Breaking through social barriers is always a challenge, especially when attempting to join new groups. With every community there are always the regular cliques, and sometimes it can feel like there is no way to be fully part of the group unless you look, act, dress, think or believe a certain way. Or sometimes groups can be seemingly too exclusive to come within ten feet of them. In my experiences, sometimes I’ve felt like just an afterthought, whether it was with friends from school or church. When you feel as though you are excluded from regular group activities, it’s easy to slip into the pit of weighing personal self-worth. In that sense, sometimes the first instinct is to ditch the group and find another that would hopefully be more accepting.
Like high school, church can be equally as cliquey. You have the jocks, the popular kids, the nerds, the artists, the goths, and so on. Similarly, a church that comprises mostly of young adults will have almost strikingly similar cliques. Sometimes the cradle-Christians and the converts can have a little more difficulty relating to each other. But I often like to think of Jesus and His disciples as a group of misfits, and the Pharisees and Sadducees as the popular crowd. Every time I think about how Jesus was arrested and crucified, I think of how high school bullies sometimes pull the dirtiest tricks to suppress anyone who may hurt their pride. When it comes to church involvement, sometimes it’s easy to feel like people are in it for themselves and are working against each other as opposed to alongside each other. And like the ‘high-ups’ in school or church committees, there’s a certain sense of pride that sometimes associates with a person of popularity or authority.
Church communities are made up of fallible human beings with the capacity to do harm to one another – just like any relationship with family, friends, work or school can turn ugly. I can say with confidence (and experience to back it up) that if you’re looking for fulfillment in the social aspect of a Christian community, you will be highly disappointed. In fact, everyone is guaranteed to be wounded by the church at some point.
I’ve explored several different churches in my early 20’s, some trendy and modernist and some more staunchly traditional. Sometimes stepping into a smaller, liturgical church is intimidating as hell. The slightest creak in the pew when you sit down, and every head in the congregation turns to look at what young, fresh body is stealing air from the building. I also remember going to some charismatic churches where the atmosphere is heavily driven by emotions and people are waving banners, dancing and bouncing around to the uplifting contemporary music. I often felt like I had to put on a face whenever I walked into those – especially when I just wanted to observe while sitting down and some random stranger comes from behind, places his hands on my shoulders and starts praying for my salvation because I wasn’t quite into the spectacle like everyone else. I would turn around to thank him, but can’t helping thinking, ‘The next person who touches me is going to have their fingers broken!’
I remember growing up and anticipating certain times of the day for my favourite programs after school or waking up at 6 a.m. for Saturday morning cartoons. When my family acquired satellite television for the first time, it seemed amazing at first but then I later felt so overwhelmed with choices that it seemed like there was nothing to watch. With such a multitude of denominations out there, each with different theologies surrounding Bible interpretation, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with choices. It can feel like switching from having 5 local television stations to having satellite or cable with hundreds of channels. You go from wanting more variety to becoming frustrated with the overabundance of choices and suddenly missing the simplicity of having only a few to decide from.
For every time I’ve done it, it never took me long to become embittered towards church-shopping. Even though they all may seem like lovely communities, I disliked the idea of leaving one denomination to try out another every time I was hurt by someone or if there was something I did not agree with. To me, choosing a style of worship to fit my preferences not only reinforced in my mind how divided Christianity really is, but also made me realize just how selfish I had become. Trying to ‘change things’ as I felt like I was doing while involved in my previous church did not work. Trying find a church that fits perfectly into my worldview is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
There comes a problem when the credo of a church shifts it’s focus from self-denial to self-fulfillment. One could argue that it seems to foster addictive tendencies. It’s like the complacency of sitting on the couch in front of the television screen, waiting to be fully satisfied but never quite feeling it – yet always subconsciously coming back for more and not knowing why. The cycle repeats itself, and before you know it weeks, months or even years go by before you suddenly question yourself, what have I done with my life?
If church is such an important part of our lives, then what makes it important? Do we go to church for self-fulfillment, or self-sacrifice?
Are we looking for a distraction from everyday life, or are we looking for reconciliation and healing?
Do we want a trendy, selfie-taking pastor to masturbate our ears with feel-good messages of self-love and leave us continually wanting, or are we willing to seek the wisdom of a weathered, experienced elder or priest who is willing to give us the hard answers to the seemingly impossible situations in life?
Are we creating God in our own image by worshiping Him in our own individualistic ways, or are we willing to seek Him enough as to crawl through the narrow gate and lose what we cling to the most to be more like Him?
Do we come for the comforts of lattes and pastries from the coffee-bar in the foyer, or do we come for the bread and wine?
Let’s face it, church-shopping sucks. But if the idea of finding the right church seems exhausting to the point of giving up, why not consider a church where performance and showiness is secondary?
Why not attend a church where it isn’t so much about a popularity contest, but about uniting a community under one Body that spans across a variety of races, ages and experiences all over the world?
Why not attend a church where musicians and all other visual distractions are off to the side, and the altar of sacrifice is the very epicenter?
Why not attend a church where Holy Scripture is the very fiber that lines the order of service; where we can come as we are and acknowledge our current broken state; where communion isn’t just a merely symbolic action, but the very reason why we keep coming back?
Why not pursue God first, and let the rest follow afterwards?
“We do not want a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.”
– G.K. Chesterton