Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

A note to self: things to consider when looking for a Church

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Church has been a sore spot in our immediate family over the past 10 years. It's definitely been the weakest link in our corporate journey of faith. We've attended some wonderful churches and some not so wonderful ones. Both my wife and I, before we met, had underwent some traumatic events that tore us away from the denominations that we were raised in; consequently, we were both sort of starting over trying to find another church/denomination to call home.

In retrospect, neither of us were ready to find a new church. The wounds we'd suffered from the places we were fleeing from were just too fresh. This created a tremendous lack of trust. We felt somewhat compelled to go to church because it was normal for us, and we had children that we really wanted to grow up in church as we had. Intellectually, we knew that church was a fundamental part the Christian faith: Christians attend church. It was as simple as that. 

Over the years, however, this endeavor has been a nightmare. It has, without a doubt, been the most challenging and unsuccessful thing we've attempted to do as a Christian family. As a result, our church attendance has been erratic at best. We've went long periods of time when we didn't go to church at all. There have been times when my wife and I attended separate churches, or where one of us went to church and the other stayed home. During all this, there's been a huge sense of dissatisfaction: both of us feeling the need to be in church together, as a family, realizing that the absence of a church where we both felt at home was unacceptable. 

After years of this sporadic church attendance, finally, in May of 2009, Shery and I made the commitment that our family would attend church together every Sunday. I can say, with subjective certainty, that we've lived up to that commitment. I mean, we've missed Sundays here and there, but as a whole, we've followed through with this commitment. Obviously, we didn't have a clue where we wanted to go, but we resolved the question of if we were going.

We began by attending churches that resembled, in terms of belief and worship styles, the respective denominations that we had each left prior to our marriage. It just appeared logical to go back to the beginning, the starting place. In a year's time, we visited four different churches like this, spending enough time at each church to determine whether we felt like it was where we belonged. None of these churches ultimately appealed to us but we did explore this area enough to realize that we were not the same people we had been years ago, and that we were no longer compatible with the beliefs, practices, and worship styles of these groups. So, it wasn't a total loss, but rather, a learning experience. We learned enough to realize that we were no longer tied to these groups and could move on with our lives with assurance, at least, that we did not belong there.

Finally, we returned to an United Methodist Church that we had attended briefly when we first moved into this area. Initially, we had stuck around long enough to transfer our membership (from another UMC church we attended in the town we had just moved from). While we did not stay long, both my wife and I had the utmost respect for the pastor, and we both were moved and touched by his ministry. I also considered him to be a very good friend and we shared allot of common interest intellectually.

Unfortunately, upon returning, we immediately discovered that he was several months away from departing. He was about to embark on a well deserved year long sabbatical after serving for more than 30 years. Since the UMC doesn't provide for year long sabbaticals, he had to resign his position at this church. We were very disappointed, but decided to hang out and see how the new pastor was. 

The time passed too quickly and before we knew it he was gone and the new pastor had arrived: this was almost a year ago. His successor was a female minister; incidentally, the church's first female senior pastor, and she is a wonderful minister indeed. She has a great ministry within the church and community, and God is using her in many wonderful ways. With that said, however, my wife and I have realized that our journey to find the church where we belong is not over.

We have enjoyed getting to know the new pastor and have been blessed by her ministry. But, the whole time we've been back, we've felt out of place. I don't think that it's any one's fault, I just think its because we've yet to find the place where God wants us. There are some wonderful people in this church and we've formed some bonds and relationships with people that we dearly love and appreciate. So, our decision is not something we've undertaken lightly.

Discussing this with my wife, we've come up with some things that we wish we would have considered before we embarked upon this journey. I think it certainly would have saved us allot of frustration. So, without dragging this post on any longer than it needs to be, I want to share with you something that we've entitled, "A note to self: things to consider when looking for a church." While I am sure many of these will appear simple and a product of common sense, unfortunately we did not considered many of these along the way, to our own detriment.

  • The church that appears to be the most logical place is not always the most advantageous.where to attend church has been made with the possibility of returning in mind. Obviously, a church/denomination that refuses to ordain ministers because of divorce and remarriage would not be advantageous for me. But, this has limited God, in my opinion. If and when God wants me to return to ministry, it will not matter where we are or where we attend church. God will open the door for me. He needs my cooperation, but he doesn't need my help.

  • Listen to God Obviously there are practical considerations every family needs to consider when attending a church for the first time. But, just because a church looks good and  has all the amenities that you think you might need, does not mean that it is where God wants you to be. And ultimately, this is what it's all about, right? Being at the right place at the right time is the most important thing to consider. And, the only way to ensure this is to listen to God and know that you are where He wants you to be. This is another area where I didn't follow well. I made the most rationale decision I could make. But, my rationale mind is not always compatible with God's will for my life. I have to learn to listen with my spiritual mind and do what God wants me to do, whether it appears to be rationale or not.

  • Make church the priority it is meant to be. For a long time, we approached church as an accessory to our Christian journey. I'm not exactly sure how this happened either. Both my wife and I attended church basically our entire lives. It was all we ever knew. But somehow, during a time of crisis, church became the problem for us, rather than a particular place being part of a problem, if that makes sense. Consequently, we stopped seeing church as an irreducible part of our Christian walk. It was expendable, which meant we could go extended periods of time without fellowship and communion with other  believers. This was to our extreme detriment. I am sure that if we would have placed the church where God intends it to be, then we would not be sitting here looking back over ten years of failed church experiences.

  • Be flexible and gracious! This is a challenge! Church is made up of people, and as such, is imperfect. Not every church is going to meet our every need all the time. Every thing within the church is not going to flow smoothly all the time either. You are not going to be appreciated by everyone equally, nor will you fit in with every group of the church. You have to have tolerance and be able to withstand some controversy. Obviously, if there is more controversy in a particular church for you then anything else, perhaps it's time to look elsewhere. But, even in the most ideal situations, where you seem to fit the best, there are going to be struggles and you have to be prepared to deal with them. Families struggle some times, we experience difficulties and growing pains, but when God has placed you in a church family and you know that you know that it is where He wants you, then you will be wiling to endure some difficulties for your ultimate good.

  • Realize that there is virtue in sacrifice and compromise. This is especially important when families are looking for a church. Not everyone in your family will value the same things in the same order that you do. Not one single person's needs can be elevated above all others. The right church will have the right complements of ministry and service opportunities to best meet the needs of the entire family. For instance, Shery values the emotional qualities of a church more than I. She loves interactive worship, good music, etc. Me, I value quality Christian education and preaching/teaching that is stimulating and thought provoking. Over the years, in our search for a church, when one of us has had to do all the sacrificing, it didn't work well in the long term. So, finding a place that has the potential to meet the needs of all the family as a whole is important. On the other hand, no single church is going to be able to do this entirely. They may have excellent Christian education and mediocre music. Each person has to do his or her part in compromising for the good of the family. God will lead you to the right place, not necessarily the perfect place. 

  • Lastly, always consider service a priority. What a church can do for you should not always be the prime consideration. We've been called to serve one another and to give of our time and resources for the benefit of the Kingdom. While we do go to church to be ministered too, we also should go there with an eye towards service. If a church is not open to ministry, both within and without its' four walls, then it may not be the right place for you. Liturgy means "the work of the people." We gather to worship, to receive a mandate, and we leave to serve. Does the church provide potential and opportunity for you and your family to engage in ministry to others? 

This certainly is not an exhaustive list of important considerations when searching for a church. I hope that you will participate in this discussion through comments to add things that I have not thought of. Next, my wife and I will put together a letter to our potential new church.


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