In 1987 when my obsessive-compulsive study habits had reached a peak, I was a member of Purchase Line Church of the Brethren. PLCOB was then (and is now) one of those little, rural congregations where everyone knows everyone else. We fell quite nicely into the category that Rick Warren (of purpose-driven fame) calls “the family reunion church.” Fellowship was important, covered-dish dinners were frequent, and family connections provided stability.
Because the church was small, and I was active in the ministry, I knew of many deep, serious problems in relationships. In my intellectual arrogance, I thought I had the answer to all our woes: BIBLE STUDY. I naively believed that if every Christian made Bible study a top priority, problems that had plagued the church for two millennia would just disappear like so much morning mist.
How blessed we are that the Lord is gracious to His children! He does not condemn us for our ignorance. He only requires that we keep our hearts open to receive Truth, and over the next few years He gently exposed the error in my thinking.
Through my job as Activity Director in the nursing home, I met the pastor of a local assembly (a term preferred over church) that fit perfectly into Rick Warren’s description of “the classroom church:” they placed an emphasis on study, right doctrine, and understanding the original languages of the text. Pastor Tim was a gifted scholar, and I joined his Tuesday and Thursday night exegetical Bible studies. The Bible Speaks Assembly (as it was then known) was absolutely devoted to the study of God’s word. I had found the church/fellowship/assembly of my dreams! Although I never experienced the phenomenon personally, I certainly approved when I heard that even at baby showers they searched the scriptures together.
Looking back over the three or four years I faithfully attended Greater Grace (the assembly name was changed), I am fascinated by the way God revealed Himself to me both through His people and in the circumstances He allowed.
My first surprise came in the friendships He gave me. At every Tuesday and Thursday evening Bible study I saw the same three single people: two women and a man. I soon learned that on Wednesdays they traveled together to a Bible study in Pittsburgh (an hour or so one way). Now those three were really my kind of people! Or so I thought at the time. Now I can’t even remember their names. Instead the Lord bound my heart first to Liz, then to Marianne and Joan, and eventually to Leslie and Susan: five mothers with small children. They all loved the Lord and His word, but they had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to devote all their time to attending Bible studies.
The next unexpected thing God did was use my intimate communion with happily married women and their sweet children to teach me why the apostle Paul so enthusiastically endorsed the single state. (1 Corinthians 7:34, 35) No longer did I simply accept my singleness as part of God’s plan for me, I rejoiced in the freedom it allowed me.
But the most surprising thing the Lord taught me in those days of intensive, corporate Bible study was that my simple solution to the problems in the church had missed the mark. Greater Grace was just as vulnerable to the kind of trouble I saw at Purchase Line, the same kind of trouble that the enemy uses in every community of believers to divide those who desire to serve the Lord.
And so it was that in 1989 when I started spending less time with books and more time with brooms that I also started thinking deeply about the indispensable role that mothers, grandmothers, and all homemakers play in creating faithful disciples for Jesus Christ.