Monday, November 26, 2007

The church hunt...continued...

Just thought I'd update you all on the church hunt. At this point, the number of churches we've visited is definitely in the double digits. Most churches we've visited only once; just about all of them have been recommended by Christian friends who live in this area. A lot of them have been quite large. Large churches are what most people have heard of, I guess, and large churches are the most likely to have contemporary worship.

Last weekend, we definitely reached a low point in our church search. The Sunday school class where we were sent had just fired their teacher, and we got to be there for his hurt response to the news. Just peachy. Of course, we had no idea what was going on, but it appeared that the class had requested a different teacher after a few months of him teaching, and he was sitting there apologizing for whatever it was that he'd done wrong. Some of the members of the class were crying. I have never understood the tendency in some churches to send a person from outside a class to be teacher of the class without asking the class what they think first. What we witnessed was one result of that decision. Bad for the class, bad for the teacher. After sitting through that awkward class session, we found out that the contemporary service at that church occurs during the hour that most Sunday School classes are taking place. Bad again. We came home, discouraged, to a cold, smoky house (see earlier fireplace disaster post).

Months have passed, and sometimes I feel like we're no closer to finding a church home and church family than we were when we moved here in July. It's discouraging. Sometimes I feel like I don't even know exactly what I'm looking for anymore. I want God to hit me over the head with a 2 x 4 and say "This is it." Maybe I'm being too picky. Maybe one of these that we've visited is it, and I'm nitpicking over something small. Maybe what I'm looking for doesn't exist in Raleigh. Maybe there's no way to find what I'm hoping for on a search engine. =)

Sometimes I feel like what it boils down to is that I'm looking for a church that has found that delicate balance between Sunday morning faith and legalism. I'm looking for a place where it is apparent that the church members are enthusiastic and excited about serving God every day of the week, not just on Sunday. I want to be in a place where the other Christians are eagerly looking for God's answers for how to draw their families and their own hearts close to His. I want to be in place where believers are questioning the effects of our culture on their faith. I'd like to go to church with people who have made the decision to homeschool their kids, because that's what I'd like to do with Seth one day, and it would be nice not to be alone in that.

One problem... what I've just described is great, but enthusiastic Christians who meet these criteria often run into the problem of heading toward legalism without even realizing it. Eagerness to figure out how to live a life that is pleasing to God can often lead to artificial rules and standards that the group feels most in it should follow in order to look most Christlike. Questioning the culture can lead to looking down on others who aren't pulling back from it as much as you think they should. Homeschooling can lead to questions about whether Christians you know who aren't homeschooling are sinning because they aren't doing what you're doing. Disputable matters can become far too important in the quest to become more like Christ. In the quest to become more Christlike, people can create points of doctrine to argue over where there should be none.

On the other hand, a church where Christians are not as eager to find God's leading in their daily lives can have a host of other problems just as bad. Christians live in premarital sexual relationships, and no one tries to gently lead them to truth. No one thinks about the content of the media that they put into their minds and hearts. They just watch what everyone else is watching. The Christians in the church look no different than the non-believers around them. There is no struggle against sin; there is easy acquiescence.

What I'm crying out for is a middle ground! I want to find a place where people care greatly about finding God's will for their lives. I want to find a place where others are crying out for God's leadership in their day to day worlds. But I want it to also be a place where that leadership doesn't have to look the same for everyone. Even though I want to homeschool, I want to go to a church where everyone doesn't, and that's ok. Even though I want to cut most TV out of my life, I want to go to a church where everyone doesn't feel pressured to follow me in that. I want to go to a place where people laugh and joke and smile and don't take themselves too seriously in their quest to serve God. I want to be in a place where I sense that disputable matters stay just that, disputable, and where the pastors have not attempted to figure out the one best procedure for most things. I want to be in a place where the feeble attempts of weak Christians to serve their brothers and sisters are applauded and encouraged, even to the point of leadership changing plans to accommodate this important spiritual growth.

I want to find a place where I can relax, be my best, most godly self, and where I don't have to live in dread that either a) blatant sin by either me or anyone else will be smilingly ignored or b) that minute issues will be inflated out of proportion in the never ending quest for the most doctrinally sound, Biblically based solution for something or other. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like I might as well ask for the moon....

5 comments:

Andrea C. said...

Hi Ellen,
Todd & I are right there with you & David in this. Sometimes it seems the church you're looking for would be the one without the website, but how would you find it, unless by word of mouth? But then...if you don't have like-minded friends or family nearby, how are you to hear of the type of church you're on the hunt for?

Not sure if this would help you out or not, but we've found this link through Vision Forum to be somewhat helpful. http://www.visionforumministries.org/projects/ncfic. They list family-oriented churches, their beliefs, size, etc. and homeschooling is a biggie with Vision Forum. This may branch more towards the legalistic side you were talking about, but maybe you'll find a gem within the search results. (um, but if you do try out one of these, and maybe this isn't an issue with you, but make sure you're wearing some sort of skirt or dress...I felt like a modern feminist walking in with my wool pants...I liked the church a lot, but left feeling ridiculous because of what I wore. It would have flown in any other modern day church...but the modern day church isn't what I'm looking for...anyway.)

I thought it interesting that you did bring up the balance of faith & legalism, for that's exactly the verbage I used with Todd the other day. Too many churches seem to lighten up the message to reach the unsaved, yet we ought to be showing them how to live as Christians, not come down to the level of unbelievers. I could go on and on...

We'll be in prayer for your family as you search for the right church fit.

Ellen said...

Hey, Andrea. I'm afraid that Vision Forum and anyone affiliated with them would consider me a rabid feminist. =) I actually believe in higher education for women, and that they should be able to live away from their parents and hold jobs when they're single. That makes me a dangerous radical, you see. That and the fact that I would really enjoy the opportunity to wear jeans to church, since I did it pretty much my entire life. =) I would be extremely careful before I got involved with anyone affiliated with Vision Forum. Just a word of caution...

gerlthouse said...

Hey Ellen-
Man, do I feel you on this. We are craving a home-away-from-home church. We have visited and then think we have it narrowed down and then we don't. It's very discouraging.
I believe that Kelli said that you and David went to a little Reformed church in DC. Have you tried checking the ARBCA website (Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America)? Our church is an ARBCA church and we love it. Another good resource is www.farese.com. When you go to his website you'll see the menu on the left. Click on RB Churches and it brings up a directory. I'd check for you but I'm not sure where you're located.
I'll add you and David to my prayer list as you are without a home church.
And oh, gracious! Seth is adorable!

Shannon said...

Oh Ellen, how I identify with your quest and the frustration (and sometimes hopelessness)that can ensue! We settled for 2 1/2 years...and we were lonely, tired, frustrated (bordering on bitterness), and empty. We felt like God dumped us in Wichita Falls as if to say, "Here's your valley. No more being spoiled by a church you actually 'belong' in." Of course, God's heart is not for us to be alone, but we felt so abandoned. In the most unlikely of places we heard of the church we now belong to, and we knew upon our first visit that it was where the Lord was calling us. Honestly, I don't think we would've been ready for it at the beginning of our 2 1/2 year dry spell. God grew us in ways we would never have known we were lacking through our loneliness and desparation. Our church borders a bit on the legalistic side, is packed with homeschoolers, (although we're not the only public schoolers either), and many of the women ONLY wear skirts (all the time!); it's very traditional...but oh, how they love the Lord! They recognize their tendencies to make rules for Godly living, but they prayerfully and carefully deal with them if/as they become issues capable of breeding disunity. They have a heart for the lost and are passionate in seeking after God's own heart. We still have minor frustrations from time to time, but no church is perfect. We've truly found our family here. I know you'll find the same in God's time...maybe there's something He's longing to show you in the journey. I know that doesn't make it any easier to go through (as I'm typing this, I'm having deja vu...someone probably told me these things way back when!) I'm praying for you and David; don't lose heart!

Bethany said...

Basically you should move back to Northern Virginia and come to Sovereign Grace again!!! I miss seeing you around! -Sorry, I know that's not very helpful, I'll have to think of something more encouraging to say! =)