Before moving back to Pennsylvania, I decided that I would find a new church when I would move home. After going to a church in Indiana that I loved and grew in not only Sunday, I craved more than I got at home. Granted my heart was completely different going into Kingdom Life than BranchCreek, I did not want the temptation of falling into role of the coaster. Yes I was involved in various ministries and whatnot, but as soon as I entered those doors, I focused more on the ministries than the heart of it all. Part of the problem is that I could talk the talk so well. I grew up in the church and knew what to say to have people not question where my heart is. I only let the words I heard and sang affect me so much. Coming home would be a battle to resist the roles I played before I left for school, and this is one area that I have changed so much that I knew it would be best for me to find a new body of believers to grow and worship with.
Around the time I moved back, my old church was basically “bought out” by a conglomeration of churches under the name LCBC. With all the changes that are going to take place, I am rather thankful I do not have to deal with that transition on top of everything else, but I have traded that transition for the process of finding a new church. On my own.
This is the first time that I am looking for a church without my family or friends. It makes it a little scary because I go in on any given Sunday to a church and won’t necessarily know anyone; I just hope there a few kind people that are welcoming to potential strangers…which is not necessarily guaranteed when visiting a church (and this fact makes me a little sad.)
I have gone to a church called Renew a few times and I really like it so far, but it makes me question what I am looking for in a church. Is finding the right church a matter of finding a body with the least amount of politics or baggage, finding one where you get that warm fuzzy feeling or chills from the Spirit, finding one that fulfills about 90% of a ridiculously high-standarded checklist, or finding the one where you know absolutely no one so you can completely reinvent yourself?
As far as a checklist goes, I have a few non-negotiables in terms of doctrine (roles of women, view on the Holy Spirit/ spiritual gifts, and a few others), but I have learned that so much of church politicking was birthed over theological arguments that really don’t make the difference between whether or not someone has salvation. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good debate (and encourage them, for they make you more secure in your beliefs while forcing you to keep an open mind to things you have not previously considered), but sometimes details aren’t worth breaking up churches over and therefore jeopardizing relationships.
I have also come to learn that politics is inevitable in any group of people but it comes under different names. Because it is always going to be there, you have to decide how much you are going to let it affect they way you live and relate to others.
I love those time in church when I can physically feel the Spirit in the room, but that is not an definite indicator that I should commit to a church. God is everywhere, so the Spirit can show itself anywhere as well. I could feel the Spirit in a house that was abandoned 100 years ago, is falling apart, and has drug deals going down in it every other night, but that doesn’t mean I should move in there. Following a feeling can often be a very good thing, but it is often more successful when paired with thought and prayer. Each of those three things is can very good thing but are so much better when they work together (and often just reinforce what you have experienced in the other realm–feelings, thoughts, or prayer).
I am a huge supporter of the pastors at Renew. I know them both in contexts outside of Renew, and have learned to respect them so much. Their “cultural cultivator” spoke at Taylor many times and inspired so much thoughtful discussion that I know for a fact hundreds of lives in Upland, Indiana were changed because of him. The other was my youth pastor. Time and time again I saw him gently guide struggling students towards the Lord when there was pretty much nothing else anyone could do.
On one hand, of course I should commit to Renew! It has these two guys who I deeply respect leading this, “faith community of and for skeptics and dreamers” as they like to say, so why wouldn’t I? After going there, I realized how many other people that I know attend there. Going to Renew would kill two of my concerns with one stone: finding a church and rebuilding my social life; however, I need to make sure I would be joining Renew for the right reasons. Is the appeal of learning under these fantastic leaders overshadowing other things I’m looking for in a church? Part of why I left my old church was to restart in a sense, so wouldn’t joining Renew where I already know half the congregation kind of defeat the purpose of leaving BranchCreek?
It would be very helpful if there was a sort of phone book with all the churches within a half hour drive that included their address (for my GPS), some doctrinal points, and their age range; alas, that does not exist to the best of my knowledge.
Last time you went “church shopping,” what were different things you looked for–good things and red flags?