At the beginning of this year, my husband and I began our long and dreaded hunt for a new church.
Okay, maybe that is too harsh; it is, after all, church we are talking about. But let me give you some background to our journey so you understand …
I grew up in the same small-town church all my life, where the church was a second home to those who attended. I shared life with these people. They were kind, loyal, and always offered great fellowship. They were family.
After I got married and moved away, my husband and I had the amazing opportunity to be involved in a church plant. We developed, stumbled, grew, and repeated that process over and over in an amazing God-directed roller coaster ride. We enjoyed great relationships and experienced much learning.
Then, kids were thrown into the mix and everything became a bit tricky. The meeting time didn’t align with our early nights. And most of what we did for the church plant was hands-on service; with two new kids, we had to focus on serving within our own family for a while.
Off we went to find a new church home, and, as you can see, our next church had a lot to live up to!
We walked into church after church, sitting through services and spending our drives home going through the services with a fine tooth comb as to why they weren’t as good as what we had known before. (This is funny now, but so real at the time)!
“Ugh … I felt like I was at a concert more than a worship service!”
“I told you I don’t like megachurches.”
“I just didn’t feel the sermon. I’ve heard better.”
“No one even said ‘hi’ to us!”
And the list goes on …
Well, we finally arrived at our current church, and something just clicked. What was strange was that all our critiques above still applied to this one, yet we couldn’t quite let it go. We drove most of the way home from the service in silence as if both our bodies agreed and we didn’t need words for official approval. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what was different about that place.
After about a year of attending, we went to the church’s membership class. We wanted to jump back into service and agree that we were “all in.”
The membership class spoke so deeply to my heart about why we were drawn to this community of believers from the very beginning. But the one thing that stuck out most to me was how wrong we were in the way we navigated our search process.
Of course it wasn’t addressed directly, but during class, the lead pastor spoke a good deal about the core values of salvation that cannot be compromised. He then addressed the non-essentials to our faith that are practiced within the church but can be disagreed upon without affecting our eternal futures.
He even went so far to say, “I don’t like all the stuff we do here.” (Am I the only one who thought pastors had to agree with everything done within the church?)
The pastor’s statement led into a story about an older gentleman who attended there and said he didn’t like the volume of the music. But when he saw the young people in front of him worshiping the Lord with true, genuine hearts, he said he would just show up with earplugs and be thankful that the Lord was speaking to their hearts. The pastor said he has since seen this same man with hands in the air and orange earplugs in his ears joining in worship.
This man gets it.
What was affirmed within me from this story is that if the church doesn’t move past personal preferences in the “non-essential” items in order to reach the lost, then it’s not doing its job. The focus needs to be on purpose over preference. When we make it about preference, we stop making it about God.
Just read that again: The Church’s design is purpose over preference, and when we make it about preference, we stop making it about God.
How many other areas in our spiritual lives do we see this pattern happening? I often see believers allowing their preferences to override their purpose when posting on social media. I have been guilty of it too. Maybe not to the point of writing it down, but definitely within my heart.
We read something on social media we disagree with because it “offends” our faith. So we write something that defends God, reveals our intelligence, and supports us being “right.” Instead, when we read something that speaks against truth, we should simply hurt for the one who is lost. The news of Jesus is good news, not the kind of news we are given to support our pride.
God didn’t give us the gospel as a tool for debate; He gave it to us to share with love and grace.
With these things in mind, all the churches that “didn’t make the cut” in our search were still effectively serving their community of believers, despite our differing preferences— as long as they had a purpose that reflected God’s heart. We didn’t stick around long enough to know, but you all have the chance to make that your only critique within your own church or during a future search for a new one.
I urge you not to make the mistake we did. Don’t allow your bitterness or fear of finding a new church home distract you from seeing the purpose over preferences. Some of this practice isn’t as visible as ours, but search your heart and ask God to reveal these things to you.
And when you start to go down the path of “I don’t like that song,” or “Why are we spending money on that as a church?”, rethink on how those choices could be reaching the lost. Then sit back and put those earplugs back in.
Amanda is a small-town girl married to a third-culture-kid who shares her love for adventure and frivolous dreaming. She is a mom to two curious and independent little ones. Pen and paper make her spirit come alive. She spends her time challenging others through her blog about finding purpose and feeling empowered to discover and create. Read more at https://whatabeautifulmesswerein.wordpress.com/