More and more on my social media feeds I have been seeing a lot of churches boast of the cool, trendy new initiatives that they have begun. I have seen pictures of coffee bars that resemble Starbucks. I have seen lighting that resembles one seen on Broadway. I have read catchy sermon titles and have seen how people have brought the movies into their sermons.
My husband passed away February 14, 2017, after a two-year battle with cancer.
(The last picture I took of my husband and I. He was so tired yet forced a smile.)
To say he battled cancer is an understatement. He was hospitalized two weeks out of every month during the first year. He was hospitalized a total of 18 times. He was rushed to the emergency room eight times. He spent hundreds of days separated from his two children. And eventually the chemo, designed to get rid of the cancer, caused him to be paralyzed. And for the last four months of his life he was paralyzed and confined to a bed.
My husband endured cycle after cycle of chemo. He was separated from his children many nights. He was hooked up to chemo for 24 hours at a time. He listened to the doctors tell him bad news after bad news. He was left paralyzed and unable to get out of bed. And he never said how much he appreciated the coffee bar at the church. Never once did he say he loved the lighting in the sanctuary. He never told me how cool it was that they put a couch on the platform. He didn’t boast of the graphics and props on the platform. He talked about Jesus. He quoted scriptures. He reminded me of sermons we had heard. And in the middle of the night he sang songs of praise and worship to God and he spent his time praying. Because nothing a church does to strategize to bring in members helps you in the time of the storm. It is only Jesus.
(My son holding Mel’s arm the day we had to put him on life support.)
On February 13 I had the most difficult task of telling my children their dad was not going to make it, and the next day at 7:24 the doctors declared him dead. And as I lay next to my children at night listening to my daughter sob uncontrollably because she misses her dad so much, I am not thinking about how trendy my church is. I am thinking that my strength comes solely from God.
I don’t have my best friend with me anymore. And even though I take comfort in knowing he is in heaven, I can’t talk to my husband. I can’t text him during the day. I can’t share with him my frustrations. I can’t hold his hand. I can’t hug him. I can’t kiss him. He is not here. And as I drive to church during the week, I am not thinking that I am so glad the leadership are reading “how to grow your church” books and adopting cool sermon series. I am thinking how desperately I need Jesus.
As I look at two young children who now have to grow up without their amazing dad by their side, I am not thinking of how it was so awesome that the minister related the message to a Hollywood film. I am thinking of how much I need Jesus.
(They spend a lot of their day laughing and playing, but at nighttime that is when the tears come.)
When church leaders sit around and discuss how they can reach people, I don’t think they have the widow in mind. I don’t think they have the cancer patient in mind. I don’t think they have the children who are growing up without a parent in mind. I am not paying attention to the church décor when I walk through the doors. I don’t want to smell fresh brewed coffee in the lobby. I don’t want to see a trendy pastor on the platform. I don’t care about the graphics or the props on the platform. I am hurting in a way that is almost indescribable. My days are spent working full-time. My nights are spent homeschooling and taking care of two young children. I don’t have shared duties with a spouse anymore; everything is on my plate. And when I go to church I desperately want to hear the Word of God.
Because there are days I am running on empty and a coffee bar in the lobby isn’t filling me up. There are days when the pain is so brutal and a concert-like setting is not providing healing. There are days when the tears won’t stop and a trendsetting church is not what I need. I need Jesus. There are days I wonder if the pain is ever going to end, and a couch on the platform is not providing answers.
(I take pictures of me smiling, but the truth is my nights are also spent crying.)
The lighting, coffee bars, relevant messages, graphics and other things are secondary and serve no assistance to me during the darkest hour of my life. This is in no way a criticism of churches that have coffee bars, nice lighting and catchy sermon titles. However, in everything that is done, we need to make sure that Jesus is at the center. It is a also a reminder that there are hurting people sitting in your congregation. There are people whose marriages are crumbling, people whose finances are deteriorating, people whose children are rebelling and people, like me, whose husband has passed away after a brutal fight with cancer. And these people are not impressed with the stage lighting. They could care less about the coffee flavor. They don’t need to be pumped or hyped. They need and are desperate for Jesus. And they may actually be turned off by all that they consider gimmicks to get people to go to church.
I scroll down my social media feed and I see churches with pictures of their coffee bars, their concert like settings, their graphics, their trendy sermon series, and those don’t appeal to me. I want to see how Jesus has changed a person’s life. I want to see the power of prayer. I want to see how the Word of God can be applied to one’s life. I want to see how Jesus can help the hurting. I want to see how Jesus can heal the sick. I want to see how the broken heart was restored. I want to see how the mourners were comforted. I want to see how lives were restored. Rather than posting pictures of coffee bars, I would rather see testimonies of the power of God. I am thankful I attend a church that focuses on prayer and the word of God. I am thankful that in one of the darkest moments of my life I knew I could count on others to pray for me and with me.
( I don’t get dates like this anymore.)