Church shopping. I’m currently in the throws of it and desperately think we need a new term. If there’s one out there that’s less consumer driven, please let me know. While I have a number of things that factor into whether or not I’ll come back to a particular church during the search, it really only comes down to one thing.The whole process of looking for a church is relatively new to me. I’ve been very blessed to have gracefully fallen into my previous church communities without much fuss. Now that I’m in the thick of it, I have to say, it has its ups and downs.
I’ve been able to see things that a church does really well, and I’ve also seen things that a church doesn’t do very well. To say the first church we visited was a train wreck is an understatement. To say that I’ve written down one too many inappropriate pastor jokes is a bit cringe worthy. To say I have a list of theology fact checking to do is a little sad. To say that I’ve wished I had earplugs during one or more worship sets is embarrassing. To say that I am hyper critical–– I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Perhaps looking for a new community brings out not only the worst in churches, but the worst in us. It’s a difficult time that can be made even more difficult based on your reasons for searching in the first place. If you left your previous church because you were wounded by the congregation, that’s tough. And it’s hard not to have PTCE (post traumatic church experience) when you’ve come out of tragedy.
Anything can set you off. And it’s tough because the congregation you’re about to walk into doesn’t know that. We are all seeking refuge, and when the supposed refuge of a welcoming hand shake and the word of Jesus is instead met with blank stares and an off message, it can leave you feeling empty and alone.
Or, if you’re like me, you just realize that you had something really special, that while definitely not perfect and needed refinement, was still pretty darn good. I’ve been cultivating a particular taste over the years for church. I know what I like. I know what I believe is most Biblically accurate. I believe handing out communion while everyone is stuck in the pews is weird. I believe passing around the offering plate is horrifying. I believe pastors making offensive jokes is inexcusable. I believe the Spirit should be in and among the service. I believe women should be elders, teachers, preachers, worship leaders as well as men.
And it’s not just the structure of Sunday morning, it’s the entire construct of that church family. Community groups, church size, demographic, theology, style, I could go on and on and on and on and on about what I think makes for a really great church. But at the end of the day, it’s not about the building or the whether the worship was still stuck in the 90’s. It’s about the people.
Church has always been about God’s people gathering to worship Him, supporting one another through prayer and giving. It’s all about building one another up as we each in turn draw closer to God and consequently closer to one another. Experiencing real community is the craving of God’s people. We are all looking for a connection. And yes, it’s about making a connection with God, and yet, there’s something beautiful that’s made when we love one another and come together under Christ. We become God’s building. We are the temple, for Christ dwells within us and we worship Him together.
So while I can pass on the inappropriate pastor jokes and feel more comfortable when I can take communion on my own terms, what I’m really looking for is a community that accepts like Christ and builds me up despite our differences.