I recently listed on paper the names of the twelve churches I have regularly attended during my life of forty-something years. That number has to do with the fact that I lived in a few different states as a child.
As I looked at the list, I reflected. Each of “my churches” was so unique, so different from the rest. Though they all adhered to the essentials of the Christian faith, some were on polar opposite ends of certain theological spectrums. I’ve had pastors who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room with each other based on what they believed about what I consider nonessentials. I’ve attended services as varied in style as Tim McGraw to an Eminem concert.
I rarely fit snugly into any of the churches I attended. In every single one, there were teachings or practices I disagreed with–many times strongly disagreed with. I often felt like a fish out of water.
Why have I stayed in each church years past when others left? Why have I not resorted to church hopping or becoming a Sunday couch potato?
Because I don’t see church the way so many people in our western, consumerist society see it: it’s not a restaurant. I don’t show up on Sunday and check out the menu, wondering if I’ll like today’s special. I don’t complain about the “service.” I’m not on an endless search for some place where I can “get fed.”
No, church is not a Sunday dining experience to enjoy until a hot new place opens up in town. Church is a family.
And a family is made up of people. People who will continually say and do things that drive you crazy and push your buttons. People who will confound and disappoint you. Who will never completely understand you.
But it is those same people who will be there when the world crashes in under your feet. Who will hold you up, hold you close and hold you high in spite of yourself. Who will listen to you, and cry and laugh with you long past the last line of the closing hymn or Hillsong. When you find yourself on the edge of spiritual slumber, your church family members are the ones who will burst into your life, turn on the light, splash the cold water of truth in your face and tell you to get up and get going. They will wait you out through complacency comas and death-rattle doubts and love you to the table time and time again.
I’m the pickiest person I know when it comes to restaurants; I know quality when I taste it, and I’d sooner stay away or keep trying new places than put my dollars into some slimy joint that should have closed long ago. I might be one of many “restaurant hoppers” out there.
But to this day I have never met a “family hopper.”
(Note: This post is not for people trapped in an unhealthy religious system. If your church is exclusive or controlling, get out and get help.)