As much as I dislike using the following phrase, I recently moved house and subsequently went “church hunting.” That statement makes it sound like I was involved in some sort of optional leisure activity, yet I’ve actually had to scour the bottom of my faith to discover what I value the most. For the first time in my life, I understood first hand why some believers choose to be private Christians and never belong to a local congregation.
And yet, here I am, eager to taste the grace of God during the Lord’s Supper. Longing to form relationships with older Christian women who can teach me, like in the type of New Testament community the epistles describe as ideal. The sermon isn’t even the half of it for me, because I’ve found little scriptural evidence for expecting pastors to regurgitate whatever they study during the week into my expectant mouth, like I am their baby bird.
Eucharist; and honest, intentional relationships that challenge me. Those are the two things that motivate me to get out of bed on a Sunday morning, even when I’ve only had 3 hours of sleep.
I’m wondering what any private Christians out there think about some of the advantages of belonging to a body of fellow believers. If you are part of a church, what things do you value as most important when you are trying to find a church or, having visited one, considering joining it? Most importantly, what keeps you coming back?
Hello there Ishta,
I have to say that I definitely understand your circumstances. After ministering in California for over six years I moved back to my hometown of Houston, TX four years ago. Quite frankly, “church hunting” was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have been through as a Christian. I had just left the UPCI for doctrinal reasons so I felt very uncomfortable in those churches. Not so much because of doctrinal difference but the pervasive culture that is there of “believe like me or go.” Then in most evangelical churches I visited were fine until they began asking questions of my past. The moment I started to relay my past Oneness Pentecostal history either it would go one of two ways: 1. A total questioning my Christian experience or 2. A kind of uncomfortable “Oh, okay.” comment followed by a distancing process. It literally took me three years to find a church that was willing to accept my doctrinal history. So one of the big things for me was finding a church that would yes challenge me to doctrinal purity but also be patient of where I’m at because I’m not one to just accept a dogma just because you say so. The other big one for me was, was the Christian community truly one of accountability and discipleship. I had been in mid-size to larger churches most of my Christian experience and quite frankly I was burnt on ministry. I needed a place to be challenged of sins and also where I could safely heal. Those where my big two. Those are what have keep me coming back to my current church.
@Ishta: First, I’d say Eucharist is first and foremost. I have decided to make home congregations that do this weekly. I once had a friend who seemed fed up with church and this is what I kept emphasizing: we share the broken body of Christ, we share the broken body of Christ, we share the broken body of Christ!
Second, I think the “messy” side of church is expected. Like you, and Danny above, I came out of the UPCI. I am not talking about the kind of messy. I am not talking about people dictating whether or not your knees are showing or your hair is cut. I do think we must embrace the reality that part of Christian liberty is allowing others to be a bit weird, a bit annoying, a bit hard to be around. This sends a message to a world that is divided along all kinds of lines. Sadly, most churches fail at being different from everyone else in this area.
I can relate to Danny and Ishta. I struggle with doctrinal positions that are non-traditional in the UPCI, as well as a desire to see aspects of Christianity become more prominent in my life (i.e., the eucharist.)
It’s a long process. Fortunately, I have good friends and a good God to help me through it. 🙂
These are in no particular order:
I have to feel the presence of God,
there must be a love for God and others in the congregation (I’ve been to many cliquish churches where people’s eyes would glance off you in hopes you would not introduce yourself) that is practiced in practical ways,
people must be accepted where they are but challenged to moral and doctrinal maturity,
the word of God must be taught completely – not just selectively,
Salvation through faith and nothing else must be taught,
Evangelism and discipleship must be practiced,
but the most important for me is that I must know this church is what God wants me to be.
I think being in a place where one can feel accepted just as one is though challenged to grow as a person should be a big factor – too many churches are judgmental and this has to stop.
Ah, a series of good question!
What God is doing in the world to put it to rights – involves community activity. What cannot read the NT documents, the Bible for that matter, without the overwhelming presence of community.
Regarding the significance of a pastor-teacher or the like, it’s a bibilcal model that we simply cannot escape. The biblical witness is there. Yes, the abuses are there. But there are multiple examples of the positives, if you will.
my family and I are now looking for another church. I empathize you all.
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