Since I wrote about my longing for Christian community a few weeks ago, I have visited two church groups. The first was the college group I mentioned going to for my friend’s sake, but the other was for me. The college gathering was deafening (I was the old man sitting there wondering how all these darn kids weren’t deaf) and I am certainly well-beyond the scope of who that group is catering to, but that was about what I expected. The second church-visit, though, was my venture into exploring local church groups to try to find a home, but I won’t be going back.
In fact, I don’t know that I’ll even bother continuing on this voyage, at all.
There was nothing in this sermon that I found heretical and the congregation was friendly enough, but I left with the same disinterest that I have carried with me for years. Honestly, I’m not sure why I thought things might be different this time — church services haven’t radically changed since I stopped regularly attending. Songs are played, the congregation is asked to stand and sit at various times, and a pastor gives a speech for a certain amount of time. That is not what I am looking for. I want to engage with my fellow believers, discussing hard moral questions and digging into the Biblical text. I want to challenge one another in our beliefs and encourage each other when life is dragging us through the mud.
I want church to be a conversation, not a friendly sit-and-listen.
A long time ago I had a notion dig into my mind to begin challenging my local churches in how they proceed with their services: raise my hand during the sermon to ask questions, rearrange the rows of chairs to be less orderly. The emotional thrust behind these actions stemmed from some sort of bitter rebellion, which is why I abstained, but the notion was genuine. It was the same notion that rang through my head as I sat in a church meeting that Sunday. I’m not looking for a church that’s comfortable and relaxing. I don’t want to be a part of a church simply to file in, sing some songs, listen to a man talk, then file out. I came home and asked a friend of mine, half tongue-in-cheek, whether or not I could join a bible study group without having to ever attend the weekly sermon. Personally, I don’t think that’s what we should be doing as Christians. I have been jokingly compared to John the Baptist a number of times, but I don’t know that I’m quite called to be so bold. I am not one to condemn others who are part of these bland church meetings, because there are community services that those with a church building and regular sermons can offer, but that is not the community that interests me. I want a community in which all of the voices are heard, not just one (or two, including an assistant pastor or a vocal worship leader).
I am still struggling with this concept. What I want is to find a group of Christians with whom I can gather each week and share and discuss our faith, and with whom I can go out and serve our community in the name of God. How does one find this, though, without partaking of a more traditional sermon-based environment? Perhaps I am being called to stand out in the metaphorical desert, eating locust and wild honey, and challenge the church as John the Baptist did, but I don’t know about that. Either way, I feel stuck; I would love to be a part of a Christian gathering, but not one that meets as a regular church does, nowadays.
Maybe I’ll just have to go back to that church and raise my hand in the middle of the sermon to ask why we’re not asking questions. Maybe.