Scripture: Ephesians 5:25-26
In one way or another, I have always been in the church. My earliest memories involve going to church in a three piece outfit as a toddler and walking out each Sunday in dress pants and a T-shirt. I’ve always been a little restless!
In my teen years ,I helped with VBS and was a counselor at the local Christian camp in the summers. My mother said, as a little boy, I used to get on top of the dog house and “preach” to the dogs with her Bible, which abruptly ended when I left it out there one day and they chewed it up! I suppose it should be no surprise that I went into full time ministry.
Imagine my shock when, after 20 years in the ministry, I was let go from a small church that dealt with internal strife and one families’ domination.
Suddenly I found myself not qualified to dig a ditch and too qualified to work in an office. Yet God provided through a series of temporary factory jobs.
During that time my wife took our daughter , left me, moved back home to northern Virginia as she no longer wanted to follow a minister and harbored much ill will against the churches and how we had been treated over the years.
Statistics say about 95 percent of the preachers who go through a divorce, regardless of the reasons, usually wind up out of the ministry.
It is hard to even get phone interviews at such a time. Some would invite me to try out only to later say if I got my family back together they would consider me. I was finding harsh judgment and not an ounce of grace.
This went on for about two years until, in the fall of 2012, I reached out to Pleasant Grove and they reached back for me. I came for a dinner and one interview, then a second trip and a sermon followed and meeting with the Pulpit Committee a second time.
They asked me back for a second sermon and a ride around the county to check it out. I recall handling it casually. A minister friend had once said you should always preach a sermon you don’t feel good about, not your best because if they like that they will endure most anything.
Well, they either liked it or had a lot of endurance because two weeks later they called and said I got a 100 percent confidence vote and would I come to be their preacher. I was apprehensive at first having been burned in my previous churches, but they graciously gave me another week to think about it, talk to their interim ministry and ask him any questions.
To make a long story short, I said yes and have never regretted the move.
My mother died shortly before I came in the Spring of 2013 and the cards, prayers and love I first felt was overwhelming.
The congregation supported me through my divorce and second marriage to a local Henry County lady. If anything, the love and bond we share has grown stronger through joys, trials, life and death over the past five years. I write all this to say that if you think the church is full of hypocrites or you stay away because you were mistreated by someone in church or you stay away because you hate church politics, the infighting, the drama, or any of the problems a church has, I can honestly tell you there are churches who still know and practice real grace.
We all, as Christians, struggle with issues and if anyone tells you they are perfect, they are lying.
The church is full of imperfect, but forgiven people striving to extend God’s grace to a world broken by sin and pain. A minister said it best when he said, “ if it wasn’t for the stench without , we couldn’t stand the smell within!” In other words, the world at its best doesn’t even come close to the church at its worst!
Paul said in Ephesians 5:25-26, “Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word...”
I love the church. I love her people. I love her Lord. If you have made excuses to stay away from the church because someone treated you badly, or because it is full of hypocrites I’d say give it another chance.
Our church, and others in the area, do have a handle on grace and God may just want to redeem your life the way he did mine through His church. With her overpowering love, the church has saved me more than once and the church is the body of Christ just waiting to save you too!
Jim Pence is the pastor at Pleasant Grove Christian Church. The church is located at 5232 Preston Road, Martinsville.