Sunday, February 24, 2013
Finding a church home. . .
In classic form C.S. Lewis wrote how Screwtape coached his young protégé on the art of sabotage in the life of a believer: "If a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that 'suits' him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches." Pastors of all stripes find these folks the bane of ministry. How do you care for those always on the move? Some call them parasites who distract the church from its needful work in the pursuit of a people who will never belong but sap the resources of the church.
I admit not special animus against them but neither am I fond of folks who show up now and then in their search for the perfect church (or, more accurately, a less imperfect one). That said, the numbers of them seem to be growing as church attendance declines while people seem to affirm about the same level of belief and the same desire to find a good church home as they have expressed before.
Some authors have begun pleading the cause of the church hopper and shopper. Burned out by former leadership positions, carrying the baggage of church conflict and coldness, and fearful of commitment through years of disappointment, these church hoppers and shoppers deserve credit for showing up instead of simply abandoning the search for a place to belong. Okay, maybe they are not all the sniveling minions of darkness and doubt. I will cut them some slack. Honestly, I will. But I refuse to give credence to the idea that if you search long and hard enough you will find a good fit (if a perfect one cannot be found).
The church is not the end but herself the means --- the means of the means of grace, so to speak. We too often get fixed on the earthly element when we ought to be focused on the grace it conveys. Just as the bread and wine are not for how they taste or look, neither should the earthly characteristics of the church be allowed to dominate. The church is where the Word is proclaimed in its truth and fullness,the law and Gospel rightly distinguished, AND where the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution. The people who hear that Word and receive those sacraments, as well as the priest who administers them, will always be sinful and unclean. Their flaws are neither flaunted nor hidden. They are there. Like all of us. At some point, we must all simply get over it. The Word and the Sacraments are worth the inconsistencies, flaws, and failings of the people who deliver them to us and who receive them with us.
Yes, I know, there are exceptions. But rules made out of exceptions are exceptionally flawed rules. The rule is to go to church. If there are choices, visit and inquire and choose. Then attend... regularly and faithfully. The more you focus upon the means of grace, the less you will notice the unsatisfactory parts of the means of that means, or, the church.