A-hunting we shall go…

Dave and I are looking for a new church.

I haven’t talked about this much on here because…well, because I have this awful sense that it’s bad for us to leave a church, even though I know we have good reasons. They have to do with theology and direction and relationships and distance, and I don’t really want to go into them here (because I’ll harp on them and not talk about this journey).

Looking for a church is hard. It’s not something I know how to do. In some ways, we’re lucky because we need to find one within a particular denomination (Dave works for a denominational Bible college and needs to attend a church of that denomination). At least there are fewer choices that way, and that’s a good thing in LA.

We visited one that we loved, but it’s way too far away for us to really be able to get involved like we’d want to. We visited another that we didn’t like at all. We’ll visit at least a couple more, and then, somehow, we’ll decide.

I struggle with the church. I’m not sure why. I tend to see on the big-picture level, and the church seems so small in light of that. The church is this big bunch of real people that I don’t get to choose, and I don’t resonate with all that many of them. There’s so much crap in the church: pastors get treated poorly, pastors treat their congregations poorly, people treat each other poorly. The church so rarely mirrors God to a broken world. Churches are often so closed to new things (like spiritual formation…I know, it’s not really new, but try telling that to some people…), and I tend to be all about those things. The church feels useless, somehow, like it doesn’t change the world so what’s the point?

I know that my biggest struggles have to do with my own experience of church, though. Over the years, I’ve learned that churches don’t usually love well. Churches try to put you in a box. They love the you that’s in the box and ignore or modify any part of you that’s outside of it. Churches miss Jesus. Churches won’t let you exercise your gifts and instead try to get you to exercise gifts you don’t have. Churches don’t let you change and grow, and become skeptical when you do. Churches are conservative for the sake of being conservative and not because they’ve actually thought about it and think it’s right. They tell you how to know God and then ask painful questions when you don’t find him there.

I’ve so often cut off parts of myself to fit in and get along at church. I’ve tried so hard to be someone I’m not because that’s who the church tells me I’m supposed to be. I even gave up on finding God for a while because I couldn’t see him in my church’s worship and study styles. I thought it was me.
I found a church, once, where I was more at home than I’ve been anywhere else. It still feels like home. But it’s the wrong denomination.

Denominations are another thing about church that doesn’t make sense to me. Sure, there are differences among Christian beliefs. I’ll even go so far as to say that someone is right (or more right) and another is wrong (or more wrong). But most aren’t so wrong that it’s worth breaking communion over.

It feels a bit like a game, right now. We have to find one (like an Easter Egg Hunt). Heaven forbid we let it go too long between churches. We have to go every week. We have to have some participation outside of the Sunday service. We have to care about people just because they go to the same church we do, and we have to support our church financially. We have to at least pretend to believe that this is where we meet God, that these are the people who show God to us. I know all the rules, and I’ve played pretty well over the years.

I read this over and it becomes clear to me that I am very, very broken when it comes to church. Very cynical. Very skeptical. Very angry. Very hurt. I believe in Jesus, but I don’t much believe in the church.

I try to believe in the church. I try to see it as Christ’s bride here on earth. And right now, I can’t. I’m almost positive I’m wrong, but that doesn’t mean I can make it work out any differently in my heart.

I don’t know what to do in this place. I have to find a church. I’d rather stay home, get some good rest, and find some good friends to spend the rest of my Sunday with, but both Dave and I have jobs where being churchless is highly frowned upon. I’m about ready to say, “Screw it!” and pull the covers over my head next Sunday, but I’ll probably be good instead. I’ll get up, and go to Church Number Three on the Potential New Churches list. Eventually, we’ll choose the one that seems like the best fit for us and I’ll go almost every Sunday. I might even teach Sunday School, work with youth, or do something else like that. And maybe, somewhere along the line, my faith in the church will be restored. I pray that it is so.

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24 Comments

Filed under My Days

24 responses to “A-hunting we shall go…

  1. oh, goodness. [letting out long sigh of identification here.] i can so hear the frustration in every word written here. there’s frustration, and confusion, and a hinting at despair. it makes me feel those things with you, and it makes me wish these things weren’t the case.

    but i have been there, too. am still there, most of the time. so i know, from experience, that these things are the case, and i feel those things in a real, personal way with you, too, beyond the identification i found just from the power of your explanations in rich words and images here.

    i agree that the church is quite broken. and the problems seem to big to really fix. who would fix them? [the obvious answer is jesus . . . but i mean, who would actually be the human moving parts of jesus to bring this work about? it is such a massive movement that’s required.] when i realize the magnitude of these problems, that’s when i feel despair. and ambivalence. and, eventually, apathy. i begin to create my own ways. develop my own little communities of like-minded people who, together, demonstrate love and help one another grow. kind of like what’s happing in this gorgeous blogging community.

    except how is that not unlike creating yet another mini-church, or mini-denomination, just without officiality or a name? i don’t know the answer to that question. i guess sometimes i think that looks a little more like what the first christians experienced, before there were formal structures and sects and so much breakage. so is it really so wrong?

    i hate that this is a reality for you because i know firsthand how hard it is to find a church community that feels like home. it can feel a bit like wandering in the desert for 40 years. [except i hope to goodness it doesn’t take you that long to find something!]

    maybe, until you and dave find the one that will be home for this next season of your journey, you will find manna falling from heaven to provide for the intermediate need in the right-now.

  2. I went through several years of feeling this way. I still have the same general frustrations, but in my journey, Chris and I have found a church where I can be myself–all of myself. I know what you mean about cutting off parts of you. In the past, I described it as amputation. I know what you mean about not fitting in. I wrote a post about it–Lessons from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Dentist Elf. Some of the problem stems from our U.S. attitude of the church as a corporation or business or something to consume (which is why I really like the house church model, though I don’t go to one). This is where the box thing comes from. Rather than saying, I love you (and I mean all of you), we say, do you like us? Do you want to fit in our church?
    The church is like family. We don’t get to choose family. We may not even like family. But we love them. And we commit to them.
    The church is like the U2 song–With or Without You. It’s how we’re meant to function in the body of Christ, but it hurts and it’s hard. I’ve been hurt more by church-people than by non-church-people. What does that say?
    But let me encourage you from the other side–Chris and I left a church where I had been personally hurt, deeply hurt. We spent a year looking for a church just because we could. We could take the time to see what God was doing in different families. When we found our church, we were ready to commit.
    I love my church. I love telling people that I love my church. It’s been a long time since I’ve loved a church. I can be me–all of my crazy, passionate self. I can tell these people that I love Sweeney Todd. I’m not afraid. I’m not saying it’s perfect. It’s not. I’m saying they love me and I love them (and we’re not Barney). It’s a deep, true love that doesn’t look past imperfections and hurts but seeks to redeem them.
    I just said a prayer for you, Sarah, because I know what it means to hurt in this way, and I know what it means to feel lost.

  3. Christianne–well, I know this community is like manna…every word seems like bread straight from God.

    Thanks so much for sharing your heart–your words have touched me so often that it can be hard to remember to let you know when they do. It comforts me to know that I’m not the only one who is broken here. I started writing this last night because I wanted my community here to know about it, and ended up seeing all this bitterness and anger and…yuck. But I posted it anyway, because I believe in telling the truth (though when it comes to things like this, I sometimes wonder why…no, I don’t, but I wish I could.)

    I also can’t answer your questions about the smaller communities, though I also know what it’s like to find myself more at home there than in the larger church. It’s hard…I mean, what DO you do when there are so many Christians that the NT model needs more structure? That’s something of a good–that there are so many of us being God’s people. But it’s also hard, because structure usually brings all the institutionalization that Heather was talking about.

    I hear you on the size of the problem, too, and not knowing who can fix it. Maybe living with it is part of being broken human beings. I don’t know.

    Heather–thanks for sharing a bit of your story (I’m headed to the post you linked to next), and for praying for me. I need it. Like I said above, I didn’t mean to write all of that, but it found its way out anyway.

    I’m loving your words lately. So encouraging and sweet. Your story gives me hope that God has a church family for us like he had for you.

    I think I’m also learning how to take my time about this. I feel like there’s a stigma in the Christian community when someone doesn’t have a church, like everyone wonders if there was really a problem with the church they left of if the problem is just with the person. But they’re wrong (ok, what I almost wrote there was “Screw them”)…and we can take our time.

    Thanks, girl.

  4. dear sarah,
    i, like christianne, am sighing with identification too. i feel the ache of your current struggle & the pain of what you’ve already experienced.

    i left a church once that i thought was real, authentic, & cared about who i am. and then i voiced some dissent about some less than savory practices on part of the leadership. i {& other members of my family} basically told them they were behaving without integrity & then playing games of smoke & mirrors, trying to cover themselves with a bunch of “thus saith the Lord” BS. and they didn’t like it. and long story short, we got asked to leave.

    church??

    your insights about the behavior of the church at large are painfully accurate: churches put people in boxes. churches treat people poorly. churches exclude precisely those people that need jesus the most. churches gloss over the hurts & wounds & messiness that come with people. churches care more about appearances & performance than in being the actual & physical extension of Christ himself on earth. church is a social hour & is a place where you can show off how fat your wallet is. it’s become a place of bickering & complaining & rules and dismissing people to the far reaches of hell for not following them.

    no wonder people have such a distaste for Christ. if this is the picture they have of him, i can’t say i blame them. sometimes i’m ashamed, because i know i’ve been in it, been a part of it.

    how do you go about finding a place where you can find true, authentic, God-breathing community. i sure dunno. i feel fortunate, because God literally dropped it in my lap. gave it to me after we got asked to leave. i’m still there & i love it. it’s good. it’s real & it’s true.

    *sigh*

    praying for you & dave in this sarah. that you can find a believing family that, dysfunctional & imperfect as they are (as we all are), seek the face of God, welcome your individuality, & whose living in the world gives the world around glimpses of what jesus is like.

  5. Thanks for your love, Kirsten. I’m so tired…ended up at the urgent care with Dave last night because he had an infected cyst on his ear that needed taking care of. Your words mean a lot, though.

  6. I wish you could come back to BSac. We miss you guys.

  7. And boy oh boy do I feel out of place posting my tiny little two sentence comment in your crazy-long conversation comment string. πŸ™‚

  8. Em–hehe…I’m just glad you’re posting here. For what it’s worth, we miss you, too.

  9. oh my gosh, i assume he’s okay?

  10. i hope dave’s ok too.

    and amen to all of this. i’ve been where you are too. (funny how all of us are identifying with this…and by “funny” i mean not at all funny.) i really hate that you found a place that you both liked but you had to leave because it was the “wrong denomination.” that seriously grieves me. (and when i say this “grieves me” what i mean is i’m part depressed and part furious.) actually, as i’m typing this i’m getting more and more angry. as a matter of fact, i’ve backspaced over about three paragraphs that were a little too angry for someone else’s blog. i’ll just limit myself to saying that i love you, and i pray that this process doesn’t harden your soft spirit or your tender heart. i pray you find a community of people who share your passion and calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing the kingdom of God to dark places. (and by “dark places” i mean some of the places we call “church”.) bless you little sister…

  11. Dave’s ok. He didn’t let it get too bad, and they gave him some major antibiotics. It’s not getting worse and might actually be getting better, so that’s good. They had no idea what caused it (since he’s not under any new or major stress and he doesn’t eat a ton of sugar or empty starches). Mostly, it was just weird.

    Terri–thanks for your love. Yeah, the denomination thing makes me angry, too…particularly since I don’t “get” denominations. We moved quite a bit for a while when I was growing up, and we always went to the church that my parents thought was best, not following a particular denom., etc. Dave gets it a little better than I do, or is more willing to play the game, or something. Yeah…sad and furious is what I end up feeling, too. I think God has to have a place for us…I guess I just wish I knew where that was…your prayers mean a lot, big sis.

  12. Tammy

    Sarah There is so much i could say here. You are so on target with the picture that the church is showing the world. I think we want to live in the Wal-Mart mentality. What do i mean by that? The door greeter at Wal-Mart usually asks how are you doing?

    I am fine you are fine, fairytale over. I used to say just once i wanted to tell that door greeter the truth. I wanted to unload the truth on that little old retiree and blast em. I have not. Church is a lot like the Wal-Mart door greeter, because our how are yous are not genuine they are past times and polite courtesy. What ever happened to reality?

    I speak for myself here, when i say, that perhaps i have aided the hypocrisy because my “i love you” is not authentic as maybe it should be. This post made me look inward with a note of sorrow, and upward to Christ my source of love.

  13. Tammy-You’re totally right here. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being genuine (I’ll probably post on it soon) and you’re right–as people, there’s only so much energy, so much that we really want to hear from others. We have to have Christ’s love flowing through us or we’ll never help it.

  14. Hi Sarah…:-)
    (and a little hug for the first introduction..just to feel a little less ‘are she going to like me?:-)

    I hear and understand everything you say about the church…it is a uncomfortable situation…(just heard the song “its a sad sad situation”)…

    I’ve experienced the same from the church…i also know that the feeling of ‘belonging’ to a church is important and necessary…but for me the relationship is with God.

    The time I spend with Him in silence, in prayer, in the Bible…the day-to-day living with neighbors, friends, the people around us…the loving myself like He loves me…and when I feel depleted or sad…i go to church….I open my heart and await the message from God.

    With all the past experiences and feelings in regards to the church and it’s people, I cannot make it about them anymore. My relationship is with God and putting Him at the centre, without thinking too much about all the other influences and things, I’ve grown closer to Him.

    Talking from my perceptive alone….isn’t our relationship with God in our everyday living instead of ‘the church’…isn’t the church there to guide us towards God, to send out the message of love and Him?

    Isn’t it about the feeling we have in our hearts when we think, talk and live God?

    (I think my thoughts on the church/religion and all things else are very simple and straight forward…maybe it is because I teach 4 and 5 year olds…and the more simpler it is for them, them the easier I understand it).

    I must admit, I wish I could ‘talk’ about everything so thorough like Kirsten and Christianne…(admiration!)…but I know that I am who I am…with no improvements, just truth! xx

  15. Hi Linni πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the hug. Consider yourself hugged back.

    You’re right when you say that God has to be at the center…I think that’s going to be key for me. In my mind, it’s been coming out something like this, “Ok, God, you and I have this relationship. As part of that, you tell me that I need to meet with other Christians. So I’m going to, but I’m doing it because you tell me to and not because I’m dedicated to getting something from them that has anything to do with you, because I’m not at all sure that I will.”

    I guess I’ve heard a lot about churches being “Jesus with skin on.” I’ve experienced some of that, but it has been so mixed that my primary stance is skepticism, right now, not expectation or even hope. So, yeah, it is about him. You’re very right.

    I told somebody this in email–I think it was Tammy–that this journey through church seems to be more for me to find some healing and peace and less about finding a church. I can find one, but I won’t be free to really be myself there until I make peace with God over some of the other things that have happened. Again, it’s about relationship with him first.

    I love, by the way, that you came in here and said these words and were you. As someone who struggles with that sometimes, your last sentence spoke volumes to me. Thanks!

  16. hi dear sarah,

    **hugs**

    thinking of you tonight, waving to you from a mountain up north.

    peace & love, sweet girl.
    -k

  17. breath out… open your heart…and listen xx

  18. Kirsten and linni–thanks for your love

  19. Sarah, it saddens me that this has been your experience, tho like others I can relate. my Dad actually was very involved in a church when I was little which got me into Sunday school before I started school. Inevitably, church politics reared its head and he left, never to return with that same commitment. I’m still angry at some people over that.
    And regarding denominations, this might show you how I feel. I was christened a methodist, baptised by the baptists and spirit-filled by the charismatics. I married a catholic in a ceremony presided over by another charismatic and my last church was presbytarian, before it fell apart over infighting. So, yes, i think denominations are very important πŸ˜‰
    Take care

  20. Thanks, Dean. Wow…you’ve been part of more denominations than I have…or at least as many πŸ˜‰ I’m finding a lot of anger inside of me, too…looking for some healing for that, now that I know it’s there. You take care, too.

  21. I know the feelings behind your long post on finding another church. We were in one for 15 years and when we left, it was like a divorce. Terrible time. We’ve now been in our current church for nearly twenty years, and though it’s gone through a lot of ups and downs I don’t think we’ll be leaving in a hurry. It’s just too unpleasant trying to find another home.
    I was amused at Dean’s remarks about denominations: I started out Catholic, left the church (and tried to leave God, but he wouldn’t be left) for about three years, came back via the Pentecostals, and now attend a Baptist church. And work for the Presbyterians….!

  22. Hi Mike….yeah, leaving is hard. This one is harder for Dave because he was at this church for ten or so years before I came along. And I like your list of various denominational affiliations…”!” is right.

  23. dzahariades

    Hi Sarah,
    I found you through tags on my blog. My family is looking for a new church too. We have been getting involved at an Orthodox Christian Church (Antiochian) for the past 5 months. We found out that Orthodox Christianity is very old, it goes back to the first Christians. It is feeding parts of my soul that have been hungering and thirsting for a long time. I hope that you find a church that helps you to really worship God and helps you to grow in spiritual formation. Bless you.
    Debbie Z.

  24. Hi Debbie! Thanks for your blessings. I, too, have been interested in Orthodox Christianity, though my husband is not, at least for the moment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope you come back.

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