At the age of twenty-seven I have been part of only four church congregations. I went to the same church from age six to eighteen with my mother who exemplified loyalty to a local assembly almost to a fault. In college I went to a church for most of two years before being offered the opportunity to help with a church in San Francisco, CA. I was a member of that church for almost six years before moving to Portland, OR. I say all that to say this: I am not usually too critical about the congregation of which I am part.

When my wife and I came to Portland we sought a church large enough to prevent us from having to become too involved during our first year of marriage. We knew we would need time together that we may not be able to obtain if we volunteered ourselves for too many things. We chose the popular Imago Dei Community. Both of the meeting locations were a short drive from our apartment and we appreciated many of the aspects of this community such as the enjoyable teaching of Rick McKinley, the worship including the weekly Eucharist, and the liturgical calendar mainline tradition blended with evangelical sensibilities. It has been good for us.

Now we are nearing our first anniversary and we have been forced to reevaluate what matters most to us. It seems that Imago Dei may be a tad too large. I often get the sense that it is a little too hipster for me at times and it makes me feel old. I have become accustom to things like a more vibrant expression of worship and the ins-and-outs of inner city congregations while in San Francisco. This has led us to begin the search for an assembly that may be a better fit for our gifting and personalities.

Yet the process of seeking a new congregation to join has made cry out like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7.24: “O wretched man that I am!”. It seems that I have developed a handful of things that are important to me that I cannot find in one single congregation. I disdain so-called “church shopping”. I think it is sad that we have imported our American consumerism into finding a local church. Nevertheless, I don’t want to settle somewhere where I feel like (a) it is not a good fit doctrinally or with our values or (b) does not need my presence because it is already a thriving church.

So what have I been seeking in my ideal church? It is a sad, long list! I want to worship along the liturgical calendar because I get annoyed with churches who have no direction, no connection to the global church, and no connection to the historical church. I want the Eucharist to be offered each week because I don’t want the center of our gatherings to be either good music or preaching or programs but the resurrected Christ who gave us a meal to remember his sacrifice for us.

Yet I am not interested in going into something too mainline, too traditional. I would like the music to fluctuate between contemporary and older. I want to sing songs new and songs with history. I want to be able to clap loudly, raise my hands, and be energetic if I feel the need to do so. This is the fault of my Pentecostal upbringing but it is something I cannot shake.

I want a pastor who is a pastor. This means the congregation cannot be too large. Yet I don’t want a pastor who is in my business all the time. So the congregation cannot be too small! I want him to teach sound doctrine without being too confessional. In other words, I am not looking for an “emerging” church or somewhere where I must confess an exceptionally long creed (other than the Apostle’s and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creeds).

I would prefer a racially diverse group of people though I know Portland is one of the most monochromatic urban centers in the United States (i.e. white). I don’t want to go somewhere sectarian. I don’t want to go somewhere too culturally accommodated (whether this means trend after trend seeking what is “new” in “postmodern, post-Christendom society” or a place where there is a large American flag next to a state flag next to that odd “Christian” flag).

I am sure I could go on and on and on though I will stop before I come across as a total whiny jerk. As I said before there have been only a few congregations that I have called home during my first three decades of life. Likewise, I am sure I will compromise one or two or three of these values when I go somewhere. What I cannot do is be one of those who helps start a “new” church that will get it “right”. I know that never happens. All this post can be is me getting angst off of my chest. If you have read this far your prayers are much appreciated that God would show us where he wants us. Our prayer is that we serve a local assembly for the good of the Kingdom of God even if this means there are some things I’d like to see changed. In the meantime I will be reflecting on the following words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes the destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

Life Together, 27.