After two interstate moves in the last three years, I’ve grown tired of “church shopping.” It’s an unpleasant process. It’s spiritually tiring to visit new congregations each week, it’s a slow process (because you have to wait a week between each visit), and you can’t “just go to church” to spiritually recharge from all this, because, well, you don’t have a church–that’s why you’re “church shopping” in the first place.
Also–and this is probably the worst part of it–the whole idea of “church shopping” just feels gross. I would rather walk into a time of communal worship with a penitent heart than a critical eye, and I would rather walk away talking about how the sermon changed me, not how I evaluate the sermon. More over, the conversations are weird. We’re new to the congregation, but, no, we’re not new Christ. I would like to be greeted, but I don’t really want or need to be “sold.” I would like to make relationships at our church, but maybe not right this minute, because I don’t want it to be too awkward if we don’t come back. I don’t like this process.
After the last two rounds, I’ve concluded that anyone visiting various congregations would do well to pause and consider this theological truth: There is one Church. As Paul puts it:
I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
There is one Church. If we want to be precise about our words, we are not “looking for a church.” The Church is the people whom Christ has looked for and found and called and transformed. This sounds nit-picky, but it makes a difference: We already have a Church (the body is the global Church, the Spirit is God’s Spirit, the Lord is Jesus the Christ, the faith is in Christ, the baptism is into Christ, the God and Father is YHWH, the Triune God over all). We are looking for a congregation, a gathering of local members of The Church that grows, witnesses, and worships together.
This helps us in three ways:
- While we can’t “just go to church” on a given Sunday, The Church can still encourage us. In our last move, I spent extra time texting, calling, and Skyping with fellow members of The Church, and these old friends helped keep my spirit close to Christ while we looked for a local congregation.
- We’re freed to search for a godly good enough. We’re not looking for a perfect congregation (or even the best congregation); we’re just looking for a local gathering of people whom Christ has called. He did not look for perfect people (or the best people). He looked for people like us, and we’re just looking for people like us, a genuine branch of The Church, with a real desire and effort, despite our fallenness, to be faithful to Jesus Christ and fruitful in this time and place.
- Once we settle in and become members, we can be free from unrealistic expectations. We didn’t look for the perfect or best congregation, so we’re not expecting this congregation to be that. If these are people with whom we can grow in Christ, witness to Christ, and worship Christ, then we will simply grow, witness, and worship with them.
I should clarify: We did find great congregations. I truly enjoy the people we’re with and what we do together. However, I’ve learned that we set ourselves up for wrong attitudes and wrong expectations and wrong decisions without this vital truth: There is one Church (with one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all).
In fact, we really shouldn’t think of it as shopping for a church. It’s better to envision God adopting sons and daughters. No matter what, visiting congregations is an exhausting process. However, we will approach it in a more fitting way if we remember that we’re not looking to buy a spiritual product, we’re seeking others who have been bought by Christ, with whom we can earnestly, imperfectly follow Him.