(Please click here if you haven’t read Part 1.)
Have you ever known that God was calling you to something, but wondered how long it would take to get there? As a teenager, I knew that God was going to use my relationship with him for great ministry opportunities. I had been out of the States and I knew that I could really help people overseas. But more than anything, I knew that unless God the Holy Spirit moved me in a certain direction, I needed to stay where he had put me.
DON’T FALL FOR THE STRESS TRAP
It’s easy to give up when weariness takes over, but God has a better plan. You don’t have to give in to the enemy’s tactics.
I’d rather wander around waiting for the promised land than head off on my own toward an easier destination. I’d rather keep trying to follow God’s voice and failing, than get somewhere I didn’t want to be and have to backtrack. After high school, I wanted to slow down and figure out where I was headed before jumping aimlessly into another academic environment.
There’s nothing like understanding one’s history to prepare for a solid future. When I turned 18 and could make my own choices, I remained for two years in my home community as a ministry apprentice. I spent this time analyzing why our Christian commune had so many issues with power and hypocrisy. I wanted to understand God’s ultimate design for a strong church community.
As much as I loved our amazing culture of denominational diversity, I hated the fact that certain people dominated major financial decisions. This was despite a careful structure of small-group, consensus-led money management. The leaders seemed to spend plenty of time listening to all of the viewpoints and sharing responsibility, but their agenda always won out in the end.
I knew God could break the stronghold of pride in this group and I knew that he wanted to. I felt like they placed a higher priority on serving people than on their individual encounters with God. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would make spreading God’s love (through personal encounters with him) the top priority for these people.
After waiting on God for this for two years, I realized that spiritual warfare is not a simple matter of prayer, but also of growth. When it came to encouraging growth in my parents’ generation, I was out of my league.
I felt like my desire for God’s desire had dead-ended. After another bout of crippling depression, I realized that being able to manage my own finances was an important step in my relationship with God. So, at age 20, I moved across Chicagoland to join a totally different kind of ministry experiment.
By now, I had been attending charismatic events for several years. The suburban group that I was involved in was starting a ministry of 24/7 prayer for the Chicago area. I was burnt out on Christian service and ready to dive into something different. I enrolled in their first group of interns and raised financial support as a “prayer missionary.”
We were trained to sing and pray for revival in Chicago in small group shifts. Our goal was to maintain live, musical intercession that was open to the public 24 hours a day. We studied cutting-edge prophetic books as well as classic works on prayer. I loved being able to focus on the Lord without any pressure to serve others.
(Please note that although I am describing various ministries that I love and have been involved in, I do not endorse all of these kinds of ministry today.)
The internship lasted for one year, followed by another year of being on staff there. At the end of this time, I had the equivalent of a four-year apprenticeship in experimental ministry. (Admittedly, experimental ministry is not really a thing, but that’s how I describe the ministries that I worked in after high school.) During this second year at the prayer ministry, I met my husband, Joe, in the home of my roommate.
At the time that we met, he had been divinely delivered from a life of crime and was almost fully delivered from extreme drug abuse (read: he was stoned, but he knew the Lord). I must have made a good impression on him. While pretending to visit my roommate almost daily, he worked for several months to befriend me.
At first, I had no idea what to do about this weird, gel-haired guy on my doorstep. But after getting to know him, I realized that he was a hard-working carpenter on fire for Jesus. It didn’t take long for him to capture my heart, and we were married a year later (after I convinced him to buzz his hair- chuckle).
Although we were both looking forward to teaming up for a life of ministry, we had very very little in common with each other. We complemented each other quite well, he being street-smart and I being book-smart. Still, we had a lot of growing to do if we were going to be a team. We decided to move to a prophetic ministry in North Carolina to start our new life.
This didn’t turn out too well. When Joe started leaving church during the sermon to go sit in the car and listen to preaching on the radio (true story), I realized that we needed something more solid. Prophetic Christianity just wasn’t turning out to be the clear path to revival that I had hoped it would be. Now pregnant, we moved back home to Chicago. Had my desire for God’s desire dead-ended again?
Out of the blue, we were invited to a Baptist church for a “missions conference.” This was something I had never heard of. Three large, white men sat in comfy armchairs on a stage in front of funny little curtains, singing hymns and preaching about missions. This was new to me. My first experience of conservative Christianity left me quite amused, wondering if there were a lot of people who actually did church this way.
I wasn’t expecting Joe to want to go back there again. For some reason, my husband felt like this might turn out to be what we were looking for. (I wasn’t shocked, because lots of things about him surprised me from the moment we first met.) Being familiar with so many different ministries and cultures in ultra-liberal Chicago, I thought it would be easy to reject conservative Christianity. It wasn’t.
During their missions conference, these men brought out little wooden stands with tiny holes in them. Into each hole they placed a flag for one of the nationalities represented in their congregation. In a small congregation of 20-30 families, over 20 of these families had been born in countries that were different from one another.
That meant that almost every family in this congregation was from a different country. This was natural in the array of immigrants that populated this area of the city. Although I felt comfortable with the diversity, I didn’t understand why these people trusted these three men.
After attending several of these meetings, I realized that conservative Christianity (in its hardcore form) is about seeing the Bible message change as many lives as possible. This intrigued me. I had never thought about ministry in these terms. Against my better judgment, I was hooked.
Over the next few years that I attended this congregation, I never saw the unhealthy, closed-minded conservatism that I expected to see. I did hear a lot of surprising new ideas about ministry (i.e. a tank top with cutoffs is not the ideal ministry outfit) and honor (i.e. husbands don’t feel loved when their wives talk down to them) and the Bible (i.e. not all versions are accurately translated).
I was actually rather shocked because I had thought that I was already pretty conservative. I had grown up promoting the importance of a strong relationship with God in my home church. I was the one who spoke up against dispensing birth control at my high school. I was one of the few people I knew who questioned the theory of evolution. I led my high school Bible club, yet I knew almost nothing about how to reach students with the gospel.
I didn’t know exactly what liberal and conservative were, but I knew beyond a doubt that New Age (liberal) Christianity hurt. Actually, it devastated.
Being suddenly immersed in authentic, conservative Christianity was a good kind of culture shock. I discovered that revival in past centuries revolved around the Bible, and not just the Holy Spirit. I realized that when a church really puts her heart into funding missions, we can change a lot more lives than when we spend our time experimenting.
Before long, Joe and I were helping to run the church’s addiction recovery program. Here we saw real missions principles in action. Through my husband’s open-mindedness, the Lord had brought us to a group that operated in classic, time-tested, Christian principles. We loved it, we craved it and we were ready to sign up for full-time ministry.
While we were well qualified for ministry on the experiential level (being from such unusual backgrounds), we were under-qualified on the doctrinal level. We decided to move to the suburbs of Indianapolis to attend a small Bible college.
Here, we found out that hardcore Christianity was not as beautiful everywhere as it was for us in the midst of Chicago.
We learned a lot, but our discoveries were (yet again) more experiential than doctrinal. Let’s just say that as much as we adored conservative Christianity, we weren’t interested in fitting into a mold. This wasn’t the kind of ministry preparation that God had in mind for us.
We and our toddler wound up at a megachurch. Although we enjoyed the energy there, we eventually tired of the cookie-cutter atmosphere. We did not want to be part of a ministry machine. I seemed to have reached another dead end in my desire to see God’s desire fulfilled.
My darling husband was ready for country life, so away we moved to the lovely Appalachian foothills of Tennessee. We still craved hardcore Christianity (effective evangelism and discipleship). By this time, we had two little children who were soon going to need a healthy church community. We wanted our generation’s dream ministry: authentic, homeschooling, homesteading, home-churching Christianity.
We were headed for even more cultural experience and even less doctrine (sigh). It was to be in Tennessee, ten years later, that we would discover why God never led us to receive formal ministry training. Our mission would eventually draw on the solid doctrine that we had already learned, combined with all of our denominational experiences, to reach the world with God’s genius model of Christian culture.
Our quest for the healthiest version of Christianity led us into a land of tiny towns reminiscent of the last century. We were delighted with picturesque views of grazing cows, dilapidated barns and meandering creeks. I was amazed at how many people still heated their homes with wood stoves, piped their water from springs, and sat on their porches for hours on end.
This area didn’t seem to have much professional development or economic privilege… or any competitive pressure whatsoever to get things done. Everyone seemed happy with their homemade lifestyles and genuinely friendly with everyone else. It felt like a foretaste of heaven. Maybe this was what we had been waiting for, all of these years. Was this where God would fulfill his desires for me in a community culture of Biblical revival?
We landed in a jumble of rural denominations on our search for healthy Christian culture. We met authors, war re-enactors, solar panel installers, Amazon sellers, factory workers, artists, and finally, barn raisers. To our surprise, it was among the barn-raisers that we discovered the most active community.
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