While vacationing on the Oregon coast in the dearest cottage by the sea, we found ourselves with the dilemma of choosing a church for the fast approaching Sunday. Not wanting to drive out of town left three choices.
My personal top choice, based on the brochure that reads: “The Church of Agate Windows, ” not because Sandy thought it might be a Pizza Hut.
Maybe a better choice since choosing a church for the building is rather lame. Then again, I have a tainted view of the Presbyterians, based on childhood profiling, gained from a few sporadic visits. I assumed they were cranky because they had to get all dressed up to sit still and quiet on hard, slick pews. I see from the sign reading: Come As You Are,” they’ve fixed that problem.
The most intriguing choice, but there’s a slight glitch- they don’t actually have a service. It’s just to look at… hmmm… sort of like owning a Bible for display only.
Over the years, while away from home, we’ve crashed a few random churches, but we are far from experienced shoppers. Choosing a church for a single hit and run Sunday service is not a huge task, if you are strong in your doctrine and faith and believe God will be there, if you seek Him. Worse case scenario, you walk away grateful for the church back home. Contrarily, if you’re searching for a church to call home, you’d best put some thought into it.
I’m grateful for God’s hand in my church hunting expedition, which began with a list of six churches in Yakima, Washington, (our home town), recommended by various concerned friends over the years. It was some time in September 2001, before the collapse of the Twin Towers that brought hordes of new and returning temporary relief seekers to church. Keep in mind, at the time, I, like many who walk into our churches today, was ill equipped to know what I should be looking for. How do you know what doctrine to adopt if you’ve never read the instruction book? Maybe, like myself at the time, you weren’t even sure the Author existed? What then? I knew one thing only… I was hurt, broken, out of solutions and the only thing I hadn’t tried was church.
I entered the first church on my list, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Yakima, donning my best “I’m invisible, better back off” suit of armor, slipping through the doors undetected. The building itself was my ideal, thus holding the number one place on the list. It was built in 1904 using huge impressive looking stones. Inside, under a domed ceiling the stained glass windows provide a kaleidoscopic light show of jade and gold dancing round the mahogany columns, beams and majestic 24 foot tall sliding doors.
That day I climbed the stairs to the balcony, studying the angelic crowd below, with their seemingly perfect lives, born into idealistic Christian homes that made the right decisions, day in, day out. I wondered if they could see or sense the mess of my past, and shuddered they might have some kind of religious telepathy, capable of hearing the non-pure thoughts renting space in my head. I was confident they wouldn’t have the nerve to throw me out, stone me or point fingers my way, mouths agape. I figured they must have been taught this behavior is considered poor etiquette in “Being a Good Christian 101.”
Fast forward 12 years. The second church on my list still has no check mark next to it. Much has changed, and I’ve learned a few things. One being that, the angelic looking people that first day had some messes for God to work on also. Another, being that although the building is worthy of awe, it’s what’s inside that counts, or rather who’s inside.
At the time of my first visit, Wayne Purdom was the pastor, whom later ushered my husband into the fold with his down to earth sincere concern and genuine interest in others. Four years later, God moved the gifted Purdom family cross state to plant a new church and bless others. That left us a church in a lurch. I had one foot readied for escape as I pictured some worn out constipated-looking guy alongside a screeching soprano “everything is hunky dory” type wife, abducting our cherished “come as you are” church family.
Much prayer and several months later, no one answered the call. With a tremendous team of church leaders, our church body suffered no neglect, but time was ticking with no potential candidates in sight. Then one Sunday, a surprise announcement was made… Jimmy John Morris, our talented worship leader, would be stepping up as senior pastor.
Honestly, we were concerned. He was a super guy, remarkably talented musician, devoted worship leader, and he was funny. Even so, he didn’t seem like an obvious shoe in for this position. We asked God to show us what He planned to do with this young man, but frankly, doubt is a noisy occupant, and neither of us could hear any kind of response. So, we made a pact with God and ourselves to stick it out and see if He would show us more than a great guy with a good sense of humor and a hillbilly name.
The following months, we sat stiff necked with arms crossed in a defensive pose, but we kept our promise to suit up and show up. Neither of us could say when or how it happened, but shortly after the initial shock, we recognized the man standing at our pulpit was undeniably anointed to pastor this church. We’re grateful God didn’t ask our advice, knowing who would best serve His church. Today we’re blessed with Jimmy John and his wife Donna, who vigilantly seek His guidance under the care and protection of the Holy Spirit. Whether enjoying a season of prosperity or one that appears hopeless, they practice the positioning statement on our Sunday program “Love God, Love ALL People.” A tall order for some of us… well at least it is for me. I know… I know… it should be easy, but our church is all about authenticity, so get over it.
It feels good knowing our home church, with our family of incredibles, is a safe haven with sound doctrine, an incubator for hurting souls not knowing what they need. Number two on our shopping list may never happen – so much for comparison shopping.
We still need to make a decision for this Sunday since we cannot drive 339 miles back to Yakima. For fun, we put the choices to a vote on Facebook. Phew… not the best idea I ever had. I didn’t mean for it to become a yay or nay on any given denomination. In retrospect, I see my error and apologize for the lack of thought given prior to posting the ballot. I don’t regret what I learned from this.
Whether a mature Christian ready for solid food or an infant needing pablum, the church you select should serve healthy portions of Love.
1 Corinthians 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
As it turns out we attended both church services, consecutively. When your faith and beliefs are strong, you can give glory to God under the roof of any church. I don’t think he’ll mind if you raise your voice and heart in worship, even if you disagree with the doctrine. Granted, it may be best to find another choice for your home church.
On the other hand, if you’re a new believer shopping for a church, your first task is to read your Bible and test what is being taught based on His word. Look for someone you can trust to help. A good pastor will be more than happy to answer questions and find you the help you need to gain understanding.
In the meantime, whether a newbie or not, keep seeking Him.