Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Search for Church

I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m a bit of a commitmentphobe. I’m not anti-commitment relationally, I’ve been committed to my hubby since our second date. But I’m afraid of commitment when it comes to church these days. Maybe I’m just wishy-washy on making a choice. But really, like in dating, I’ve been burned before, and I fear getting dumped by the next church we join.

All my life I attended weekly Mass. (More on that here) I grew up and belonged to the same parish for my first 18 years of life. Then I went to college, shopped around the local Catholic churches and chose one to attend and remained loyal to for the duration of my college years. When I graduated and moved back home I bee bopped around and then I met Mark and we did a little church shopping until we decided on a local church. The church we attended was small, and in many ways restarting, but it was filled with love. The reason we decided to keep going to that church had less to do with the services and doctrine and more to do with how welcome we felt there. The pastor and his wife sent us cards and invited us over to their home. The members were warm and sincerely interested in us. It was easy to make this community our church home.

Then we moved and we realized it was not reasonable to commute 45 miles every Sunday to church (though we did for about 2 months). We were invited to a church near our house by a new friend and started attending. We liked the sermons and were impressed by how much Scripture we received. There were a few doctrinal issues we had and we weren’t into the over-the-top worship, but figured these were small issues. While we never felt a strong sense of community and it was actually difficult to converse with people for more than 1.75 minutes before they interrupted you to go talk to someone more important, we decided that would get better once we became members. So we went through six weeks of membership courses where we had to miss Sunday services, but it was all worth it when we stood in front of church and received our certificates. Then our phones started ringing off the hook and we received voicemails from people we had never met. Evidently these were church leaders looking for volunteers. We were more than willing to volunteer, but it was a bit overwhelming to be solicited by people we had never met, and to be asked to do so many things and miss so many services after we had just missed 6 in a row.

But we trudged forward, we were certain we would feel that sense of community once we got more involved. But then there was the pressure to join the same gym as everyone else and purchase supplements from members who were involved with a so-called Christian supplement company. This seemed strange and put us off a bit. But we were still determined to make this church our home. I don’t want to speak badly about this church (and maybe I already have) but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Mark and I encountered hardship and our faith was questioned because of it. This was hurtful and after the pastoral leader heard through the grapevine that we might be upset (I think that might be called gossip) she arranged a meeting. I’m not going to go into details, but that meeting was the last time Mark and I stepped foot inside that church.

So we decided to bee bop around town. Its kind of exciting, dating all the cool churches. Sometimes the churches are a little too cool for us. The one that looks like a nightclub and the pastor wears jeans and a hoodie- not our style. Less because of t it’s cool factor and more because no Bible was read during the service, but they did stream verses across the screen like breaking news updates on Foxnews. Also there was no sense of community and I told Mark it felt like Catholic Church with K-love music and less reverence and even less message. We’ve also attended the church I talked about here. I was sure this was where we belonged, the pastor was warm and his sermons were full of love. They had multiple out reach programs but lacked discipleship. Mark is pretty excited about a church we attended last week. They are all about bringing back old orthodox traditions with the more modern spirit-filled, faith-based ones. We were met at the door with a warm welcome and explanation of their service. It seems like a church that fits Mark and I, but I worry about their lack of outreach ministries. Am I expecting too much from a church? Am I over thinking this like I used to over think everything back in my dating days?

Haven't quite found the church with a light show.
One morning, while perusing the google list of non-denom churches in town Mark and I got into a discussion (err argument) about why we wanted to attend church or the purpose of finding a church home. Mark stated that we have bookshelves lined with all the great preachers and teachers from the last few hundred years. We have 10 or more Bibles in 4 or more different translations. We have drawers full of worship music, we have CDs of sermons and internet live streaming from our pick of churches around the world. Are we really in need of solid teaching and Biblical interpretation. We don’t want to brag, but Mark and I are confident in our Bible literacy- we do a lot of study. Do we need a church to teach us more about the Bible or about Jesus’ love? Do we need a concert-like worship experience every week? We can worship in our home and we attend LifeLight every year. So if we don’t need a church for sermons and worship, why are we so desperate to find “the right church”?

Community. Fellowship. Discipleship. That’s basically it, we want to belong to a community of like-minded believers. We want to be able to discuss the books we’re reading. We want to belong to a Bible Study group again. We want more opportunities to serve. We need people. So maybe I should stop visiting churches with my checklist of 50 things I need in a church and just start looking for that feeling of love we had at our original church.

This welcoming committee is a little intimidating.
What do you look for in a church? What are you experiences of looking for new churches? Have you been dumped by a church before? Is any church really the right one?