2013-05-07 - Churches
Matthew 18:20 NASB. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst"
We have churches everywhere here in South Carolina. I think it's probably a one-to-one ratio, as far as places to eat and places to worship. Big churches, small churches, churches of every denomination imaginable, and churches that claim to not be associated with any denomination, churches that are "traditional" with organs and hymnals, and churches that are "contemporary" with praise bands and lyrics up on a screen. We have churches that meet in buildings with steeples, that meet in school gymnasiums or houses, and that hold services on Saturday nights as well as on Sunday mornings. We have churches that offer services in several languages, including sign language, and services that are broadcast on TV. We have churches that focus on outreach to various populations, through programs like Celebrate Recovery, Grief Share, and Divorce Care.
The funny thing is, I talk to people, on an almost daily basis, who are having trouble finding a church they feel "comfortable" attending. That word means a lot of different things, but the bottom line is, lots of people are searching for a church to belong to and not finding one. They say they want to be part of a church community, to get involved, form relationships, worship, and grow spiritually. They shop around and check places out, but don't settle in anywhere, for one reason or another. Many people have given up, and just don't go at all anymore.
Some have had very negative experiences that have left them suspicious and very skeptical about churches and "church people." This is a very serious problem when it happens, but reasons for not finding the "right" church aren't that drastic for most folks. So why is finding, and staying involved in, a church so often problematic? I don't wonder in a judgmental way, because I've been through the same thing, myself. I wonder out of true curiosity and concern. Is the problem with churches, or with the people who are (or are not) getting involved? I'm not sure. All I can come up with is some "maybes."
Maybe churches aren't doing such a good job of being welcoming or relevant. Maybe we get too into church jargon and routines sometimes, so that visitors feel like "outsiders" who don't know what to do or how to act. Maybe we seem too judgmental and focused on appearances at times. It seems that some churches are more sensitive to these issues than others, just from what I observe. Maybe we're not meeting both practical and spiritual needs as well as we could be. Maybe each church has strengths in one area, but isn't as strong in others, such as having great ministries for teens but not younger children, for example. Maybe people have unreasonable expectations of what churches can be and do.
Maybe the problem is our consumer culture mentality. Maybe too many options makes us way too particular. We want everything to be a "perfect" fit. Of course, its important that churches be Biblically/doctrinally sound, but we don't have to "like" every single person or agree with every single detail of how things are done to be part of a church. In many countries, believers face jail, torture, and various types of persecution to meet together and worship. They don't have a church on every corner so that they can pick and choose, and come and go openly, the way we do here. They don't have all the resources and materials we have for music and study. Believers in such locations risk their lives to go to church and truly value the Bibles and study materials they have.
Maybe that reminder sounds like telling a child they should love vegetables, because kids in other countries are starving. I mention it simply to try and bring some perspective. The bottom line is, God tells us it is good for us to meet together, to study and praise and pray as a unified group. He made us with that need for relationships with Him and with other people. He wants us to be attached to a group of people who can help us, challenge us, and support us. Like all families, church families aren't perfect. Nothing this side of Heaven is going to be perfect.
If you are searching for a new church home (whatever the reason), I pray that God would show you where He wants you to be, and the church family He wants you to be a part of. He knows your heart. If you are sincerely seeking Him in this, as in all areas of your life, He will lead you and help you to know where He wants you and what He wants you to do. Rely on Him, not your own immediate judgment of a particular church, when seeking clarity about this important matter.
If you have found a church home where you are meaningfully connected with other believers, being nurtured and challenged spiritually, and feel able to use the gifts and talents God has given you, then I'm so glad. Take a moment to thank God for leading you to where you are, and for your church or small group. Thank Him for how you've grown, as part of this church, and pray that your church would continue to be what God wants it to be. Pray for the ministries of other churches, and for those who are searching for a church to belong to.
I think this "church thing" is worth a lot of thought and prayer. I believe God is challenging us to take this matter more seriously. I hope and pray that we can all find, and remain part of, the church or spiritual community that is "right" for us.