Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why I Returned to the Traditional Church: Part 2

I really, really, really tried to get this out on Friday but... as you recall from Part 1, life happens! And I really didn't know I had so many demanding readers.... Amber Compton... ;)

My last post left off with me being brokenhearted in Montevallo. A two and a half year relationship was permanently over and I was two hours away from my mama.

What was I going to do? How in the world was I going to start over? Who could I turn to?

Chris and Kaley, that's who! They were still engaged and about to graduate from UM and get married. And they were there for me. That's why I love 'em! The three of us (and Matt Walker) hung out a lot that spring. And in May when the dorms closed, Kaley and I became ROOMIES again! FUN FUN FUN! That was one of the best summers. There was after-work Seinfeld watching, Tetris tournaments, lots of oldies music, and boo-hooing over Kaley's impending marriage (which meant I couldn't be her roomie anymore!). OH and did I mention I ACED Physics and Pre-Cal that summer!? Whoop whoop! (When else am I supposed to brag about that!?)

During that spring and summer, I went to Shelby Crossings some, but mostly I went home on the weekends. I loved spending time at my mom's new house. I would sit on the back porch on Saturday mornings, staring out into the pasture and just think about how much I actually liked being there. My ENTIRE LIFE, all I wanted to do was GET THE HECK OUT OF TUSCALOOSA COUNTY. But that summer, particularly, I felt myself drawn more and more to home.

Kaley & Chris got married on August 16, 2008. On the 17th, I had friends over to my mom's house in Ralph for my birthday (which is the 18th). I will never forget this conversation, which shaped the rest of my life. I was telling my friends about how miserable I was at Montevallo and how I just wanted to come home. This is what I will never forget - Matty Matt, my fake big bro, said - "There's no rule that says you have to stay in Montevallo. Just move home."


Everybody agreed. They all encouraged me to just move home.

So, and I kid you not, I did. I literally moved home that week. I quit my job. I packed my stuff. I withdrew from UM, registered for classes at Shelton (it was too late to register at UA), and I moved home.

For a little while, I went to Hargrove with my mom but I didn't want it to be my home church. So I did what any 20-something would do, I asked Facebook where I should go to church. Ashley Martin (who I'd met in my first round at Shelton) invited me to Vineyard. I went one Sunday and was hooked.

It was, yet again, a non-traditional church. Casual meetings. Worship band. Hysterically funny (and gifted) pastors. A church meant for those who were fed up with religion. Now, this is where things start to get hard for me to talk about because leaving Vineyard was not a decision we entered into lightly. I have never been as invested in a church as I was in Vineyard and leaving was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I still love our pastors and my time there and attribute so much of my spiritual growth to the three years I spent there. I have never been in a church that is so focused on living out the Gospel day in and day out. But, this is the church we left to go to First Baptist. It was the last non-traditional church I will probably ever go to (never say never, right!?). But I have told this ENTIRE story so that you, the reader, understand it was not one single church or one single group of people or even one single reason that led me to this decision. With that said, let's keep going...

I jumped in to Vineyard wholeheartedly. In the fall of 2008, I took a class called Emerge. It was a Biblical leadership training class and IT. WAS. AWESOME. It was made up of six girls and led by an amazing woman, Sally Edwards. Y'all, I cannot tell you what an experience this was. We learned so much about Bible study, Scripture memory, prayer, worship, service... the whole nine yards. And I had six awesome women to share the journey with.

If I thought Highlands was charismatic, Vineyard was like... full-out Pentecostal. (Not really, though.) These people were serious. They were thirsty for Christ, they were desperate for the Gospel, and they were intent on devoting their lives to the kingdom. I had never worshipped or prayed or studied the Bible or served so willingly before. Vineyard was a place where the Spirit of the Lord was. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17). Vineyard was definitely a place of freedom for me.

When I met Blake in March 0f 2010, our love for Jesus was the very first thing we discussed. He was going to a Baptist church in Tuscaloosa. I invited him to a Prophetic Night at Vineyard and he was hesitant, but he came. We both received "words" that night and it was amazing to see Blake respond to what was told to him. He said he came expecting some sort of snakes-and-tongues type of crazy worship, but what he found was Biblical application of spiritual gifts. He started coming with me to Vineyard off and on. Then we started going to pre-engagement counseling which turned into pre-marital counseling. Blake started playing drums in the band and we started serving Vineyard together.

Things were great. We did all sorts of awesome things at Vineyard. We led worship, we worked with the kids, we led Bible studies, I did two summer internships, we organized service projects. Blake even served as the youth pastor for a while! But something was missing - community. As hard as we tried, we just couldn't find our "fit" at Vineyard. We seemed to be in a weird stage in life and there weren't many people to walk alongside us.

The first Sunday of 2011, we visited First Baptist. I just needed something different for a day and having known the McKee's, FBC was where I wanted to go. We loved Dr. McKee's message and we considered moving from Vineyard before we got married. We talked with our pastor about our concerns and were told that if what we wanted was community, we should try to make it happen. I thought that was a worthy response, so we started putting forth even more effort to get what we needed out of our church. We tried to get groups and events together and it was just an uphill battle.

Then April 27, 2011 happened. I still don't like talking about it so I will just keep this brief... God's work through Vineyard is the ONLY reason we made it through that summer. Period. There is no way we can ever repay them for their prayers, volunteers, and service to us. They took care of us during what was one of the absolute most horrible experiences I have ever been through. Oh, and we got married during this summer - our wedding was officiated by our pastors at Vineyard and it was a BEAUTIFUL ceremony!

After all of that, I didn't see how we could leave. We owed the church so much and I was being selfish for wanting more. But no matter how hard we tried to make things "happen," they just... weren't happening. And every Sunday I dragged myself out of bed, hoping that day would be different. It got to the point that in October/November, I was literally crying every Sunday before church. I didn't want to go because my heart was very broken. I started to have a lot of concerns. Not just about our lack of community, but about whether or not Vineyard (or non-traditional churches in general) was where we could really plant ourselves as a newly married couple.

So, in November, I told Blake I wanted to start searching for a new church home. Things didn't really "go down" the way I had hoped. We weren't 100% sure that we were going to go to a new church and stay or whether or not we just wanted a break. But with the way things happened, we knew we needed to move churches altogether. We didn't know where we wanted to go, all we knew is that we had a few basic requirements:

1. The church had to be a Bible-based, Bible-believing church. No wishy-washy.
2. We wanted community. A group of people in similar stages of life as us who wanted to "do life" together.
3. We wanted to go to Sunday morning small groups - aka Sunday School. (More on this in Part 3).
4. We wanted more stability, structure, and discipline.
5. I wanted to be a part of a choir.

Since we'd had such a good experience at First Baptist that January, we headed back to FBC the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I think we went back the next Sunday, too. While sitting in the back, I spotted a teacher who worked at my school with his wife (the Fessler's). And sitting near us was a couple I recognized but couldn't place (the Rockwell's). That next week, I decided to go talk to Kyle Fessler about their involvement at FBC and if  they were involved in a Sunday School class. He said they were and that they were actually having a departmental Christmas party that week. Blake and I hadn't even visited the class and we decided to go to the party to meet everyone! So that week, we went to the Bentley's house and were quickly swept away by the Sewell's, the Gable's, and the Price's!!! They snatched us up and we laughed like we were old friends!!! They told us to come to their class on Sunday... so we did!

And... we kept going! We were warmly embraced into our class, we admired Dr. McKee's tenacity for Biblical based teaching, and we quickly found our "places" in the choir and orchestra. It didn't take us long to warm up to the people at First Baptist. We found exactly what we had been praying for and searching for.

In January of 2012, we started talking about joining the church. Joe Armour told me I would need to be baptised since I had not originally been baptised by immersion. This was a point of contention for me and really, it's a story that would take another three posts! I wanted to do it but I didn't want to negate my original baptism. Even though my baptism at age 15 was not by immersion, it was the "real deal" for me. But after lots of prayer and tears and discussions, I knew it was what I wanted to do. So I think we joined the church sometime in February and then I was baptised in March.

So, that's how we made it to First Baptist! A long, winding road of all sorts of pit stops and road blocks and impromptu U-turns. But the past two and a half years at a traditional, conservative Baptist church have restored my love for the Church - and maybe not quite for the reasons you suspect.

Most of you reading this know I am not necessarily a "traditional" person. While I hold conservative values and love history and tradition, I also like to question, I like to spur on change and I like to push the envelope a little. I like to challenge myself and others and I like to think beyond the black-and-white. So, you might think... if you like to be a little different, why in the world would you want to go to a traditional church? Well... that's the story for the third and final installment of this long-winded story!

Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I Returned to the Traditional Church: Part 1

I wanted to send this post out last week on May 1. That was the day I celebrated 15 years of being saved by Grace! I accepted Christ on May 1, 1999 at Coleman Coliseum during a Franklin Graham Crusade. I was raised in a Christian home and went to church my entire life, but had never understood the Gospel and why I needed it. As you can see, it's not May 1st any more... life happens, you know? Babies get sick. Moms get double pneumonia. Priorities, man. So... here's this post... Part 1... a week late.

I never would have guessed that I'd become a baptist - much less a member of the largest baptist congregation in Tuscaloosa. But, I did, and the journey there is quite a story if you ask me. It's taken a long time for me to be ready to write this - we've been at First Baptist for two and a half years. There was a lot of heartache in deciding to move back into a traditional church setting, but I can say with confidence that we did the right thing.

But, as with most stories, it's not enough to just tell you the end. We need to start at the beginning. The VERY beginning.

My mom was a member of Hargrove United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa for many years before I was born. She was a single mother in the 1970's at a time when many churches did not support divorced single mothers. But, Hargrove was different. They took her in, cared for her, cared for my sister, and showed my mom the love of Christ in a very real and tangible way. She tells stories of leaving church on a Sunday morning to find groceries sitting in the backseat of her car. She found friendships in the choir. And, one year, some of her friends from church pitched in to buy her a new guitar. So, when my dad came along in 1983, there was no question that they would be married there and attend the church together.

I was born in 1985 and remember going to Hargrove as a very little girl. But, sometime in the early 1990's, my parents made the difficult decision to move our family to Wesley Chapel U.M.C. in Ralph. It was much closer to our house than Hargrove and was involved in our local community. It was a small church that became even smaller when the majority of members left after the church leaders invited a black choir to sing at a revival (sad, but true). For most of the years we were at Wesley Chapel, there were literally less than 15 members of the church. I was the only child, aside from a young boy who was born far too premature and only alive because of life support. My Sunday School teacher, Roena, was a precious lady who tried and tried to teach me the Bible. But I didn't really want to listen or pay attention. The United Methodist Church allows for pastors to be transferred annually (or however often the church decides), so I remember going through at least three pastors at Wesley Chapel - and they all served our church as well as another local church. The last pastor to come had two children, but they went to Sunday School at the other church. So, I was it - the only kid. And I wasn't really learning anything and, honestly, I didn't really like going.

So in 1999, we moved our membership back to Hargrove. My parents wanted me to be a part of a youth group and to learn more about the whole reason we were going to church. At first I was excited, then I was very, very nervous. I really hadn't ever gone to church with other kids and none of the kids at Hargrove went to my school. And, I had very little Bible knowledge. One of the first Sunday School lessons I remember at Hargrove was about Abraham. I had NO IDEA who Abraham was!!! Can you believe that? I went to church my entire life and in the 8th grade, I didn't know who ABRAHAM was!!! I realized quickly there was a lot I had to learn. On May 1, 1999, I gave my life to Christ during the last day of a Franklin Graham Festival here in Tuscaloosa. I was confirmed into the Methodist Church that spring and in the summer of 2001, I was baptised.

Spending a few years' time in a church will allow you to get good and rooted in the church drama. And Hargrove, like most churches, was full of drama. There were rumors, committees, secret meetings, finger-pointing, family feuds, and backstabbing. And somehow, as a teenager, I often got thrust into the middle of it. A small church leaves little room for anyone to hide. The last straw for me was the hiring of a youth director who, from what I remember, was hired without the knowledge of certain people (myself included) on the search committee. I was OVER IT. Off and on during high school, I would attend First Baptist with my friend Kaley, who was friends with the pastor's kids. While I never really got involved there, I did get to know the McKee's and fell in love with them as my friends' parents. (This would play a major role in my life nearly ten years later...)

After my high school graduation in 2003, I started working at Gospel Supply House (a Christian Bookstore). I had pretty much stopped going to church, but God used GSH as a place for me to really learn and grow. I met people from different denominations with different church backgrounds. I read books by authors who taught the gospel better than I'd ever heard before. I listened to music that spoke to my spirit. And I found a thirst for God I just hadn't experienced before. I was also leading worship at Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa on Sunday evenings and that's where I really found myself again. Oh yeah! (I feel the need to edit out the "Oh yeah!" but... I think I'll leave it...)

There was also rumblings of a new church in the north Tuscaloosa area called The Innerchange. It was part of the U.M.C. Conference, but it was unlike any other Methodist church I'd ever heard of. They met in a warehouse. They wore jeans - even the pastor. They had a worship band instead of a choir. They were a bunch of regular people trying to reach an unloved community. They were going against the grain to meet the needs of people who had been cast out, left out, or shut out of the traditional church. So I started riding up there on Sundays with a few friends and, quickly, the Innerchange became my new church home. I learned a lot there about serving God and what it really meant to believe and live out Scripture. And... I also dated the worship pastor and that ended in disaster and that's really all you need to know about that part of the story!!! :) I kept going even after he and I split up, but I never really felt at home at the Innerchange - I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, never fully a part of what was going on. Oh yeah, I also got a tattoo during this time... [insert regretful face....]

So I kept wandering.

In the summer of 2005, I moved to Montevallo. This is where my life took a bunch of crazy turns so hold on to your seats...

Summer/Fall 2005 - Moved to Montevallo to attend the University of Montevallo. Started going to Shelby Crossings (an off-shoot of The Church at Brook Hills) and joined the church. They were "technically" Baptist but I didn't have to get baptized to join so I'm not really sure where their doctrine lies or really what my membership status actually was, since I was a transient college student. They were another non-traditional church - met in a warehouse, wore jeans, worship band, etc. Brian Fulton was our college pastor and really he wasn't that much older than us! So it was more like our leader-friend and his fiancee guiding us through this thing we called college life. We had amazing small group meetings and, again, I grew a lot. I started dating a guy who went to Church of the Highlands... yet another non-denominational church (and not QUITE as big as it is now!).

Spring/Summer 2006 - I started going to Church of the Highlands more than Shelby Crossings. I LOVED Pastor Chris. I loved that there was more structure and more discipline. And I loved that there was a genuine heart of worship each Sunday. We attended the Pelham campus mostly, but we stayed on the outskirts. We didn't really get fully involved in anything - not for lack of wanting to, but the distance and scheduling of things just didn't always work out.

Fall 2006 - I hated Montevallo. I hated college. So I opted to take a semester (or two) off, but I stayed in Montevallo because I had a full-time job. Shortly after classes started that semester, I was called home because my dad was sick. And on September 21, he died suddenly. Needless to say, my life changed drastically. I moved home immediately to help my mom and started working two jobs. But I continued going to Highlands.

Easter 2007 - My time at Highlands is marked not only by my father's death, but also by the Holy Spirit. I had never been in a church that was very Spirit-focused, but Highlands was/is. It was, at the time, the most charismatic church I'd ever attended. And on Easter 2007, I very clearly remember crying the entire way home from the service because I knew the Spirit was telling me to do something I didn't want to do. He was telling me to break up with my boyfriend. I didn't want to, I loved him. But that day I knew we were not meant to be together. I had changed so much after my dad died and we had grown apart. I remember telling God "no" that day - very loudly. And... well... you really just shouldn't tell God "no". I think we went through a few break-ups, but none of them lasted more than a few days. I just couldn't let go.

Summer/Fall 2007 - After living back at home and working two jobs and time to just breathe, I decided I wanted to go back to college and finish my degree in elementary education. I applied to UM and was granted readmission.

December 2007 - I learned that God will have His way, no matter what you try to do to stop it.

January 2008 - I moved back to Montevallo and broke up with my boyfriend - on the same day. I had no idea what I was going to do. It wasn't a pretty break up. We couldn't be friends. I couldn't be friends with our friends. I couldn't go to Highlands anymore. I had no one. Nothing.

This was a particularly difficult time in my life. I was so out of place - 22 and back in school, living on campus for the first time, single, confused, alone.

And that's where we'll stop for today... don't feel too bad for me. 28-year-old Katie promises that 22-year-old Katie made it through just fine. You'll find out more in Part 2!