This post is PART TWO of a series entitled: “That Time I Visited Fourteen Churches in Four Months”
Four months ago, I began a Sabbatical from my role as a pastor. One of the things I did during this time was to visit different worship services. I was really excited to get a chance to go to church services that I wasn’t leading. It would be nice to go to church and show up five minutes before the service started. It would be nice not to spend a whole service checking the order for what came next so I could prepare. It would be nice not to preach for a while!
And it actually was really really nice.
I attended fourteen different churches, and what I can say with confidence is this: There are lots of great churches out there. I hear a lot of people say they can’t find a church and I get that it’s hard. But most churches I attended were places where it was obvious people were really trying to be faithful. They loved God. They wanted to help people. And there are so many different churches! if you aren’t finding one church aligns with how you feel most connected to worship, there are many many others who are doing things differently. Don’t like praise bands? Great news – there are LOTS of churches who don’t use them. Want a church that is modern and not using liturgy you don’t understand? There are churches doing that too.
I had some truly amazing experiences at churches I got to attend. I heard one of the best sermons I have ever heard when I visited my sister’s church near Vancouver. One of the churches in Hamilton I visited had an amazing 11 piece worship team that sounded like a recording. I absolutely loved the readings in one small church I attended, where someone had clearly thought about every word that we would read. I heard really cool stories and met amazing people and learned about ministries I had never heard about before. A few weeks into my visiting cycle, I said to my husband: “I LOVE going to different churches so much! Every week is so interesting and different and there are so many good things happening all around us!!!!”
A couple of weeks later I said to him: “I’m over it.”
It wasn’t that I started going to “bad” churches. It was that I was encountering something that I had always known, but never really experienced – church is more than attending a worship service.
I realized I had never actually gone more than a few weeks without having a “home church.” I have always made it a priority to settle into a church pretty quickly in new cities, even when I was a student. I really believe what one woman told me someone said to her after she became a Christian: “No church is perfect. So find a Bible believing church near you and stick with it for six months, and then it will probably feel like home.” (Thirty years later, she’s still at our church, and ten years after she told me that story, I still think it’s one of the wisest things I have ever heard).
So at about week eight of my fourteen-week rotation, even though I was technically “going to church” every week, I discovered I was missing CHURCH. I was missing my family. I was missing my home. After a few weeks of loving learning new songs, I was missing singing the ones I knew best. After a few weeks of being welcomed as a visitor, I was missing being welcomed as an old friend.
I wanted church. I wanted to know how people were doing. I wanted to see faces I knew. I wanted to celebrate the ongoing stories of people with whom I had journeyed. I wanted people who asked me how my family was doing and commented on how tall my kids had grown and who told me how they had been praying for me. I wanted to be doing this church thing with people – not just standing beside strangers for an hour on a Sunday and never seeing them again. I wanted small groups and Bible studies and picnics and potlucks and prayer updates on facebook. I even wanted all the little things that annoyed me about my own church. I missed living in the imperfections of a church of real people figuring out faith together. I wanted CHURCH – not just a service for an hour on a Sunday (no matter how great the sermon was).
I do wonder if, on the journey to find a church, we are so busy looking at what happens for one hour on a Sunday that we never really get to experience all that church is, in its messy, complicated far-from-perfect glory. I do think that it’s little surprise people say “I can’t find a church” if all they see is one or two Sundays at a time, because, quite frankly – that’s not church.
Church is the family of God, and all the relationships, life AND worship that we do together. I wonder if we gave more time to a community if we might discover we could find a church after all?…
Either way, I could hardly wait to go back to my church this Sunday after four months away, and it did not disappoint. Our worship team was stripped down for the summer. We went a little over schedule. We were short helpers in our Sunday School. It wasn’t perfect; it never is. But it felt like a breath of fresh air to experience all of church again – family and friendship and learning faith together.
One hour each week just wasn’t quite the same.
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