Friends, you are in for a treat today. Kristi James of And Babies Don’t Keep is here today for the Church Lady series I have been running on Mondays. I have connected with Kristi through social media and–let me tell you–this woman is choosing Jesus! I love hearing her heart for the church and I think you’ll agree with me that her yes to God is beautiful because it is costing her something–and yet it is a sacrifice she is willing to give Him because He is worthy! If you don’t know Kristi, you can connect with her at her blog, on Facebook, or through Twitter and Instagram! She’s a woman worth getting to know.
1. Tell us a little bit about the church you’re apart of.
Duff and I are planting City Church, in Asheville, NC. We moved here 3 years ago (after being asked by our Presbytery) and spent about 6 months getting to know (and falling in love with) the city before officially starting. We did what we said we’d never do – a parachute plant – which means we dropped in on our own, without a core group waiting for us. Asheville is a phenomenal city, and while it’s in the south, it’s more eclectic than most of the surrounding areas. So if we’re going to use the Bible Belt metaphor, Asheville might be the handmade belt buckle (think hipster, not cowboy), rather than part of the actual belt itself.
That’s to say that things are different here, including our church plant. We gathered a core group over the first couple of years, and then watched half of them leave, over time, for more stable jobs. God has done so many things along the way to remind us that this is his church, he loves it more than we can imagine. That helps a great deal as we’ve watched friends leave town or felt especially small or alone. At this point, we’re made up of about 20 people, meeting Sunday afternoons for worship and Wednesday evenings in a small group setting. Ultimately, we want to be a church where people can explore the claims of Jesus, experience the grace of God in community, employ their resources for the glory of God and the welfare of our city, and extend the hope of Jesus to Asheville and beyond.
2. What does it look like, in your life, to be an active part of your church?
Being an active member of a church is SO good. It took until halfway through college for me to understand that. Also, I worked at a church after college, so I was expected to be there, and that helped me settle into the habit of church, which lead me to a deeper appreciation for not just being present, but being involved.
So today, I’m the church planter’s wife and I have three young kids (Olivia is 4, Eliza is almost 3, and Piper is 5 months old). So sometimes what it looks like is me, walking into church feeling lonely (because Duff has been gone all day) and needy (because…kids…) and walking out a few hours later knowing that I’m not alone, after watching our church family love my biological family well.
As far as what I do for/with/at church, I coordinate the childcare (terribly, I might add), I/we offer our home several times a week for official and unofficial church stuff. I used to lead our women’s small group but we split that up in preparation for Piper’s birth, so sometimes I lead and sometimes I have the privilege of soaking up what my friends have to share with us from scripture.
Mostly? I feel like my biggest responsibility is caring for Duff. Listening as he works out his sermons, freeing him to go drive through the mountains if he’s wrestling with something, being frustrated with him when things aren’t going the way we’d like, celebrating with him when things fall into place, and reminding him that while his calling in this is unique, he’s not alone. I don’t do that perfectly, by any means, but it’s my favorite part.
3. How are your unique gifts and abilities strengthened by being part of a local church?
At our former church, there were multiple pastors and multiples pastor’s wives and I was the youngest by at least 12 years. I wasn’t really needed like we sometimes picture the pastor’s wife being needed (to play piano and make casseroles), which was nice, in a way. But here, we’re it. And I think that’s been good for both of us. When your church family is looking at you to teach, you teach. And then you realize that you kind of love that. When someone in your church has a new baby, you walk through that adjustment, reminding them that while you’ve got three now, once upon a time, you only had one, and you felt alone and confused and totally delighted all at once, too. When a couple needs some help working through issues in their marriage, you have them over, and you and your counselor-husband listen to them and encourage them and pray with them.
I would say that being here in this role has allowed (and required) me to stick my toe in the waters of things I hoped I could do, like teaching and writing and being passionate about reminding each other that we are dearly loved children.
4. How has being part of a church challenged and changed you?
Being part of a church can be so hard! And I think sometimes we’re surprised by that. When I was in college, I went through a break-up that changed everything for me (for the better, actually). But afterwards, I would sometimes see this guy at church. For an entire year, I felt sick to my stomach driving to church, and I’d pray, “God please help me be a woman of grace and ease. Please help me be a woman of grace and ease. Please help me to not throw up, and please help me be a woman of grace and ease.” I felt most vulnerable in the place where I wanted to feel the safest.
But I kept going. Because I needed church, even though it was hard. I wasn’t always immediately welcomed by people who made me feel super comfortable. I didn’t always feel known or even noticed by my pastor. It took work! But it was something I needed to be able to make it through the week. Duff talks about God’s people coming in, gathering together to remember God’s truth, to be sent back out. And I needed that, I needed to come in and be reminded, so that I could go back out.
I don’t always feel such intense feelings about church. Like most Christians, sometimes it’s hard for me to want to go. But I choose to go, to stay, to commit, because God says that’s the best way to live. It’s like being part of your family. You’re bound together, and that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or comfortable, or that people are always good and kind, but when you’re committed it means you can make it through mistakes and brokenness and find love and safety within the bounds of that family.
5. Why do you value church? What do you love about church?
Guys, this is kind of hard for me to write! All of these questions are. Church is hard right now. Church planting is vulnerable business and I’m kind of tired of being vulnerable. In Genesis, when God makes the covenant with Abraham, he cuts and animal in half and lays it open. Normally, when making a covenant, the two parties would walk through together, as if to say, “May this happen to me if I break this covenant, if I don’t keep my end of the deal.” When God made the covenant with Abraham, he passed through it alone, as if to say, “I’m covering your half. You cannot do this. You would be laid out like this if you tried. But I will do it for you. I’ll cover my part and yours.” I know this is kind of a jump, but on the hard days, I feel laid out like that animal. I know I can’t keep my end of the deal. I can’t make this church happen or be the perfect wife or mom. Church planting highlights all of the hard truths for me.
When I feel laid out, cut in two, wide open and vulnerable, that picture of God passing through, covering all parts, is incredibly comforting. Often the church is the biggest source of anxiety in my life. But I love it fiercely because it is also where I am directed to my only relief, my only hope.
I value the church because Jesus did. Jesus said this church is my bride. It’s a messy, unfaithful, screwed up bride but I love her and I’ll do anything to hold her close. I’ll pass through both sides of the animal for her.
So, while I know that Jesus loves me,
wife of Duff
and mom to Liv, Eliza, and Piper,
she who doesn’t really like chicken but could eat tacos every day,
she who can’t spell vinaigrette without spellcheck,
and she who thought she was “campy” but turns out to be “glampy…”
I also know that it’s not just about me and him, Jesus and me, it’s about us, his people, his ecclesia, his church. We are not alone in this, he’s given us to each other, and I love that. I won’t miss out on that.
Kristi, you’ve got such a great heart! Thank you for making the time to articulate your insights for us–I am so thankful! Go get to know this powerhouse woman more over at her blog!