FIRST-PERSON: Should we shop for a church like we shop for a house?
Anyone who has endured a new home search knows it can be a long, tedious and often disappointing process -- particularly if we insist on steering the ship.
Everyone who is looking for a new home has a pocket wish list. To say otherwise wouldn't be entirely truthful. Each and every time I am considering a prospective new home, I am mentally checking off which expectations, standards, amenities have been met on my list. Does this home make me feel comfortable or does it require me to live outside my comfort zone? Is this home move-in ready or is it a fixer-upper? What kind of return will I receive from this investment and how quickly will I see the payoff?
With wish list in hand, we can very easily cause a mutiny on board if we sense the ship drifting in an unwanted direction. However, in trying to steer the ship of my own home search, I quickly discovered that no home is perfect.
There isn't a home in the world that meets every expectation I've laid out on my wish list. If I buy an older house, I must fit my lifestyle into its existing structure. Yet even if I custom build a new home tailored to my family's needs, I am still limited by my own budget and resources. So, while there is nothing innately wrong with having certain expectations for a new home, danger arrives when those expectations become demands.
As believers, we are often guilty of shopping for a new church home like we're buying a house. We begin our search with a pocket wish list that has more to do with fulfilling secular desires than spiritual designs.
My story is no different. When my husband Jonathan and I first moved from Texas to Pennsylvania, we knew finding a new church home would be challenging. And while we were prepared for churches in the northeast to be different from church life in the Bible Belt, we still clung to certain "Southern" expectations for our new church home:
-- We wanted our new church home to be big enough that we could find friends easily.
-- We wanted our new church home to be vibrant enough to have ministries to feed us.
-- We wanted our new church home to be established enough to have a solid children's ministry for our kids.
These expectations largely went unspoken until the new home search proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. We visited half a dozen churches, some up to an hour away, each failing to meet our rigorous criteria. We quickly discovered that when we allowed our demands to steer the ship of our church search, the end result was disappointment and frustration. Finding a doctrinally sound church that encompassed all our demands proved nearly impossible. Just as there is no perfect house, there is no perfect church home.
Yet it was only after our self-directed new home search reached a dead-end that our perfect home was revealed to us. God's providential hand guided us to a new work in Pittsburgh -- a small group of believers, led by a recent Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, Ken Cordray, and his wife Paula. The group, called Living Faith Community Church, was comprised of no more than 20 people. Our new church home wasn't even a church ... yet.
The first time we visited Living Faith, we did not see large numbers. We did not see a variety of well-staffed ministries. Nor did we see established children's ministries. Yet the big, vibrant, established church we created in our expectations need not exist.
Instead, we discovered that the new home God appointed for us far outweighed our wildest imaginings. While we were busy looking for friends and ministries to fulfill our needs, God guided us to a place of service instead. And in a delicious twist of divine irony, God chose this small, new work to be the very place that provided us with meaningful friendships, a nourishing passion for the Word, and a consistent ministry for transforming families with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In God's unmerited grace, our check list was no more.
God doesn't need you to help Him helm the ship of your lives. In fact, there's no quicker way to find yourself adrift than to retain an unyielding grip on the steering wheel. In order to experience the "best" that God has planned for you, you must learn to surrender your expectations, personal preferences and comfort levels for life. But letting go of the wheel doesn't seem so daunting when you know the One steering the ship has already appointed the perfect destination and charted the course for you.
In our case, when we surrendered our demands and fears by joining the core group of Living Faith Community Church, we discovered an authentic community of believers desperate to see the Word of God breathe life into the Steel City despite small numbers and few resources. We discovered a group of people who are decidedly allowing God to redirect their purposes and lives for His glory. We discovered our new home.
Is it perfect? No. But it is perfect for us. If we had steered the ship, I know we couldn't have found a better place to worship and serve -- even if we had custom ordered it ourselves.
Melissa Deming is a freelance writer and a regular correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN newspaper and Crossroads magazine of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This column first appeared at her blog, MelissaDeming.com