Everyone Has A Story
Being The River
Pastor Adam Mallett, Jr.
Adapted from sermon by
Pastor Gary DarDar, Jr.
A couple weeks ago, we had the privilege at River Of Life to have the a mission team from the youth ministry of Sneads Assembly Of God, from Sneads, Florida, spend some time at our church putting on a great vacation bible school/summer youth program. In continuing with our sermon series, we got to hear Pastor Johnny Ray Fontenot’s testimony that Sunday, followed by Pastor Gary’s sermon to go along with the testimony. We were so blessed to hear from Johnny, an Iota native, about his childhood and background here in Iota. The sermon that followed was titled “Being The River” and it was a difficult one for me to write about. I usually write in a way that is instructional, as teaching is my strong suit, but I felt led to do something a little different, hence the tardiness of this article.
Pastor Gary taught about how we all have work to do, a purpose and a direction from God, and being the church, whatever building you meet in on Sunday, is all about the things we do for God! As I pondered what to write, I felt as though Pastor Gary had really said all that God had to say to us about what it means to be the church. But God put it on my heart to write about what it means to me, not only to be the church, but what it means to me to be a part of River Of Life Fellowship. So what follows is just how I feel about being blessed to be a part of the church body here in Iota, Louisiana.
Firstly, it must be said that, though I have visited churches plenty of times throughout my life, the only two churches that I have been a “member” of, i.e. regularly attending and involving myself with, are Our Lady Of The Lake (in Lake Arthur, LA) and River Of Life Fellowship. When I showed up to the River for the first time, seven years ago, I had an idea of what to expect out of the church service, due to having attended a Christian school for a while, but I had no idea what all God would teach me through this church body. I would say that River Of Life is where I learned what it means to be a Christian. As Pastor Gary always says, don’t listen to what I’m not saying! I am not saying that everyone else dropped the ball on discipling me and creating a godly environment for me! My parents always did their best to raise me appropriately, and the school that I attended taught us about God, the Bible, etc. I had been in church environments before! I grew up in church! We never missed a Sunday! I went to catechism, early mass on Sunday mornings (7am, thank you!), and I went to chapel every Wednesday at Bethel. My parents, as already mentioned, were Christians who did their best to raise me right. Of course, there is no perfect parent, and mine were not perfect examples of what it meant to be a Christian, but I owe A LOT to the way that they raised me. In the Catholic Church I even served in various ways. Primarily, I served as an usher every single Sunday morning once I was old enough to do so! Not to sound arrogant, but we actually tried to show up early enough to be able to serve! Rather than our polished, scheduled methods at the River, the Catholic Church that I attended simply allowed people to come on a first come first serve basis. That wouldn’t work in a lot of churches today! However, we were disappointed if, upon arriving at church, we saw that they didn’t need anyone else to serve. We wanted to be early so that we could serve! And if there was somewhere to volunteer, a church function or something of that nature, we did our best to be there to help out! So serving in church was familiar to me before going to the River. You might say, upon reading this so far, that I had already learned what it meant to be a Christian before ever moving to the River. But therein lies the problem with many churches today, regardless of the denomination: I knew how to be a church-goer, but not a Christian.
I am partly to blame for this unfortunate mindset having developed in my life at that time. My immaturity caused me to be blinded to the discipleship that was present at different times in my life. Whether it was my parents trying to teach me something, school trying to instill something in me, or even God directly trying to work something in my heart, I missed a lot! And that held me up. However, I believe that, regardless of the good or bad influences up to that point in my life, the River is where I really began to understand what it means to be a Christian, as opposed to being a church-goer. Rather than continuing to hone my skills at being a good person, a rule follower, and a biblical student, I began to experience a great shaking-up of my routines and traditions. You see, my opinion of the church environment that I was raised in is that, for all its goodness, there is a very prevalent badness. And that badness is not found only in the Catholic Church. It is found in any church where people are present and it can grow in any denominational environment. But, my experience is that it is particularly present in the Roman Catholic Church. My reasoning is as follows: I was taught to serve simply because it would be lazy to not serve. Let the little old ladies and the young mothers sit without serving each Sunday, but, young man, you better serve! I was taught to tithe because “the Bible says so.” I never was sure of any detail about that, like where it says so, but we put money in the basket so that Father So-and-so could keep the lights on. I was taught about the Bible, and am very grateful for that matter of fact learning at such a young age! It has drilled factual information deep into my brain that God is constantly unearthing so that I might now come to understand the truths of His Word. But, at the time, the teaching all seemed very factual and lifeless. It was like math or science, and I had to get it right. I think the only reason that I was able to have that opinion at a young age was that, attending Christian school, I had a parallel to compare catechism to. I learned a lot of information about the Bible, but I never really got how to apply it. I went to catechism every Wednesday because I would disappoint family if I didn’t. I longed to do anything else with my time, like attend the student ministry services on Wednesday nights at Bethel, but I was not allowed. It was portrayed to me as being sinful if I attended a different “kind of church.” My religious upbringing was just that: religious.
Please understand that this is my opinion based on my experience growing up in that environment. I understand that not all Catholic Churches are the same, and I understand that the Catholic Church in general is different that it was even when I was young, though I am not very old at all. What frames my childhood experiences in the way that they are now hung in my mind is that vet difference between what I had been experiencing for sixteen years compared to what I experienced that Sunday in February of 2011. It was weird, uncomfortable, and awkward, but it had life! When someone shouted amen during the sermon, my heart skipped a beat, concerned that the priest would cut him some eyes for speaking during church! I believe that there are different denominations because we simply can’t agree and can’t always get along, but I also believe that God uses different denominations to minister to different people in different ways. However, I am always guarded about different denominations, because it is so easy to make the church service feel right, yet miss the mark on a doctrinal level. And I believe that my religious upbringing missed the mark, doctrinally.
Whatever the case, if you are still reading, River Of Life shook up my routine and tradition greatly! Of course, seven years in to this has created a new routine, but that routine had the prerequisite of a relationship that I had not known before. The leadership and fellowship at River Of Life was something that I had never known, and it still baffles me that people interact the way that I see each and every day here. I have learned that serving means so much more than doing something to make the church service go well or the event go well. Serving is worship! Serving is being obedient to God and subsequently growing in your relationship with Him! I served diligently in church before, but how much more should I serve now that I know that I don’t have to serve! I get to serve! Which is why I’ll never understand why it is so hard to schedule people to serve. If I was in charge of the ushers schedule at Our Lady Of The Lake, it would have just had my name every single Sunday. Of course, I’ve grown to understand that I need rest and I need to be able to just sit in church and learn and be fed. But I want to serve so badly. Someone recently told me, upon realizing that I am in charge of several of the ministries at the River, that I have too much on my plate and should not serve in all the places that I am currently serving. They are right! But I am so grateful that, though it seems no one wants to step up and lead, I get to lead and serve as much as I do. That’s something that I have been praying a lot. “Thank you God for using me in all the ways You do. Though I am not qualified, and am often prideful, I am so grateful to know that You make me worth more than I ever could have been before!” And I have the River to thank for teaching me and discipling me to the point that I am able to understand all these things.
I mentioned worship before, and now it is time to pick on someone else. I grew up in a Christian school. It was technically nondenominational, but the church that the school was attached to was Baptist. So..? At this Christian school, I attended church services that look a lot like what the River Of Life church service looks like. We sang worship music and heard sermons and had times of response (altar call, etc.), and once I learned how to play bass, I even played on the worship team! Yet, after a time at the River, I realized that I had never learned how to worship! I could play and sing worship music, and I understood that serving God is worship, but I didn’t know how to worship in adoration through music. I love music, and I love playing and listening to it! And maybe that love for music got in the way of learning to love God with the music. Either way, I learned the importance of lifting my hands in worship at River Of Life. I learned the importance of singing the songs that I am playing and learning the lyrics and all that. At River Of Life, I was taught, and I caught, how to develop and maintain the appropriate mindset about the things that I am doing. With that mindset firmly established, worship became a lifestyle rather than an event or a day or an action.
There is so much that I have learned at the River, and I honestly don’t feel like typing it all out. But I’m sure no one wants to read it all anyway! John didn’t even write down everything Jesus did! I think you get the idea, though. An important thing to mention is that I am still learning! I am still growing! I have not arrived! For all that the River has helped grow and develop in me, I am still a 23 year old human who has a long way to go! Another disclaimer: when I say the River, I mean the called out ones who comprise what we call church here on Bulldog Lane. The leadership, the fellowship, etc. You all are part of what I mean when I have mentioned River Of Life! Last disclaimer, River Of Life is not a perfect church, nor are its people capable of doing anything that I have mentioned. In God’s sovereign timing and planning and guiding, I am where I am. God has worked in strange, sorrowful, wonderful, exciting, challenging ways in my life to get me to where I am, but I am grateful that He used River Of Life to accomplish all that it has accomplished, in my life and the lives of all those who might share similar sentiments with me.