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Friday, July 29, 2005

What Are You Looking For?

My friend Beth asks the question about what one looks for when considering attending a new church. As I am somewhat of an anomoly - being a PK - I have had some experience looking for a new church home and I am now there again as I seek out my place beyond the UMC.

In no particular order of importance, I think some of the more important things have to do with community, music, preaching, theology, age of the congregation, focus of the congregation, and spiritual fullness. I'll take these in the order listed.

Community: I am always looking for a place where I feel as though I can be myself without fear of being labeled. I want to be in a faith community that is open and caring, compassionate and accepting of me, and others, no matter how different our points of view happen to be. Growing up as someone who wasn't very popular and often picked on, a place where I don't have to live with so many walls up around me to protect myself is a place I want to be.

Music: There are way too many choirs and organists out there that sing and play with almost no joy. I was certainly spoiled by the music at my college chapel but I don't think it's too much to ask to have an organist play hymns at the correct speed or a choir to sound like they really care. But it extends to the congregation too. Whether it's singing a hymn or saying a responsive reading or prayer I get weary of the supposed need to read in exact unison at the same cadence as everyone else or to just sing because we have to sing. Most of the time I get the feeling that people will sing or say whatever words are printed whether they believe them or not. I've always wanted to try putting some weird words together in a hymn that didn't even make any sense just to see what would happen.

Preaching: I want to be inspired. To me, preaching should be challenging but not antagonizing. It should point me in new directions and have me look with newer eyes on something I may have seen countless times. It should be able to keep attention. I've sat through sermons over the years where the preacher strives to use words that are too big for the vocabularies of the congregants. I don't know about you, but I'd rather watch "The Wiggles" than listen to someone who loves to be above everyone else and hear him/herself speak.

Theology: Now, I'm theologically liberal and I appreciate listening to sermons that speak to where I'm coming from. It's not that I'm opposed to listening to the views of those on the other side of the sanctuary, I just feel that sometimes I find myself spending so much time seeing the things that I disagree with that I get distracted from the deeper - and more important - messages. Worshiping and participating in a church that shares my theological approach, I think, would go a long way towards my spiritual development.

Age: There are so many churches that are made up of mostly older members. During this past annual conference, someone was talking about the need for older adult ministries when someone said, under their breath, "Why do we need to focus on older adult ministries? We already have 440 older adult ministry centers in this conference!" I think that age plays such a large role in the politics, the ministries, and the spirit of a church. There are not many churches out there that can speak effectively to where I am as a single man in his mid-twenties. I once was the coordinator for a young adult ministry group but quickly found how hard it was to be spiritually nourished by a group that I was in charge of. I was put in charge because I saw the need for such a group. When I mentioned it, it wasn't to volunteer, it was simply saying that I need to be fed.

Congregational Focus: This covers a lot of things. I think congregations are often so comfortable in their own makeup as a congregation that they aren't really open to new people, new ideas, or to just doing things with a sense of purpose. Money gets in the way of ministry. Homogeneity gets in the way of openness and diversity. Temporal gets in the way of spiritual. And the list can go on. The kind of church that I would be interested in would be open, forward-looking, inovative, and truly living out who they are.

Spirituality: Like I said before, I need to be fed. It's so draining to be a part of a religious community when you feel like you have to be someone else, when you feel like you're the only one who sings with any meaning or listens with any thoughtfullness whatsoever. I end up feeling emptier rather than spiritually filled. It's not something I know exactly how to remedy. I think it's just something I'll know when I feel it.

I've heard it said that you only get as much as you put in or that the church isn't supposed to be about receiving it's about giving. My response to that is that it goes both ways. We go to church to receive love and direction and meaning. We also go to serve others. I've put a lot of myself into the church over the course of my life; often more than I received. The church seemed all to eager to take what I had to offer without much thought for what it could offer me. I know that sounds a bit selfish, but shouldn't the church offer some of those feelings of meaning, love, and spiritual fullness? That's why I'm going to look for it myself.