I haven’t been a member of a church for 9 months.
I mean, my membership is doing that United Methodist thing where it stays firmly planted in the last place you put it until you remember to come back and get it. But I haven’t been committed to a local body in quite some time – especially for someone who has spent the better part of his adult life in ministry. In that time we’ve dabbled – dropping in just for worship and not minding terribly about making most of Sunday about our family. Our boys’ have borne the brunt of having two parents in full-time ministry for the last few years, and, to tell the truth, we were pretty burned out on church culture by the time we wrapped up 2014. Sabbath gave way to sabbatical.
So in recent weeks we’re finally feeling able to breathe again, and with that fresh air comes a rediscovered desire to be a part somewhere instead of the being apart we’ve lived since January.
Problem: we don’t remember how to look for a church.
Back in the spring I received a review copy of Erin S. Lane’s Lessons in Belonging, which – grossly over-summed – is about getting over yourself and committing somewhere already. But we weren’t there yet. Over the summer we got better at making sure that we were at least somewhere on Sunday. We didn’t have any idea, really, what we were looking for. We know better than to look for a perfect church; it doesn’t exist. So what do you look for? A couple of Sundays in a row of songs you like? Geographical convenience? A bang-up Wednesday night supper?
I’m almost more aware of what I don’t need than what I do. I don’t need to be greeted like I’m entering a Best Buy. I don’t need a worship service scripted like a television show. This may sound odd, but I don’t really want to enjoy the service. I want to feel fulfilled by the grace of participating in worship, but never entertained. I don’t need a church that expends most of its energy on worship services, honestly. Genuine worship is pretty simple, and free besides. If you’re working that hard at it, it’s possible you’ve made it something it isn’t. It’s what you should do as a breather from kingdom work.
The truth is, you’re looking for a church whose desires align with yours – everything else will be beautiful imperfection. Those desires can be tough to discern in a few visits, regardless of how well you’re greeted, shown down the hall, and/or the freshness of your visitor cupcake. I can’t tell if you’re willing to cut the happy Sunday BS and actually wrestle with life in a small group. There’s no way to know how you’ll help me shape my kids’ ravenous appetite for more and better understanding of everything, including things spiritual. I don’t know what makes your church meaningful. How is this community bettered by your existence?
I think part of our hesitance has been knowing that, until recently, we haven’t had a whole lot to offer a local body. A big part of how we will participate plays out in our decision-making process. As we’re considering churches, we keep asking, “What could we do here?” Not to make it about us, but we know we’re called to make ourselves an offering wherever we end up.
That’s our journey at the moment.