Saturday, March 12, 2011

What am I looking for, anyway?

I've written a series of posts here about my slow-motion adventure of looking for a church. But I've had a fairly difficult time explaining, to my own satisfaction, what I'm really looking for, probably because I'm not really sure myself.

People have all kinds of carefully thought-out ideas about just what church should be and do, and why we should almost never leave a church, and why we should never not be an active church member, and just what the responsibilities of membership are to begin with, etc.

They also have carefully thought-out ideas of what a person should look for when searching for a church. They talk about creedal statements, "what we believe" statements, attitudes about church governance, the practice of church discipline, and on and on.

But I'm still not exactly clear. The thing is, most churches feature a creedal statement or a "what we believe" statement on their websites, and all of these are the standard church boilerplate. Going by these formulas is about like thinking you understand warfare because you looked at a few battle-plans on maps. Things can be very different "on the ground."

On the ground, there's an awful lot of "keeping up appearances." There's a lot of maintaining to be done if you want people to have the right impression and the church to grow. Some churches seem to be nothing more than a club in which the leaders try to get the rank and file to get involved. As long as it's with the right attitude, of course!

I've been out of the church for about a year now, I guess. Maybe more. A part of me wants to go sit in the pew in blessed anonymity, but another part of me wants a lot more than that. Not so much church activity, but praying together, bolstering one another, trying to walk out our faith together where we're at. That would be a pretty good start. How would the body of Christ in my town manifest itself if all the church buildings burned down over night? That might be the "church" I'm looking for.

I said in a recent post that the church is like a Galilean hillside. The reference, of course, is to the hill where Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 5-7). Our attention, then, is directed to Jesus. All about Jesus. The world needs a savior, not just an enhanced sense of community or slight improvement in behavior.

The "Sermon on the Mount" has recaptured my imagination lately. It's crazy how little I've ever heard Jesus' sermon exposited in church preaching (except the snippet about not worrying); exposited, that is, from start to finish as a coherent and intentionally constructed statement from Jesus about what it means that the Kingdom of God has come. As blogger Joshua Graves says (here) these are among Jesus' most difficult words. Jesus is clearly not out to simply rouse us to kindness or congratulate us on our Christian-ish ways.

He's out to re-orient our imagination, to show us the world from His perspective, and to call us into a life that is nothing more than the consequence of seeing things His way. He's not out to put on a show.
"Coming to a church near you . . . YOUR CHURCH FAMILY . . . one morning per week only! . . . featuring live bands . . . INSPIRING VIDEO PRESENTATIONS . . . Powerpoint! . . . along with engaging professional speakers!"
He's out to shake our foundations!


Glynn said...

I'm with you on this, Bob. We left a church six years ago - maybe it left us -- because it wanted to be the next Willow Creek. So many people ended up leaving that the church still hasn't recovered, if it ever will. We landed at a fairly conservative place - and things were fine, until the we started hearing the same old thing we heard before. Now, we essentially show up for worship service on Sunday - that's the extent of it. I feel more like a hit and run worshipper than a church member.

But keep the search going. There are good churches.

Bob Spencer said...

Glynn, I may just do about what the same, show up on Sunday but look for more on the other 6 days (and in the blogging, etc.). Yes, I think blogging creatively can have a place in all this, and you do that quite beautifully. Check out the second point in Joshua Graves' post (concerning the value of the imagination in understanding Kingdom principles). You, as an imaginative blogger, are helping in that conversation!

dle said...


It's never the upfront, written rules that get people. It's the unwritten assumptions that end up derailing so many.

The numbers of ways in which a first impression may not hold up over time are so numerous in churches today that you almost have to bite the bullet and decide to be a change agent, no matter where you land.

No one can predict what happens when lower level leaders leave either. In our church we have lost leaders of one leaning, only to have them replaced by leaders of the more common counter-leaning. This has resulted in fewer checks and balances. I can see a few issues arising already.

The question always comes back to this for me: Are the people loving and can they work together for a common goal? If the answer to either of those is no, then I don't see much hope for that church. Telling whether or not people are loving is often easy to do, but the second half of that equation can only be determined over the course of a lot of time. And that means making the investment sight unseen. This is what nails a lot of people in the long run.

Unknown said...

Church is where I need to be. I am part of a body of believers that gather to worship on Sunday. We sing, pray, repent, hear the word, visit, minister, say hi to some, and not to others, but that's ok.

We spend time with each other outside of Sunday morning. We laugh, drink tea, and eat girl scout cookies together. We support one another, we help paint, we make lasagne, we laugh and mourn together. We are blessed.

We are church. It takes committment, it's not always fun, and sometimes it's just plain work. And I don't want to do it but then that's where I find my balance and accountability, so I trundle back.

We love the word. We study the word, corporately and individually. We pray corporately and individually. Our focus is glorifying and honor God in all we do. We love Jesus and depend on the grace provided through him to breathe.

Church is where I need to be. Where I choose to be. Where I must be. God is among us.I have no choice but to be there.

It may look differently for others.

Anonymous said...

i have had expectations from past experiences of what i was looking for in a chruch group. yet, i do not want those expectations anymore. i see that the experiences i had were what the Spirit was doing at that time and in the place i was in.

lately, i have been reading a little about walking in thankfulness "to God" in all. and it does make sense in the ideas of why it is important.

i am beginning to think that everyone needs to hear the good news of Jesus. those that walk in belief need it just as much as those that do not.

but, i have to agree that it is wonderful to have a few people that walk together on the same path for a time.

i just don't think i can know when or where that will happen, or for how long.

i know that the believers that i communicate with on-line have been a gift to me at this time.

i thank God for that.

Steve Martin said...

I'm fortunate to be in a good church, but they are becoming more rare.

I pray that you find one in the near future.(or that He leads you to one)

There are some pretty good sermons and pastor's classes (audion mp3's) on my site.

Just to hold you over.

Bob Spencer said...

Dan said, "The numbers of ways in which a first impression may not hold up over time are so numerous in churches today that you almost have to bite the bullet and decide to be a change agent, no matter where you land." I'm pretty close to doing that.

Sturtevl, God bless you. That sounds wonderful, and surely proves what many people keep saying: there are fine churches out there. Colonies of the Kingdom.

Nance, I thank God for you. You have a sweet Spirit, and you're a color-outside-the-lines person, a type for whom typical churches are not particularly accommodating. I don't particularly believe Sunday morning church is for everyone every week, but I also know our dismissal of it can sometimes arise from the flesh. Not saying this to goad you in any way, just something I try to keep in mind and watch for. I agree with you that the Web can be a place where us wanderers can find one another and be a blessing to one another!

Finally, Steve, thanks for the prayers and for your website. Like you I do believe their are good churches out there and that in fact I have attended a couple in my own search, but they still may not have been a good fit for me. Is that a Biblical concept? A good fit? I don't know, and I'm not going to carry this search of mine own forever. One or two more to check off my list, and than we make a decision of some kind, methinks. Thanks for prayers, all of you.

Erin Hope said...

huh. we talked about "church" this morning at "church" ....

I have a friend who once told me the best definition of church I've ever heard :
"church is what happens when a group of people becomes so enamored and adoring of Jesus that nothing else matters"

I get frustrated because I so often feel like I've seen "church" be everything but that. And it hurts even saying that. Because we-corporately- are supposed to be such a beautiful reflection of Jesus' glory - pointing straight back to him.

...but I think there's still hope. If only we take our eyes off everything else and look to him.

thanks for the encouragement and pointing back at Jesus.

Steve Scott said...

Bob, I've spent quite a bit of time looking at the "body" metaphor Paul uses and the members that fit together. (1 Cor) He talks about an eye and a hand and unseemly members. I'm wondering if a good number of people aren't members "on ice." Cut out of a corpse after its death and placed on ice, waiting for that donor match. Just a thought.