“I thank my God every time that I remember you.”
This is how Paul starts off his letter to the Philippians, and this is how I would start off my love letter to the Donelson Church of Christ.
I am overcome with nostalgic affection when I remember the people of God who have known me from birth. These people have surrounded me and my family with love and care for the past 23 years of my life. The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” rings true in my life and in the lives of many others who were so fortunate to be a part of the church of my youth.
It’s important to remember that the Church is a group of people, not a building. When I say that I love the Donelson church, I am not referring to a building, though I do have many fond memories on the church property. I remember tripping and busting my lip on a pew, I remember karate chopping another boy on the playground in preschool (I wasn’t allowed to watch Power Rangers for a while after that one), I remember being baptized in a frigid baptistry in November 2008 when the water heater was broken, and I remember many of the technical fouls our church league basketball team acquired. But the Donelson church is not a building, it is a group of people who have walked with me from birth until now and will continue to walk with me for years to come.
I remember all of the Sunday School teachers who poured so much into our time together and loved us despite our being ungrateful and occasionally disruptive. I remember the youth group coaches who gave us their time outside of church service and treated us like family. I remember our home church that was a blessing to our family for many years. I remember the many counselors that I had at Church Camp, and then later I remember all the campers that were in my cabin when I was a counselor.
Being part of the Donelson church is how I first discovered that I loved youth ministry. I learned that church is more than a Sunday morning production. I was blessed as I learned that people were going to care for me long after I graduated from high school. The church partnered with me as I pursued my passion for missions. Though I left for summers at a time, I always felt right at home when I returned. The Donelson church has played one of the largest roles in who I am today.
I would be lacking if I did not acknowledge the immense blessing of my parents valuing the community of Christ. I truly grew up in a Deuteronomy 6 house. No, they are not perfect people, and they were not perfect parents, no one can be, but I am sure there has not been a day in my life that I have not been prayed for. There is no replacement for the influence of a parental figure in the life of a child or teen. No youth minister can replace the influence of a parent.
That said, I was also fortunate to experience the blessing of a consistent youth minister. Loving a knuckle-headed teen like I was isn’t always easy. Whether I was disruptive or even outright defiant, I was still treated with love and care. After high school, I have been fortunate to continue that relationship as I fostered my passion for youth ministry. Having that channel for formative conversation has always been an advantage for me.
Yes, I have gotten to experience this great Christian community. If you’re reading this, you may be thinking “Wow, that’s what the Church is supposed to be! It must be a perfect group of people!” I can assure you that it is not a perfect group of people. That’s the beauty of it. God can take the messiest of people and use them for His perfect plan. For two thousand years, God has been using churches, just like this church of my youth, to bless the next generation of Christ followers. It is far too easy to get bogged down in the dysfunction of our churches. Let’s be a people who focus on God, and let the rest take care of itself.
This past Sunday, I was prayed for by the church as I set to get started on a new chapter of God’s story for my life. It was a moment that I hope to never forget. At the beginning of Hebrews 12 it reads “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” To this point in my life, the Donelson church has been the greatest cloud of witnesses I could ask for. Because of those who have gone before us in the faith and those who are all around us spurring us onward, we are able to follow Christ to the fullest extent. I am thankful to the Donelson church for giving me support over the past 23 years and for the support that I will still receive in the future.
The body of Christ is a wonderful thing given to us by God and bound together by the Holy Spirit. Let us love God, and let us love people.
For the Kingdom,