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When mom had my brother, she quickly realized something: she could not raise this baby boy into a man on her own. She had attended church her whole life, but for the first time, she examined what it meant to be a faith-filled mom. By the time I came along four years later, Mom had become active in a local church and had grown in her personal relationship with Jesus.

We lived in rural Missouri, so the churches we attended were small, maybe hitting a hundred on homecoming Sunday. Mom came to realize one of the best ways she could show her love for Jesus was by serving His church. And she did. In fact, everything I know about serving in the local church, I learned from my mom. Here are some lessons she taught me.

Fall More And More In Love With Your Bible

Ministry starts here. If I close my eyes, I still see Mom seated at the round, wooden dining room table (she still has it but it’s painted black now), study book open, pen in hand, reading from her Bible. Since committing to growing as a Christian, Mom spent a lot of time reading God’s word. She was my Sunday school teacher more than once over the years. When she taught, we sensed her passion for scripture. She knew it wasn’t just words on the page, these verses were the living, breathing word of God. It had changed her. Fortunately, she had great Bible teachers and pastors who continued teaching her as well.

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First thing each morning, you’ll still find Mom studying God’s word. I know because sometimes I call her before I open my own Bible, and although she doesn’t mind the interruption, I realize she’ll get off the phone and finish her daily reading. She’s taught me to do the same.

Go Alone If You Have To

This is a big one, and a lesson I took to heart. My parents married young, and my dad never attended church with us. My entire childhood, Mom took me and my brothers to church, on her own. Dad didn’t protest, as I remember him asking me about the lessons and sermons at times. He had no interest in joining us though. Mom led our family in the faith. This gives me a great deal of sympathy for women I’ve known over the years who go to church alone. It can be hard. Yet, I believe with all my heart God wants his daughters in the churcheven when their husbands don’t go. Mom taught us that church is family even when not all of your biological family is a part of it.

Serve Where There’s a Need

In a church as small as ours, there wasn’t always a qualified person with experience to head up a particular ministry. Over the years, Mom took on the titles of Bible drills teacher, Vacation Bible School director, choir director, and pianist, not because she was qualified necessarily but because she was willing and capable. If she hadn’t agreed to do some of these things, in certain seasons, they legitimately might not have been done.

In an On Being podcast, Krista Tippett interviewed retired pastor Eugene Peterson. He offered listeners the following advice, “Go to the closest church where you live and the smallest. After six months, if it isn’t working, go find the next smallest church.”

When I heard this advice, I nodded my head in agreement. Serving in a small church has an intimacy you won’t find in a bigger church further down the road. Within that intimacy, you better understand the need for God’s grace and love for one another.

There’s a Time To Stay And a Time To Go

Our local church was near my childhood home. In many ways, everything felt right. The people in this church, our neighbors, loved my family. They taught me and my brothers the Bible stories church kids learn. However, every few years, the church would begin putting pressure on the current pastor. I was too young to understand the reasoning, but by my early high school days, we had gone through four pastors, forming a search committee to hire the fifth. It caused too much upheaval in our lives. Pastors who shepherded kept leaving, and we grew weary of trying to make sense of it.

RELATED: To the Person Who Walked Away From the Church

Mom led our family through the difficult decision of leaving our church family behind. We joined a new church. Mom taught me to stay—and leave—well.

We no longer live in the same state, and Mom and I haven’t attended the same church in years, but she’s remained faithful. I have, too. It’s as she taught me, serving the local church remains one of the best ways we can show our love for Jesus.

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Traci Rhoades

Traci Rhoades is a writer and Bible teacher. She lives in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area with her family and an ever-changing number of pets. Connect with her online at or @tracesoffaith on twitter. She is the author of "Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost."

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