not only included announcements and prayer requests, but also the morning’s schedule. I clung to that thing for dear life, never wanting to be standing when I was supposed to be sitting or caught without the words to the hymn. At the time I was mostly uncomfortable in the wooden pews looking at a preacher in a robe but that was the first church I had regularly attended that took communion every week and I really appreciated that.
During my college years I attended a Baptist church, a couple nondenominational churches, and a Brethren in Christ church (I’m still not sure what that means). After college I worked for YouthWorks, a multi-denominational organization, and learned (admittedly, super late) that Catholics are real Christians. I lived at a Lutheran Brethren Church and then a United Church of Christ.
All of this makes “Baptist missionary” seem such an inadequate label.
If there was one lesson I learned in 2015 it is that we need each other. I finished Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts this afternoon and it was another big reminder. For two chapters Sarah wrote specifically about her relationship with the Church. She wrote about how she walked away from the church for years and then found her way back to it. She wrote about the great, big, universal Church of Jesus with all of its variations and differences and liturgy and pews and folding chairs and projectors and hymn books and electric guitars. She wrote about how it’s easy to look at all of the hundreds of denominations and feel sad or discouraged about the divisions in the Church. She wrote about how she chooses to look at the Church differently. She wrote about how all of the different denominations are just evidence of our diversity, of the different ways we connect to and understand and worship our God.
I needed to see every single pastor and youth pastor and volunteer and student and mom and dad and single person and impossibly old Sunday school teacher. I needed to see Baptist preachers and Presbyterian preachers. I needed to see preachers in suits and preachers in t-shirts and bare feet and preachers in robes. I needed to see organs and hymn books and electric guitars and projector screens. I needed to see it all. Because it is all a reflection, imperfect and incomplete, of our holy Father God.