07 January, 2008

Blooming Outside Your Comfort Zone

Choosing a church is always uncomfortable. Every time you walk through the doors of a church, you shiver a little inside. You're not sure whether you're going to like what you see, and what's more, you're not sure anyone's going to like you. Even you extroverts have to feel this a little bit. :-)

We all want to increase our odds, so we scout our churches a bit before we walk into them. We start off by narrowing our choices to one or two denominations, and then we head off to their churches' websites. We try to get a feel for the music and the preaching and scan for testimonials through Google or some such. We ask our friends, and talk to people who might know something about all the local churches in our denomination. By the time we walk through the door of a church, most of us have the best idea what to expect we can get.

Attending the nearest church to your home strips you of a lot of that prep work. You end up going in blind, or pretty near to it. And if the church differs from you in a couple of meaningful doctrines, it's that much riskier. Who knows whether you'll be accepted? And who knows whether you'll be able to accept them?

It's a big "ask" to ask someone to join hearts with a church based on an accident of geography.

If you decide to take the plunge, though, maybe these couple little tips might help.

First off, remind yourself often of the benefits.
+ The time you invest getting to know these people will be well spent because they're children of the same God as you. They were born again to the same kingdom you were, and that family-love will overcome any foreign-ness.
+ After you've gotten to know them, they'll be close enough that you'll be able to call them when something goes wrong, and help them when they have problems.
+ Being around different beliefs will stretch you.
+ Being around you will stretch them!
+ You'll be able to tell your neighbors you fellowship with their neighbors, and that's unheard of. Americans don't do anything with the people nearest them, but the kingdom of God should.

Second, be up front with whoever is your official contact. If no one approaches you by the second or third week, maybe you're in the wrong church, but probably the pastor or an elder will take on the job of making sure you feel welcome. Go ahead and tell that person what denomination you're from, and that you'd like to attend their church anyway. Assure him you don't want to correct their beliefs, and you don't expect yours to change, but you want to fellowship with the nearest brothers and sisters to your home. Chances are this will be as new an idea to them as it is to you, but hopefully they'll be open to the idea.

Third, keep your promise not to try to change their church. If the pastor wants to talk about your doctrinal differences, that's fine, but otherwise avoid discussing differences like nasty medicine. You're there to love the Lord with family, not make sure everyone conforms to your estimation of the Truth. For 90% of you, this point is a great relief. For the other 10%; let that pet doctrine go! Thanksgiving dinner is ruined every year when your crazy uncle brings up yet again how Mondale should have won, and stirring up your favorite doctrinal hornet's nest won't cheer the church (no matter how much that one guy enjoys debating, and no matter how close that one lady is to changing her mind.)

Fourth, keep on being yourself. Keep giving the church the unique blessing of your beliefs, even if it sounds a little strange to everyone else. If crazy uncle Mondale-lover turns his concern about big politics into a concern for the people around the table, he just might find an audience. Maybe Mondale cared about the environment, and someone around the table bought a Prius. Or maybe Mondale cared about the poor, and someone volunteers at a homeless shelter. Bring whatever it is you're crazy about, whatever your passion is, to the table. In time you'll show you care more about the people than being right, and love covers a multitude of gaffs.

Fifth, dare to care about these people. If you'll step up to seek out their needs, pray for them, and actually get involved in their lives you'll find that you're not a stranger there for long.

You might look around in 6 months and find you know and love almost everyone in the room, and that's what it was all about from the get-go.


Do these things sound too easy? Too obvious? They were things I needed to hear about 25 years ago and still needed badly 10 years ago - but then again, somehow I made it to adulthood with almost no social skills. Steps 3 and 4 seem the hardest to me. I mean we are all good at one or the other of them, but to get them both right seems to require a degree of practice and maturity.


Milly said...

It's that first step that's holding me back. I have to walk away from the old church.

codepoke said...

I probably need to say this more forcefully. I'm not trying to make anyone leave a church or positive relationships with brothers and sisters. This series is all about what to do after you've figured out you need to find a new church.

I would recommend building new relationships close to home, but not at the expense of relationships you've already established on the bedrock of experience.

(All or none of which may apply to you, Milly)

pearlie said...

You end up going in blind, or pretty near to it.
I guess my experience with Life Methodist was pretty much going in blind, except that the denomination was the same.

keep your promise not to try to change their church.
haha ... I am still trying hard on this one!

Milly said...

Good response to my comment, not everyone knows my history with my church. In no way do I think that anyone should walk away from a good place either. I’m a different case because of the things I love about the place seem to out shadow the things I dislike by the end of the week. I feel very split at this time. I think my first step will be in not feeling like I have so many ties to those people. The people make a difference in how you worship, I like to say it’s all God but it’s also God’s people, thus making it all God.

If someone out there is thinking of finding a new church I want you to know that we understand where you are and how you feel.