Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Perfect Church


I was originally going to make this a comment on a thread over at Five Cent Stand, but as you can see, it's way too long to be a comment. I'm bad about hogging up comment space on other blogs, so this is a good excuse for a new entry in my own.

I suppose that this is as good a time and place as any to admit that I have never really done much church-shopping (or church-hopping) in my life, or been picky about where I attend. I don't believe that I'm somehow "special" because of this. In fact, I'm not even saying that this is a good thing or a bad thing at all. It's just that church-shopping is not something that I've ever really done.

I'm not a member of an organized denomination (including "non-denominational"), and I have absolutely no problem with anyone who is. I'm honestly quite indifferent, as long as they agree on "the fundamentals of the faith", and I realize that to some people, even certain fundamentals are optional (I'd probably disagree). But I digress.

If I wander into a church, find the people reasonably likeable, the doctrine reasonably biblical and balanced, and the parking lot reasonably easy to enter/exit on Sunday morning (details below), then by-golly, I've found a church home.

I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as I've been with this. It has just always worked out so that within the first or second try, I've managed to find a church that's close enough for my purposes.

Groucho Marx once said, "I would never join a club that would have me as a member." Almost as long as I've been a Christian, I have believed that if I ever find the perfect church and decide to join it, then it is no longer perfect.

I get much more spiritual growth from my home group, from one-on-one personal relationships, from allowing a group of fellow believers to challenge me and to speak truth into my life (even when it's harsh and unpleasant truth), and from personal Bible study and prayer time than I do from where I sing on Sunday mornings.

Don't get me wrong -- I have a very good church, and like the teaching and preaching, and have made fabulous friends there. But as it relates to my life and the spiritual well-being of my family, the big church is mostly just a building and a place to assemble. I do give my tithes and offerings there, and am pleased that they actively support missionaries and local charities and outreaches. It would bother me if they didn't do that.

When our church asks for volunteers to serve, my wife and I have always made ourselves available for the work they do there.

But it's not a big part of my personal identity. I don't really have a label for myself besides "Christian" or "Christ-follower". It's not that I think there's anything wrong with having a label, because there's not. I just don't have one for myself.

Oh, and about the parking lot thing above -- when we moved to our present location (about 25 miles south of Nashville) last November, we were eager to find a church home right away (because that's important to us), and the first place we tried was recommended by someone who had not actually been there, but who had heard that it was good.

So we found it on Mapquest, looked up service times on their web site, and headed out the next Sunday morning to try it out. It took us over 35 minutes to get into the over-crowded parking lot from the congested street outside, even with cops directing traffic. It took us over 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot when the service was over.

The service itself was... okay. Nothing great, nothing terrible. There were a lot of BMWs and Mercedes and SUVs in the parking lot. It's not that we are prejudiced against rich people, but we felt very out of place there.

My wife said "We are not going back there again. Ever." And I didn't really have any objection to her statement, so we didn't.

The next week, we attended a different church not too far away, and have been going there ever since. As I said, we like it just fine. We wouldn't want to church-shop in Nashville anyway, because there are way too many churches to choose from.

12 comments:

  1. You posted! Yea.

    It's great that you've always been able to find a church so easily.

    The commute to our church was 2.5 hours, so we just moved.

    Seriously, we lived in Houston for a few years after college, but when we came back to Waco for a friend's wedding we went to our old church and realized how much we missed it. Since my husband works from home, we just moved back and have just LOVED being back at our awesome church.

    We are so challenged every week and the past few years have been a tremendous time of growth for both my husband and me.

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  2. Kat - Are you saying that the church you attend was important enough to you that you literally moved because of that? Or was that just one factor among several that made you favor Waco over Houston?

    I'm just curious. I've found the whole idea of moving to a new place very interesting, because in our home group (small group), everybody except for one woman have moved to this area within the last year. It's uncanny, and every one of us has a "felt like God wanted us to move" story, and it's very interesting and exciting how much He has been working on hearts and in lives here.

    I don't believe it's always the specific place that matters (though if the Lord puts someplace specific in our hearts we'd better listen!), since God is Spirit and will be anywhere that people seek Him. But I think it's something about being willing to uproot and drop everything, and start again in a new place that has the effect of loosening us from certain ruts we get into, and acknowledging Him in a new and powerful way as the true Provider for our needs.

    I also realized as I wrote this that many people are very closely tied to the identity of whatever church or denomination they have been part of. Seth was expressing disillusionment with the Southern Baptists, and has said he is open to a lot of different denominational affiliations, but you and I both know (and have met) people whose entire identity as a Christian is deeply tied to their denomination ("born a Baptist, always been a Baptist, and plan to die a Baptist"). And I'm not picking on Baptists, since I've always had close friends who were Baptists, and have always felt that as a denomination, they are pretty solid and pretty good on most of the fundamentals of the faith.

    But let's face it, if you're in the south, that would be the dominant denomination. In fact, I believe that the church we attend is somehow affiliated with the Southern Baptists, even though "Baptist" is not in the title.

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  3. it is interesting you should talk about home groups really growing you. i think that since churches have gotten so big, the small groups are truly what is taking over. the pastor is becoming more and more just a distance figure. that's kind-of sad though, because lots of people can slip through the cracks that way.
    kat, i know what you mean about getting attached to one church. i have always had church jobs and now i finally got to pick my own church, and i love it! i am completely attached. but, yes, when i joined, it did become less perfect!

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  4. It was very hard for me to break from my denominational ties. I grew up as a Pastor's kid in a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. We had lots of friends who were CMA that lived all over and we only saw once a year at General Council. I did Bible Quizzing with the CMA. I went to a college affiliated with the CMA. I went through the accredidation process to become a missionary with them and am still considered a missionary candidate with them.
    Because it's a smaller denomination and because I was a PK, it was so much a family to me. But my heart has grown increasingly certain that being Alliance is not who I am. I still think they do a lot of great things and I will be happy to work with them overseas (though probably not as their missionary)
    I recently left a large church that I could not connect in for a small cell church plant. I am really happy with this decision and it's the first time I ever left a church without moving.

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  5. Operamom - Yes, the home groups have been great for my wife and I for about the last three or four years (we were in one in California before we moved to Nashville, and still stay in touch with the friends we made there).

    I think it's important to point out that there's nothing special or magical about "home groups" per se. I fear some pastor guy somewhere deciding to write a book about how revolutionary they are, and then it becomes the next big "trend" in the church, like it's some sort of formula.

    The reason they've worked for us is because they've allowed us to fellowship intimately with other believers, and to allow honest dialogue about our weaknesses, fears, sins, needs, etc. It has led to discipleship, to allowing people we trust to speak into our lives, and to encourage one another in love.

    We have gotten past the front that Christians are so good at putting on, that everything is all right and we are living neat, clean lives. We all admit and acknowledge that we're all weak in areas, and fearful, and often fail. When we can admit that and offer healing to one another rather than condemnation, then it makes all the difference in our walk with the Lord.

    Think about the old model for church -- one guy, the Pastor, who does all the Sunday morning preaching, does all the counseling, weddings, funerals, etc. And when churches got too big, we just expanded that model, so we have youth pastors, music ministers, and on and on into more and more specialized things. Still part of the same model though, where one group is the "ministry", and everyone else is "laity".

    I think the idea that's starting to catch on, regardless of what it looks like, is that we are all the Body of Christ, called to serve Him in whatever place He has put us.

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  6. Amy - I'm not really familiar with CMA, but it's good to hear that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to seek what the Lord has for you.

    There's something "safe" about simply remaining where we are, without wondering if it's really God's best for us, or whether it's just a matter of convenience.

    But I sense, and have seen in so many people's lives, that the Lord is calling His church to be willing to step out of our comfort zone, and be willing to do whatever He has in store for us.

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  7. yes, my dad is still that one man show at a small church.
    what you said about getting past that "perfect persona" that we all try to portray is so true. I wish my husband and i could find a group of friends like that. it takes time, and it takes the right blend of personalities. we really need to pray about it, and ask for God's help. but then again, i know that he will provide in his time.

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  8. C-hammer,
    Sorry I haven't checked back until now. Yes, we moved because of our church. There were other factors, but the group of believers here was the main reason we moved. There is just such passion and action here at our church and that combined with the deep friendships that we still had from college prompted us to move back.

    It was good timing, because I was pregnant with our first baby so it was a natural transition time for us.

    It's not a perfect church and it's not for everyone, but I love it. I love that every week, literally, our church sends out members all over the world to share the gospel. I love that the worship is so real. I love that I'm always challenged in one way or another by the people that I'm surrounded by. I love that the preaching and the serving go hand in hand and that we are as involved in the neighborhood around our church as we are in the countries around the world.

    Here's the church web site:

    http://antiochcc.ccbchurch.com/app/

    There sermons are posted there each week. Listen if you like, it will give you a feel for the church. Jimmy Siebert is the main pastor so his sermons might be a good place to start.

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  9. Cool post. We take the same approach.

    I grew up in MANY churches -- the son of a discontent pastor. Our approach now is to find a church that a) isn't heretical, and b) doesn't physically attack us. We have low expectations.

    We couldn't care less how good a preacher the preacher is, and don't really care about the musicianship of the musicians. We figure we're there to help, that's all. It's worked out great so far.

    Best,
    Brant

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  10. Growing up, I went to one church until I moved to Argentina for Bible school, and then went to another church in the same town when I got back. So when I moved to Nashville three months ago, I was planning on visiting a couple churches and then finding one to stay at before too long. There was one church I had heard about that I decided to visit the first Sunday, and I've been going there since. There were a number of things I really liked about it the first time I went, and I decided that at that point if I kept looking around at different churches it would be easy for me to develop a consumeristic attitude.

    Incidentally, one of the reasons I didn't go to The People's Church is because, when I first went to their website, at the top of the page it said "We are a Purpose Driven, Willow Creek Community, Southern Baptist Church". And I'm not a fan of any of those three camps.

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  11. Kat-

    No way! I go to Antioch too! Good to meet you.

    That's really cool, Chaotic Hammer, that you don't church shop, etc. I feel that church can be hard sometimes. You have to live with people who sometimes, you don't like. But it was the last prayer of Jesus that we would be one as He and the Father are One.

    thanks for the post

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  12. Well my friend, I believe it is about time for your next blog to take place. Do one on your cats or something!!! Maybe on antidisestablishmentanarianism. Come on. I'll give you a nickel.

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