We left church over five years ago and took on home-churching, which I enjoyed, but in the last few months, I’ve missed the community that church offers a family.
For a long time, I wanted everything in a church or no church. My top ideals: a large kids’ ministry, contemporary music, a social justice ministry, progressive views on the Bible and Christianity, and an open door to all creeds, races, ethnicities and levels of faith. Oh and convenient to our house and our life! As my desire for a church grows, I began to question my ideals. Where is this church-on-high because it didn’t seem to be within 50 churches of us.
As we are inching our way back into church, I wonder whether finding the perfect church is fair to any of them. Is a church closer to humanity — imperfect and growing? Or closer to God — a light to the world? And if I’m going to compromise, what is most important to me? Where am I willing to bend?
Large Children’s Ministry: I want my children to feel welcomed. Period. I feel like I can handle the faith and doubt of my relationship with God and others in a church, but I would like the church and congregation to be a hopeful and steadfast place for them. With no power to choose a church (they are only 5 and 7), they should, in the very least, feel loved and wanted when they are there. Do I need a large children’s ministry to have this? Maybe not large, but active is a must, because I don’t want my kids receiving dirty looks for being kids. I want a church, which encourages the children to be a part of everything.
Contemporary Music: I have gone back and forth on this. It seems like a silly requirement, but music and singing in my slightly off-pitch voice create a connection to God and humanity like little else does. I feel more moved by a group of people signing “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” than any sermon I’ve ever heard. I cry and laugh and clap and grow, and it’s hard to not want it.
Social Justice Ministry: I’ve looked hard at what this means to me. Do I only spend time with people and in places which agree with me? What about the congregations who help the needy and the downtrodden? If we agree on protesting the death penalty but not on protesting abortion, should I discount the church? Can’t I do some of my social justice work somewhere else? I could support charities and fight for my political and social ideals outside of my church as long as they aren’t huge weekly pushes by the pulpit.
Progressive Biblical Views: When I hear people share Christian concepts as facts with no historical basis, I cringe, but I also wonder if my kids need more than mostly neutral knowledge at this age. Would I like someone who discussed translations and using our brains to understand the social and historic context of Biblical verse? Yes. But perhaps I could settle for middle of the road teachings and supplement them as we grow. If the church has room for my questions and lively discussions, maybe we will all grow.
My problem is where social justice and the Bible overlap. I’m not okay with people misusing verses and God to justify indignities. Even if I can separate out hypocrisy from the better parts of the congregation, I would never want someone to see me support a church that contributes to their pain because how would they know my understanding of Christianity?
So I am left with more questions than answers: Are my ideals worth feeling homeless in Christianity? Do I begin my own church? Who am I to plant another church? And what about the people who disagree with me? Will they come anyway? What if I could help an established church, which fits my first two ideals, grow in their views of the Bible and social justice? Doesn’t change often comes from within? But is it fair to join somewhere with the intentions of changing it?
I still don’t know.
About the writer: Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in Philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, writer, and Christian liberal by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog except when it’s serious about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity.