Showing posts with label the church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the church. Show all posts

church shopping and hopping

                                                                                                                                             image source
When Rory and I lived in Montana we started attending a tiny Methodist church of earnest believers. The preaching was great, the community was warm and loving and the music left a lot of be desired. A lot. So much that on the way home from church I regularly let Rory know how hard it is to worship when the songs were sung like that. I let Rory know the songs I would have chosen instead. I let Rory know a lot of things.

Finally Rory told me I should get up there and lead the music myself. He said it sounded like I knew how to do it best.

A funny thing happened though. That guy leading the music, the one I had many opinions about...he reached out to us. In big ways. He always came to say hello after service. He and his wife invited us to their house for supper. Turns out he lived on the area ywam base and told us we should come for the weekly community worship. That guy, the one who I was so very quick to critique, became our friend.

Humble pie. Take a big bite, Becca.

I had a little transformation. Once I knew the heart behind that microphone I was endeared to this guy for trying. No one else was volunteering to lead the music. He was trying his best. He was brave. He was singing for an audience of one and leading us to do the same.

Since moving to our new place Rory and I have visited four area churches. And we've critiqued each one on the drive home. Because clearly we had arrived each Sunday morning to be catered to.

Finding a church is tricky stuff. Or it can be. A husband and wife come with their own church backgrounds, their own idea of what a fulfilling Sunday morning should feel like. Rory and I have talked about how there are four main components that make a church feel like a possible church home for us: the preaching, the music, the people and the children's programming. And if any of those are sub par then we might just take our church consumer selves and find a place that meets our every single need.

Well, good luck with that.

Today we stayed after service for an introduction to a church we've frequented since moving here. And they made a good clarification. God wants our commitment to the work of his kingdom. He doesn't want us to be consumers. He wants us to contribute.

Obviously I knew that. But I wasn't living it. Suddenly I saw the church for what I can bring to that place. Not with any huge ideas to change anything...but I realized what I have to contribute. I have a mouth. I can welcome people and introduce myself to a stranger. I have kids. I can sign up to work in the nursery once a month so the steady help in there can get into the service themselves. I have gifts. I can help.

I can contribute.

So we are parking our shopping cart. There certainly is a season to look around and find a good fit. And we took our time looking around. But then there is also a time to park it. To enter in. We have found a good group of people serving Jesus and striving to share His good news to the world and we're going to join in. We're done looking for a church. Now we're going to be the church.


My dad is a pastor, and I grew up at the church that he started when I was just a baby. It was a mission start congregation with its first gatherings meeting in the basement of our house. I was just born a month before the church was born, so I can't really say I remember this phase. I have been told that we carried all of the folding chairs and hymnals in our trunk though, so that mom could never use the trunk to hold her groceries.

The church grew as I grew and I have always loved this congregation. I was fully involved, fully known and fully appreciated by the family that made up Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

When I went to college I taught Sunday school at an local congregation. But it was hard to get to know people. I loved my third graders and the college friend I taught with. We had a great time in that classroom every Sunday, but worship was hard and I never really felt a part of the larger church there.

When I was at the seminary, I was assigned a congregation to volunteer at 10 hours a week. Because I had come from a growing, thriving congregation, I was told they were going to give me an opportunity to experience the other end of the spectrum. And that they did. It was a tough congregation. Things had been done the same for 100 years, and to suggest any different was not only insulting, but it was an insult to the dead relatives of the living members who made that the law 68 years ago. (sometime I'll write about my attempt to volunteer for the Swedish meatball dinner. Bad times.) The church was made up primarily of three big extended families and it operated similar to a very dysfunctional family reunion. On a postive note, I have heard that a new pastor has been called to this church and some cool things are now happening...

When Rory and I first got married we periodically attended a huge church in Burnsville, Minnesota. We liked the worship, the music, the preaching, but we were there only a handful of times, kind of tried to get involved, but nothing really ever clicked. During that time we also frequented my home congregation and Rory's home congregation, two churches that still love us to pieces and we love them to pieces too.

We moved out to Montana for a season and stumbled upon a tiny little church that we fell in love with from the start. I wrote all about it here. There was something about this little body of believers that felt so real. The music left lots and lots to be desired, but the preaching was good and the biggest thing was that we were known in that church. The 50 or so members were excited when we walked through the door and the feeling was mutual.

We have spent many Sunday's worshiping in different congregations just as a visitor. Rory and I both love visiting churches, seeing what God is up to in a congregation and enjoy meeting the people that make up a particular church. I also have spent lots of Sundays worshipping at a Bible camp while working on staff, and lots of Sunday's working at the nursing home, bringing men and women off of their floor down to the chapel to gather and break bread.

When we moved to Nebraska we quickly found a large congregation about 15 minutes from our house. The music was unbelievable, the preaching superb, the kids program above average. The Sunday morning worship was exactly what we were looking for. We have been a part of that congregation for a year now, and just at our one year mark we realized that after a year of trying, we still didn't really know anyone. We joined Bible studies, small groups, prayer meetings, and went to various gatherings, but the Bible studies all ended, the small groups seemed to fizzle and in the end we realized that we were playing the roles Sunday morning worshippers well, but truly were not actively a part of this community.

So we had a conversation last week, discussing how we wanted to be a part of a church in Gretna, where we live. A smaller church that we could really plug into. We are a part of a small group with our apartment neighbors who attend a community church down the road. Though we love that small group and love that church, Rory had visited another Gretna congregation once and kept talking about it.

So today we went and were immediately welcomed. Upon arrival we were passed from person to person as we were introduced to lots of people. We stayed for pizza after the service and then Rory stuck around for a few hours and helped move this church from their current space (store front) into a new building where the congregation will now meet to worship. We were apart of this one-year-old church's first move and it felt so good to be so involved.

We were looking for community and ways that we can use our own gifts within a worshiping body, and I am confident that this will happen. The worship was great, the music simple, the preaching solid and the people genuine.

I wanted to write all of this out after feeling the excitement of being welcomed and a part of a congregation. Because it really does amaze me how hard it truly is to find and then belong to a church. Rory and I are two outgoing, church-loving people and we have sincerely struggled with finding a church home. I think part of the problem is that we have been so nomadic, so our seasons at a church are short. And I would say that our different church backgrounds makes some difference, but honestly, we both are one in mind for what we appreciate and look for in worship. Our different denominational upbringings isn't really a huge deal as long as the church a Bible believing, scripture preaching, alive congregation.

So for those of you loving your church, keep an eye out for the new guy. And for those of you looking for a church to love, don't give up. I wrote my seminary thesis on the decline of denominational loyalty and how a lot of people are simply looking for a church they love more than a denomination to ascribe to. I would encourage you to find a church that you can plug in to, where you are an active part of the community and where you feel fed and nourished each week. I'll keep you posted on our transition into this new community of believers.

This I believe-Confirmation Friend #3

From the This I Believe series...

Before we were confirmed, my confirmation class had to each write a paper called 'This I believe" proclaiming what our faith was grounded in, and what exactly we believed.

When I was home recently I saw at our church the picture of my confirmation class. I scanned the rows of 85 confirmands and started to wonder what they're up to and how they are living out their faith. We know we are living in an increasingly pluralistic time, and I know I have a hard time finding 20 somethings at church on Sunday mornings.

So I started facebooking confirmation friends. And I have been asking them, with your most honest response, what would you write today. (I've also promised that the posts will be anonymous, unless they're ok with their first name being used.)

The truth is, I am a bit nervous for some of the replies, because I love my church and I really think we experienced solid teaching and great foundations for the faith. But my fear is in wondering what I'll find when I know my friends are likely to fit into statistics that are painful to acknowledge.

So here begins an occasional series of This-I-Believe-12-years-later papers, written by friends, honest and helpful.


I am overwhelmed at the willingness of these friends from confirmation (many of whom I haven't really connected with in a decade) to write such thoughtful responses. Here is another from a friend with whom I share MANY great memories.

I believe in one God, who is present always in everything and everyone. God is Love; God is good; God Is and always will be.

I’ve always believed in God, but what cemented it for me as a thinking, reasoning kid (hormonal teen is maybe more accurate…:) was my experience in nature. Nature was a powerful connection for me. I remember watching a sunrise and thinking there just Has to be a God because this kind of beauty was Not an accident. I began noticing the beautiful colors of nature, and the sweet sound of the birds and spring peeper frogs. That moment was the start of a conscious awareness and knowing that our existence was not an accident. To this day when I see something beautiful I say a “Thank you God” to myself as a small prayer.

Growing up in our church was a wonderful, life shaping experience. I think it takes a village to raise loving, self-reliant, happy and spiritual kids, and I am so very thankful for the hours we all spent together at confirmation class, bible camp, church musicals, and lock-ins (boy I haven't that of those in years!) I wish that experience for every kid and especially every teen (the teen years are not easy!... then again the 20s have been a huge time of growth for me too! I can't wait for a breather… Bring on the 30s! :)

In the time since writing my “This I Believe” paper (which if I remember right had more questions than statements!) my beliefs have extended beyond the doctrine taught as a Lutheran. In college I studied many different religions and in the years following I looked into many religious centers and practices. After all the searching I discovered that the belief resonating truest for me is that all religions are spokes on the same wheel leading to the same God. It is my belief that Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, native religions, and indeed every religion that teaches of a power greater than ourselves refers to the same God. This belief led me to my current spiritual home of Unity Christianity, which is based on the teachings of traditional Christianity which feels like home for me but it’s also inclusive of all religions.

In sum, the foundation instilled in me at a young age about the goodness of God is still with me today, and while the doctrine I currently follow is slightly different I am so thankful for all the time spent in our church as a young-er kid.

This I believe- Confirmation Friend #2

From the This I Believe series...

I had a few more friends from confirmation reply to my asking what they believe as of late. The best part of this process has been in reconnecting with friends that I was close to a decade ago. Life is fun and so rich when relationships come back in to your circle. Here's another thoughtful, honest reply.

Interesting that you ask this question, it seems to be a popular topic of late. Since our confirmation, my faith has taken many directions and frankly, I am left a little confused. This confusion, however, I am not worried about.

In late high school, I dated a girl who's family was into the whole evangelical movement and I participated in praise/worship with her during that time. For a while, I felt closer to God and stronger in my faith than I ever had. Eventually I felt very turned off by this flavor of Christianity because I felt like everyone there believed a little too fervently, like faith was this homogeneous thing where you were either in or you weren't. "We as Christians believe..." "But I don't believe all of that and I'm still a Christian, aren't I?.."

Well a lot has changed in my life since then, and my faith has had its ups and downs. I have learned more about eastern religions and read some interesting viewpoints on Christianity by Carlton Pearson. So where do I stand now? I'm not totally sure. I know that I think about my faith as much now as I ever have. But I am as unsure about organized religion as I ever have been.

Ultimately, I have come to believe in these things. It has been more fulfilling to engage in my faith's journey than it ever has been to be "sure" of anything. I believe that keeping an open mind to opposing viewpoints and having discussions with friends/family has been more fruitful for me than taking communion or singing a hymn. The process of faith has trumped faithfulness and I take comfort in that. Maybe one day I'll feel "close" to God and maybe not, but I know that I will have invested myself in the process and that's all I really can do.

"All I do is love you, God
All I do is doubt you, God
All I do is search for you
What else can I do?...

And when I say I search for you
I mean I search for peace
I search for hope,
I search for love
And one day for release...

-Mason Jennings

This I Believe: Church friend #1

(This isn't my confirmation picture...just found this one on Flickr, but I thought it was pretty classic...)
I have had a few brave, kind friends reply to my very personal question that I threw out to many of my confirmation friends:

"So, this is sort of loaded, but I'd sincerely be curious. If you were given a few paragraphs to write your belief statement about what you believe in terms of God and the church and your faith, what would you say? Where are you at? I know that's loaded. But I'd love to know."

This response I am posting below is so candid and thoughtful. And I think the picture painted here is what I was sort of wondering about many of my 20-something friends. Take a moment to read it...the writing is eloquent and honest.

Hey Becca,

So, yes that question was FULLY loaded! I guess I really don't know what to say about my faith. It's complicated? It's been 10 years really since I was involved in anything church-related.

I look back on my time involved with youth group as some really happy times in my life! It was really important to my development to have that community and I think that is one of the best aspects there is to organized religion.

Unfortunately, I wish some of the bad things associated with organized religion were not there. I know it's not every church or every disciple, but I do feel that church/religious choice is the cause of a lot of the lack of understanding between people. I guess it's definitely in a more broad, general sense, because in a more person-to-person sense, I think religious people are very caring and generous. I guess it's the whole saying that one rotten apple spoils the whole bunch.

I wonder at times if life would be easier if I had more faith. I try to remember back to the times I was in the church and think if I really worried more or less about things. It's hard to say. But I do know I questioned a lot of things, even while at church. And one thing that I can remember is that I never understood the God-fearing thing. Like, if God is so great and stuff, why should I be afraid?! I don't know if that makes sense.

This is definitely a conversation that would be easier to have in person I think. But I'll push on:)

I question a lot of things. I always have- even when I was involved in the church. I like learning about other religions and seeing where there may be some similarities and see what are some differences. I think the political power of the church, historically maybe more than today, is disturbing sometimes. I vehemently believe that in the US the separation of church and state is an integral part of our institution.

But then I also think the church does so many good things in the community and are we losing that sense of community as fewer and fewer people go to church. Even people that do go to church now go to these HUGE mega-churches and I think it can be hard to foster as much of a sense of community- it seems that some people will fall through the cracks?

So for me, no I don't go to church. I haven't even been for holidays in a while. I probably would go on holidays if I were with my family on holidays but that doesn't usually happen, whether due to work or being on the outs with each other.

I have been doing yoga for 9 years now and the spiritual element of that is something that really appeals to me. I should do it more because it makes me feel so at peace with myself and the world around me.
So what do you think? Are you surprised? Do you know someone like my friend? Or do you agree with what is written? If you'd like to leave a more personal response anonymously with me, feel free to email your thoughts:

And I'm back!

Lost some momentum there for a while, but blog world, I'm back.

We drove to Kansas City for a quick trip on Saturday to see Sara and Troy in concert on Sunday. They were giving a concert for a church that was celebrating their 20th anniversary. The event was called Party in the Park and it was a true party. This church was so creative, so thoughtful and the celebration was so fun to get to peek in on.

We sat on the hillside for their outdoor Sunday morning service and we sang the song "God of this City." I have sang this song in Oregon, Minnesota, Nebraska and now in Kansas and it created the most concrete visual of the kingdom as I thought about each one of these churches proclaiming boldly: GREATER THINGS ARE YET TO COME, GREATER THINGS ARE STILL TO BE DONE IN THIS CITY. WE BELIEVE IN YOU, GOD.

The thing about the kingdom, to me, is that it's just not that huge. It's one church faithfully loving and caring for the community God has placed them in. It's one person straining to hear the plans God has for them, filled with purpose and hope. It's one people, loving God and thanking Jesus for the life he has given each one of us. Okay, so it is huge. But I love that it's small enough that God uses us little people to help with his good work.

Sara and Troy's trip to Rwanda

Rory's brother Troy, and his wife Sara have begun an incredible partnership with one village in Rwanda. While on tour, they asked their audiences if they would be willing to sponsor a child through Food for the Hungry in the village of Gisanga. The vision is that Sara and Troy will return to this village annually bringing men and women from their American team of sponsors to build lasting relationships with this community in Africa.

Sara is just beginning to blog about their experiences, and it is worth adding to your favorites.
Be sure to keep tabs on this kingdom story as it continues to unfold.

Lakeside Chapel

I wrote the following email to a pastor friend while we were living out in Montana. This is the church that we were a part of for six months and was a beautiful glimpse of the kingdom.

Rory and I have been attending a Lutheran church since we got here. But to be perfectly honest, we do not feel like we belong and often end up standing awkwardly in the fellowship hall eating mini muffins while looking at each other, asking what the other wants for lunch. Without kids, I am not sure how we would ever permeate this congregation.

So we started going to a little church right in Lakeside. We thought it was Baptist the day we pulled into the parking lot, but then the bulletin said United Methodist. When we walked in, there were three people who recognized we were new and talked to us until the start of the service. Church began after about 50 people gathered in this small space. The pastor welcomed guests and visitors and asked, "If you are a visitor and would be willing, we would love for you to introduce yourself and tell where you have come from." One woman said she goes to the UM church in Kalispell and just wanted to check this place out. Another woman stood and said her parents grew up in the area and she is back to see their childhood home. We stood and said we are living at the Lutheran camp for the year.

Shortly after the pastor invited everyone to take a moment to greet their neighbor. Now this pastor is new, and it soon became very clear that he has trained this congregation in what to do during this time. Each person was aware of who the new worshipers were since we had all just introduced ourselves, and for the next full 3-4 minutes (which is a LONG time) we had our own greeting line. We did not have to move, but members continued to come up to us and ask- so what work do you do? How can you be here for the year? Writing your thesis? What is your thesis on?...

Then a few moments later the pastor stood and asked for the prayers of the people. He asked for prayer concerns and prayer thanksgivings. One woman said her niece was to have a c-section on Wednesday and asked for prayers. One woman began "As many of you know I have cared for my mom for the last 8 years in my home. But this week I had to leave her at the Lutheran nursing home. (she began to weep) She is in room 39 if you can ever stop in and visit her." And 2 women left their seats to go and sit with her the rest of the service. Another woman held her husbands hand and said, "Clyde's sister rolled her car on Thursday and is in critical condition. We have known for too long that she wasn't safe to be driving." And Clyde sat stone face with tears rolling down his cheeks.

These three events happened within the first 15 minutes of worship. Honestly, the rest of the service was decent. The preaching was fine, the music was comical (sung to a recording that played the melody on one note synthesizer). And yet, I was choked up because I felt so deeply connected to these people already. And did I mention Rory and I were the only ones there under the age of 50?

We miss Lakeside Chapel a lot. It's funny how long it takes to find a church that feels like home. But that was just the thing with Lakeside only too 15 minutes because the community was already so strong and they were eagerly waiting for visitors to walk through the door.

Let's start talking!

My good friend and co-worker Casey responded to the previous post with the following:

I’m curious if these statements/questions revolve around a general demographic? I instantly thought of the 20-somethings that seem to be virtually absent from our Lutheran churches and wonder if this is the same regardless of denomination.

Our society, with the exception of politics during an election year, pushes people to play it safe and be in the middle. Does the church push people out of that “safety” zone. Can the church BE the “safety” zone without giving up any sort of structured theology?

And, what is the role of a place like Carol Joy Holling Camp is this phenomenon? Are we “the church” for some? Should we be? How do we live up to this role?

I LOVE THIS. I mean, I don't know if I have any answers yet...but I love opening this conversation and at least acknowledging that it needs to happen. More later.

Hello, church. What are you up to?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the church. Wondering where we are spending our time and energy and wondering even more about where we are not spending our time and energy.

I have interviewed almost 70 college-age students over the past month, all applying to work on our summer camp staff. And I feel like I have gained so much insight from these pretty candid conversations with men and women from many different denominations who are committed to follow Jesus.

So I’m going to take some time on this blog to flesh out some of these things I’m thinking about. Because at the same time I’ve been doing these interviews, I’ve been sharing a facebook conversation with a long-time family friend who started our conversation by asking me three questions:

- What about organized religion or orthodoxy intimidates some people? Small house churches are becoming popular, mainly lead by lay people, which can have real positives as well as sketchy theology…what scares people away from organized religion?
-How do we draw people into the doors of the church?
-How do we make the worship appealing and relevant to all ages?

I’m ready to dive into this conversation. And I’d love for you to join me!

Hello, church. What are you up to?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the church. Wondering where we are spending our time and energy and wondering even more about where we are not spending our time and energy.

I have interviewed almost 70 college-age students over the past month, all applying to work on our summer camp staff. And I feel like I have gained so much insight from these pretty candid conversations with men and women from many different denominations who are committed to follow Jesus.

So I’m going to take some time on this blog to flesh out some of these things I’m thinking about. Because at the same time I’ve been doing these interviews, I’ve been sharing a facebook conversation with a long-time family friend who started our conversation by asking me three questions:

- What about organized religion or orthodoxy intimidates some people? Small house churches are becoming popular, mainly lead by lay people, which can have real positives as well as sketchy theology...what scares people away from organized religion?
-How do we draw people into the doors of the church?
-How do we make the worship appealing and relevant to all ages?

I’m ready to dive into this conversation. And I’d love for you to join me!