We came to Mitchell Berean when I was seven years old.
The parsonage was one block south in the same limestone brick style as the church. We had free reign from church to home and back again. And when we figured out how to adjust our bike riding skills from the potholed dirt driveways of the ranch to the paved streets in the big city (pop. 1200), we could also go back and forth to the pool.
I loved our home but I really loved the church.
It had a big wooden ramp built outside off the front staircase which was really great for building up speed in a footrace or as the makeshift church jungle gym or, if you were really brave, the best spot to be under in hide & seek. There was a library at the back where the brown shag carpet faded into a smooth gray and you could check out books that weren’t meant for my age demographic but I read them anyway. My brother and I had back to front hurdle races over the pew backs when no one was lookin’. I caught and collected ‘church bugs’ (boxelders) in the basement, always trying to best my record of 103. I would sing and dance on the platform, regardless if anyone was lookin’. I wandered the whole place, often lost in whatever story was in my head that day.
The baptismal was classically set at the back of the platform, the burnt orange curtains tied up beside it on each side, cross hanging over it on the back wall. In the day-to-day, it was normally covered with a couple sheets of plywood. (Because they didn’t want anyone falling in? Or for an additional storage area? Or some other reason a kid wasn’t privy to know?) But I thought it was there on which to tap dance. It made the perfect hollow noise because it was empty underneath. So tap dance is just what I did! Every day, sliding my bare feet all the different ways, doing the moves I’d only ever seen in movies checked out from the town library.
Until one day when I didn’t realize that all my tipping and tapping had worked a nail loose from the ol’ board and with one tip.tap.slide, the top of that nail found its way into the bottom of my foot.
It’s not the only accident I had.
There was the “Baked Potato Incident of 1994” when I finally convinced mom I was old enough and mature enough to walk the one block home, put the potatoes in the oven for Sunday dinner, and walk right back to service. I then proceeded to drop the pot holder on the blazing hot oven element which immediately started an actual fire and had me calling the church landline [623-2320; still remember it] and telling the elder who answered, “The parsonage is on fire!” to which he responded by going into service where my dad was preaching and yelling my phone message to the whole congregation. Every parishioner got up out of their pew and began looking through the windows to the south to see if there was smoke; most of them immediately began heading my way. My mom ran so fast, she ran right out of her Sunday best shoes and put out the fire with a few smacks of a dishtowel.
Mom used the ‘Delayed Bake’ option from there on out.
And then there was the time after we had moved to the country when my parents said I was too tired to go to Youth Group, so I leaned hard into my rebellion and left a note with something to the effect of “you have your ministry and I have mine” and began walking the 5+ miles to town. (They picked me up 20 minutes later and drove me in.)
But more than anything else, what I remember is how God became so real and personal to me there. I was part of the team. That church family made me feel like I mattered. In the physical building, week in and week out, I learned how to study His Word. I learned the ways of Jesus. I learned I was not alone; there were other people walking faithfully with the Lord all around me. I learned that mistakes could be met with grace and eventually…laughter. I learned that there was nowhere else I would rather be than wherever God wanted me to be.
God used that church (building + people) in Mitchell, Nebraska to build into the very threads of my being– teaching me in a wonderful, imperfect, grace-filled way. And I’m forever grateful.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I understand my experience is different from a lot of PK’s carrying that title. We are all different and have different needs and experiences. Church people themselves can intentionally and unintentionally cause a lot of harm to the families leading their flock. But I believe there is another way according to 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV), “Let all that you do be done in love.”
Love on your church’s staff kids. Wholeheartedly and without expectation of return.
They need you to show up for them. They need to be seen. They need to be cherished. They need to be believed and cheered and discipled. Spoil them, even, if you can.
Disregard their nose rings. Ignore the too heavy eyeliner. Look past the ways they dress in combat boots, long denim skirts, and fishnet stockings. God is doing a work in them; fan that flame!
God is raising up this next generation of leaders and it could just so be that they’re sitting right in front of you each week. For the sake of the Gospel and in Jesus name, love on your church’s staff kids this week!
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