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.