Get A Life

By Shannon Pugh
In Formed
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Going into 2010, my New Year's resolution was to “get a life”. I was 26, single and worked a high-stress job. I had struggled to make and keep a friend group since elementary school, so my friends had changed based on life stage. High school friends were lost when I went to college; college friends were lost when we graduated and scattered across the country. The few people I had reconnected with after moving back from college were getting married and having kids at breakneck speed. I did attend a local church, but it felt like I was in some no-man's land between “right out of college” and “newly married”.

Since I didn’t really fit the demographic of any of the small groups that were offered, I chose to tag along with my friends who attended the “newly married” group. I dutifully studied how to navigate conflict and increase communication with my imaginary spouse. I even went on their weekend retreat, where I awkwardly sat by myself while couples broke off to improve their non-hypothetical marriages. I could have put “third wheel” under the special skills section of my resume.

Outside of those meager social interactions, the rest of my time was dedicated to work… and recovery from work. Nights and weekends were spent trying to conserve energy and numb the feelings of dissatisfaction and loneliness that came up when I wasn’t busy. Since this was back in the stone ages before streaming was a thing, I made sure my DVR was loaded up with shows that would keep me distracted. Getting to church on a Sunday was more or less a formality, and I often found myself making grocery lists in my head rather than listening to the sermon. (Don’t worry Barry – I make my grocery lists at other times now.)

But there was a plus side to my life during that time, and it was a big part of the reason I hadn’t made much of an effort to change things up. My little life was neat, tidy and predictable. I went grocery shopping every Saturday, cleared out the DVR by the end of each weekend, and while my work week was rife with conflict, my social life was blissfully conflict-free.

But my loneliness finally overcame my desire for control. I desperately wanted friends to invite over to my apartment, go to dinner with, or call up to see a movie. That was my goal going into 2010. But God wanted much more for me. If only I had known what He had planned, I probably would have been a mix of terrified, excited, and incredibly skeptical!

Step One toward achieving my “get a life” goal was to find a new church. I was looking for one that had a Bible study or community group specifically for singles. I needed to know that I wasn’t broken just because I “still” hadn’t gotten married! After trying out a few other churches, I stepped into IBC for the first time in February 2009. I was SUPER overwhelmed by how big the building was, and more than a little intimidated. At the time, IBC had a Bible community called The Point for single adults in their 20’s and 30’s. It took every ounce of courage I could muster to walk through the doors of the Alcove to attend The Point for the first time.

Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t break out in hives at the thought of walking into a room where you don’t know anyone?? If so, I’m definitely NOT a part of that elite and clearly super-human group. But I’m so glad I decided to be brave, because crossing that threshold turned out to be one of the biggest turning points in my life. When I walked into that roomroom, I had never studied the Bible on my own, never prayed out loud in a group, never tithed, never led, never shared my story with anyone, never been on a mission trip. In other words, I had never lived out my faith. I couldn’t have possibly dreamed that 11 years later I’d be writing about faith as a staff member of that same church!! God does the craziest things, doesn’t He?

I quickly joined a Bible study and some of the girls in that group have ended up being lifelong friends. Little did I know that they would become roommates, bridesmaids, and have walk with me through some incredibly dark times. I finally had people to join me at a movie, grab dinner, or invite to my apartment! Hooray! To this day, I’ve never been so successful in meeting my New YearsYear's resolution. But I also had something that I didn’t know I needed: challengers and encouragers.

There were so many different voices and perspectives in that group. We wrestled together with challenging theological questions and practical ways to live out our faith. And y’all, it was SO MESSY. I didn’t expect that. There were arguments, strong opinions, hurt feelings and awkward break-ups (I mean, it was a group for singles after all). But when push came to shove, we were willing to navigate that mess because we knew we were a part of something bigger than our little rag-tag group.

Proverbs 14:4 makes me laugh – it says “Without oxen, a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” Now I’ve never owned an ox, but I would imagine they poop a lot. So no oxen = no scooping poop! But also, no oxen = no harvest. So basically, if you want food then you’d better grab a shovel! The mess is worth it -- with oxen and with people.

Over the 11 years since I stepped into IBC for the first time, I’ve been a part of many different types of groups. I am married now, but well before that happenedhappened, I found that, for me personally, I didn’t need to be in groups made up exclusively of singles anymore. That was a necessary step in my journey, but faith is dynamic and so is the type of community we need. As I became confident in my worth outside of my relationship status (because it turns out they’re not linked at all), I realized that I needed a variety of venues and voices.

Each person and each group providesprovide something a little different. So, I started to mix things up. At various times I’ve found community in our young adult ministry, women’s Bible study groups, two Foundation groups, a Formation group and several mission teams. (By the way, if you’d like to experience messy community I highly suggest traveling to another country to do ministry with a bunch of people who have different strengths, weaknesses, and Enneagram numbers.) I’ve found community in our diverse staff, which – spoiler alert – is just as messy as any other group of people. I’ve found community with the families and volunteers I get to work alongside in Arise. In fact, some of my biggest encouragers and challengers are individuals with special needs who are a part of Arise!

Here’s a bold thought. When Jesus tasked His disciples with starting the church (see Matthew 28:20 and Acts 1:8), I’m pretty sure He wasn’t asking them to get people together to sit and watch someone talk about Him. He was asking them to create a messy community of people who waded through proverbial oxen poop to bring about a harvest of Jesus-followers. Listening to skilled Bible teachers is 100% a part of that. But there’s a whole lot more to it. If you keep reading in Acts (chapter 2 verses :42-47), the author lists some activities that the early church engaged in: learning from the apostles, sharing meals, praying together, worshipping together each day, sharing their possessions, serving those in need, and – most importantly – watching as God added to their numbers every single day. Notice that only one of those activities involves sitting and listening to someone speak!

But you know what else the Book of Acts describes? Drama. It’s a super messy community! People are arguing constantly. Opinions and beliefs clash. There are literal debates. Check out the Message version of Acts 15:37-39: “Barnabas wanted to take John along… But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways…” Paul and Barnabas were two of the most prominent leaders in the church, and they sound like a couple of third3rd grade boys on the playground!

Yes, they experienced incredible miracles and rich community. But this is not some utopian paradise where everyone agrees on everything and then sings Kumbaya around a fire each night! That’s what we want, I think. But God wants so much more for us. He doesn’t just want us to get any old life… He wants us to get ABUNDANT life! We need friends. Movies are fun, tables are to be shared, and laughter is absolutely a gift from God. However, Christian community isn’t just for fun. We have a much bigger purpose, and that purpose requires us to leave our comfort zone.

When Jesus returns and fixes everything, we will experience perfect community without disagreements or hurt feelings. In other words, in heaven the oxen don’t poop! But we’re not there yet. We are broken humans experiencing broken relationships in a broken world. However, God can bring beauty out of any mess we make! When we gather our courage and enter a room of believers ready to navigate messy relationships for the sake of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth, that has ripple effects for eternity.

So roll up your sleeves and grab your shovels, IBC. Let’s jump into the mess and bring God’s Kingdom to this broken world together!


God is calling us, the people of Irving Bible Church, to become a multi-ethnic movement of missionary disciples, formed in the way of Jesus for the sake of the world.

We want to be a transformed people who experience vibrant spiritual growth together. We want the Spirit of God to shape us more and more into the likeness of Jesus as we follow him.

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