Q: Would you drive 45+ minutes to attend an ideal church service each week or would you become a part of a church community with whom you differed on some points of doctrine and practice right in your own backyard?
Though we’ve all been told that consumer Christianity is a bad thing, the truth is that since the Reformation, Protestant believers have often sought out the fellowship of like-minded compadres. We also know that that the thousands of different flavors of fellowship can be micro-variants of one another- kind of like choosing between vanilla bean, French vanilla, vanilla-flavor and Madagascar vanilla ice cream. I can point to streets in my county where there are at least 4 different evangelical congregations within a mile or two of one another. All affirm the same core beliefs, assent to most of the same doctrine, and probably sing at least one Chris Tomlin song each Sunday morning but yet, there they are: a veritable Baskin-Robbins of worship. In a culture like ours where we have the luxury of choice in our church affiliations, it isn’t usually the nuances of theological difference between the congregations that helps us decide we belong with a particular group. It is more often the sense of community, of belonging.
And if our choices get stripped from us, say, in a wave of persecution or a serious economic collapse, I am convinced that those who are part of a healthy spiritual community will flourish. In fact, it is this reality that has put Bill and I back on the road to find a church home, bone-weary of the journey as we are.
For two and a half years, Bill and I made the schlep to an Anglican congregation that was at least 45 minutes from our home. Our Sunday morning drive was equivalent to the amount of time we actually spent at church. We appreciated the church’s sacramental approach to worship, and the fact that the church was just a little bit different than the evangelical/Charismatic (and throw in a couple of fundamentalist groups for good measure) congregations of which we’d always been a part. The fifty-mile round-trip drive each week was our way of exercising the lovely luxury of choice.
That luxury had a serious downside; one I don’t think we fully realized when we first began attending the church. The huge negative is that the distance made it extremely difficult to form meaningful relationships. (We did try hosting a small group for a while, but everyone who attended lived at least a half an hour’s drive away from our home.)
Struggling through the decision to try to find a church closer to home was a tough one – we had months of anguished conversation about it in our home. Bill enjoyed being a part of the congregation’s leadership advisory team and still misses the worship. Though I appreciated the liturgy as a way to connect with God, it didn’t spill over into meaningful human connection for us. And our commitment to the far-away church prevented us from forming those connections with those in our own backyard.
It sucks to be on yet another quest to find a church. I’m sick of vanilla ice cream, to be honest.
There have been times in our lives we’ve been launched on this journey because of rotten doctrine or leadership sin (pastoral embezzlement, porn addiction, or flaming nepotism). Or at least that’s what I thought the reason was. I’m pretty convinced that a sense of committed spiritual community can carry a group of friends through a lousy season of leadership or even a flirtation with heresy.
My question at the beginning of this post might be a bit of a false dichotomy. “An ideal church service” is an hour or so each week. What we’re searching for are people who want to be the church – together in mission, aching for the Bridegroom – all 168 hours each week.
How about you? What has launched you in your search for a new church community?