I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked, “What’s it like?”
“What’s it like living with your dad?”
“What was it like growing up in your family?”
“What’s it like having the pastor know everything you do?”
“What’s it like being in church leadership?”
I was 7 years old when my father became the pastor of Eastgate Christian Fellowship. What was it like growing up as a pastor’s kid? I think every pastor’s kid probably has had a different experience with this, because all pastor’s are so different. Some are obsessed with rules, tradition, and appearance. My father was obsessed with getting to the core of why we even have church. When he began as a pastor, he threw everything out the window and said let’s start over, this time just using the Bible and the traditions that are helpful to people.
My dad was so harmed by the church. What should have been a place that was full of God’s love turned out instead to be a monstrous beast intent to tear my family and our souls apart. It sounds dramatic, but it’s the truth. Broken, empty, and alone my father found new hope in God. God used that brokenness and strengthened my father to stand up once again. He created a church that was also a place of shelter for anyone else who has been hurt. Never again would my dad allow our family to be subject to the abusive power found in church or the cruel methods of punishment given for any mistake.
My parents, who created Eastgate together, were always so busy. I remember them working all the time. They did not get paid to be pastor of the church and both worked jobs that had long hours and little pay. They taught me that it’s better to do what God has called you to do then to be rich. This never felt noble when I was a child, because the reality of this lifestyle meant that my Dad was often preoccupied and that my clothes rarely fit well (because they were handed down from my sister who was four years older than me).
That being said, there has always been a tremendous amount of love in my family. With four kids and two adults (and a cousin living with us here and there) our house was always full and loud and I loved it. We were tight knit, honest (sometimes brutally), and loved spending time with each other. To this day, I am incredibly close with my siblings and parents, and have a love for my family that words cannot describe.
What was it like growing up in church? I found at an early age that my family gave more than we would ever receive. My father, after working his normal job, would slave away writing sermons for a group of people that sometimes didn’t feel like showing up. Or, sometimes they would show up and then tell him about how what he said could have been better, funnier, more entertaining, or more Biblical.
One time I remember my mom putting together a movie day for a group of ladies and no one showed up. Well, correction, one person showed up and they fell asleep during the movie. That killed me. I hated watching my mom come home and cry.
I hated on Sunday afternoons seeing my dad sitting in his chair, staring off into the distance as he tried to navigate the negative comments he heard about his sermon earlier that morning.
Church leadership is such an odd and sensitive beast. We want people to feel they can be honest and share if they don’t agree with something, while at the same time it just hurts so dang much. Especially when we know our heart is in the right place. We know what we’ve sacrificed to give these sermons to the community. To spend our day off, our hours off, working to make sure we have everything set up on a Sunday morning just to watch people walk in and lift their nose to the ceiling as they watch and seemingly judge every step we make.
At some point I realized that while we may have escaped the nastiness of awful church leadership, that doesn’t mean we’ve escaped the nastiness of people.
Time went on and I grew up. I found that no matter where I worked and lived, I felt a tugging from God to move towards Eastgate. If you cut me open and looked inside, you’d find Eastgate running through my veins. God made me to serve this community and serve it I will.
Now our church has grown. As a child we had 20-50 people and now we have 300-400 people every Sunday. I work here part time as the children’s pastor and it’s the most challenging job I have ever had. My father is still the pastor and preaches almost every Sunday. My mom has recently taken over as treasurer and also runs the media (because she’s a nerd). We have a board and committees and staff and all sorts of ways to stay accountable to other people, because we know that every church has a beast waiting to escape it’s cage. All these committees and groups are the different locks that we use to reinforce the strength of the cage.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a visitor at Eastgate. I don’t know what it’s like to be abused by another church or group of people. I do know what it’s like being in leadership, specifically at Eastgate.
Here’s what it’s like being someone on staff at Eastgate: Every Sunday, I get complaints about something. Here are some real examples:
“The lights are too bright. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. This church never has enough of this or that. Someone is sitting in my seat. Someone made a face at me. Someone didn’t look at me at all. This spot in the room smells funny. The kids classrooms are confusing. This visitor is confused and we should never let that happen. There are not enough bathrooms in this church. The roof is leaking. The band is too loud today. The band is too quiet today. The announcements are too long. The kids check in system overwhelms me. The volunteers aren’t very nice to me. There aren’t enough volunteers. There aren’t enough slides during the sermon to keep my attention. There are too many slides during the sermon and now I’m distracted. Not enough new songs. Not enough old songs. No one talked to me. Too many people talked to me. Someone said something mean on their facebook page. They don’t preach on the Bible enough. All they do is preach on the Bible. You said a curse word on your facebook so you should probably fix that.” And my personal favorite: “We are using bar codes for the children’s check in system?! We might as well insert a microchip of the mark of the beast now!” (On a side note: we now call our “bar codes” at the front desk “key tags” so we don’t hit any trigger words and start unnecessary fighting)
Ya’ll, it’s exhausting.
I have people threaten to leave almost every Sunday because this or that bothered them and it’s the last straw. I’ve seen my father, my mother, and my husband all cry because of hurtful complaints or words that people said. Heck, I’ve cried more times than I can remember. Or sometimes we don’t cry. Sometimes we just stare off into the distance. I wonder if my daughter watches me do this in the same way that I watched my father as a child.
I don’t want to do a bad job. I love this community so much. I love the kids in my program so much. I love the Bible, I love Jesus, and I love these people- but damn this is tough.
On Sunday mornings and on social media, I don’t share political views, I don’t swear, I even only wear long pants (including in the dead of summer) because I don’t want to offend anyone. At some point I started to feel like a prisoner. Since I was a child I was held to different and higher standards because of my parents and their role in the church. As an adult it is the same way because of my role. However, most prisoners are held against their will. I am here willingly to serve, and if this is part of my service, then so be it. I resolve to know nothing but Christ and him crucified and I will be all things to all people. I will happily sweat my butt off in the summer if that means someone is not offended or distracted by my bare knees up on stage. I will happily not share political posts if it means that someone will be able to hear clearer what I have to say about Jesus. I will (un)happily not swear around those whom it offends because these are not the crosses that I am willing to die on.
The truth is, when it’s all said and done, I know my heart. I know the heart of my family and the others in leadership at Eastgate, and that is: We love Jesus and we love people.
I had to learn the hard way that when I serve the community of Eastgate I am not serving the people. I am serving God. The people let you down. The people make you feel like poop over and over and over and over. God is the one I serve. God is the one who sees my heart and says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
And, here’s the great thing about God: He creates friendships in the madness. The God I serve is not held back by pettiness and frustration. He creates life and love amidst the pain. He puts together one of the most loving communities of people I’ve ever seen. A community of people that supports the sick, that hurts with the broken, that feeds the hungry. A community that finds family among friends and blesses my family daily with love and support.
How is that possible? How can it be that a group that is so hurtful is also so loving? I think it’s because we are all human beings. These people are not my saviors and they are not my enemy- they are my family whom I love.
This group of people gave everything of themselves when we lost my Aunt. They gave their money, their time, their food, their prayers, and anything else they could think to give.
This love is possible through God. God is in my community and He’s the reason that we keep fighting and serving day after day. It’s the reason we are able to laugh at some of the odd complaints and it’s the reason we think through the tough ones. God gives us the strength to be challenged by other beliefs.
So, God help us. Help us to fight the good fight and love another day.