We survived two years without a church family. I'm grateful beyond words that that time is now behind us.
Let me explain. In June of 2006, we moved away from Wake Forest, NC. We had lived in Wake Forest for four years for me to attend seminary. While there, we attended Messiah Baptist Church. During that time, we cherished being together with our Messiah friends. It was very difficult to leave.
We departed Wake Forest looking forward to moving to South Asia. As you probably know by now, we lived and served in South Asia from October 2006 until March 2007. That's when our son, Bobby, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (a form of cancer). We came home in March and headed directly into hospital life.
After Bobby's treatments concluded in May of 2007, we did not know what to do. We spent the remainder of 2007 seeking the Lord's will and assisting Bobby in recovery. By the end of the year, we believed we knew what the Lord wanted us to do.
In January 2008, we resigned from our sending agency. In God's sovereign providence, He allowed me to begin supply preaching at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church in February. In June, the church called me to be pastor. God has provided the entire time.
I review all this because from June 2006 until June 2008 we were without a church home. It was more difficult than I could have ever imagined!
At this point, I must clarify. Within those two years of homelessness, there were many, many Christian people who loved and served us. For example, when we were clueless new folks in South Asia, several experienced foreigners in our city helped us in many ways. We also enjoyed worshiping with them. When we returned home to the USA, many Christians in the Savannah area helped us. Friends at Rothwell Baptist Church in particular have been very generous to us. We still live in their missions house (although we are trying to find one of our own to purchase)! Additionally, friends from all over the USA have encouraged us through e-mails and phone calls.
Still, throughout that time we were not fully engaged in the lives of a church family. Part of the reason for that is that we did not want to get too close emotionally because we knew we were likely to leave. We did join with Rothwell in many activities, but never threw ourselves fully into church life. We were especially trying to keep our children from getting too emotionally attached.
Because of this, even though we had people loving us, we were never fully sharing in the lives of other Christians. It was incredibly difficult because we sensed a need to be encouraging others, helping others, serving others, and building others up in Jesus Christ. We wanted to give of ourselves fully as we were being given to. In some ways, June 2006 - June 2008 felt like wandering through a church desert with water close by but never reachable.
Those two years have made me cherish the church more than I ever have before. I have no idea how some Christians do not join actively with a church family. Every time I am with my new church friends at Chevis Oaks I get so encouraged that I almost can't stand it. I love encouraging and being encouraged. I love serving and being served. I love building others up in Christ and being built up.
As difficult as those two years were, I do think I benefited by coming out of it with a better understanding of both the church and the individual Christian's need for church life. I sense better what the writer of Hebrews (whoever he was) meant when he wrote in 10:24-25, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."
As a follower of Jesus, I desperately need His church. I cannot stand on a spiritual "island." I need to be embedded in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. This extends far beyond just Chevis Oaks, but also to the lives of other followers of Jesus with whom I come in contact.
Christian isolationism doesn't work and isn't biblical. I need others.