the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
I have two, maybe three, home churches. I think.
There’s the church that I was dedicated in shortly after I was born. So, certainly the First Baptist Church in Winchester, KY should be on this list. But then, there’s Smoke Rise Baptist Church outside of Atlanta where we lived for 12 years and where I was baptized. Perhaps that should be considered my home church. Then again, the First Baptist Church of Asheville is the church that knows me best as they ordained me to the Gospel Ministry when I was a young man. Surely, they should be my home church. Maybe?
Alas, there are no hard and fast rules on this. Not to be confused with a house church—or church that meets in someone’s home—one’s home church suggests one’s starting place. Let’s try this this definition on and see if it fits: A home church is the congregation where we had our beginning, and where we frequently choose to return.
The reality of a home church implies that we don’t always stay at one church. For the overwhelming majority of us, we don’t spend the entirety of our lives in one church. We grow up. We move away. We move on. Most of us find ourselves at a church for a season in our lives—some seasons longer than others.
As much as it pains me to acknowledge this, people leave church. Sometimes we leave because we relocate geographically. This tends to be the most understandable, though nonetheless difficult. Sometimes we leave a church when we are called to another church. As one who has felt ‘called away’ and ‘called to’ a church in my ministerial career, I know how hard that can feel. At other times, we leave a church because something has changed—either the church, or the individual. In any case, moving from one church to another, or to nothing, can land an emotional punch to all involved.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Being church is hard. It always has been and probably always will be. There aregood (excellent, really) examples of the difficulty of community life throughout the Bible. Moses routinely cried out to God because of his rancorous congregation. Jesus called his disciples together and they were a fractious bunch. The early church was a movement of people who gathered together despite their many differences.
And my oh my, did the early church have their challenges! These churches were especially diverse in their makeup. Early Christians were representative of every social strata and demographic group. Societal groups that never encountered one another were now gathering together in the name of Jesus. The differences between rich and poor, free and slave, male and female, Jew and Greek, obvious sinner and evident saint, all created challenges that cannot be overstated. Don’t believe me? Read Paul’s correspondence to the church in Corinth. Spoiler alert: The church was having a hard time being church.
So why should our churches be any different?
As a pastor, I want everyone to want to be church. But I also know that is an unreasonable expectation. Like any other element in our lives, our participation in any one thing waxes and wanes in time. And naturally, we know this to be true among those who call our church their home. For a variety of reasons, church folk will engage, disengage, and then hopefully reengage.
Whether we like it or not, the church is not a static community. The church is a dynamic collection of individuals who are constantly changing, evolving, retreating and pressing on. Although I am never pleased when people no longer want to be church with us, I also genuinely want them to feel at home in their church. And if they do not feel at home in our church, then I pray that God’s grace will provide us all a way to continue to be church together even if that means that we belong to different congregations.
Church works best when we bear fruit together. The sweetest fruits, of course, are the fruits of the spirit as they are what nourishes our faith community when we are hungry for God’s presence. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” all work together to build up God’s church. Indeed, a sweet spirit begets a sweet spirit.
I love calling First Baptist Church home, and I pray that you do, too. Later this month, on Sunday, October 22, we will celebrate our church’s past, present and future, with old friends and with new ones. I pray that our time of Homecoming will call us to a place of gratitude for the church we have been, celebration of who our church is today, and hope for who God is calling us to be tomorrow.
And if you’re still wondering where your home church is, it’s the place where you sense God’s movement in the people that you love and want to call home.