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Church Shopping

It sounds like such a consumerist mentality to finding a new church home. Yet, I myself have been guilty of casually referring to this season of church visiting as such. What other term is there to eloquently describe the season where one {or a family} is intentionally looking for a church to call their home?

truths2When we were preparing to relocate our family we were put in the position of needing to find a new church home. 

As we prepared our hearts and relationships for this transition of moving, we were also preparing our hearts, and our children’s hearts, for a season of church visiting. I don’t like calling it “church shopping,” simply because of the consumerist mentality it seems to represent.

Most don’t enjoy this season– feeling displaced, out of one’s comfort zone, the fact that building new relationships can be hard; but it’s all in your perspective. I actually find it refreshing to catch a glimpse of how the Holy Spirit is moving among many churches, God’s churches, simultaneously.

It’s a beautiful thing to see similar visions, making impact in the communities they have been given jurisdiction. And generally speaking if you are friendly to people, they will be friendly back. After all, we are all family right? It’s like going to a pre-heaven reunion.

So, as I prepare my heart and the hearts of my family for this anticipated season of seeking where God would have us, I have written out reminders from the lessons we have learned over the years–lessons we want to intentionally model and teach our children. And I thought I would share some of those here with you.

To God Be the Glory- My prayer is that you would encouraged if you are in a season of seeking a new church or prayerfully considering doing so soon. Follow the Lord, not man. “Don’t leave or stay to follow any man,” as my husband says. The only man worthy of being followed is Christ. So until He moves you, stay put, pray and listen.

church shopping

Tips, Truths & Grace Giving Attitudes to Remember when Visiting Churches in Search of a New Home

1. No Church is Perfect. Since the church is made up of sinners… there is sin. 

This should be easy to remember, since I am a sinner myself. But the reality is that sometimes, us Christians are the hardest on our own kind. Sure it is easy to have compassion on and for those who don’t know the Lord, but when it comes to forgiving and truly routing for a brother or sister in Christ or walking through a hard season in life encouraging them, sometimes they are unfaithful and even kick a brother or sister when they are already down. Finding a church that is authentic about who they really are and willing to “get into” each other’s lives and invest in one another is essential. This journey of life isn’t always easy, we need to support one another, rejoicing and grieving together, as well as working hard together. This is often the hardest thing to detect in a church by simply visiting a few times. Our family has committed to at least trying out a church a good handful of times before making any decisions.

Understanding that no church is perfect is essential. Many lack the endurance to truly commit long term to a church, a body, and a vision. And to be honest, there may even be seasons when the vision or the leaders, or even the family may not be worthy of being committed to, but Christ calls us to walk through the good and the bad together. Amen?

Unless God moves you. That is one of the traits of my husband I respect most. When my husband has had the wherewithal to stand strong through a lot, there have been times when I have been a thorn in his side, ready to run, but He has led us to stay until he is certain the Father has given us the permission to go and called us out.

As a church body, the greater church, we need to learn how to be more gracious with one another and walking with one another down the difficult journey’s life offers and God allows {myself included here}.

I think that this is reflected best when we truly believe that no church and no person is perfect and we adjust our expectations to match reality. Now, I am not saying we don’t have expectations of one another as Christ followers, just so long as those expectations are scripture wrote. And furthermore, we need to have grace with and for one another when we fall short, because we will.

Think back to your experience in church, what is your history? Have you been faithful and involved in others lives?

Or have you been one of those, who may go to church faithfully, but truly isn’t committed. Some of the best ways to test yourself is to see if you have built deep friendships from the churches you have gone too. Do people notice that you are gone? Is your part of your heart left there? Regardless of if you go there anymore or not? Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be, right?! That goes for eternally investing, both financially and in people.  Part of my heart is still with each of the church bodies we have been so blessed to be impacted by, for different reasons. I pray for them, care for them, and am thankful for the lessons learned while being there.

2. Decide What Your Open Handed and Closed Handed Issues Are.

This is the aspect of church “shopping” that has the potential to seem very consumer-like and it warrants much grace.

Do you know what you believe?
I am always surprised when I find out how many people go to churches that they don’t agree with Biblically or theologically. They simply like the worship or have a lot of friends there.

What does the church you go to believe, theologically? And are those two in alignment?
What are your “closed handed” and “open handed” issues?
And I am not referring to one’s preferences, like how the music sounds. Often times, we as humans allow our first impressions to impact a quick decision. “I loved the worship, I could sense the Spirit.” Or if they felt accepted and “normal.”
Open handed and closed-handed issues refer to the doctrine of the church.

Doctrine infiltrates every sermon and ultimately the mission and vision of the church. Now this is also where the need for more grace comes in, when you are able to have humility yourself and recognize that no man has it all right… not even you.

But nonetheless, it is wise to know the mission and vision of the leaders of the church and even befriend the leaders themselves. Do their attitudes reflect that of a constant growing leader or are they are stifled by thinking they know it all simply because of degree or being a second generation preacher?

The last two times we have been in a season of church transition we had held family meetings and asked our children what they thought was the most important in deciding what church we were to go to. Obviously, because some of our children were very young they thought going to a church with lots of kids was important.

Now the discussions are much more mature on many of their parts. Isaac and I have found that engaging the children and allowing them to be involved in the decision-making process has been healthy for them as well as ourselves {it offers an accountability in being full of grace but also being wise and discerning}. We want them to know the whys and why not behind our decision.

The reality is that our children learn from us, whether we are intentional about it or not. And if you are bashing a pastor or the worship team on the way home, they are learning from that example too {how to be an overly critical gossip}. We want our children to be full of grace and offering it quickly, but also be able to discern what is stable and set on a solid foundation doctrinally, spiritually, financially, and in the form of leadership and mission. There will be a day when they too will have to seek the Lord and His call as to “where” they are to serve, we want them to be as equipped as possible by modeling it for them. This is just one more aspect of our legacy influence.

Don’t get me wrong, every family has a right to their preferences, but realistically, most of those will have to be held with loose hands. For example, our family loves to take communion together every week, but is it worth deciding not to go to a church over? We can simply take communion together at home on the weeks it’s not offered.

3. Look for What You Can Give, Not What You Can Get

This is a very counter-cultural perspective, especially with regard to church shopping. I know, because I have failed to have this perspective myself at times. It is easy to look at what a church “offers” and “try it on for size” and then simply move on if it doesn’t fit right because there are SO many out there. I see this as very typical of today’s society – a consumerist mentality towards church. Forgive me for saying it- but this is also a very nominal Christian way to go about church.
The real church, is the body. It isn’t a building, though we meet in many all across the world. It’s filled of people, just like you and me, and they are our brothers and sisters, the family of God.

We are not to be “tried on” and deemed unfit.

So if you are looking for the perfect fit, the church that is going to met all the needs on your pros list, then chances are you aren’t looking to be a part of the family, but rather a customer or you are looking for Heaven.

Depending on why you are in transition, one might be more thirsty for spiritual nourishment, fellowship, or healing than another; so this concept might be more difficult for some in the current season they are in. But regardless of why you are looking for a new church, because we are living in a consumeristic society, we tend to assess, evaluate or “judge” a church based upon what we can get, what services or programs they offer, or how it makes us feel afterwards versus what we can give, how God might want to use our gifts to build up the body. This isn’t always obvious at first and takes time for God to reveal depending on your gifts and what He calls you too.

In the meantime, we are going to be intentional about trying to be an encouragement and blessing to those churches we visit, meeting more of our family and rejoicing in the good things the Lord is doing in His church everywhere.

4. Pray and Fast, Seeking God’s Direction and Will

Taking EVERYTHING to the Lord in prayer, much prayer, and fasting is at the foundation of walking in His will. I have learned that sometimes, even though my heart has been to put my roots down, God calls you to a place for a short season, for His purposes, sometimes to build you up and sometimes to build others up {and sometimes both}, and some places are for breaking and being rebuilt {healing}. The point is to recognize that what church we go to, isn’t about what we want,  which church is the most popular, or what pastor has written a book or lectures on your soap box; instead it’s as simple as surrendering the choice back to the Lord and asking Him to reveal His will for you and your family. In prayer and fasting He will reveal His will and call for you. And He will give you the courage and strength to do it as well as long as you are seeking His face.

Have you prayed and asked God if you are where He wants you?  Or do you go there because it just made sense… it’s safe and familiar? Are you on purpose in your community?

5.  Don’t Be Critical, But Be Thankful for How God Has Dispersed Gifts & Talents Among the Greater Body of Christ for His Purposes! 

Remember No Church is Better Than Another. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, all a part of one family, with different gifts, passions, callings.. that if we were to appreciate and value one another with a humble attitude of learning from one another, we would grow and be an even stronger team for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Be Cautious of Church Pride

In your heart and the hearts of those in the body. “My pastor is better than your pastor.” “Our church has…” When I mention church pride, I am obviously referring to the destructive arrogant and competitive kind. You know the kind, it doesn’t build up, it tears down, and compares.

Division among believers is one of the ways the enemy disables us in our Kingdom Calling. If we, as Christ-Followers, could just look at our relationships within the body of Christ the way we should look at our marriage… divorce is NOT an option… and not to sweat the small things… can you IMAGINE how much more effective we would be in the Great Commission? We spend, no, waste, so much time and energy, focused on things that don’t matter. And in the end, we aren’t making as many disciples.

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old {One is Silver & the Other’s Gold}

 There may be various reasons for looking for a new church: church divisions, vision changes, and simply put, God… calling us to another place.  It can be hard, but do you know what makes this easier?

Having deep authentic relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, that you live in community with regularly, regardless of what church you go to or how far away you live, you can count on the fact that they have your back and are praying for you.

You know the ones, those friendships that spur you on to live better, to do the hard things, to say yes to God because they believe in what God is doing through you. They are the brothers and sisters who come over to help you weed, or bring you a meal when your sick, or that you take a meal, or watch each other’s kids so you can have a date night.

They are the friends that know who they are in Christ and who you are in Christ, they see you for the real you and love you anyway. Those late night Red Robin get-togethers, where you laugh, cry, pour out your heart, listen to others pour out there’s, where you encourage each other in Christ and inspire one another to grow. Those friendships, they don’t just die… they last forever.

We have been deeply blessed by each of the churches we have been able to fellowship with and call our church home over the years. We always left on good terms, no hard feelings, and always did our best to maintain relationships that we had connected deeply with. Community, like I am talking about, takes work to build. It takes intentionality and stepping out of one’s comfort zone and inviting others over for dinner, for worship… for life.

One thing that has always been on my heart, and maybe it’s the mother in me, is the desire to put roots down deep.

When I was a young girl, my parents were members of a few churches, but when I turned eight or so, they committed to one congregation and my mother remains faithful there today, 30 years or so later. As I look back on my childhood, being a part of a stable faith-based community in which I grew up and served with, as well as went to school with some of those same kids, were some of my fondest memories.

So I guess there is this part of me that associates being at the same church most of my youth as one of the healthiest catalysts to community I had growing up. But one of the things God has been teaching me, is that sometimes He calls his people out of one place to be an encouragement to another. I think there will always be a bit of discontentedness within our hearts with regard to feeling settled in a home, or in a home church, but that’s because we aren’t made for this world. We are aliens here, on our journey to our eternal home. And until we reach our final destination, we will never be fully content, except by choice.