[Note: because of the complexity of these questions, I’ve posted an expanded version below of what is slated to appear in the religion section of the Denton Record-Chronicle on Feb. 26, 2016.]
Dear Readers, last week, The Thoughtful Pastor promised to answer this question: “What are your recommendations on finding a good church?”
I got so stuck here that I crowd-sourced (actually clergy-sourced) answers. My stuckness grew from my dismay at the consumerist pattern of church-shopping. Too many looking for churches that “meet their needs” end up in disappointment and minimal spiritual growth.
I long for the monolithic parish system where people attend church in their geographical areas and make the best of it. Mormons with geographically-defined wards, Orthodox Jews who must live within walking distance of their synagogues, and Roman Catholics all practice some sort of parish system.
However, Protestants don’t. The rise of the independent Bible church, with no defined geographical parish at all, has most definitely exacerbated the tendency to church shop.
So, for those need to make a choice, here is advice from the many excellent answers I received.
For the most part, we do not live where we sleep. Instead, we live where we work, shop, go to school, spend leisure time with friends or hang out, along with social networks. Where we live isn’t a place, but a beat.
Reimagine the parish: its physical location would be near the hub of our regular beat. There we invest in the communities we encounter on a regular basis.
Location still matters. Then look at other variables.
Check the theology of the church: Are you told what to believe or can you wrestle together with scripture?
- Will this be a place where I can learn to be in community with those unlike me?
- Is God calling me to come here and use my gifts to serve Christ here?
- Is God sending me as the answer to this church’s prayers?
Make multiple visits before deciding. Joining a church is much like a marriage. Don’t do this hastily.
Always remember, there is no perfect church!
(See the bottom of this post for far more suggestions on finding a church–they are simply superb!)
Dear Thoughtful Pastor,
I’m alarmed at those who regard Sen. Ted Cruz as the “anointed” candidate for President. As a church-going Christian, I am also a big fan of the First Amendment. What is your take on the talk of Cruz as a “dominionist” who wants to return the US to its Christian roots?
The biggest fascination of this Presidential election may lie in the religious underpinnings driving the campaigns. And the Cruz campaign leads the pack on religious references.
For those not familiar with the term, “anointed” means in this context to ceremonially confer divine or holy office on someone. A short search turned up several videos about Cruz’ “anointing” by God and others to be the next President.
Here is the video that described the scene where Ted Cruz is called of God to be the next President of the United States:
Quick recap: Ted Cruz and his wife and family spent six months in prayer just seeking the will of God, presumably concerning Ted’s political ambitions. The culmination: after a church service at First Baptist Church, Houston, TX, Ted and his family (and I do wonder if that includes his two young daughters) spent two hours on their knees.
Heidi, Ted’s wife, received a word, an inspiration: “Seek God’s face, not God’s hand.” That was what it took. The Holy Spirit descended. Ted knew what to do and said, “Here am I, Lord, use me.”
Then he set his face to achieve the position of arguably the most powerful person on earth. I say “arguably” because the POTUS is somewhat restrained by other US governmental powers in the way that dictators like Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, or Kim Jong-un, President of North Korea, are not.
Folks, this is a whole lot better story than Jesus’ calling as the Messiah.
Upon the beginning of his ministry. Jesus boldly states, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
The word, “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah,” the anointed or the sent one. In other words, Jesus declares that he is indeed the longed for Sent One. He does this AFTER spending an extended time alone in the desert.
Jesus then successfully resists the temptation to take the shortcut offered by the Tempter: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7 NRSV).
At this point, Jesus set his face to serve the world, to offer redemption and forgiveness and access to the kingdom of heaven to all, to become last so that others might be first.
But that’s not Ted’s way. He is on a mission to force his version of Christianity upon us.
From what I can glean, dominion theology, taught by Cruz’ evangelist-father Raphael and held by Cruz, promotes an extremist theocratic form of government. Elected officials, anointed by God, will impose biblical laws upon the nation.
If you have time, watch this video:
Cruz declares himself an ardent defender of the Constitution, yet it seems to have escaped him that this nation was NOT founded to be a “Christian” nation, but one with a type of radical religious freedom simply not available elsewhere. That freedom goes two ways: One, to worship where and how we please without governmental mandate. Two, freedom NOT to believe should we wish.
I know it sounds odd as a pastor, but I personally shudder with horror when I hear someone wants to impose “biblical” laws upon us. Any careful investigation of many of the laws found in the Bible shows that an imposition of those upon our culture would result in something that looks very much like the Inquisition, the Taliban . . . or even ISIS.
It’s not a pretty picture, unless you happen to be in the select few who decide which laws to enforce with the power to enforce them.
Most of us want goodness to prevail in our society. But real goodness cannot be imposed by law. It bubbles up from renewed and changed hearts full of compassion and willing to fight, not institute, oppression.
Additional Comments on Finding a Church Home
- Now that I’m retired, there are several things I look for. Number one is good liturgy, with weekly Eucharist. Second, good music (NOT “contemporary,” unless by “contemporary” you mean Ralph Vaughn Williams, Benjamin Britain, etc.). Also, social awareness and inclusiveness.
- Find a church where you: are made to feel welcome; are invited to become involved in ministry; have opportunities to study and learn the Bible, feel engaged in weekly worship; and where the preacher teaches the whole bible, not just the easy and enjoyable passages.
- I would begin with the thought process why do they want to go to church. Bend go on a discovery process of what their spiritual needs are at this time in their life. These two questions should guide the process as to the denomination size and structure of the worshiping congregation they need to seek out
- Great question. I would encourage the reader to do some self reflection. Good is relative. What’s important to them?
- I’ve got this question a few times actually, and I have recommended people to go church-shopping for a while before they settle. Yes, awful expression….underscores the church-market…but on the positive side, the church as in the global one, offer a lot of diversity so that everyone should have an opportunity to find a home. And that is often the key. Where you do feel at home? Where do they speak your “language”, where do feel included, needed, embraced. In my experience that is the most important issue, even more than theology.
- Honestly, though to me, serving and community are so critical to a full Christian life, I have to say that likely a weekly worship time that engages my soul would be central. From my experiences attending worship while on vacation, I am sad to say there is a lot of worship out there that is just OK and I suspect it would be hard to find weekly worship that feeds my soul.
- In my current context, I often find more excitement about engaging the community in secular contexts than in the church, and that is definitely a concern for the viability of church as we know it.
- By the way, “ask someone,” is good advice. I discovered the church I’m regularly attending by asking a friend whom I knew shared my concerns about liturgy and sacrament.
- I would add that people should be open to churches of all sizes. Churches that help people grow spiritually can be small, medium, or large, and a small church people might overlook could be a place they find deep community that is missing or is less accessible at a bigger church, and where laypeople do ministry, not just hire staff to do it.
- In my church shopping years (I was in the Navy for 20 years and moved often) I went from church to church until God told me “this is the one I have prepared for you .” Sometimes they were big churches where I could be anonymous and sometimes they were small churches where my gifts and graces were obviously needed.
- I say be silent and listen. While you are at it watch.
- If the pastor is training congregates to walk in becoming Christlike and is not threatened by their advancing beyond him/her then woohoo! That’s a growing body not in a numerical value either. If the congregation is reproducing other disciples then that’s a Kingdom gathering. If they reveal the purpose of what Jesus Christ designed for us to reveal in the earth / that is to experience the Kingdom of God in the reign of Jesus the Christ together here on earth.
- I was thinking about the conundrum and the notion of church shopping. What if we reframe the language? Is dating more in line with what’s happening. Are you spending quality time to see if you are compatible to work and grow together? Self reflection is an important part of this. Identify some non-negotiables. (like I’m not going to go to a church that professes that KJV is the only way to encounter scripture. I’m not going to a church which doesn’t value and respect women and/or minorities. and so forth)
- Maybe the question is better put, “how do you become a member who will help to make a good church?”
- One way to sum all of this up is: Will this church shape you to be a faithful Christian in practice and belief?
- I’d use the opportunity to explain all the beauty that can be found within a church, and that is is not about where they feel comfortable, but more about where they feel they can serve alongside. If the question is all about them and their wants and not about God, then we run the risk of promoting consumer Christians, time and time again. But, if they feel like they serve God alongside those that call that faith community family, then it should at least be considered. And yes, hopefully the Holy Spirit and prayer for discernment plays a role.
- My advice would be: Find the Christian you admire most and ask them if you can go to church with them. If they’re worthy of your admiration, they’ll be thrilled to take you.
- Ask yourself, “Do you belong? If the pastor and the music program changed, is this still the community you want to grow in faith with?
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