Thomas Edison once said, "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." One could say the same about searching for a new church home.
I'm learning that it's easy to grow disheartened after visiting a string of local churches in search of the best fit for my family. It's tempting to throw in the towel, stay home and play "house church" or watch a service on television. But as Edison says, giving up is "our greatest weakness."
My husband and I recently moved a bit farther outside of Washington, D.C. For us, it is important to attend a church which directly ministers to our neighbors and local community. So we've said goodbye to our former church nestled inside the Beltway and plunged headfirst into the dreaded church search in our new locale.
Folks, the search for a new church is more difficult than I imagined. Leaving behind our comfort zone inside the Beltway, we're learning what it means to be in unity with the body of Christ.
First, I've learned to prioritize.
There are local church characteristics we are willing to compromise on and others we cannot. For example, the strong smell of moldy pews and a windowless chapel can be overlooked, but Biblical literacy and a commitment to orthodoxy can never be compromised.
I've known these truisms well from working in the world of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). The very nature of my job requires me to monitor social issues — and pressures — affecting the Church and to equip and encourage Christians to maintain a strong social witness and avoid compromising traditional Christian teaching. Overlooking a sermon that failed to address hot button topics becomes more alluring when the worship style appeals to my sensibilities. I'm just being honest.
Thankfully, my search for a new church home set my priorities straight.
No matter how ornate the unorthodox church's historic sanctuary appears, it's not a place I can learn, receive accountability, and serve the Lord. So if the theatre church down the street is gospel-centered, then that's where we're visiting next Sunday.
Second, I've learned to critique without criticism.
Each Sunday I narrowly sidestep the temptation not only to become disheartened, but also disgruntled and callous towards the Church.
At the IRD, we witness angst attitudes among some of our Religious Left opponents whose (perhaps) righteous critique of Christ's Church developed into loathing. Others allow their criticism to inch them closer towards hatred. Disgruntled "formerly" Evangelical commentators even earn a lucrative living railing against the flaws of local churches. And I can see how this temptation begins.
While sitting back critiquing the worship style, sermon topics, and counting how many congregants didn't bother to walk over and extend a welcome, I've had to pray the Holy Spirit help me extend grace. I should also add, prayer for gladness and thanksgiving while freely and publically worshiping the Lord.
I'm reminded by a colleague at the IRD that churches serve as spiritual hospitals. They are filled with flawed, broken individuals seeking restoration, something we can all relate to at one time or another.
Finally, the biggest lesson learned through my church search is a simple one: be willing to commit.
My husband and I must beware the temptation to go from church searchers to church hoppers who never commit.
Brandon D. Smith recently likened discontentment with local churches to speed dating in his Patheos blog titled, "Dating Jesus' Wife." In his blog, Smith delivered a convicting reminder that followers of Christ are called to be in committed unity with the body of Christ despite Her flaws, just as Christ is committed to His bride despite Her flaws.
Smith wrote, "It's time to stop dating Jesus's wife, to stop looking around for something better. 'The church is full of hypocrites!' Indeed! 'This faith and that faith have a better public image!' Yup! But look at her–at you!–as a redeemed wretch who will one day appear like a bride adorned for her wedding day."
One reason searchers transform into hoppers is because we want to avoid the responsibility that comes with committing to a local church. Chances are there will be needs in the church. Volunteers are sought to serve in the nursery, food pantry, or maybe the single adult ministry. But it's sure tantalizing to remain complacent with anonymity on Sunday morning after several years of service in youth ministry. It's easier to merely arrive before service starts and leave immediately after it concludes. Lunch is waiting, right? Wrong.
I'm humbly reminded as a follower of Christ, I'm called to serve others in the body of Christ. To do that, I must commit as a member.
I pray the Lord quickly leads my family to the local church He wills us to serve. But I am also grateful to the lessons He has taught me during our church search. Good reminders, indeed.