A friend recently asked me for my suggestions on where he could recommend to someone to attend church in the city we are living in. Although my wife and I relocated to our current locale a year ago, we have yet to truly find a church community we feel we “fit” in. For many, this exercise in church shopping is relatively simple: there are strong historical ties that draw you to a specific denomination; you have friends or relatives who live close by and you decide to go to a service where you already know people; or you may decide to become a member of a church based on where you live, thereby truly joining in with your local community.
However, for those of us who do not have a readily accessible network of family or friends to hook into, for those of us who may carry scars from churches we have attended, or for those of us who don’t have a strong pull toward a specific denomination, this search can be monumentally difficult. As someone who worked in student life for the entirety of my professional career, I can honestly say that viewing this search is also somewhat comparable to what it feels like to go through rush and pledge a fraternity or sorority.
You look for a specific group that appears to contain like-minded individuals who share the same passions and interests as you. You show up at their house, on the day they have their weekly open-to-all gathering. The individuals you encounter for the first time at this house greet you with a smile, welcoming you in, telling you how great it is to meet you. The members of this house, who refer to themselves as brothers and sisters, talk to you at length about the familial connections within their house. As you meet more and more members of the group, you size one another up, trying to determine if you’re a good fit for each other.
After a period of time, you decide you would like to join this organization. Everyone within the community celebrates your accepting of their bid, and welcomes you in. However, now begins the pledge period. You may now begin to see that some of the brothers and sisters who recruited you so heavily may not be exactly who or what they claimed: some may mock or ridicule other houses within the city, or even other members of your own chapter; some may have the firm conviction that your house exists only to edify your local chapter or your national affiliation, and that any activity that does not immediately yield higher numbers into your organization is a waste of time and effort; some may come only for the weekly “party,” choosing to never get deeper into the lives of their brothers and sisters; and some, who spoke so highly of the organization, reveal themselves as somewhat apathetic, and in fact may be there only because they’re a legacy: their parents or grandparents have always belonged to this specific chapter.
Although many church leaders as well as laypersons treat their weekly gatherings like a social club, we are called to belong to one another. Just as with the experience of going through rush, people look to joining church as a way to connect and not to function as an “independent.” Not only is this spelled out in Romans 12:4-5 (“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”) as well as in I Corinthians 12:12-30, but I Corinthians 13 attests to how we’re called to act out of as well as through love.
The term “authentic” gets tossed around so much in church-speak that it has, in some ways, lost its power and meaning. I suppose what many others and I are looking for is better summed up in the word “honesty.” Honest leaders. Honest parishioners. We’re not the “IT” church. These are my/our scars. These are my/our mistakes. This is where I/we need to grow. This is where I/we are good at something only through the mercy and grace of our Lord. We yearn for the real, not the superficial.
Many of us who are mature and comfortable enough in our faith are not looking for a church or even a pastor whose theology and ideology matches up with ours completely and without question. Yes, there are some non-negotiable aspects, such as that the teaching needs to be Biblically solid. We as a body need to have such a deep love and respect for one another that we’re willing to listen to each other, see where the other’s perspective is coming from, and maybe even agree to disagree. After all, what first drew you to this particular church may have been the individuals. To paraphrase the old children’s rhyme, the steeple might have drawn you to the house, but it was the people you saw once you opened the door that led you to stay.
I suppose it can ultimately be summed up like this: I’d like to study under a teacher or teachers who can speak to me and engage my heart and mind with what God has laid on them. I’d like to get heart-deep into the lives of people who don’t come across as monochromatic, either on the outside or the inside. I’d like for the body to be a collection of friends who willingly and sincerely assemble together to connect into one another’s lives, sharing both burdens and victories.
I’d like to have love expressed, and have love shown.
Oh, and coffee. Good coffee is a must. Otherwise the whole deal is off.