The Fisherman and I have lived up here for 11 years. We've attended three different churches and visited about four more over the years. We've had a tough time finding a place that is a full fit. We've settled in places for anywhere from 5 months to almost 5 years. When you come from a very special church, a big church in a big city, that you've been at for 30 years, it's difficult to find a good fit in a small town. I imagine Open Door Fellowship will always be home to us. Our roots go deep there; our history is long there.
We attended for almost five years a church that I also worked for. I made lots of friends in women's ministries and I loved serving that church as their secretary. To this day feel like it was the best job I've ever had. (Yes, actually beating out being secretary at Open Door, oddly enough.) It was such a perfect fit for me job wise. I have never felt better used given my skills, talents, gifts and abilities. I have never felt more comfortable doing a job. It's where I truly learned that being a church secretary is "not just a job - it's a ministry." Yet there were always some uncomfortable, even troubling, things for us there. When I moved to Phx to take care of Mom, we kind of knew that "era" was complete for us. Now that I'm back on the mountain, I will visit the people I grew to love there, but it won't be our church home.
There are a few things that stand out strongly in our efforts to find a new church home. Things that, so far, have made it difficult to find a church to align ourselves with and a place to call home. In no particular order, they are:
1.) The music. We come from a church that has always been gifted with an abundance of musical talent. They really know how to rock! And that's what we love. Hardly a Sunday goes by when I'm at ODF that I don't stop singing for a moment and marvel at the huge fullness of the singing. It absolutely FILLS the sanctuary and I simply cannot help but imagine this is what heaven is like. And most of the songs are ones that are currently playing on the radio. Most churches we've been to up here range from a little to way behind the times when it comes to the style and songs they sing. And they all seem to be afraid to turn the volume up. The result? Wimpy singing. I remember at our last church, there was the occasional Sunday (in five years!) that they turned the volume up for the band. People really sang! You have to when the music is louder. The Fisherman and I were like, "Finally!!" It was beautiful. Well, it never failed that come Monday morning the pastor would mention how someone had complained about it being way too loud and he had to speak with the worship team about toning it down. I tell you, sometimes my heart just sank with hopeless disappointment. It's just so not what we're used to, what is beautiful to us, and what takes us to worship.
2.) Charismatic or Traditional. There seem to be a lot of charismatic churches in small towns. Maybe it's not disproportionate as compared to a big city, but it sure seems so to me. I've noticed it in Alaska, too. We are not of the charismatic inclination and are not comfortable when it's over-emphasized in a church body. We steer clear of the ones clearly of this bent. We are not of a traditional inclination either - that of a traditional church subject to the gigantic governmental organism of their denomination. I guess, what I'm trying NOT to say is that it seems like there is a choice between dryness and raging flood waters. That said, there actually are a lot of nice churches up here, full of committed people who are learning, growing, and loving within their church families. I think there are some churches that may be charismatic but don't seem to be saturated in it and distracted by it. It's just that so far, it's hard to find one that fits us. I think depth is the appropriate word. We are looking for depth of teaching, worship, relationships, and so on.
3.) Church government. The biblical guidelines for church government are that a church should be elder led. I see elders as kind of like the Dads of the church family. They are the head of the family. Their role is one of teaching, prayer, leadership and oversight. They are to be the guiding influence on the flock and the protectors of the flock. Much like a shepherd is charged with the overall well being of his flock. We have found a number of churches up here that do not have elders. They are pastor led churches. It's unwise to let all the influence rest with one man. God knew this; that's why the Bible calls for elders. The plurality of leadership not only is a safeguard and a checks and balances system for maintaining a God-honoring, doctrinally sound church, it also requires that the leadership work in relationship with one another. In relationships is where God does all His work in us. The Bible talks about each Christian having at least one "spiritual gift" given to them by God for use in building up the church body. We all need each other. I need to be on the receiving end of your gifts and you need to be on the receiving end of mine. We are to submit to one another's gifts/strengths and not try to function independently of one another. If we as a collective whole are supposed to function interdependently using our various gifts, it's natural that the leadership of the church should function likewise. The elders' relationships with each other and working together for one purpose serves as model and example for the rest of us. It is part of their leading.
4.) Grace or Performance. We come from a church that has a fantastic handle on the fact that, as Christians, we are not under a performance mantle but rather a mantle of grace. God is NOT standing there tapping His foot at us waiting for us to measure up. WE CAN'T! That's the whole message of the Cross. Yet we live in a world where we better measure up, or else we won't get that job, will get punished, will lose friends, will get passed over for that promotion, won't win the race, won't get the girl, won't get asked out, and on and on. When it comes to God, we can NOT measure up. That's why He sent Jesus - who DID measure up - to take our place in the consequences of NOT measuring up. He did it on the cross. ("He came to pay a debt He did not owe because I owed a debt I could not pay.") Believing that puts us in perfect standing with God...never more to be judged, with regards to eternity or His love, based on our performance and behavior. So why do SO many churches preach performance??? The last two times I have been to one particular church, the emphasis was all about performance. How can you serve better? What can you do to be a better Christian? Yes, God has designed that we serve each other (i.e., the gifts paragraph above under church government). But our target should not be improving our behavior. Our target is knowing God, knowing His love for us, and in turn loving Him. Our target is God Himself, not what we can/must/should do for Him. It's hard to find a church that grasps and embodies the Bible's message of grace.
To be continued.....