Every Saturday evening, my husband and I sit, side by side, laptops on our laps. We click through church websites, reading pages like “What to Expect” and “What We Believe” and “Leadership.”
On the one hand, having all this information at our fingertips is a huge help in narrowing down the field of prospective church homes. We don’t want to roll a dice to decide where to go each Sunday. But if often feels like we are.
One church appears to believe that baptism is an essential part of becoming part of God’s family and thus does private baptisms all through the week. We believe baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality, thus it should be public and it is not required to be part of God’s family. We take them off our list.
We get a bit of a sour taste in our mouths as we browse through the service descriptions at a fairly large church nearby. They have a suit-and-tie service in one room, a super-casual rock-and-roll service in another room, and a more traditional service in a third room. A la carte, choose-your-own-adventure church rubs us the wrong way. How does a church operating so separately function as a unified body of Christ? On the other hand, aren’t we selecting based on similar criteria? Our heads are spinning over all the questions, but something about it just doesn’t feel right. They’re off the list too.
Another church states on its leadership page that they are independent and led by their one pastor. We shudder. How is that leader held accountable to make wise and loving decisions for the good of the entire church, rather than selfish, foolish, self-serving decisions that advance his own agenda? We are searching for a church that recognizes how broken each of us are and has built in serious checks and balances, systems to keep them from going astray, and has placed in leadership only those who listen and respect one another and humbly accept correction. No model is perfect, I know. But I want to see effort to mitigate the harm that a rogue leader or leaders can inflict on a church. Not visiting that one.
On the other hand, a website, words on a screen, can only share so much. Local churches have personalities just like individuals do. We will have to visit, meet churches in person, to see if we fit. Neither of us look forward to that. We long to be a part of a close-knit community of people who love God fiercely and love one another equally as fiercely. We’re loosening our grip on our form preferences as we realize that function is most important and can exist in many forms. A church we never thought we’d revisit is slowly creeping back up the list of possibilities.
In just one month, what I’ve thought about church form and function has been turned upside-down and inside-out. They were right when they said if you’re open to where God leads, you may find yourself in the most unexpected places.