by Emily Snyder Bandy
I’ve claimed four different churches as home in my twenty-three years. I grew up in a hip, suburban, non-denominational church with a stellar youth group, a yearly crawfish boil, and a rock band. At 18, I found a home at a church with 400 other college students meeting in a bar in downtown Nashville. My junior year, after a long semester seeking a church with generational wisdom, I found a true gift at Trinity: a community of people who thought like I thought, struggled in ways that I struggled, and worshipped the Lord the way I did. When I think about my ideal church setting, I think about all that Trinity has to offer: simple, beautiful hymns; liturgy with reflection and engagement; prayer, lengthy prayer, during service; community; accountability; conviction. The only thing missing was diversity—specifically, racial and economic diversity.
Last summer, I got married and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where my husband and I attend Common Ground Covenant Church. Common Ground is missing almost all of the things that I loved about Trinity. The worship is contemporary. The preaching is loud. The community is new and unfamiliar. On top of that, the sound system is erratic and the parking lot is full of potholes and the building ranges from too hot in the winter to freezing in the summer. But, the church body is almost equally made up of white and black members, and the church is located in neighborhood afflicted by poverty, and one of the missions of Common Ground is racial reconciliation, one of the reasons my husband and I came to Jackson in the first place.
I have found myself in a place outside of my concept of worship. Where I don’t feel like I’m being fed as much as I’d like. Where I struggle to expect the Lord’s presence. And yet, where I feel called to be. By staying here, surrendering some of my preferences, expectations, and comforts, I get to be in relationship with those whom I might otherwise not encounter and to know the Lord in a deeper way.
Each week, when a microphone goes out or the bathroom doesn’t have toilet paper or the worship team sings a song concert style, I have the opportunity to lean into the Lord. To resist the urge to dismiss these things as “not how it should be done” or “not what true worship looks like.” To work through how much of what I don’t like is based on my privilege, or my preference, and to trust the Lord to meet me even in places I don’t expect to find Him.
My world is bigger because of the differences I encounter each week. My understanding of Jesus—and my relationship with Him—is bigger as well.
Preferences do matter; we all have a translation of the Bible and a style of worship and a cultural perspective that we prefer and that, quite often, bring us closer to the Lord. It is not a bad thing to be comfortable in where and how we worship. But it is also not bad to be uncomfortable in these things.
When we worship and do life with others in ways that push us out of our comfort zones, the Lord moves and grows our understanding of Him.
My call to action is two-fold:
1. Embrace flaws, shortcomings, and hiccups. They create room for God’s glory. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it never was, anyway.
2. Loosen your grip on your preferences. It’s always about Him and never was about you, anyway.
Even just over the last few weeks, having committed to Common Ground, accepting that the Lord’s work in my life does not depend on my preferences, coming to church with an open heart and an open notebook, and expecting the Lord to speak, I have grown to love my time here.
As I sit here writing this at Common Ground while my husband practices with the worship band singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” I’m struck by how great, indeed, is His faithfulness. Flipping through my notebook, I reflect on all the ways He has honored my expectant heart with nourishing songs, convicting sermons, and life-giving community — all pieces of Him.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
Emily Snyder Bandy lives in Jackson, Mississippi with her husband, Zeke. She works as an editorial aide for University Press of Mississippi and writes curriculum for Shmoop. Before moving to Jackson, Emily taught 8th grade social studies in Nashville, where she earned her BA in English Lit and Justice, Faith, and Culture at Belmont University.