Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. -Proverbs 19:21
We went to another new church this Sunday. And may I just say, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of walking in the door, trying extra hard to look pleasant. I'm tired of making small talk with the greeter, and I'm tired of asking to be directed to the appropriate Sunday School class. I'm tired of wondering what kind of nursery setup Seth will be handling this time around. I'm tired of endless evaluating... "Hmm, was this sermon good? What did you think of the preacher? Did you see many other couples our age? How many babies were in the nursery?" Blech.
In some ways, I feel like we're trying too hard. Maybe I'm making this more complicated than it should be. But... I feel like the penalties for getting this decision wrong are so great that I am tempted to be super critical. We believe that this is one of the most important decisions that a Christian can make. You see, for me and for David, the local body of believers is where true family is, no matter where we move. It is the place where we go to grow in relationships with the Body of Christ. It's where we hope to find others to fellowship with and to serve with. It's where we want Seth to see faith lived out in the lives of other Christians besides just us. So, this is a high stakes game... It's important.
But because it's so important, it's easy for me to get really stressed about it. I want to land somewhere and get plugged in so badly. I want to start getting to know others in Sunday School class. We could start having them over to dinner. Then we could start helping with kid's classes and participating in outreach ministries... there's so much I want to do. But I can't do it until we pick.
I know that I am a victim/slave to my past church experiences. I grew up in a small, home church that came out of the Jesus movement in the '70s. It was doctrinally sound and basically Protestant in theology. But it had no paid ministry positions, and it was entirely deacon and elder led. The idea was that once we outgrew one house, we would then split off into another house. This happened when I was a kid, and about 30 people met in each house, coming together for a weekly Bible study of both houses. The goal was to never buy a building of any kind. The service was also simple and completely driven by the Holy Spirit. Each member spoke as they felt led, taking turns reading Scripture and expounding briefly on it, and each member started songs as they felt led. Sometimes there would be pauses of silence in between, but nobody minded that much. Children were encouraged to read scripture and contribute. If anything unBiblical was said, which was extremely rare, an elder would gently correct, and everyone would move on. The whole idea was to have a church that was as close to the New Testament pattern of church as possible. This had it's drawbacks, but it also has it's unique plusses as well.
Here is what I gained from growing up in this church. I have a strong desire to know what other Christians are learning from their time in God's word, and I want to know their struggles so that I can pray for them. I got this every Sunday from those around me as I grew up, and it showed me that every believer has something to teach others, including me, just a kid. The down side is that I get impatient in traditional services because I wasn't used to spending my Sunday mornings listening to the same man speak each week. I look around me, and I want to hear from everyone there. I liked that I grew up believing that every single believer has the responsibility to feed every other believer, and thought most believers belive that, I saw it practiced in a unique way every week. I knew more about the lives of other believers in my church growing up, the tough stuff and the good stuff, than I ever have since in any other church that I've been in, and I think that was because of our Sunday morning style of worship. It only works if your church is small, by the way, and I know that. Oh yeah, and I grew up going to church in jeans, so I rebel against dressing up to go to church. This particular hangup is the bane of the existence of my traditionally raised church going husband. =)
As you can see, most traditional Protestant churches don't operate at all like the church I grew up in. And I'm learning to accept that, but it's really hard for me sometimes. After all, my home church wasn't perfect, and I know that. But Sunday school has become very important to me because it is the one place in the traditional church Sunday morning where everyone can speak and at least have a chance at sharing what God is teaching them. I've learned that a church that just has small groups, and does not have Sunday School, is a hard place for me to go. I just miss Sunday school, and I don't want to do without it on Sunday morning. I'd like to have small group, too, but I don't think it takes the place of Sunday school.
But as I'm reading back on what I've written, I'm realizing this illustrates a big point that I'd like to make here. I can list all the things that I like and don't like, want and don't want, think are important and unimportant, all day long. There's a long list, and it's length frustrates me. Because I am learning, over and over, that what matters most is not what I think matters about church. What matters most is what God thinks matters about church. I may have a list a mile long of qualities that my "perfect church" should have. And I may turn around to find out that God doesn't want me in my "perfect church." If it's all about Him, and it's not about me, then He may just want to plant me somewhere that doesn't meet even half of my arbitrary criteria for church membership.
David was talking with someone lately, and they got to discussing church membership. He shared some about our hunt, and this man spoke about his issues with the same thing. What it came down to for this guy, was that he has a very specific idea of what church should look like, down to the specific type of songs and the elements of the worship service. I can sympathize some. But what he decided was that, since he hadn't found a church that met his criteria, he wasn't going to get involved in a local church at all. He thought it would be too hard for him not to try to change things so that it would look like what he wanted, so he decided not to participate. When David told me about this conversation, it was a huge wake up slap in the face for me.
I don't want to decide not to join a church because it doesn't look like what I've envisioned. I don't want to be a person who's never satisfied with their church home because it continually falls short. I don't want to become a person who can't commit because they're hoping there will be something better down the street if they just hold out long enough. I don't think there's any church out there that looks exactly like I'd like it to look. But that's probably good, because I'm probably wrong about what it should look like anyway. I need to go to God's perfect church for me. Please pray that we'd find it, and that we'll be completely open to God telling us where to go. And please pray that I stop worrying about it and rest in the fact that God will show us what to do, since we're really wanting for Him to show us.
P.S. Please be kind. I know that some of the things that I've said here are controversial. I know that many may not agree with me. That's ok. My goal is to use my background to explain my current situation, not to start a huge argument about how weird I am/was. Regardless of your style of church, they all have some good things to offer, and I don't think that any church or style has a corner on the market. =)