Depending on when you were born and where you were raised, the word “family” can have a lot of meanings. In some cultures, family could strictly mean you’re bonded by blood and they’re the most important relationships you’ll ever develop. In other cultures, family could be extended to include a great number of people to whom you aren’t related. At times, it could go so far as to even exclude those all-important blood ties.
For me, family isn’t just about the group of people I was born into. For me, family is also about the people I’ve chosen to do life with. In some cases, these are the friends who, despite the separation of miles, are brothers and sisters in ways that transcend blood. In another case, it involves the church in which I’ve found a place to belong.
I grew up in Villa Heights Baptist Church. In my memory, Villa Heights was a very traditional, pretty straight laced Southern Baptist church. We sang the same old hymns week after week. We took communion on the first Sunday of every month. And twice a year, without fail, we had a week of “Revival” in the spring and fall. It’s like what they call sweeps on television. We’d have a guest preacher come in to speak every night for a week. Very exciting.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this very traditional, pretty straight laced approach. I sometimes miss the old hymns and genuinely wish we would incorporate a little It Is Well With My Soul into our contemporary worship every now and again.
I remember, as a kid, hearing the term “church family” thrown about as if it had some kind of special meaning. As if we were connected in some irrevocable way to these people we saw every Sunday and Wednesday. The arguments, fighting, and eventually mass exodus I witnessed in my teenage years showed me that we weren’t a family. We were little more than a country club, gossiping and finding ways to tear each other down, rather than build each other up.
It wasn’t all bad. Villa Heights is where I first met Jesus. I’m betting my actual family had more to do with that introduction than my church family, but it is where I let others know of my decision to follow Christ. It is where I was baptized. But, as I said, I didn’t fully understand the Christian walk or the church family concept until much later in life.
Much like my real family, I didn’t choose Villa Heights. I was born into it. During that mass exodus in my junior year of high school, my parents moved us to North Roanoke Baptist Church. And while I spent my senior year there and visited whenever home from college, I never really grew to call North Roanoke my home. Throughout college and even after, I explored a number of other possibilities for church homes, only to come away disappointed each time. My ultimate disappointment came in North Carolina where I placed faith in the wrong people and trusted hypocritical leaders. After that, I left the church for several years. I wanted nothing to do with an institution filled with holier-than-thou Christians who claimed to be the mouthpiece of God.
Thankfully, not all churches are like that. Thankfully, not all church families require country club membership. Thankfully, God taught me that He was the one I should lean on, no matter which church I attended. Thankfully, I’ve learned that people are imperfect, and the ones who know they’re imperfect are the best kind. They’re the ones who know humility and know how to share Christ’s love with others because someone, somewhere, showed them that same love.
I’m now a member of Northstar Church near my home in Blacksburg, Virginia. Not only have I become involved in a number of ministries, but I’ve joined the staff on a part-time basis working as the Children’s Ministry Assistant. The transient nature of the college town can sometimes make it difficult to forge lasting friendships, even for someone as outgoing as me. But that’s okay because, at Northstar, I’ve found something better than friends. I’ve found a family.
I wasn’t born into Northstar Church. I wasn’t forced to move there after watching a church fall apart. I didn’t enter its doors with high expectations that could only find disappointment. I chose Northstar because I was a flawed follower of Christ who desperately wanted to serve God. I stayed at Northstar because I was quickly encouraged and challenged to find a place and roll up my sleeves and get to work.
For the first time in my life, I can look around me and say that I have a genuine church family. I can finally say that I’m excited about sharing my life and walk with Christ with these people. I’m thrilled to know that I’ve found a place where I won’t just go to church. I’ve found a people with whom I can be the church.