Friday, September 16, 2005

The Search is Over

Notice to all churches in the Central Jersey area: I quit. I've stopped the steeplechase.

My family and I have been looking for a church to attend for the past three years. The whole search began about two years after the pastor at our last church realized the church needed to go in a direction he couldn't take it, and resigned. The pastor we hired about a year later proved to be a bad choice. Bad theology. A controlling, deceitful personality. A bully in the pulpit.

The church self-destructed after about a year, and about a hundred of us were scattered to the wind, looking for a new church. Like the knights of Camelot distracted by wandering fires as they pursued the Holy Grail, we roamed this way and that, striving for glimpses of heaven that led to nothing but ashes and dust.

My family and I searched. We tried a new church in West Windsor. The pastor was a good man and the preaching was decent, but we didn't belong. It was too far away.

We tried another church in Hillsborough. The pastor had a preaching voice that he used even when he was asking his wife to make his eggs sunny-side up, he shat Hallmark cards on stage and called them sermons, and when we stopped going after five weeks, he called to say he "missed us" and asked if we would be back. My wife said no, and told him it was because I found his preaching to be empty.

We visited a different church in North Brunswick. The pastor once worked the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and his whisper-to-shout style of preaching gave me a migraine before the service had ended. We didn't go back.

We visited two churches in Piscataway. The first one was small and friendly, but the preacher pulled Scripture verses out of the Bible willy-nilly, with no regard for context or their actual meaning. The second was large and friendly, but the preaching was no deeper than "Read the Bible; it's a great book!" and my daughter burst into tears one week at the thought of having to attend Sunday School there again.

For a year-and-a-half we attended a church about 25 minutes away. It has a great children's ministry, the pastor is a down-to-earth kind of guy who really has a heart for bringing people to Christ, and the church even has its own radio station. But I got tired of people not knowing my name, I got tired of not being able to join a ministry even after I shared my interest, and I wearied of being asked if I was new to the church.

It's been a long, hard haul these past three years. I saw a fellow refugee last week. He had always had a jaded edge to him, but three years and eight churches later, the cynicism had hardened into bitterness. He didn't want to even hear the word "church." I was afraid to ask him about God.

I don't blame him. My experience with churches has been bland, to put it mildly. The churches I've attended the last 17 years have been churches more concerned with society's morals than with its needs, more concerned with church attendance than actual growth, and more interested in what people can give to the church than in the people themselves.

So, I'm done. I'm not looking for a church anymore. Pastors, take notice: I don't care a fig about the size of your church. I don't care if it has a food court, I could care less about your youth ministries or your involvement in Promise Keepers, and I don't want to hear about your men and women's ministries. What good are they when the heartfelt tears and welcoming looks don't extend beyond the meeting room?

So what if you have a lead pastor, a children's pastor, a youth pastor, a worship minister, a minister of hospitality, an outreach pastor, and even a creative arts pastor? It's great you have a staffing budget bigger than some corporations, but I'd rather have a place where the average joe can contribute more than body heat.

So you have a gym, run a Christian school and have a campus so large that it has its own ZIP code? I'm sure that's as peachy as my grandmother's cobbler, but quite frankly, I don't give a damn what purpose is driving your church. You can purposely drive your church into Lake Michigan for all I care. People, not the size of debt you've accumlated, are what matters; changing people's lives is going to matter more in the Kingdom of Heaven more than how many new recruits were added to the membership roles.

I'm through. Other people can play the steeplechase if they want; I'm done.

Let me say this quite clearly: I - don't - want - a - church. I could be happy if I never belong to one again.

I want a community. I want a group of believers where I can be myself, where I can give the things that are uniquely mine to give and not just fill a vacant slot in an eternally existing program that can function just as well with somebody else.

I want a Bible study where I can show up wearing leather, sporting a score of facial piercings, and bearing a Gay Pride emblem on my chest and know that I'd get the same reception as the guy wearing slacks, a dress shirt and a $150 tie.

I want a worship service that actually involves worship, a service where my spirit can soar to God's presence, and where my corruptible, dying flesh can realize -- even if it's just for a moment -- that it's going to be redeemed, too. Most contemporary services I've been to are contemporary only to Christians; to the rest of the world, they're still at least a lifetime behind the times. Or did you think everyone listens to music by the Bill Gaither Trio and Larry Petree?

Give me a group of Christians living in the same area, committed to one another and committed to working together to figure out this messy, unresolvable faith we share. Give them a vision that's bigger than themselves, big enough to include the city, the country and the rest of the world, not just to address spiritual needs but to address earthly ones as well. (As if you can address the one without the other.)

Give me a group of Christians who will accept me in the same way that Christ does: just as I am, welcome because his blood was shed for me that way. Give me a group like that instead of this poor man's substitute we've been poisoning ourselves with in America for ages, and a lot more people than just me are going to be interested. Look to the fields - they're ripe and ready for the harvest.

But where are the laborers?

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.


Natala said...

thank you for writing this.
thank you for being so honest...

Newbirth said...

So are you "home churching" then?

marauder said...

Since I've got a couple responses along these lines, let me clarify something: I'm not as disenfranchised as I must be coming off in the post. I'm sick and tired of "church as usual," and mean what I wrote in the mailing, which mostly is boiling runoff from the 18 months wasted at Zarephath Christian Church.

This is not an "I'm through with you lot" milemarker as much as a "My expectations have changed dramatically." What I'm shooting for now is, I think, a much better goal than worrying over which ministries are in place, whether I'm "fed" some place, or such things. It's going deeper, to the heart level, which is where Christ lives, once we strip away the cocoon of spiritual-seeming performances and expectations we usually smother him in.

And I hope to find/build a group like the one I've been envisioning for a year now. God willing, I think I've found a group with a similar heart where I live. I've been getting involved the last few weeks, and have a good feeling for it.

Rambling Rose Cottage said...

Have you checked out any Calvary Chapels in your area? I believe there is one in Old Bridge???

I can certainly understand your disappointment and frustration. If God is leading you to begin a new ministry then He will provide.

Take care.