Sunday, August 07, 2005

When church feels like home

One of the unique difficulties of moving is finding a new church after being plugged in somewhere. Jess and I went a year here in Sacramento before stumbling onto a unique church with a really big heart.

The biggest hurdle I had to clear was not looking for the exact replica of the church I had just left. I wasn't just comfortable at my old church, I was fully integrated after helping build it from scratch. Fourteen years of personal ownership of a Christian body will make pulling up roots a painful and disillusioning experience.

As much as I tried, I could not help but judge every church by my former home. The preaching was weak. The worship, while aesthetically attractive to the ear, was not heartfelt. The church's theology was too rigid or too weak. Church leadership seemed unstable. No church could compare to the one I'd just left.

The reality is the church I grew up in is not perfect -- otherwise I could not have been a member. I know now that I am returning, it will not be the idealized embodiment of Christ God had for a local house. Friends will have left. New people have stepped in and left their imprint. Music has changed. There are more teachers, and two new worship leaders. The basic "what one does we all do" ministry has been exchanged in favor of an expansive outreach based on shared interests, because the church has doubled in size in two years. Instead of rallying around raising church funds for a building project, there will be debates whether to put more money into missionary outreach or something else the elders think is important.

What was revolutionary has become established. What was unique has become ordinary. I am not going home to that old church. It no longer exists.

I write all this for my benefit. I need to remind myself I cannot go back to that moment in time no more than I can recapture the zeal of my youth. What I'm returning to will have different people with different needs. My role will be much different, probably much less visible.

Still, it will be good to return to my old friends that have stayed. Not to elevate their status too much, but I've not had the good fortune of developing close ties with such good people any place else. I've met some fantastic Christians, but these people at home are my family and I love them because of the burdens we shared when the future was not so vividly optimistic.

At a time when my confidence has been beaten to a pulp, it is good to know there are people Christ has put in my life to brace my retreat.

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