Over the past few weeks as we've been searching for a new home, I keep trying to weigh what we're looking for. I keep thinking about some of the things we're glad to be away from that were at the old church (face it, every church has its warts, and if you left your church, you'd be glad to be away from the warts too!) and things we'd like to see in a new church. We want a church that is reaching out to the community, like Jesus reached out to people... He fed them, He healed them, and He preached the Gospel of His Kingdom to them. He didn't just preach; he met their needs as well. We want a church that reaches out to the world with a priority placed on missions work. We want to physically be part of both of those things if possible. We want a church with praise and worship that we enjoy hearing, that we participate in, and that the whole congregation gets involved in. I personally would like to see people moving around a little bit... not just swaying back and forth and singing, but really physically participating. OK, I'll say it... I dig jumping. :) We want to hear messages that are deeply steeped in the Word of God, and are also very relevant to our lives... that only comes from a pastor who is listening to the Holy Spirit.
We want good programs for our children where they hear the Word and learn about it. We want it to be fun so they will love to come to church, and we want them to learn to worship God in music, giving, and hearing the Word. We want our children to have opportunities to participate in outreach to the community, and when they are old enough, even to have the opportunity to go on short-term missions trips if they want to. We want them to be safe from any kind of abuse by anyone in the church... it's a sad thing to have to think like that, but unless volunteers and staff are properly screened and supervised, the children are vulnerable. We want leaders who are thrilled to see our kids when we arrive, not just because they're our kids, but because they love kids and want to see them learn more about God. But we still want leaders who care enough to learn our kids' names.
We want people to know our names, too. We want to have the opportunity to get to know people, talk to them about the Word, pray with them, but also to just become friends and become part of their lives. We don't want to be faces in the crowd. There was a time in my life when that was exactly what I wanted to be, but I've come to understand that that's not what church is all about. It isn't a cool show you go to once a week; it's a family. If you don't recognize people and they don't recognize you, then it's not family. We went to a church for a year and never saw the same face twice except in the children's department where the same teachers would teach the same class ages on rotation. I never had any idea who I was sitting next to in the service. Too big. Too much. Not human enough. We're all brothers and sisters in the family of God, of course, but I think a local church is about relationships. We need that.
But we'd like people to know our names for another reason, too. Cathy and I are vocalists and songwriters, performers with a skill and people who understand a few things about worshiping God in song. We're not looking to find a church where we can become celebrities, but we do want a place where there is a place for our gifts to be utilized and treasured. We value the gifts God has placed inside of us far too much to squander them, and for far too many years we've flown just under the radar most of the time. It's time for us to be somewhere that we feel we have support in the ministry that God is calling us to. We don't even know exactly what form that might take, but our church family should be supportive.
I'm not saying that these things weren't present at our old church... some of them were and some of them were not so much. But those are some of the things we're keeping our eyes open for. The most frustrating thing in our search is that those things are what we think we want, but what we really want is the direction of the Holy Spirit. And that doesn't come from a checklist. We can't interview someone with our "demands" in hand and see if they fit the bill... because we believe that God wants us to be a part of some church somewhere and His idea of what's right for us may not fit our ideas. So all we can do is continue to pray, continue to have great patience (I wish every church in town would have a service every night, just for a month or so, so it wouldn't take so long to try out the ones we want to try out!), and continue to listen to the voice of God. Maybe He has us on this journey for a reason of His own.