Church shopping, in my limited experience, can be a bit like finding your favorite grocery store. After living in the 3rd world, and truly coming to terms with having NO grocery store at all, any store that sells food on polished and clean shelves, all neatly lined up, with TONS of variety, is incredible. Truly, it’s a gift. But now that I’m back in the US of A, I enjoy variety, I appreciate my options. I love Trader Joe’s. But I can’t get everything I need there. So I also go to Sprouts. And Costco, and Target or HEB. Sheesh. So the me that used to live abroad would pry slap the me living in suburbia with my endless options and still finding something to complain about. Still looking for the perfect grocery store, cause heck, who likes to frequent four grocery stores?!
That’s kinda how I feel about church shopping. There’s so many choices, here in Texas, it’s unreal. Shouldn’t we be able to just pick one and be happy? As long as they believe in Jesus, and preach the Word? Maybe…when choices are limited. But when choices abound there is a weird thing that happens. We think we can have it all. We want everything we want, and we don’t settle for less. Mainly, because we don’t have to. We can just drive down the street and find the next church that has what we want.
It was with sad hearts we left our last church, just two months ago. We called that church home for over a year. We immediately took the classes to become members, began volunteering, got involved with a committee, and co-lead a small group. We jumped right in, knowing how much we desire and crave community and didn’t want to waste time- we wanted to get to know people and make friends! We met some amazing people, and I know God wanted us to connect with those specific families and couples. And we didn’t leave over any sin issues, nothing black and white. It was more so a subtle, but significant opening of our eyes to just how differently we viewed leadership/missions/ communication/shepherding/outreach than the pastor. Something we wouldn’t have discovered until we got involved. And when it’s a small church, with one pastor and no other staff members, it became obvious that our outspoken, confrontational natures (yes, both of us are that way!!) weren’t good for the church. It wasn’t helpful for the pastor to hear, often, what we didn’t agree with, what we didn’t like, why we wanted ___ to change. It was his choice, he was the pastor after all. So we either had to get on board, or get off the ship.
And both choices were kinda crappy. To go along with many little and big decisions that bothered us, or didn’t make sense to us, were hard. To always be the one raising a little hand that questions this and that and the other isn’t healthy for a church as a whole, it’s divisive. And we didn’t want to be that. So, we asked ourselves, “what about coming alongside of…as some changes are, I’ll be it ever so slowly, trying to be made?” I mean, isn’t that what we are called to do, to stick with one another and bear through things as brothers and sisters in Christ? I very much believe so. Sigh. But I also believe that if, down in our hearts, we didn’t support the leadership and the decisions being made, then it was in fact time to move on.
Just that phrase, “church shopping” is so, icky.
Looking for a new church sucks. Everything about it. I find I’m being so skeptical, so judgmental the moment I walk through the door, I hate it. And even when I actually stop and ask the Lord to clear my heart and mind of all judgements, so I can see what He wants me to see and if this is the church and body of Christ He wants us to belong to, I still struggle.
A fog machine, really? Bright neon lights, is that necessary? The ushers are in suits, and no one is wearing shorts or flip flops? (flash back to Haiti and if you don’t dress up you can’t come to church) Yuck. Fancy coffee? Lame. No coffee? Lame. The congregation doesn’t stop to greet each other? Lame. The congregation shouts out, ‘amen’ all the time? Weird. No programs at all? Limiting. A group/program for every stage/age/issue in life? A bit much. 15 men and women all leading worship? Feels like a concert. Two people on stage leading worship and one is off key? Authentic but also distracting. A pastor wearing a scuba suit for effect? Count me out. A pastor droning on in monotone? Help me.
Different programs for the whole family? Hmmm. Not sure. I didn’t care last year. But after attending our small church Sunday mornings, and another church for MOPS, and another for parenting classes, and another for mid-week Bible studies I decided that actually was important to me to be involved in one place, at one church, building relationships in that one spot. Missions? Yes, please. We have such a heart for this, and don’t see that changing. When we started going to our old church a year ago, we knew they weren’t very into missions, and we thought that wouldn’t bother us. But we were wrong. God has really burned a hole in our hearts for missions, locally but especially abroad, and we decided we really long to be a part of church that has a heart for missions as well.
And it’s of course a bit more, um, strange to have to bring kids along in this. Thankfully they are too young to comprehend, but they are also so young that when we visit a new place each week, sometimes the looks on their sweet little faces is like, “Where are you leaving me, again?? Who are these people?!” Usually a little bribery does wonders, but it still can be hard leaving them in the care of strangers!
But we continue the hunt. I think once we can find a good spot, we’ll settle in for six months or so and make sure it’s a good fit. Cause, obviously, you can’t know or see much on just a few Sunday visits. And every single church has it’s issues, it’s silliness, it’s dirt, it’s oddities, it’s gems. So we’re just hopeful that the next church we pick, and the issues we find ourselves facing will be ones we can work through and make peace with in our hearts.