The following is a short excerpt of my next book, Good God: Why Embracing the Questions, Hope, and Punch Lines of Our Faith Helps Me Believe. The first draft of the manuscript has been handed in, and I’ll begin rewrites and edits soon. This portion comes from a chapter called “Punctuating Jesus.” Oh, and please excuse the mistakes…
For a short time, while living in Northern Virginia, I multi-churched. In other words, I became emotionally and spiritually involved with three different churches at the same time. Sure, I had moments when I felt like a church whore, but the guilt I felt during those times wasn’t potent enough for me to break up with one of them. Besides, attending three churches made me feel edgy and alive and helped me resist the temptation to sell my soul to any one of them.
But three-timing was accidental. I hadn’t planned on trying to find a trio of spiritual homes. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was hoping to find when I started looking for a church. I dreamed about a church experience that would be different than what I’d encountered up until that point. Before then, I’d certainly attended different churches. I’d gone Pentecostal. I’d done Presbyterian. I’d even endured a three-hour headache-inducing service at a church called Power in the Blood of Jesus International Missionary Baptist. The music just kept going on and on like the Oscars. And I love spirit-filled music, but I’m also convinced that, if the Holy Spirit is truly alive in a song, then he/she/it would know how to bring a song to an end.
However, even though I was open to experiencing a new kind of church, I always ended up settling for a church that felt comfortable, a house of God that was an acceptable variation of my conservative Christian roots. At the time, I struggled to feel the freedom to settle down and belong to a church that ventured off the evangelical pathway that I was used to. But I wanted that.
The craziest I’d become was experimenting with Calvinism during college, which brought great grief and sadness to my father. Dad hated Calvinism more than most people liked it, and it brought him great pain even thinking about having a son who enjoyed tiptoeing through T.U.L.I.P. “Never in a million years,” I remember Dad telling me, “did I imagine that a child of mine would end up fooling around with Calvinism. It just astounds me.”
Disappointing my father while I was away at college seemed okay since I rarely had to come in contact with his frustrations, but when I returned home post graduation, the theological tension at the dinner table became overwhelming. Besides, the closest reformed church was more than an hour away from where my parents lived. I visited a few times. And I wanted to love it. But I couldn’t. Compared to the compassion-driven reformed church I attended during college, Grace Presbyterian Church felt like a boarding school for zealots. But my biggest reason for disliking the church was because I wasn’t exactly sure if Reverend Bode was a follower of Jesus or a follower of the Apostle Paul. He talked about Jesus a lot, but much of the time, his Jesus seemed to be paralyzed in a wheelchair, waiting to get pushed around by the Apostle Paul. Also, I didn’t like how Reverend Bode talked about the human condition. And there’s only so many times that one can hear how “depraved” they are before it begins to affect their moods. Some of his sermons were so negative, like a Puritan Debby Downer, that I would leave church feeling depressed.
When I started shopping for a church, I decided I was going to take my time and find some place that I loved with a nice pastor, people who were at least as sane as I was, and comfortable pews. I spent the better part of my first eight months church hunting in the DC suburbs. Nearly every Sunday morning and Sunday evening, I visited a different church. I made a decision that I didn’t want to attend a church that made me feel like crap every Sunday. Having lived in that kind of church for most of my life, I was tired of waking up on Sunday mornings for an emotional beating. My views about Jesus and what it meant to follow him were slowly beginning to shift. The older I got, the more difficult it became to envision Heaven as an exclusive eternal hangout for evangelicals. Oh, I was definitely an evangelical, but even then I wondered why in the world Jesus would want to lock himself up in the same paradise with only evangelicals. That didn’t sound like Heaven.
So I began perusing the aisles of churches within a twelve-mile radius from where I lived. I tried many denominations—from a Lutheran to Church of Christ to Greek Orthodox to Non-denominational with a talented praise band and Non-denominational with an untalented praise band. The only kind of church I didn’t attend were ones with “Baptist” in their name. Again, that was shallow of me. But I was still in recovery, and at the time, still believed that I was recovering from being “Baptist.” After visiting twenty-six different churches, I spent an additional three months revisiting the ones I liked the most. Eventually I decided on my top three: A Presbyterian church with a tall beautiful white steeple and a congregation that believed the size of its organ pipes mattered; a non-denominational Bible church that boasted thousands of members, a THX-sound system, and a pastor who mentioned in almost every sermon that he was a “recovering Jew” (the term “Messianic Jew,” to him, sounded weak and unconvincing); and a church that, despite being confused about its spiritual orientation—it’s board was in the middle of a heated debate about whether it would remain Episcopalian or come out of the closet as Anglican—offered tremendous Biblical teaching and numerous opportunities for community outreach. I revisited my top three choices again. But I could not decide on a winner. I liked all of them for different reasons.
So rather than choosing a winner, I multi-churched…
© Matthew Paul Turner
Have you ever multi-churched?
The above picture was sent to me by @bigjohnhutton.