So, naturally, we went to the movies to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. On the upside, there aren’t a lot of people clogging up the middle row—or any rows—at movie theaters on Sunday mornings. On the downside, sitting there in the dark wasn’t our first choice today. But the church we tried to visit was closed, surprisingly, and the theater was open, so we went where we were welcome and where they were happy to take our money.
Church shopping is as frustrating as Walter Mitty’s unrealized dreams.
Here’s the inside scoop. We’ve been shopping for six years. Rob, my husband, said I should call this blog, “We’re Too Picky.” Back in the day, when he and I were among the vertebrae in the backbone of the local church, I looked at people in our current position with a critical eye and prayed for their backslidden souls. Now I understand. But praying for myself just gives me a headache.
Don’t worry. I still love Jesus. I love Him now more than yesterday, and each week I love Him more than the one before. Better than that, He still loves me. This isn’t about acceptance from Jesus. This is about how hard it is to find acceptance in a community of believers. And how hard it is to find shepherds who lift up the sheep in attendance instead of beating them down with their staffs every week.
Too harsh? I have bruises, and I bet you do, too.
Maybe Rob is right. We are picky. We’ve left a few churches after spending years of our lives there because we couldn’t take being abused from the pulpit anymore. Finally, we found a fellowship which, after quite a bit of convincing, accepted us as the friends we knew we would be to them. But seven years later they closed their doors with the intention of starting a new church in the freshly cultivated fields of Queen Creek.
It was the first time a church ever left me.
Unfortunately, the church plant never got off the ground. That reality hit us a year after we ourselves moved to Queen Creek. It seems not everyone was willing to sail twenty miles east Sunday after Sunday on the Good Ship One More Church Plant. Our ship ran aground with only two survivors—Rob and me. Okay, and our little dog, too.
And that’s when we first got on the church shopping carousel, going round and round to the same melody and the same dizzying view. We decided to find some other church plant and throw our lives onto their altars of service. There’s a popular way of doing church now, based on two successful megachurch models. It’s called the Seeker Friendly formula, and the assumption is that if you make church a non-threatening environment which appeals to our culture of high energy and short attention spans, more people will stick around after they visit.
Here’s the problem we ran into—only the greeters make eye contact and seem happy to see you. For the most part, the members of many churches aren't friendly to seekers. Or maybe they just didn’t like the way I did my hair. People gave the obligatory handshake during the Meet and Greet portions of church services, but they always looked past us while doing it. At the very least, I don’t think it’s asking too much for Christians to look a person in the face when they say hello.
Adult Sunday School used to be a good way to get to know people in a smaller setting on campus where your voice could be heard and your name repeated. That’s not the Seeker Friendly way. The way to meet and connect with church members now is in a small group which meets on another night in someone’s home.
Here’s the thing—it’s hard to visit small groups when you’re not even a church member. But you can’t meet people to see if you want to become a church member unless you visit small groups. Now I understand the phrase Catch 22, even though I’ve never seen the movie. But I might if they decide to re-release it at my local Sunday morning theater.
So I decided the way to find friends would be to join a women’s morning Bible study. I went for a few months and then one day, when I arrived late, I was chewed out in front of the group for my tardiness and I never went back. I’m pretty sure Embarrassment isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit.
We began reviewing the shrinking list of churches to visit. About every three or four months, a new church plant—or maybe just a new church name—shows up on a plywood sandwich board on the corner across from our grocery store and there I am, googling hope again.
One weekend, I spotted a name I really liked a lot and, after a confusing search on the internet, we finally located the fellowship, read up on their beliefs, drove to their address (close to our house—yeah!) and set our alarms to visit the church of our daydreams, Walter Mitty style. We pulled up in the driveway Sunday morning and, boy, were they surprised to see us! They had no idea why we were there.
“How did you hear about us?” we must have been asked a dozen times by the tiny congregation.
“We saw your signs,” we told them, feeling pretty confused.
“We have signs?” they asked incredulously.
“And we went to your website,” we added.
“We have a website?” they echoed. We began to feel like we were trespassing on private property.That morning the pastor announced he was taking a four month sabbatical.
We decided to follow his example and get off the carousel for a while. . . .
Part Two Tomorrow ~ Without One Plea
Photo courtesy of Lotus Carroll's photostream at Flickr.com