Gifts Of A Pilgrim’s Road Trip Church Journey

For several years, I served as the Communications Director for a ministry that networked Evangelical and a few Mainline congregations for purposes of service/outreach, learning, fellowship, and prayer. Someone once asked me what it was like to interact with people of so many different doctrinal convictions and practices. I told the person I felt as though my life had uniquely prepared me for the job because my husband and I (and our kids, when they were still living at home) had been a part of many different kinds of congregations over the years.

I used to feel a little defensive about this*, but have come to realize that this journey has brought some incredible gifts into my life. It has given me a fuller understanding of the diversity that exists within the Body of Christ. It has pushed me to think in terms of kingdom, not congregation or denomination. I’ve worshipped and learned and made new friends in a variety of places. I’ve learned to decipher the dizzying array of local church “dialects”. My faith has been sharpened and stretched. And these experiences have tuned my ears to hear the longing Jesus has for all of us who call on his name in his final prayer following his final Passover meal with his disciples.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this particular journey, I’ve come to honor what God has taught me through it. Perhaps it is a mark of the second adulthood midlife maturation process that I’ve come to a place of acceptance about most of our wanderings. These are the gifts the wandering-with-a-purpose has given me:

– The Evangelical Free denomination helped me discover that I needed to be an open-hearted learner about what the Bible says.

– The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) showed me how a local congregation could feel like a family.

– The Plymouth Brethren helped me see how a congregation could be led cooperatively by a group of elders instead of a single pastor.

– The Messianic movement connected my faith to my Jewish identity and experience.

– The second-wave Charismatic and Pentecostal churches taught me that cessationism was not for today.

– The IFCA Bible churches showed me fear is a terrible thing to waste.

– The third-wave Charismatic movement helped me think about the value of learning to listen for and respond to God’s voice.

– Home churching encouraged full participation from every person in the room.

– The Anglicans and Lutherans showed me the beauty of sacramental liturgy.

– The Big Box megachurches demonstrated intentionality in platform programming and activism in responding to community needs.

– The independent non-denominational churches taught me that theology gets worked out in practice in the trenches of congregational life.

What gifts has your former church left behind in your life?  


*I used to feel somewhat defensive, until a fellow blogger pointed out that few people complained when pastors “church hopped”, obstensibly to find a new position. Pastors usually do so for the exactly the same kinds of reasons that us non-leader types do.  


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  • Tim

    We stopped attending a church we’d been with for dozens of years, Michelle. As we visited a number of churches I came to realize that no matter where we were on a Sunday morning we should feel as if we are home, because every congregation is a gathering of God’s family and there is no reason to feel like a stranger when walking in the door. In fact, there’s no reason to even feel like a guest.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      “…there’s no reason to feel like a guest.” Amen, Tim.

      P.S. – Happy First Blog-o-versary. 🙂

      • Tim

        Thanks, Michelle!

  • DanVL

    I wonder if “church hopping” is really an undesirable practice. As I think about it, maybe it should be a highly recommended practice for the very reason you describe. It might be far better than growing comfortable, old, and stale as we mark time with one congregation, one denominational culture, and one theological bent over a period of decades. I think I can see far more benefits, personal and corporate, for broadening our church experience every couple of years. I don’t think it means one must leave all friendships behind. It does mean our circle of friends and relations should naturally increase, and that can only be good. It can give us the chance to be the church in a broader sense. It can be a unifying practice. It can be a way to hone ones theology and test the things we believe intellectually. I could go on and on with benefits.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Most church leaders aren’t fans of the practice for lots of obvious reasons. I do envy those who have stayed rooted in one congregation for many years, as they tend to have deep friendships with a few with whom they’ve fellowshipped over time.

      We are blessed with some deep friendships, but they’re not all gathered in one convenient location. And boy howdy, we do know a lot of people in a lot of different kinds of places.