A long time ago people would attend the house of worship that was in their neighborhood, our orthodox Jewish brethren still do. But our culture of customization and personalization cause many to drive a ways instead of going to the church right down the street…I'm guilty of it…most of us probably are. It's not necessarily a bad thing. It just shows how far we have progressed from one church to seemingly a church on every corner. I once heard it said that a church worth your time is worth the drive (Ps. Steve Kelly, Wave Church). My family and I have always taken that to heart.
In the not too distant past of our faith journey my wife and I would load the kids up and make an hour and a half trek to attend and serve at a congregation. Don't get me wrong we enjoyed our time there and we still drive…though not nearly that long. In 2003 I was on staff at a church where I lived so close I could ride the church lawn mower home when I needed to mow the lawn…I actually did that once. It was quite funny. But regardless of how close or how far someone lives from their place of worship the real issue at stake isn't finding a church, they are everywhere, but connecting and plugging into a church that resonates with you and your family.
When it comes to connecting with a church sadly people get hung up on minor issues more so than anything else. They do or don't believe in tongues…they do or don't believe in the rapture…they do or don't believe in seven literal days of creation. Who's right? Who's wrong? Perhaps both are. Huh?
Having just finished reading How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins let me explain what I mean. In the book Rollins shares about how two different people from the same congregation had concerns about the teachings of this church. Rollins describes the first person who asked him as “a kind and gracious individual who gave his time and money in a sacrificial manner.” This man enjoyed the church very much…it challenged him. So Rollins tells the individual that yes indeed his church was right…for him. The next guy raised the same question concerning the teachings of this church. Rollins writes that to this man the “teaching was dead to him. He felt neither challenged nor encouraged to live in a genuinely sacrificial manner.” Rollins informed this man that the church wasn't right…for him.
To further understand it Rollins shares a parable about two camels that are being led to the market.
One camel is loaded down with salt while the other is weighed down with cotton. On the way to the market they encounter a river which has burst its banks from a rainstorm the night before and has flooded the road. At one particularly deep part the camels are almost completely submerged.
When they finally get to the other side, the camel with the salt on its back has gained a renewed sense of strength, as the water has largely dissolved the salt. However, the camel with the cotton collapses in exhaustion, for the cotton has absorbed much of the water.
The parable shows that this stream was experienced in two strikingly different manners by the camels. One came out of the stream seeing it as burdensome…the other came out seeing it as a place of liberation. For some a particular church doesn't suit them…it's seen as a distraction. To others that same church is seen as a place of refuge…a place where they resonate. I'm not saying truth is relative. Not at all, truth is absolute. But what I'm saying is that the expression of that truth…the experience of that truth is relative to who the person is. The camels could have each experienced the reverse. The one carrying the salt could have lost heart feeling his purpose was gone and the one with the cotton could very well have had a renewed sense of purpose by feeling the weight.
Just because a church appears to be the most happening congregation in the city doesn't mean it will fit you and yours. Not everyone is drawn to the rock concert-style of church just as not everyone is drawn to the quiet library-style church. So people don't even take the time to get connected somewhere and choose to sit at home…isolated. They attempt to walk out a faith that demands community all by themselves. True you can be a believer and not interact with others but your faith suffers greatly from it. For instance if a person was raised in isolation they wouldn't know how to interact, how to connect with others when they are finally in their presence. It's in isolation that the mind begins to blur the line between fact and fiction. Isolation is no way for a believer to walk out this faith; and it's definitely no way for a family to walk.
See part of my significance is found in speaking into your life just as part of your significance is speaking into mine…isolation prohibits that. It's better to endure in a church that may not fit your style then to write off assembling together out of frustration. Of course the truth is, you don't have to endure and there is really no excuse to endure. Take the time to explore the diversity found within the Kingdom of God. Once you settle you'll be glad that you embarked on the journey.
You can't get to where you need to be if you never go.
The Scriptures tell us it's better to spend one day in the house of God than a thousand elsewhere (Psalms 84:10). Why? Because purpose is found among God's people. Not in the fortress of solitude. You could be the greatest musician who has ever lived but if you're not interacting with the multitudes the talent is in vain. They say that a graveyard is the richest place in all of creation…so many riches in the form of talents, abilities, visions and dreams lay there buried and untapped. Intentional isolation is a form of a living graveyard. People weren't made to die but to live forever. Just as people aren't meant to soldier on alone but in a group
In Psalms 92:12-13 (NET) the author says…
The godly grow like a palm tree; they grow high like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the LORD's house, they grow in the courts of our God.
Just be sure to plant yourself in the right soil (i.e. church)…otherwise you'll never be happy. However, that doesn't give you the license to “church hop” (i.e. change churches like clothing). I have heard it said that through Jesus, we all have to face the embarrassing truth that we ourselves are our primary problem (Richard Rohr, Things Hidden). Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it's not the church that has a problem…but you and me. We don't like how things are done and so in a fit of resignation we use the trump card…
“I prayed about it and I feel that God has somewhere else for my family and I.”
Ah yes, the dreaded Christian trump card which is sadly used far too often. Sometimes genuinely used other times forged in our mind as a way to shut the mouths of people we wish not to answer to.
The early believers gathered together to celebrate God…not in solitude but in mass. They ate together, prayed together, played together, worked together and many other things. As 2011 rapidly approaches may we freshly commit to the group of people we have chosen to do life with. May you evolve your thinking by seeing just how much those around need you…and how much you need them.