I was the one who was never going to switch churches, change jobs, or move out of my perfect house. I was wrong. Circumstances have brought me farther from my Chicago suburban roots than I’ve ever imagined, and starting over at 51 years of age is no easy task! There was at least one thing for certain: I knew what church I would be attending in my new hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Church attendance and church family has always been an anchor in the choppy waters of my life so having this decision made before my move helped my transition immensely. However, I tried not to have unreasonable expectations as I entered into community at my new church. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Even though I knew very few people at my new church, it was still my home base. To be honest, things in other areas of my life weren’t going so well, so it was nice to have a safe harbor among believers, even if I didn’t know any of them.
I admit, starting over in a new community of believers (especially a huge megachurch of believers) felt a little like going to a family reunion and meeting a bunch of cousins that I didn’t know I had. It may not have been the close-knit family of brothers and sisters who would drop everything to do anything for me that I found at my former church, but it still felt like kin. That was a very comforting feeling considering I was new in town, and it reminded me of a truth about the Body of Christ. We are all related, no matter how distantly.
Ephesians 2:19-22 informs us that we are part of something global and bigger than ourselves and our current Christian community.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord….”
I think human nature often wants to hang back in the crowd when faced with new situations and new people. My experience has always been that my next step is found in my next service. First of all, as soon as I knew what was the on-boarding program toward church membership, I jumped all in. Next, my background as an executive director with a Christian nonprofit has made me more convinced than ever that the local church is the answer to each and every communities’ troubles. This led me to volunteer for several outreaches where I met people who were interested in serving in this way as well. Lastly, I signed up to be part of a small group. I’ve always been part of a large church, and I feel the best way to not get lost in the shuffle is to get involved in a small group. By doing these three things I was quickly able to take ownership of the ideals and mission of my new church and make many acquaintances who turned into friends along the way.
If you’re like me, and you’re starting over after decades at one church, the temptation might be to think that you’re able to waltz right in and instantly make best friends. Reputations aren’t built in a day, but over a season. Chances are, your new church was surviving just fine without you before you came. Although I am certain that God has amazing plans for you and how you will add value in your new faith community, don’t expect everyone to recognize the gem that you are in an instant! Likely, your previous support system had years in the making.
This is why it’s important to sing the friendship song.
“Make new friends, but keep the old, One is silver and the other’s gold.”
There are so many easy ways to stay in contact with friends and family these days that there is just no excuse not to. The truth is there are no goodbyes in the family of God anyway; only "I’ll see you later."
So, if this article finds you at a new church home and you feel like a fish out of water, that’s ok. It’s normal. When you are certain you have followed God’s leading, you can be certain that he will also bring you into fellowship with true brothers and sisters who are able to cheer you along the way. Just remember that we are all part of the same team. You don’t need to be shy, jump right in. And perhaps most importantly, give it some time. In the meantime, do as Titus 2:7-8 (ESV) commands, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”
Your gifts will make room for you before you know it!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema