i would never be able to express everything i feel in my heart for my church.

It would take too long to tell you how my pastors and our church took in two discouraged young people and turned us into leaders and pastors. I couldn’t even begin to explain how proud I am that my three kids were born into and have grown up in this church. My oldest now serves on our Kid’s worship team. I remember how hard-hearted and hot-headed I was when I walked through the doors of my church, but Jesus got a hold of me, broke my heart, and put it back together again. Now I weep every time I talk about His love. What I can tell you is that God is faithful, God is merciful, and God is in this church. God changed my heart here, and this church changed my life.

Here are five reasons why my church changed my life and why I love her for it!

my church saw potential in me.

I really did not have much to offer my church other than problems. Sure, I had a little talent, but I had a big chip on my shoulder as well. Yet, like family, my church wasn’t concerned about what I could offer (or couldn’t) but merely was concerned with who I was and who I could be. My wife and I were newly married, discouraged, and deeply saddened by the loss of my father (a pastor and missionary), and we simply longed for family. This church became that and loved us despite our mess. We learned what accountability was and we learned how to trust. We learned how to love each other better and how to communicate. We literally have met some of our best friends for life here!

my church celebrated diversity.

I have always believed that the Church should look like heaven with every race, age, and background uniting to worship Jesus. When I walked into the doors of my church, I saw that.  There were people that looked like my wife and I. There were also marriages that looked like ours in that they were interracial. We realized that the Church is the answer to the racial divide in the world! This church looked like Heaven, and I felt like we could belong here. We soon realized that we absolutely do belong here.

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my church had a relevant message with humor and depth.

I grew up “bapti-costal,” if you will, and while I was not always living a righteous life, I did have a great appreciation for doctrine and theology. My pastor, Joe Champion, found a way to blend humor, wisdom, and theology that I hadn’t really experienced like that before. He seemed like a real person versus a persona, and there was so much depth to what he spoke. It was this depth that caused me to want to truly discover the Word for myself and that, more than anything, has changed my life. I’m grateful that I can still sit in a service 14 years later and feel the same enthusiasm for the messages spoken as I did when I first attended.

my church gave me a chance to grow in my gifts.

I was already a gifted youngster. I played multiple instruments and could sing, but the gifts that were called out at my church surprised me. After leading worship one weekend, my pastor walked passed me and said, “you should speak more. You are good.” Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be a communicator, yet today that is an important role that I willingly embrace. I never thought that I could pastor people, but this church honed that gift as well and many more. I realize that when we plant ourselves in the House of the Lord, we can truly flourish.

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my church taught me to truly love others.

Lastly, and most importantly, my church loved me unconditionally. I wasn’t perfect and made many mistakes in my growth at Celebration, but my church loved me freely. I was a very judgmental person but being loved unconditionally caused me to love unconditionally. I truly began to understand how to offer grace rather than simply receive it. In fact, that may be the greatest lesson learned.

Have there ever been challenges? Absolutely. Frustrations? Many.

yet, my relationship with my church is worth fighting for.

I’ve found joy in overcoming these challenges. My church made a commitment to my wife and me, and we made a commitment to our church. We are planted, we are growing, and we are flourishing. We couldn’t ask for more.

This story was a part of a series called #ChurchSwoon to celebrate the launch of Church VIP and all that God is up to at churches everywhere. Share what God is doing at your church in the comments below.