"Well, this is awkward." I whispered to Hubs.
It was my second visit and his first, to one of the local churches I discovered while searching for... something. Community, people, friends, a social life beyond my dog. ( Read about my church search here and here.)
I had visited this church the Sunday before, during their "Grand Opening" as they celebrated moving into a new (to them), beautiful building after many years of borrowing space to gather together. It was packed and pulsating with high energy and enthusiasm. The mayor was there, several local pastors were there to encourage and support the new adventure. I'd had a hard time finding a seat.
But this Sunday we were in a nearly empty sanctuary with rows and rows of empty chairs between us and the vigorous band on the platform. What had I gotten us into?
This was the second service of the day. Had the first been as empty as this? Poor pastors, I felt bad for them. I also wondered how we could leave without being too obvious. (Told you I was a hypocrite.)
I followed the unfamiliar song lyrics on the hanging monitors and found myself clapping along with the worship leader in order to encourage them that we could get through this. By the time the second song was over, the place was nearly full and we were surrounded by smiling people! Yay!
If you've been reading RCL for a while, you already know that I have been on a church search in recent weeks. We moved here 6 months ago but I was in no hurry to connect with a church...for several reasons. I am not part of the current trend of anti-churchers...but I totally understand and agree with a great deal of what I have been reading about the social shift away from organized church.
This is where I feel a bit like a hypocrite. Saying one thing and doing the opposite is hypocritical, right?
When Hubs and I finished Bible school and dreamed about a life of full-time ministry, we had a vague picture of doing "something other than TRADITIONAL CHURCH." We did not want to become part of the institutional church machine. We wanted a church "outside the four walls." I imagined a gathering of people who loved God and helped one another live out that love in creative ways that never became boring or predictable.
That all sounds like the trending anti-church people of today... but this was our desire over 25 years ago! It is not a new idea. We knew then, and still feel, that there must be another way to serve God and love people. Something that did not slowly turn into fund raisers to pay for the electric bill for the church sanctuary.
In all of my years of ministry within "the machine", the closest we came to seeing a reality of our dream was in two situations. While we were pastoring a small church, God began to do some incredible and exciting things among several of the people in our church and the neighboring congregation. A few began to come to our home every Tuesday night just to talk about and celebrate all the great things that were happening. Those nights were full of laughter, tears, prayer and deep friendship. There was no agenda other than "look what God did this week!"
Our other experience with something that felt like "true church" was the 10 years we were overseers of a ministry school we had founded. Spending several hours a day with people who just wanted to know God better, whatever it took...was a completely fulfilling and worthy way to spend our life.
Here's the thing...both of those scenarios were birthed within the walls of a church. They did not stay there, but they did begin there.
Because the people that I am called to help, the people that I believe I am equipped to help are church people. You may be meant for something completely different. The message that I am pretty sure I am supposed to carry is about how much God loves all of us just as we are. Church people have a tendency to forget that simple truth as they fall into a habit of striving to earn the love that has already been given freely to all of us. (I do know that this is a message meant for those inside AND outside the church. This blog has been my doorway outside and I cherish that thought.)
The truth is that a church is basically just a collection of people. And that means that no church will be perfect or equipped to fulfill all of our spiritual and social needs. It is NOT supposed to. One of my favorite bloggers said this simple but powerful statement in the middle of her post the other day.... "I no longer expect the church to do for me what only God can. That took a lot of pressure off." (Jen Hatmaker)
I touched on this subject way back here in a blog post titled, Praising God and Threatening My Kids... "Church is not meant for God encounters. At least not your MAIN God encounter of the week or your only source of communicating with Him. No one should see their hours in a sanctuary as the most impacting and life changing exchanges with their Creator....If we find ourselves depending on the Sunday service for our strength to get through another week, something is wrong."
I am ultimately responsible for my own relationship with God. A church of any flavor can help or hurt that...but the church is not responsible for it. That is why I have not been in a hurry or felt stress about joining a local church since our move to this state. God and I are good. We are close and I depend on Him even while grumbling to Him on a daily basis. He did not leave me when I stopped going to church every Sunday...much to my quiet surprise actually.
This new church that I have stumbled on, thanks to a flyer they sent to my mailbox, may be my new church home. It feels like home to me, in a good way. My expectations are to get to know a few people and share life together. Find some new friends, simple as that. It all comes back to people and love and figuring out how to do that together.
I volunteered to work at the near by library in order to get to know some people, but they did not need my help. I have chatted with a lady at the grocery store about how hard the avocados were...but a friendship did not blossom. I hope that God does not mind that I am going to a church simply because I want some relationships beyond my dog. I think He is okay with that.
Church Quest Resolved: HERE
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