By Elaine Pratt
It’s been almost 4 years since God providentially led Jon and me to Redeemer. It was a significant time of transition for us, and it was a vulnerable time of renewal and healing for Redeemer. It amazes me to consider the desires of my heart that have been fulfilled in such a short time here, and the depth of love and appreciation I have for this church. May I outline 5 of those reasons, specifically?
*The obvious reasons which top my list are not named below; these are assumed: Supremacy of God’s Word, Gospel identity, Discipleship/evangelism, Biblical community--and Lily and Ginny, of course.
Here are five personal reasons: I hope they’ll resonate with you, so you’ll praise God with me!
1. Joy is the Culture – Our broken world is weighty and pain-laden, especially amid a culture hell-bent against God. Duty is a weak crutch in fueling our faithfulness; propositional truth can become stale even when intended to breathe life. But joy, joy is the fresh air of springtime which inhabits and revitalizes our soul, redirecting our face upward to the beauty of God. Truly, the joy of the Lord is our strength.
Redeemer actively nurtures and celebrates this joy, not like a tight-lipped Scandinavian, but like an exuberant Pentecostal (metaphorically). From the tenor and tempo of our music, to the tone of enthusiastic hope in our sermons, to the joyful application of God’s truth and the jubilant celebration of life’s simple pleasures, joy is rampant. Our elders wear smiles, know how to speak life and hope, understand humor; business meetings are more like family gatherings which reflect close relatives rejoicing in its heritage, rehearsing its recent goings on, and planning for a future of hope and stability. As a friend/new member summarized for me, “I always leave Redeemer feeling joyful.” For one like myself who can struggle to feel God amid so much darkness around (and often within) me, I can’t express fully how vital this is to my walk of faith.
2. Ethos is Relational – A church is not a building; it’s also not a plethora of programs or ministries. A church is a group of people. Redeemer people go below the surface, leaning into conversations with each other that go beyond the transactional to the relational. We are not merely fellow-ministers in the gospel enterprise who know how to talk shop, but beloved brothers and sisters in the “family business” who love each other and devote their lives together to what (Whom) they love.
For me, it’s been Brittney, Christina, and Kristine in my Titus 2 group, developing a trust and openness that can only come from God; it’s been our community group friends bearing burdens, sharing life, laughing, and discussing the one-anothers in Scripture to spur me on; it’s been Kate who befriended and encouraged me, who remembers my day off to call and check in, who reminds me I’m known and loved; it’s Jason, a son-in-law/elder who knows my bent for discussing counseling issues, who listens, pushes back, inspires me, and tells me to get off Twitter if its robbing me of joy. (He was SO right!!). And early in our time at Redeemer, before we were really even known, it was Dale and Amie meeting with us in our grief, as we wrestled with how to best love that family member entangled in addiction. It was Patti who brought the meal (from so far a distance) just to show concern. Redeemer fosters this ethos. And it is life-giving!
3. Leadership Loves Well – Relationships are tricky, messy and their rules seem to change from person to person. How do our 6 elders love well a diverse, errant, often hurting, sometimes prideful, regularly opinionated but still-being-sanctified bunch of sheep? Faithfully, skillfully and at great personal cost. Time is the currency of care, and it is lavishly spent on those known to be in need. Leaders aren’t omniscient, but when informed are quick to drop whatever and respond. As the wife of an elder, I’ve seen it firsthand. As a sheep myself, I’ve experienced it firsthand. As a counselor involved, I’ve observed pastoral care for another firsthand. They listen, seek to understand, ask questions, are quick to patience and slow to judgement, communicating love and respect as the bridge upon which hard truth may need to be walked over. And when situations are outside their personal experience or knowledge, they consult others to gain their wisdom (with discretion, of course.) My plumb line in vetting a leader is in how he loves his wife and family. In this regard, our leaders shine brightly, practicing the regular evidences of priority and servanthood in their relationship with them. Biblical leaders don’t spend a lot of time asserting their authority because they are too busy living out their sacrificial love. By God’s grace, this is the kind of leader Redeemer cultivates.
4. Serving is Unlimited – If the fruit of the Spirit is love joy peace, etc. (Galatians 5), the mission of the Spirit is to mobilize the Body to action: serve, love, give, sacrifice, go (Romans 12). I love that I get to live this out so freely at Redeemer! A life of active ministry, using our gifts for each other, is both modeled and taught. Whether old or young, introvert or extrovert, new believer or old, we don’t just sit; we participate. As I look around Redeemer, I see teammates. We are not like a spectator at a football stadium, plopping down a foam bleacher cushion to observe and be an arm-chair quarterback. Instead, like a locker room-smelling part of the lineup, we use our giftedness to benefit the team, willing to don a different-numbered jersey at any point if it will help us win. There is no pressure to become what someone else thinks I should be, pigeonholed in a role based on gender, stage of life, or stereotype of a good church member. Instead, I am released to love God and others as a display of worship and family of God responsibility, bound only by clear Scriptural boundaries. From Judy and Valerie in the nursery, to Patti teaching theology, to Poppes counting offering, to Pam and Greg greeting at the welcome center, to Heather leading worship, to the Bros doing their maintenance magic, to Jan in the sound booth, I love to see hearts and lives who’ve gladly signed up to serve. These (and so many more) bless me in abundance.
5. Points me to Jesus – No matter how great the body of Christ is functioning, a church can’t meet the ultimate needs of the human heart, whether eternal or temporal. It’s here where Redeemer shines brightest, for I’m continually pointed to Jesus. Jesus, the beautiful lover of my soul, Savior of my sin, Shepherd of my heart, Father in my child-like need—He is my present and ultimate Hope. When trusted relationships fail, He meets me in my hurt. When a child struggles with choices that endanger his life (and makes me wonder about his soul), Jesus draws me close. When inadequacy and weakness weigh me down like shackles, Christ whispers reassurance and strength. When the adoption fell through, the cancer returned, the doubt yells its lies, midlife disappoints, reconciliation is denied, my church is not absent…nor silent. Redeemer gathers figuratively to surround me with truth spoken and sung, showing up via community group, a friend’s text, theology night conversation, sermon preached and an elder who listens, then reminds—He will hold you fast! In all of these, though, a church of people is not my hope, I am pointed to Christ!
Redeemer isn’t perfect. But it’s my church, you are all my people, and I am delighted that on this side of eternity I get to grow, suffer, rejoice, worship, struggle, learn, laugh, raise my hands and praise God alongside you.
Be careful what you wish [pray] for, it might just come true. This certainly has been the reality for me, as God has beautifully granted these five desires of my heart.