I suppose I really should follow up my previous post with a bit of an explanation. This is part one of a two part explanation.
Back at the beginning of September, I resigned from a bi-vocational ministry position. I had been on staff with the church for over a year and a half, but we definitely knew that God was leading us away from the church. We had prayed for months that He would show us which direction to go, but God answered by showing us how rather than where.
Since then, we have been trying to find the right church to attend. We have visited some, but we have been more successful at ruling out possibilities than we have at finding viable ones. I was only halfway joking when I implied that the problem might, in fact, be ours. Maybe we have expectations that truly are too high.
So, what do we expect you ask? I am not sure how well I can define that answer, but I will try.
Honesty, openess, & transparency. This is a huge deal to me. I don’t have my crap together, and I don’t really want to pretend like I do. I have no desire to be a part of a community of faith that makes it a habit of putting on their masks of worship each Sunday as they continue to grow in their ministry of appearances.
Seeker-friendly, not seeker-oriented. I think that the church needs to be evangelistic in nature and that the services need to be open and inviting. I am afraid that by making the worship services all about the seeker, we are neglecting to feed the flock that has gathered. Personally, I believe that people will be drawn towards real people who are authentically worshipping their God. If the church is all about bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors, then the church will be certain to grow… for a while. But what happens when the church down the road has better smoke and shinier mirrors? The church is not meant to be a place of mere entertainment.
Challenges. I have no desire to listen to a self-help talk with a little Jesus thrown in to make it spiritual enough for church. I recently found an excerpt from a book by Brennan Manning online, and in it, he said:
Consider how our churches have explored and exploited our need to replace the numbness in our lives with a passion for something, anything. We’ve created worship in which music is meant to stir the emotions but the soul is left unmoved, in which the words spoken are little more than manipulations of the heart. We have created cathartic experiences filled with weeping and dancing in the Spirit that leaves us with the sense that we have touched God but that fail to give us the sense that God has touched us. We run to churches where the message feels good and where we feel energized and uplifted–but never challenged or convicted. “It is not surprising that spiritual experiences are mushrooming all over the place and have become highly sought-after commercial items,” writes Henri Nouwen. “Many people flock to places and persons who promise intensive experiences of togetherness, cathartic emotions of exhilaration and sweetness, and liberating sensations of rapture and ecstasy. In our desperate need for fulfillment and our restless search for the experience of divine intimacy, we are all too prone to construct our own spiritual events.”
Community. My heart longs to be a part of a community of faith that is open and accepting, where people accept one another for who they are and where they are… where people are committed to sharing life’s journey together.
Maybe my expectations are too high… but I don’t think so.
Note: None of the expectations here are intended to be interpreted as a criticism of any one church. The fact is, in each church we have visited, people have been ministered to, and in each, people are finding their needs met. However, these were not the places for the Andress family. Not because we are better or have an inside track into the mind of God when it comes to what the church in the 21st century should be, but simply because we are the sum total of all of experiences. All of our yesterdays have made us who we are today and who we will be tomorrow… and they have put us in the place where it seems like the right church for us is going to be a difficult one to find.