By Matt Coker / @MatthewSCoker & @BackRowBeliever
I really love my church.
It’s been given the nickname over the past decade of “the church of second chances.”
Our church looks like any other. It’s an old building with a tall pointy sanctuary and a bunch of classrooms.
But inside these walls is a church body that is hard to find in American churches today.
Our church is full of openly broken people.
Of course, all Christians are broken people to some degree, but many Christians tend to hide it when they come to church, for fear of being shunned, gossiped about, or even kicked out of the church.
My church is a place where people come to be themselves.
The majority of people in our church have had several broken marriages, drug or alcohol addictions, many over the years have even been in prison. And yet, there are no judgments, no one looks down on them, even if they are still in the process of getting clean or recovering from a bad lifestyle.
When they join the church, they aren’t discouraged from volunteering or helping with ministries, they aren’t told that they have to earn the right to serve or volunteer.
We love, welcome, and encourage those who’ve lived hard lives, who’ve lived with pain that was inflicted on them or self-inflicted. Those who experienced tragedy or were the cause of it, they are both welcome here.
Too many churches and events succeed in helping people turn their lives over to Christ through salvation and then leave these new Christians, many of whom are still addicted or living in less-than-ideal situations, to fend for themselves.
While the transformation from “lost” to “found” is the most important in regards to the soul, the transformation from “lost” to “guided” is the most important thing to the new Christian.
It is possible to be “found” by Christ and still be “lost” as to what to do next.
The ideal process in becoming a Christian is to first turn your life over to God and then to turn your WILL over to God.
I became a Christian when I was in high school, I had been in church several years before that, but I was stuck in a sin I knew I would have to give up if I became a Christian and I didn’t want to. But one night, I was convinced that this sin would harden my heart if I didn’t make the right decision soon.
So, that night, I became a Christian. I told my girlfriend, my pastor, my youth pastor, and all of my friends.
But I thought that was it. I was told that was it. I participated in every available bible study and meeting the church had, and for a little while, I felt different, but then I just slipped back into my bad habits.
I know we have to be responsible for ourselves, but I feel like I was let down back then. Shouldn’t someone have started guiding me? I wasn’t even offered a one-on-one meeting with the youth pastor to talk about this change in my life.
I feel like that upon my salvation, I was given the map to freedom, but it was in another language and I had no idea which way to go to find it.
Handing your will over to God is a whole different matter in our faith. That’s when we trust God with EVERYTHING, not just our souls. And that is scary and difficult sometimes.
It wasn’t until nearly 8 years after my salvation that I finally learned how to hand my will over to God and to start actually growing in the faith.
Churches need to be better about leading others THROUGH faith, not just TO it, to show them what to DO with their second chances, this undeserved and unending gift of grace.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV)
It the duty of older Christians to lead and train younger Christians and the duty of younger Christians to seek that guidance.
As I said, a large portion of my church are broken people who are new to the faith. The leadership however, is made up of elders in the church who have been walking with God for decades and are dedicated to guiding others down that same path.
That is why I’ve stuck with this church. It has become a church where all are truly welcome, free of judgment, and a place where you can find salvation and then also find guidance on what that change means for your life.
I am still being taught by my spiritual elders and I, in turn, am given the opportunity to teach those younger in the faith than myself. It gives me a sense of purpose that I never had before.
That is what a church should look like.
Matt Coker is the Ministry Director of The Back Row. He is married to a beautiful woman he met in youth group and they have one mischievous son together. Matt collects Funko Pop figures, loves time travel movies, and enjoys exotic jerky meats. You can contact Matt via the contact page or on Twitter at @BackRowBeliever, or his personal account, @MatthewSCoker.