Friday, March 4, 2011

Personal Ads: Goldilocks seeking church.

If you're a churchgoer, unless you've gone to the same church your whole life, you've been in this boat.  Maybe you've moved, or just had a falling-out with your old church, but for whatever reason, you're looking for a new church home.  So you visit different places every Sunday, trying on churches like you would a prom dress, looking for that "perfect fit".  A lucky few find that right place right away, maybe in the first month of searching.

A few less lucky (or just pickier) people do like me, and half a decade passes before you join anywhere for good.

For the most part, I'm very glad for how things worked out.  I love my church and feel lucky to have found it.  But I don't think I should have spent 5 years barely going anywhere because nowhere was "juuust right".

Here's some of the reasons, good, and not so good, why myself and others cross prospective churches off our lists:

Music is too old./Music is too modern.  If you haven't grown up in the church, you'd be shocked at what division can be caused by disagreements on Praise & Worship style.  Maybe the music's performed by a robe-wearing choir who only sings straight from the hymnal, even subjecting church members to all 40 verses of "Just As I Am" every week.  Or there's a band and someone running a projector providing contemporary songs you've never heard.  (And the song's have so little scriptural basis that you're not sure they didn't just rip music off from the secular easy listening station.)  Or the music pastor has got it stuck in his head that he needs to "appeal to the kids", but he's stuck in the 90s, so you are subjected to awful Christian rap/rock.  :shudder:

My "juuust right" moment.  At Christmas, when our band played a mash-up of a contemporary song and "O Come All Ye Faithful".  (I'd never heard it, but the lyrics were right there on the projector.)

Church is too big./Church is too small.  I visited a few times at a megachurch that was just about perfect, except that it was a megachurch.  Don't get me wrong; the in-church Starbucks was really cool.  Not being able to learn anybody's name wasn't.  On the flip side, for a while my family attended a church that never had more than 50 people.  And they were maybe a little too close.  The breaking point came when they got offended that we weren't coming to the Christmas Day gathering (because we were spending Christmas, you know, with our family).

My "juuust right" moment.  My pastor knows me personally, but doesn't get his feelings hurt when my family can't make it to every social event.

Church is too strict./Church is too lenient.  While I think a lot of the people had good intentions, the church I grew up in did a number on me psychologically as a kid.  They preached that you could lose your salvation, and that if you died with unconfessed sin (or "backslid"), you would go to Hell.  Not the best thing to tell an obsessive-compulsive preteen.  I entered into a neurotic cycle of constantly confessing every sin, sure I would die unexpectedly and be cast into eternal damnation.

And everything at this church was a sin.  My youth pastor once told us that girls with more than two ear piercings looked like sluts.  (He also totally believed and taught us that old urban legend about "Hotel California" referring to the Satanic Church, so...yeah, kind of an idiot.)  We had a service where everyone was encouraged to bring their secular cds to throw into an old coffin, which was then buried in the ground.  This youth group wasn't quite a cult, but not for lack of trying.

I've also visited the Joel Osteen-type churches where every sermon is about how God wants you to have everything you want.  You know, the churches that have reading groups about the "Prayer of Jabez" and "Financial Freedom" seminars.  (I read my Bible pretty consistently, and I've never found the commandment where Jesus tells us to be financially rich.)

My "juuust right" moment.  My church is attended by the tattooed (like me), pierced, homeless, and former convicts.  No one is shunned due to appearance or life circumstances.  But my pastor still preaches the tough sermons, like about tithing and being committed to people (whether you think they deserve it or not).  And the pastors will grab a beer with you, which I find amazingly cool, having once gone to Sunday lunch with a pastor who yelled at a waitress because there was a bottle of wine on the table when we were sat.

Church is too traditional./Church isn't traditional enough.  A lot of the churches I attended as a kid, especially Pentecostal and Baptist churches, eschewed any traditions that seemed too Catholic (since Catholics weren't real Christians, but Mary-worshippers).  This meant that we only took Communion at Easter, and it was always Welch's grape juice and oyster crackers.  We only lit candles at Christmas.  And you never said the Lord's Prayer, whether it was in the Bible or not.  They considered "tradition" a bad word, something to be feared, and something that only "dead" churches clung to.

On the other hand, I visited a very traditional Methodist church that to this day I'm not sure wasn't just a country club in a really pretty chapel.  I made a fool of myself when I was the only person to clap after the children's choir sang.  (Clapping is low-class, I guess.)  I know there was a sermon, but it honestly could have been in Latin for all I got out of it.  (Of course, no one else was paying attention.  They were all too busy looking down their noses and judging the fanciness of each other's Sunday hats.  I guess.  I have no idea what rich people think.)

My "juuust right" moment.  My church does communion every week.  We're even having an Ash Wednesday service, which is really exciting for me, because I've never been to one and have no idea what's going to happen.  And we baptize people, full-submersion, right after they get saved, 'cause that's what they did in the Bible.  Since we meet in a movie theater, people get baptized in a tub out back, even in winter.  I think those people are extra-forgiven.

You know how it was a running joke on "Seinfeld" that Jerry constantly dumped women for dumb reasons?  I probably have just as many reasons, good and bad, why I've left churches.
  • There was one church that had P&W throughout the sermon, so you were sitting down for just a few minutes before you had to stand up to sing another song.  (My family still refers to it as the "Exercise Church".)
  • My childhood church taught that, if you didn't speak in tongues, you didn't have the Holy Spirit.  (That is totally unbiblical.  Paul talks at length in I and II Corinthians about different spiritual gifts being equal, and the merits and drawbacks of speaking in tongues.)
  • One church I stopped visiting because, every time I saw the lead pastor outside of church, he was a total douche.
  • The pastor of a church I helped start bailed on his daughter and pregnant wife to run off with the money and the worship leader (who was also married with kids).
But it's all worked out well now, as I've found a church I'm very happy to be a member of.  I just wish I hadn't spent so much time not in church because of the places that made me bitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment