Part 4 of series: Choosing a Church: Some Recommendations
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
As most of my blog readers know, recently my family and I moved from California to Texas. We had a fairly easy time deciding that we wanted to live in Boerne, a small town on the outskirts of San Antonio. The schools are excellent in Boerne and it is located halfway between Kerrville (where my office is) and San Antonio (a major city with shopping, an airport, and where I frequently go for meetings).
Deciding to live in Boerne was easy enough, but deciding which house to buy was much trickier because there were so many variables. Did we want more land (which is amazingly inexpensive in Texas compared to California)? Or did we want a view of the hills? Did we want to live out in the country? Or did we prefer proximity to school and church? Then there were questions of price, style, floor plan, etc. etc. etc. It took us a few months of looking around before we were able to identify what we value most in a house. We learned, for example, that it was important to live fairly close to town so we didn’t end up spending lots of extra hours each week in the car (and burning gasoline!). (Photo: Our house hiding behind the trees.)
As you consider what you value in a church, as in shopping for a house, you’ll probably come up with top priority items (like solid theology), mid-priority items (proximity to home) and low-priority items (not too big). A prioritized list of values will be of great help as you try to settle in on a church. For example, when it comes to preaching, I don’t need my preacher to be a fantastic public speaker. That’s a low priority item. I don’t need great stories or jokes. I don’t need engaging PowerPoint. But I do need my preacher to be a person of solid Christian integrity, somebody I can trust. That’s a high priority item. I also need my preacher to have at least something worth saying each week. I don’t need twenty minutes of brilliance. But I do like to receive at least one thought I can take to heart. My pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian in Boerne fits the bill here, both in his character and in the wisdom of his preaching.?
Also, one of the benefits of clarifying your values will come if you’re not the only person making this decision. If, for example, you have a spouse and/or children, then the clarifying process will be a corporate one. It will be essential that you know, for example, that your spouse really doesn’t like music led by a rock band (or a choir, or a DJ, or whatever). ?
When you’re looking for a new church, you may or may not be able to say at first what you most value. Or you may think that you care about certain features which, in the end, turn out not to matter. I know many people, for example, who begin the church search believing that they are looking for a church in a certain denomination (or independent), but in the end they find a wonderful church in a different denomination than they had expected.
One way to discover what you care most about in a church is to visit several churches and see what happens. I’d encourage you to be engaged, attentive, and open to the direction of the Spirit. You might be surprised by the result.
As you’re visiting churches, try to clarify what you care most about. Most of us have expectations and values, but these are often unexpressed. The process of clarification will enable you to know what you value and even to consider whether, in light of your theological convictions, you should in fact value these things. But remember to have an open mind and heart in the process, because God might have in mind a church that’s different from what you expect.
Although my example of going to Irvine Presbyterian Church isn’t ordinary, since I was being called as the senior pastor of this church, it does function as an analogy. If you had asked me in 1990 what I valued in the church to which I would be called as pastor, I’d have told you that I absolutely did not want to go to a church that needed to build buildings. I had seen churches in my area go through major crises associated with building projects. I had seen the conflicts, the financial drain, and the fiascoes. Moreover, I knew that there were hundreds of Presbyterian churches, often in cities, that had giant facilities but dwindling congregations. I believed I’d be a perfect fit for such a church, given my experience in Hollywood. I could focus on ministry without having to worry about buildings. That is what I thought in 1990, passionately. In fact, I told the search committee at Irvine Pres that I had major reservations about building projects. I said this knowing that this church was on the verge of building a sanctuary, and had more building on the distant horizon.
Well, as most of you know, God had the last laugh here. I ended up going to Irvine Presbyterian Church in 1991. And we did indeed build a sanctuary while I was pastor there, and also an administration building. I provided pastoral leadership for four, count ’em, four capital campaigns. For the most part I enjoyed the challenges and opportunities of building, even the capital campaigns.
So, before you tell yourself, “I absolutely will not go to a church that [fill in the blank],” be aware that God might want not only to clarify your values, but also to change them.
At this point I can imagine some of my readers wanting to object: But aren’t there some bottom line qualities of a church that are non-negotiable? You’re not urging me to be open about everything, are you? You’re not suggesting that I should be open to going to a church that has lousy theology, are you? I’ll answer these questions tomorrow.