Artists & Influencers :: they’re teaching me about church

I don’t remember a time in my life when we didn’t go to church. Growing up, it was always a Baptist church until high school when my parents decided it was time to move on from where we were for reasons that I never quite knew because I was in high school and what did I care?

They chose a small church with the word “evangelical” in the name. When I told one of my girlfriends from the Baptist church that we were now going to an evangelical church down the road, her eyes got big but she didn’t say anything.

I later learned she didn’t know what the word “evangelical” meant and assumed our entire family had joined a cult.

My husband and I have been married over 12 years and for all of that time, he’s been a pastor at two different non-denominational churches.

I’m thankful the churches we’ve worked at are both churches we would have probably gone to anyway.

But I’ve recently become aware that we’ve never chosen a church as a married couple the way most people choose churches. We’ve basically been paid to go to church.

That sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it to be so. I simply mean to tell you that my idea of church – both as an organization and as a body of people – is seen through the filter of being married to a man who works at one.

Just like any other job, it can be both delightful and maddening. Sometimes both at the same time.

This past year, my husband and I have done a lot of thinking and praying about church – what it means, why we love it, and why we sometimes don’t.

Here are some of the artists and influencers who are teaching me about church these days:

1. Sarah Bessey.

I’ve never met Sarah, but the more I read of her, the more I want to. She writes of a time when she was “a mega-church refugee, a burned out ministry wife, a doubter, a questioner, a people-pleaser, a tired performer, a new seeker all over again.”

In her own words:

“I needed Lectio Divina, a labyrinth, liturgy, and the Jesus Prayer, I needed my Bible, and my friend Tez in Australia, and I needed the Book of Common Prayer. I needed the established theologians, and poets, and the up-and-coming bold bloggers, I needed the emerging church, and now I need my little community Vineyard.

I need happy-clappy Jesus music, and I need the old hymns I sing into the cavern of the bathtub while I wash these small tiny souls in my care, and I need Mumford and Sons, too . . . I need it all, still, always, I hold it all inside.”

She is teaching me on new levels what I have always strongly suspected is true: there isn’t only one exactly right way to be a Christian. There isn’t one right way to be a woman. And there isn’t only one right way to have church.

There is the Church, the body of Christ. And he is

“…bigger and bolder, more lovely, in the wilderness, than I’d ever known or expected if I’d remained only in my one little camp. It was my crossing camp lines through reading, conversation, friendship, showing up to listen, that kept me. I’m all of it, I think it’s mismatched and holy and beautiful.”

These excerpts are from a post Sarah wrote for Prodigal Magazine: In Defense of the Cafeteria.

2. Dr. Larry Crabb.

Remember when I went away for a week back in October during my Hush series? And remember how I didn’t tell you where I was going?

I went to Colorado Springs to take a week long course with Dr. Larry Crabb. Now you know.

I’m reading one of his books now called Real Church: Does it exist? Can I find it? In it, he admits he doesn’t like going to church. But he isn’t without hope, and so he casts vision for the direction in which he heads.

“I’m not always convinced I’ve done the right thing, but I’ve pretty much jumped ship, and with a few friends (actually quite a few, a growing number) I’m paddling a small lifeboat in what I think is a different direction from where most churches are heading.

I think I’m moving now in a direction more in line with where the Spirit is heading, toward eternal truth that spiritually forms and relationally connects and culturally engages, all as part of a wonderful love story.”

Spiritual formation.

Relational connection.

Cultural engagement.

A compelling love story.

And the Spirit within me is moved with life and hope and longing for this.

3. Our small group.

Our small group time is one of the places we have the kinds of conversations filled with half-ideas and whole hearted questions. My husband and I have had arguments right there in the middle of small group. They’ve seen me cry like a crazy woman, and I’ve seen them do it, too. We’ve grieved together over miscarriages and adoptions, celebrated babies and new houses, and lived the everyday kind of faith.

These two couples are the real. We all have kids and our time together isn’t as consistent as any of us want it to be. But when we get together, we lean in close to Christ and to each other, and we listen to how the Spirit might be moving.

Those two couples are teaching me about church.

4. Peter and John.

I’ve been spending some time in the book of Acts:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”  –Acts 4:13

Do I have this kind of courage, the kind that doesn’t come from me? Have we, as a church, been with Jesus? Can anybody tell?

I could think on this verse for a very long time.


This is a post in a series called Artists & Influencers. Here are the other posts in the series so far:

I’m linking up this post with Christine over at Grace Covers Me as she releases her new book, The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart

From January 30 – February 4, she’ll be collecting heart stories from women about church planting and ministry.

Maybe you’ll want to share your own, or at least check out some of the stories women are sharing over at Christine’s place. If you are in ministry, I’m sure they will be encouraging reads!

Who is teaching you about church?


  1. says

    I. Love. This.

    Church was a haven to me, a family when I lost mine.
    Then it was a school for me, a place where I stuffed my face with “how-tos.”
    Then it was my job, a place where I spilled blood in the name of service.
    Then it was a place I hated, couldn’t imagine ever loving.
    Then it was a building, large, dark, full, where I wept in the back row and healed through the words from the front.
    Then it was people. Beautiful people.

    Sometimes I still struggle with “Church,” with the way we do Church and are church and preach church, but I know only this: I am Church and we are Church. And it’s really, really, really beautiful. All the way through. Even in its brokenness.

    Thanks for sharing this. Sarah’s story is so much like mine in many ways, I always love her words and her courage.

  2. says

    Woo hoo! Larry Crabb!! Good for you, my friend! When, oh, when are we going to have a chance to talk?? I would love to hear all about that experience.

    I don’t know Sarah Bessey, but based on this excerpt, I’m eager to get to know her!

    Oh, my, who teaches me about church? Mostly Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. And the members of our own little church, where I serve as an elder. Want to learn a lot? Be put into a position of leadership for which you are not at all qualified. Boys howdy, will you learn. Thankfully, Jesus himself is quite a good teacher and so very, very patient.

    By the way, I am TODAY doing the final edits to an ebook which will be published by Renovaré within the next few weeks. The title is A Spiritual Formation Primer. It’s a very elementary introduction to spiritual formation, written by one who’s not at all qualified to write it but is very grateful to have been called to do it–i.e., me. Scary stuff, this writing. Thank you for the way you model courage.

      • says

        Amen to you both.

        Richella, I’m headed to Charlotte today and I have a Dallas Willard cd all prepped and ready to listen to for the drive.

        Let’s hear it for spiritual formation.

        • says

          Emily, that sounds exactly like what I do when I drive. I have CD’s of Dallas’s teaching that I have listened to over and over and over, trying to soak up all that he has to say. He’s the most brilliant man I’ve ever known–and the most humble. His work has touched my heart and my mind more than any other teacher except Jesus–and a lot of what I know and love about Jesus I learned from Dallas. :)

  3. says

    Oh my, how I’m enjoying your entire A & I series, Emily. But today? I read and nod my head because this born and raised Lutheran girl who now attends a nondenom church is eating up your words by the mouthful. I’ve been blessed with some awesome pastors – Lutheran and nondenominational – who have not just preached but lived real Christ-centered church. Several writers do this well, too. {That Sarah is such a gem, isn’t she?}

    And this is just a wild thought, but maybe you could attend Larry Crabb’s course next year, too? I will buy your lunch at Marigolds!

    Love you ~ have a wonderful week.

  4. says

    Sarah and I both went to Oral Roberts University and she is teaching me lots too. And I am nodding my head about going to church where you get paid. Yep, that’s me too. Except now he is leading a whole church planting movement which is even more different than being in the pulpit every Sunday. I didn’t know about Christine and her book or blog and it is all obviously right up my freakin’ alley. Thanks for sharing. I love this series.

  5. says

    I think that we should be extremely careful when we think we are doing church better because we are doing it differently. I say that as someone who goes to a church that does things differently. If we think we are “maverick”, then we are doing it wrong. We should instead focus on why we choose to do things this way (based on our interpretation of scripture and tradition) and not worry so much about everyone else. But maybe I’m just not understanding what Larry Crabb is trying to say with that quote. I read it about six times but it seems like Christanese to me.

    People who are changing my view of church: Sara Miles and Barbara Brown Taylor and Marcus Borg have helped me rethink a lot of things in the past year. Materials on celebrating the church calendar as a family (such as Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s book) are showing me how to be more intentional.

  6. says

    I’ve been reading “Soul Survivor” by Philip Yancey, an entire book about the “artists and influencers” who’ve formed this guy’s understanding of Christ and the church. He himself grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church in the deep south in the 1960’s…a church where they PREACHED racism. That’s why the book’s sub-title is How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church. It’s kind of an awesome, thought-provoking, and inspiring book, and I’m finding my basic understanding of what church means to be slowly shifting because of it. So that means the people shaping my definition of church are:
    Philip Yancey,
    G.K. Chesterton
    Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Dr. Paul Brand
    Dr. C. Everett Koop
    Annie Dillard
    Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
    Frederick Buechner

    And my big sister.

  7. says

    I am so glad to have found your blog. I am feeling a common bond here. I am actually part of a church-plant family. My parents went to school out in Colorado Springs and studied under Dr.Larry Crabb. We love him lots here! And my father planted a church here in our home town and my brother moved here 4 years ago to pastor it while my dad works on sort of “retirement’. (: Me and my whole family could have lots of stories for you as we have gone through this. Mine has been different in being the sister in this. But I have been in this alot. I am so glad to run across you and can’t wait to read more!!!

  8. says

    I can relate with so much of what you’ve written. We’ve been “paid” to go to church for the last decade+ too. So many different thoughts in my head in regard to what “church” has become in our culture and what God intended. My own hurts (and my family’s) in the past few years have greatly influenced what I’m currently thinking about “church” and I’m thankful for this as I sometimes feel like I am not seeing clearly in light of the past few years-it’s a big foggy.

  9. says

    I have been apart of many kinds of church, My family started attending a church in someones garage until the pastor could by a building They purchased a night club and eventually renovated it.
    I moved South after college and went to a mega church, gospel music, choir…that was fun.
    Moved back to NYC and attend a Presbyterian church where Tim Keller is pastor, we met in a college auditorium. I never thought I would attend a denominational church but that is where my husband got saved. The teaching was wonderful and worship restrained and sophisticated with it’s Juilliard worship team.
    Now in NJ we are at a multi-campus non-denominational mega church that embraces cultural diversity.
    God had been in every place!! And each one of these places had strengthened my relationship with him!

  10. says

    How did I miss this? For over 2 months? Just, how?
    Anyway, so glad I found it today. I feel like we could chew on this together for hours and days. And the small group you describe sounds eerily like our own. (I hope you eat as well as we do! Legendary.)
    Wish you lived closer. Hope you are well.

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