A Sunday step forward (two steps back?)

by Sarah Luna

*Note: for the entirety of this article, I use the word “church” to refer to a local community of Christians and not as “Church”, the global body of Christ.

For my first Sunday back in Ithaca, I revisited a church that I had been to once before in the fall. As a reminder, I’m actively looking for a church home because I think it is important. This has been a journey because I don’t often “feel” like going to church.

While at A&M, I only went to church when I sincerely wanted to go to church. I am still very opposed to the idea of doing anything without the appropriate sincerity.  Part of me still thinks I had the right approach there.  However, the part of me taking precedence right now is saying, “Suck it up, it’s not about your feelings.”

I mean ideally I would be sincerely excited to go to church every Sunday. Ideally, I would be forgiving and loving and gracious and growing all the time. But I’m not. Which is precisely why I need a church community. You know, the whole teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness aspect. So even though at times I am antagonistic to the entire process, I am determined to keep going.

That was a long preamble to what I had planned to write about.  I have revisited two churches. These are the churches that I go to when I don’t actively plan to visit another church. Now some would say that this is me “choosing” a church–just going to the one that feels natural.  I would like to be a little more deliberate.

Both of these communities are very welcoming and both have very involved children’s ministries. Both are within walking distance of my apartment. The church I attended today is the only one I’ve been to that has had a graduate/young adult population. I need a community of people in my same stage of life. I know that I could attend this church and have a group of people to keep me accountable and help me grow.

But…and I hesitate to say this…the sermons are not, I don’t know, not what I want. (Here the “suck it up” part of me is repeating itself and yelling, “Not what you want ??? Um, excuse me? Why are you here again?) But let me attempt to defend my statement.

According to Wikipedia: “Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts. Elements of preaching include exposition, exhortation and practical application.”

This sermon met those criteria to a certain extent. The pastor talked about putting on the Armor of God–one of my favorite topics and an inspiring visual. But his thoughts were scattered. He rarely looked at us and instead just read from a paper. He jumped from Ephesians to David and Goliath to something about John Calvin to The Pilgrim’s Progress. He referenced numerous works (like a report) but without giving the appropriate information to trace back. I feel like if I were familiar with everything he referenced, I might be ok with how he glossed over them. But…I was just frustrated and, towards the end, bored.

Now the other church has more organized sermons that inspire more reflection. I am eager to attend that church and hear what the pastors have to say. However, the church community is made of established families and elderly couples. I do not for a moment wish to imply that I can’t learn from them or that they are not important. I simply recognize that I have a particular need for a community my age.

Which is more important: the teaching of a church or the community of the church?  I need both. Is it acceptable to attend a church whose sermons will inspire learning but that doesn’t have members who will hold me personally accountable to my actions? Is it better to attend a church that maybe lacks my particular preference of sermons but that has an appropriate community to help me grow?

I have three choices: I can attend the “community” church; I can attend the “good sermon” church; or I can keep looking in the hopes of finding a church with both.

Can you tell I’ve been reading CS Lewis? Because that last sentence reminded me forcibly of Professor Kirk. I’ve been muddling through Mere Christianity and came across an interesting point last night. I am flawed. My perception of Christianity, the purpose of church, etc. is flawed. Therefore, should the perfect church exist and I happen to stumble upon it, something about it will disagree with me. Hmm, sounds familiar. I’ve found things I don’t like about every church I’ve visited.

Or as my Google homepage quotes put it: There is no moral precept that does not have something inconvenient about it. – Denis Diderot.

I am not perfect. In looking for a church that “suits me”, I’d be looking for a church that aligns with my current imperfections. Well, shoot, I’m not looking for a church so that I can stay the way I am; I’m looking for a church to help me grow.

Thank you, CS Lewis, for simultaneously clarifying this issue and making it infuriatingly difficult.

Am I being too picky?  Should I just pick one and deal with it? Should I continue the perhaps quixotic quest for the perfect church? Maybe, but for right now I’m going to keep Philippians 4:6-8 in mind.