October 2, 2015

Looking for a Church Home in All the Wrong Places

There is no such thing as a perfect church, and by 'church' I mean an individual congregation and/or a denomination. They all have their positives and negatives. Now, having said that, some are worse than others. Currently my husband and I are attending (but not yet members of) a small, Southern Baptist church. This is our fourth church. I'm not proud of that. It's almost like saying I'm on my fourth husband. And this doesn't include the church in which I was raised - the Catholic Church. (My husband was raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.) Follow me as I recount our church (s)hopping experiences.

Our first stop is the Unitarian Universalist Church (Unitarian Universalist Association). I have heard the Unitarian Universalist Church described as being a mile wide and an inch deep. That is pretty accurate. In fact, I would not call it a church because it can hardly be described as Christian. The UUC embraces just about anything and everything from paganism (CUUPS) to secular humanism with a smattering of Christianity. After our first son was born, my husband and I decided we wanted to go back to church. He was raised Lutheran and I was raised Catholic. Although we both left our respective churches when we were about twenty, we both had fond memories of growing up in church. Understand that at this point in time, neither of us was saved. We weren't looking for Jesus. We were looking for a community to raise our children in that would provide a foundation of good values in Seattle. My friends, it is quite possible and I fear, very common, for people to attend church without being saved because they like the community. (As an aside: this is why I think pastors in every church should preach the gospel every Sunday. You never know who might need to hear it.) In spite of this, we learned the importance of community at this church. It was during this time that my youngest son had been born and suffered a brain hemorrhage at birth. Folks from our community group brought dinners to us and some stayed to comfort us. I remember talking with one lady who had lost her son to suicide. She said she had never believed in God or the afterlife, but one day found herself saying out loud to her late son, "I'll see you when it's my turn." She then reconsidered that there might be more to this life. She was searching. As I'm writing this, I realize that I need to pray for her to find the truth about Jesus.

Next stop is the United Church of Christ. This was the smallest congregation we attended. We had just returned to California from Seattle and we didn't like the local Unitarian Church. We figured that the UCC was just as progressive as the Unitarian Universalist Church, but it emphasized Jesus just a little bit more. The pastor of this church was a woman. At the time, it didn't bother me, but looking back I can see that there were issues. I have noticed that churches that are pastored by a woman tend to focus heavily on social justice issues.  Social justice is fine and dandy, but it's not the gospel and it's not the mandate of the church. Aside from the fact that these churches ignore 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there seems to be less expository Biblical preaching and more topical sermons relating to social justice. No, something was missing at this church so we decided to leave.

Third stop, the megachurch. This church was part of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Honestly, the reason why we started attending this church is because it had multiple service times, lots of volunteer opportunities, and it had a special needs program for kids. In short, it had convenience. However, a funny thing happened to us while we were at this church: we actually heard the gospel and accepted Jesus as our Savior. This was the first church where I heard that I was not OK with God and that I needed Jesus to save me. (This was from a sermon from a visiting pastor. Ahem.) Prior to this I thought I had it figured out: just be a good person. How wrong I was, and I am grateful that God used this pastor to speak truth to me. It was during this time that I learned the importance of Bible study. I was also baptized at this church, so it holds a special place in my heart. Sadly, we recently left the megachurch that we attended for nearly eight years because we grew weary of the constant marketing, the chasing after church fads, and the lack of discernment among the pastoral staff. In short, we got tired of seeing the church run like a business, which made business decisions designed to increase numbers. Funny things happen when you read the Bible...like you gain discernment.

Last stop, a small Southern Baptist church. I never thought I would end up at an SBC church. My impression of the Southern Baptist Convention has always been that it's filled with Bible thumpers (remember, I grew up Catholic). Now, I realize that's a good thing. We passed this little church every Sunday on our way to the megachurch, which was in a nearby suburb. When we left the megachurch we decided to find a church in our city. One day I said, "Why don't we try that little Baptist church? If we don't like it, we don't have to go back." Now here's the thing: when you have a child with special needs, it can be very difficult to find a church home. Truth. Our first Sunday at this church we realized that our youngest son would have to sit with us during the service as there wasn't a Sunday School classroom for him. We panicked, but at the same time, it was too late to leave. Yet on that first day, the pastor was there in the entry way. He told us, "Don't worry about it. If he makes noise, I can still keep preaching. It's not a problem." The next Sunday, we met the pastor's wife right before service started. She introduced herself to us and told us that she was a paraprofessional in a class for severely autistic children. We also learned that the pastor and his wife had a special needs son, albeit he was a young adult. I don't go looking for signs and wonders, but I was very encouraged by this.

We have been at this church for 6 months. We like the preaching, where the pastor actually seems sincere, he seems to take God's word seriously, and he seems to write his own sermons instead of using prepackaged sermon programs. Ahem. For several months, I listened to the online sermons of the pastor of this Baptist church as well as the pastor of a "conservative charismatic" church (the pastor's description, not mine.) Both were very good, and both made me realize just how shallow the preaching at the megachurch had become. We visited both churches and realized that the charismatic flavor was not for us. We settled on the Baptist church because it was in our town and literally, five minutes away from our house.

I can't say that denominational affiliation isn't important to me because there are some denominations that I won't consider, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). However, a denomination isn't the first thing that I take into consideration. I have come to realize that one of the most important aspects of a church is the faithful preaching of God's word. Does the pastor preach the whole counsel of God? Not every church will have good music, multiple ministries, a high profile pastor. To me, the important aspects of a good church are: faithful preaching of God's word, saints who love God and each other, and a strong desire to share the Gospel with others. (Acts 2:42-47)
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