I was only six when my parents moved to Marietta where my dad became the pastor of the First Baptist Church. I don’t really have any memories of anyplace else being my home.
One of my earliest childhood memories is pulling up to the church parsonage on Circle Drive and my parents telling us three kids that this was going to be our new home and that we could go in and run through the empty house.
I remember very clearly running through that house and thinking that it seemed like a mansion. I had no idea that that parsonage would be the place that I would call home for the next 15 years and that over the coming years the people who provided that home would become the church family that would raise me and shape me into the woman I am today.
My childhood church family taught me so many things.
The most important thing the church family of my childhood taught me was that the church is not a building.
Church was not a place that my daddy went to work every day. The church that raised me was not a location on Main Street. Church was not confined to a couple of hours on Sunday morning, a service for me to sleep through on Sunday night on my momma’s lap, or Wednesday night full of “fun and fellowship” with my teenage friends in a youth building.
I learned at a young age that the biblical definition of belonging to the church of Jesus Christ is something much more than being in a building three times a week.
The church family that raised me modeled for me that the church is a collection of people who put into action what Jesus taught us were the two greatest commandments of all:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart
And to love your neighbor as yourself.
At the age of 18, I spread my wings and moved off to a small private Christian college in a different state. For the first time, I was faced with the challenge of ‘finding a church home’ on my own. I had no idea that the church I had grown up in was a such a rare treasure until it was too far for me to drive to on a Sunday morning.
During those years I heard many stories from my college friends who like me were pastor’s kids from all over the world. Most of these new college friends had a very different childhood experience growing up in a church than I had known. While I grieved the absence of my church family from home, many of these new college friends were basking in the freedom of not being forced to go to a church building every time the doors were opened.
When I came home on holidays from college, even though I am not a hugger and cringe at being the center of attention, I looked forward to the hugs and smiles and “how’s college” that I would get bombarded with from my hometown church family.
I’ve lived in four different states since I left my hometown at age 18. I’ve lived two decades of life since my childhood years. My life has allowed me to be a part of several different churches in different places.
It is even more clear to me today than it was 22 years ago when I first left the church that raised me, that my childhood church family was a rare gift I had been given. I know that the lessons I learned not just by their words, but by watching them live life as Christ followers have shaped and molded me into the person I am today.
I could fill pages of memories I have of people in my church family who set an example for me as a child and taught me what it means to “be” the church by loving God and loving others.
Here are just of few of the ways my church family shaped me….
My strong desire to love on church staff families is because my church family loved on my family growing up. I regularly take meals, write notes, and give gift cards to church staff during busy seasons of church life because I watched my childhood church family do this for my family.
My childhood church family modeled for me that Christians can disagree lovingly and should be willing to sacrifice personal preferences in order to maintain peace. I honestly didn’t really understand the jokes about deacons and business meetings that I would hear once I was an adult. I had set through many church business meetings in my childhood and I had never heard grown adults cussing in church or throwing punches at each other. The deacons of my childhood were like father figures to me. These men were some of my daddy’s best of friends and advisors.
Now that I myself am becoming one of the older generations, I realize that the reason I think it is normal to sacrifice some of my own traditional preferences for the sake reaching the next generation with the Gospel is because this is what I saw my church family doing for me when I was a child. Long before there was ProPresenter and PowerPoint, my childhood church was cranking out the words to praise songs on the wall from a slide projector each Sunday morning.
My love for going to church camp with my kids and their friends is in part because it brings back a flood of memories of going to camp when I was a child. I now better understand the sacrifices all the adults who went with us made in order to create the weeks of fun I enjoyed as a child and teenager at camp.
I have been married for 17 years. During the first 3 years of my marriage, My husband Joe served on church staff at the church of my childhood. In my first years of learning to be a wife, I remember having days where I could not imagine how in the world people stay married for 10 years, much less 50. And then I would walk into the church building on Sunday morning and see some of the couples in my church family who had persevered in marriage when the days were tough and I would gain hope that maybe Joe and I could make it past year two.
The reason I am passionate about being a voice for the poor and vulnerable and find great fulfillment in my job as the Local Missions director at my current church is because some adults in my childhood church took time off of work to take a group of us teenagers to the inner city to work for a week and that week changed the trajectory of my life path.
I seriously could type out an endless blog post filled with examples like these of how I have been impacted by my childhood church family.
Throughout my adult life I have been asked the question,
“What do you think the secret sauce was in your parent’s parenting? How did they raise three kids in a preacher’s house who grew up to be adults who love and serve the Lord?”
I often snicker if the question comes from someone who does not know my parents. Though my mom and dad were and are incredible parents, they will admit that they made mistakes in their parenting us. Well at least mom will admit it. Of course, dad made many more mistakes than mom did, but those who know daddy know it’s just best if we all let him continue to think he is perfectly awesome at everything he does.
My answer to the question to what my parents did right in their parenting is this:
My parents loved us unconditionally, taught us to love God’s Word, created rules that served as boundaries for our protection, and offered us grace when we made mistakes.
But likely one of the most important things my parents did right was to surround us with a community of believers through our church family. This church family would echo the things that my parents were teaching us about what it meant to be a Christ follower..The friends I developed within the body of believers in the church of my childhood have been my greatest support during the joys and sorrows of my life.
So dear church family of my childhood. . .
I am only who I am by the grace of God that allowed me to be raised by you.
I will always treasure the memories I have sitting in the pews of that sanctuary with you listening to my daddy preach. However, my greatest memories of you will always be who you were to me outside those walls.
You were the church loving God and loving people. And I am so indebted to you for the love you have given to me over the past 34 years.
I am more than thrilled about what the future holds for Marietta’s First Baptist Church. I truly believe that the best days are ahead. You have a cloud of witnesses surrounding you who have called this place their church home who are cheering you on!