We walked into The Church of Eleven22 for the first time on Sunday, January 4th, 2015.
And I hated it.
I actually started hating it the night before while we sat in bed and talked about giving it a try. We had gone to another church the previous Sunday and loved it. But it was a long drive from our house. So “we” (Anderson) decided that we should at least try Eleven22, since it was only two minutes away. It made sense, but I really didn’t want to give the place a chance. I already didn’t like it. It was the cool church in town. “Everybody” went there. And I’ve never been into doing what everybody else was doing. We checked out the website to find out about the services, a little more about what they believe, and why they named it Eleven22. Anderson just read everything to me while I sat next to him pouting. And when he told me the church was named after the time their initial service started, I felt like my case was closed. 11:22? Seriously? Could they not at least make up some spiritual meaning? To top things off, I really liked the church we had gone to the week before. But I agreed to go, just so we could say we tried it before moving on. Actually I was just too tired to protest any more.
When we got there the next morning I was really tense. We had been at our previous church for 9 years and felt like we knew everyone, so this being new thing was uncomfortable. And I didn’t like how it felt. There was a huge crowd – people everywhere. When we found the line to sign Kingston into the kids’ area, it was really long. And I started stressing even more. I kept telling him how much fun he was going to have, but my mind was racing the whole time. What if he didn’t like his class? What if they didn’t have good security in the kids’ area? What if they let weirdos work back there? What if the volunteers hated being back there?
We got him registered, and I took him to his class while Anderson went to find us a seat. And by the time I found him (on the second row in the center – who does that when visiting a church for the first time?) I was in tears. I told him I was worried about Kingston. There were too many kids in his class. Then I went on to tell him everything else I didn’t like about the church:
– It was located in an old Walmart. And I hate going to Walmart. Really though. A warehouse church?
– There was more reclaimed wood in the place than in an Anthropologie store circa 2010. And the men’s bathroom was covered in antlers (I caught a glimpse when someone was going in). I was in a hipster/ PETA nightmare!
– The volunteers were too happy. Nobody is really that happy when they’re volunteering at church.
– Their logo is Bleeding Cowboy font. Every graphic designer knows this is not good. (Clearly I was really reaching at this point!)
– The place was huge. We said we were going to find a smaller church.
Thankfully the service began then, so I had to shut up. Someone welcomed us (not “us”, but everyone) from the stage, and I liked him. I liked that everything he said was focused on people who were extremely unfamiliar with the church. Then the band started playing, and I finally managed to dry up the drama tears and get myself a grip.
After that the pastor came out. My first thought was, “Holy crap. He looks like my brother.” Seriously though, he was a stocky guy with a shaved head and goatee and was wearing the redneck “going out” uniform: Plaid snap-front shirt, designer jeans with embellished pockets, and really nice cowboy boots. (I’m not convinced that he isn’t my long-lost older brother.) Then he started talking, and I looked at Anderson and cracked up. My Brazilian husband has a really hard time understanding thick southern accents. It’s like when you’re watching a British TV show, and it takes you a good 10 minutes of intense concentration to get used to the way they speak. You have to really work for it. That’s Anderson and southern accents. Every time. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, and He was focusing hard. I had no trouble with that part though. In fact, for the first time that morning, I felt at home!
And as I sat there with my arms crossed and forehead wrinkled, wondering why the heck I didn’t have a Kleenex/McDonald’s napkin/baby wipe to fix my smudgy mascara, I started listening to what the pastor was saying. Really listening. He was preaching about God’s providence in the life of Moses, and the next thing I knew I was crying again. What the heck? But this time it wasn’t out of frustration and worry about my kid. This time it was because God’s Word was piercing my heart. The pastor preached the truth with boldness and love, and God spoke through him to me that morning. I took notes like a crazy person. I didn’t want to miss one thing God had to say to me. And when I looked back over those notes later, this was my favorite line: “A sovereign God can use any pain; even self-inflicted pain for his own glory and goodness.” Followed by, “It’s not about you. It’s all about him.” That line has kind of become our family mantra over the last couple of years! And I obviously needed to be reminded of it that morning. The sermon was much longer than what we’re used to, but by the end we were both on the edge of our seats. It was unbelievable. God moved in both of our hearts. After the service I felt so convicted for the way I had judged that church. Because really, that church is people (6,000 of them!) who love Jesus.
We haven’t missed a Sunday since. Second row, baby!
When we walked into Eleven22 that morning, we were looking for a church that was all about one thing: doing whatever it takes to point people to Jesus. Period. We didn’t care a lot about an amazing kid’s program. That probably sounds bad, but Kingston hears the Gospel every day. And we don’t see church as the primary place to teach him about Jesus. We want him to be safe, (in cased you missed that above!) but church isn’t about him, and we want him to learn that early. We didn’t care a lot about having 75 Bible studies/classes to choose from. And believe it or not, we didn’t even care a lot about the music. (WHAT?!?) As long as it wasn’t crappy, we were cool. 😉 We just really didn’t want to be part of a church for church people/social club. ‘Cause we ain’t got time for that! And it’s not about “us.” It’s all about Jesus!
I know. For the first half of this ridiculously long post I sounded like I thought it was all about me. And you know what? Even though I knew better in my heart, I think I forgot! It’s easy to do. I can be so selfish. The irony is that we found a church that morning that lines up so perfectly with what we’re passionate about and where we are in life right now, but I totally fought it. For like 12 hours I forgot it’s not about me. 🙂
Finding a new church was tough. If you’ve been there, you get it. But we’re so thankful for God’s direction. (And I’m grateful for Anderson forcing me to go! That man knows how to wear me down!) It’s funny, but Eleven22 doesn’t seem like the cool church anymore. It’s just a bunch of real, servant-hearted people from all different backgrounds and age groups who love Jesus and want to create an environment where other people can meet him.
In his book, Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley says this: “Every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well. There should be something about us that causes them to gather at the periphery and stare.” This is my heart for the church. That we will create environments than irreligious people love to attend, so they can hear the Gospel and their lives can be transformed by Jesus!
Sunday has become my favorite day! I look forward to it all week. And I’m so excited to invite people to come with us. Neighbors, moms at preschool, random people at Publix… The thing we love most about our new church (See how fickle I am? Now it’s our church!) is the way everything they do is with a specific mission in mind. Introducing people to Jesus. People who haven’t been to church in years and really don’t want anything to do with him and people who think they have it all figured out, because they’ve been in church forever. And because of this, every week we see people choose to surrender their lives to Jesus. Every week! It’s so exciting!
And it turns out they do have a great kid’s ministry, and Kingston loves going! Don’t you just love when God goes above and beyond?!
Last Sunday we celebrated over 300 lives transformed in the name of Jesus at the church’s annual beach baptism!
PS – I hope y’all realize that a lot of times my writing style is ridiculously tongue-in-cheek. Life can be too serious, so I try to make light of pretty much everything and didn’t really hate all the things I listed above about the church that first Sunday. 🙂
Writing this post was extremely personal, and maybe a little too transparent, but I wanted to tell you a little bit about where we are and why! There’s so much more to the story (it’s been a long process), but I don’t want to pen a poorly written novel today!
PPS – I want to share the very first sermon we heard from our pastor, Joby Martin. He just happens to be from Dillon, South Carolina. The same small town where my dad grew up! I know you aren’t as excited about this as me, but I’ve never met anyone else from there. Maybe he really is a long-lost relative! You can click here to watch the sermon. And I encourage you to imagine Anderson trying to understand him at the very beginning! 🙂
Okay. THE END!!!