We’ve got a bad case of musical church going on in my town; we have had this condition, unfortunately, for many years. No, I am not talking about whether music in church is scriptural or not. I’m euphemistically referring to the musical chairs-like behavior that happens here. This medium-sized college town has several larger churches that have been playing a nasty game of “Swap-the-Sheep” – I’ll give them pseudonyms to protect the guilty:
Church #1 is Neighborly Church, a large (well, it was once) non-denominational church that prided itself on multi-media holiday spectaculars by its drama dept, its fantastically fun youth programs and its solid bible teaching. There were Wednesday night potlucks and events to invite neighbors to in hopes of rubbing the gospel off on them. Then eventually the good-hearted, well-loved, founding pastor grew older, portlier and tired-er (is that a word?) and then re-tired (I do know for a fact that this is correct English).
Along came Replacement Pastor #1 – he didn’t stick, but the second time around, the Board was going to get it right: they were successful in finding a man who was called, capable, and charismatic (oops!!!). Well, he shook things up, and was a significant catalyst in initiating the churchy-go-round. Finally after a decade & a half of challenges and crises, Neighborly Church had a mostly amicable separation from Mr. Shake-up-the-Saints and chose a smoother, but sound son who had grown up at Neighborly and had come back to serve his home congregation.
The second church on our tour we will call Gethsemane Gardens, also a large “non-denominational” but distantly charismatic church that is decidedly autocratic in its operations: you will do church government this way (it’s the pastor’s way or the highway), you will teach the bible that way (Gethsemane Garden’s founding pastor’s beliefs or the highway), and you will like it (Ja wohl, Herr Pastor!). Very solid in biblical teaching (just ask them), it was stable, dependable, you knew what to expect, and the church had made special arrangements with the Almighty to zap you away before anything really nasty happened on earth – it made them feel downright rapturous.
So Church #2 heard about some of the ‘Charismania’ happening at Church #1 and began a series (not sure how that worked since it didn’t conform to their verse-by-verse methodology) on how it was disorderly and out-of-control. They even distributed tapes (yes, it was the early ‘90’s, before wide use of CD’s and long before podcasts) decrying the debauchery of this fellow Trinitarian, grace-believing body. This disturbed some of the meeker ones at Neighborly and caused many to leave.
Along comes Church #3, a mainline denominational church that got religion and started preaching the actual gospel; we’ll call them Sidwell Cholosterolarian Church. Sidwell is close to the college and began some earnest outreach to the kids. They relaxed their music in one or two of their services, dumped the hymns, brought in the drums and electric guitars and repetitive, syrupy choruses (hey, whatever works). Sidwell even started a gospel choir, causing defections from Neighborly’s gospel choir. They got a great children’s program going (some moms even started referring to Sidwell as “kid well”). The church hired a benevolent, loving senior pastor. In short, it became a kind of rehash of the early Neighborly Church and many Neighborly people flocked to Sidwell, even though they couldn’t be fully immersed any more nor believe that God actually loved the entire world. But at least it was like old home week every Sunday.
To round out the churchy-go-round, there’s Church #4, Freely Scand-tastic, kind of a Baptist light, and Church #5, Grace Place. While Freely Scand-tastic and Grace Place play a lesser role in our scenario, they still swap Christians back and forth with the others regularly. Besides these five there are numerous smaller churches involved in the same slave trade – did I actually say that?
So the name of the game in our medium-sized town is to find the church with the most-est: The best programs (already formulated and set in motion, not too demanding of newcomers), facilities, music, specialty pastors, well-heeled members that invite you to their bible studies and maybe even their summer swim parties, smoothest running, well-attended, best spoken of, thought-provoking but not too challenging, with the nicest kids… The question being asked is (although its never admitted) “How do I get the most for the least amount of effort?” Let’s not forget another rationale for moving we really don’t like to talk about: Offense! I need to avoid so-and-so; its easier to change churches than address the problem, forgive them, or (gulp!) ask forgiveness for a wrong committed.
The churchy-go-rounders are never satisfied for long; if Church #1 doesn’t cut it, they move on to Church #2; they grow tired of that and move to Church #3. In time, they may even show their faces again at Church #1, schmoozing the people that never left by telling them that it was the rightest place all along.
OK, seriously, I’m not saying we don’t need to change churches once in a while. There are certainly legitimate reasons to do so, but if you ask me, they are few and far between. What better communicates your love for God and His people than sticking with them through thick and thin; by rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty; by being part of the solution rather than part of the problem? Is church about being coddled or about serving our fellow sinners saved by grace? Have you been on the churchy-go-round? Has it really been character building for you and a testimony to your family, neighbors and co-workers? Or has it just further cemented their opinions that Christians are shallow and me-oriented, just like the rest of society?
Get committed. Grow where you’re planted. Get off the churchy-go-round.