Friday, September 11, 2009

A Church I Can Call Home

I've never been without a home church - a place to visit every week with the hope of some relief from the world's burdens, some spiritual refreshment and some fellowship. Growing up in my grandfather's church, it literally was my second home. Since I also attended the private school held in this same church, I spent most of my waking hours in that building. Since my grandfather was the senior pastor, churchgoing was mandatory for my family. We attended not only Sunday morning worship, but Sunday School, Sunday night services, Wednesday night prayer meetings and a Friday night children's program. This was outside of my actual school attendance Monday through Friday. So you can see why I felt it was my "home."

When I met my husband, he was attending a church that became "our" home church. But seeing as we were newly married with a child and living and working about an hour away from our church, we didn't see too much of the inside of the church building except on Sunday mornings. So we did what a lot of people do - we moved closer to be near our church. We were able to participate more in the church activities, involve ourselves in the programs there and build a small but wonderful network of believers around us. But the church grew. It grew and it grew and it grew until it was soooo big, we didn't know anyone there anymore. Even the pastors we grew to love and respect both stepped down from leadership, and we felt the loss deeply.

We have been members of this same church now for about 15 years. As God blessed us with more children, we remained loyal and committed to the church and enjoyed many of the activities and resources they had available. Since it is now one of the largest, if not the largest church in our state, it offers many things for many people. But deep connections and intimate fellowship are not among them, at least, not for my introverted husband and me. I understand there is a need to sometimes stretch your neck out and plug yourself into a church of such a large size - there is no place for social wallflowers here! But there gets to be a point where I just don't feel churches were ever meant to go beyond a certain size. I don't know what that point is, but I do believe if there are more people that you don't recognize than those you do, it's too big (but that's just my humble opinion).

On the other end of extremes, we attended a home church for awhile where there were only three to four families. The small size was great for encouraging openness, intimacy and spiritual growth, but we found it a bit too small for practical reasons. It only took one family not making it due to illness or vacation to put quite the crimp in our meeting schedule. It was sometimes difficult being that small, but we made some good friends with other brothers and sisters-in-Christ. Most importantly, it allowed us to see how church can be done in a completely different way and what it can be like - a body of believers attending to each other's needs and growing in unity with one another.

So here I find myself searching for a home church. After visiting multiple churches in my area, I've seen some things I like and some things I don't like in a church. I'd like to share with you my own list of qualities in my ideal church.* (Please see footnote below.) My hope is this would be thought-provoking, a good conversation starter and to help challenge us in our thinking of what church is as well as its function. Please feel free to share your own thoughts by leaving a comment - I would love to hear what you love about your own church or what you would look for in your ideal church whether you are attending your ideal church in reality or not.

My ideal home church would be...

A church that is doctrinally sound, considers itself missional and is within my own local community. The church must believe all scripture is inspired by God who is Triune in the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and the Church is His body. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and He is coming again.1 A fairly good and detailed description of what missional looks like can be found on the Friend of Missional website (though I would caution "missional" can erroneously be described as "emergent" which I do not fully agree with the soundness of some of the doctrines held by the emergent movement). To me, missional means actively taking care of each other's needs within the local body of believers and showing Christ's love to each other as well as actively serving those in the local community and showing Christ's love to others outside of the body. An early Christian writer named Tertullian quoted a pagan official say about the Christians: "Look at how much they love each other!" Love is the wisdom and power of God. Love was the power of early Christian witness to the Resurrected Christ. Love was the fire of the martyrs. 2
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35
Having my church be within my local community has been a relatively recent desire. After spending years traveling a half hour or more to get to church, I've come to the conclusion my home church should be in my neighborhood - not for convenience sake but for community's sake. My desire is to worship, learn and serve side by side with those I see on a daily basis through living and working in my community.

A church where statistics and big numbers are not a goal
. Growing up in a church of 200-300, it seemed we knew everyone. If there was a new face, you knew to go over and introduce yourself and welcome them - there was no need for an official welcoming committee. The adults knew most of the children, and it seemed the children had about 100 pairs of parents (talk about "it takes a village"!). I feel a small church naturally encourages more intimate fellowship between believers. There's not as much of a struggle as the megachurches have in trying to work things out so people get connected and unified. I happen to like the idea of a church actually limiting its size. If a church reaches its set maximum, a new church can be planted in a different community and the evangelization continues. This helps keep a church not only growing deep roots but also gives the ability to spread its roots wide.

A church that is run like a church and not a corporation. This kind of refers back to the statistics and numbers point above. Megachurches seem to like to take surveys, organize things using pie graphs and risk seeing people as numbers and their money as stock. When money becomes a focal point or a necessity in continuing to build the body of believers, we've strayed into dangerous territory where we may find Jesus standing there with a whip.

Money can obviously be a very valuable thing within a community of believers. It can be used to support those within the body and outside of the body. However a church should never become so dependent on money that in order to survive it needs to raise funds or continually request people to increase their giving. Tithing aside, a church should be able to thrive and grow without any money at all! Strange concept, I know. Christ's love is freely given, and it should be passed around freely. The good news is there are no costs involved in being Jesus to others.

A church where family is honored and included as much as possible, meaning children are accepted and are seen as integral to the worship service, not just there for Sunday school. This doesn't necessarily mean they stay for the entire service, just that they are extended a welcome and are included. I've heard of churches that have entire families stay to worship and sing praises together, and then there's a short children's message time where the pastor actually speaks directly to the youth. Following that, the children are dismissed to their own Sunday schools. How cool is that? When the entire family from infant to senior are welcomed and included, the body of believers will feel whole.

A church that fits my style. I know, this one sounds so...well, shallow. But I think it's important to choose a church that's not going to make you uncomfortable as you watch people dance and writhe in the aisles or make you feel numb because everyone sings in a monotone voice and no one smiles. Do you consider yourself charismatic? Do you prefer quiet, reverent worship? Do you enjoy hearing the preacher yell, shout and thump his Bible? Do hearing others speak in tongues freak you out? Personally, I fall closer to the quiet reverence, but I like to be stretched by those more demonstrative, charismatic worshipers! If you can believe it (for those who know me), I actually like some of my worship songs sung loud and exuberantly with arms outstretched and hands lifted. Whatever "church personality" you seem to have, it'd probably be nice to find a church that fits it.

A church where sacred is valued over slick. When we see slick, we like to call this type of church "Church Hollywood". So many churches these days have put too much focus on the presentation of their services. The worship part of the service turns into entertainment for the masses, and the pastor's multimedia message is designed to keep all those suffering from attention deficit disorder a chance to focus. I am not against multimedia or entertainment, not in the least. However if there is no sense of the sacred during the service, have we not missed the point? A very small and seemingly insignificant example (yet one of my big pet peeves) is when the praise and worship team "sneak" back into their individual places during prayer. I know many are thinking I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. Yet we forget in that moment when we bow our heads and close our eyes, we have once again approached the throne of the Almighty God and are making our requests known to Him. Yet the praise band must apparently use that time to get back into place lest we open our eyes and, heaven forbid, they're not there to start playing immediately! Our Sunday services seem to have lost an awareness of the holy. I love a service where, though it may not come across as very polished, the reverent awe and love for our God permeates the sanctuary and is felt and noticed by all.

A church lead by a pastor who has more humility than education. Absolutely I want a pastor who knows the Old Testament and New Testament, knows how to decipher the Greek or Aramaic root word from the text, knows how to glean the message from the context, and knows how to counsel those in need. Yet even more than that, I want a pastor who hides the Word in his heart, who speaks and listens to God unceasingly, who loves people as Jesus loves and seeks to have a humble spirit. I want a pastor who is not just taught but teachable. I want a pastor who is a true shepherd and is only responding to the call God has placed on his heart to lead His sheep, whether he has a seminary degree or not {gasp!}. Higher education is a respectable goal, but I have seen too many churches turn away a potentially great leader because he was lacking a degree.

A church that encourages its body to serve to the fullest extent. There are so many strengths and talents among a church's body, it seems a waste and a shame to let anyone just sit in their seats to be fed. If a layperson can not feel useful, they will feel homeless. I know of churches who have actually refused to allow their laypeople to serve in certain areas or join the choir or start up an outreach simply because they didn't feel their members were qualified or good enough. It's a good thing Moses3 never asked to speak to today's church or Jonah4 never applied as a missionary for today's missions program. Helping each believer find their spiritual gifts and encouraging them to use them to serve the body is the whole point of having the spiritual gifts in the first place. If a church fails to do this, it will fail itself.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. I Corinthians 12:7-11

I love coming across a church where different faces are seen at the front of the church, not just the pastor, and where all gifts are valued equally.

There are many good churches around here, but unfortunately we have yet to find an ideal one for us. I understand no church is perfect, and I may find a church I call home that does not fit all of the criteria I've listed. My prayer is God will let us know where He wants my family to call home when it comes to church.

*By no means is this a criticism or attack on any particular church, denomination or faith. This is my own personal wish list of what I'd like to see in a church of which I have not yet found (at least, locally for myself and my family).
If you are at the church God has called you to be at, then have confidence you are meant to be there for a reason whether you feel your church fits any of the above criteria or not! Just as each person/family will have their own ideas of what feels like home to them, each person/family will have their own ideas of what feels like church.

1. Taken from I could get really detailed and go by other's affirmations of faith like Mars Hill Church's Statement of Belief , but that'll have to do for now.
2. From an article titled "Look At How Much They Love Each Other": The Development of Church Social Life found here.
3. "Then Moses said to the Lord, 'Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since you have spoken to your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.'" Exodus 4:10
4. "But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:3
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