Today, as I’m writing this, I’ve had a surprisingly interesting day!
I went to a church service in the morning, and there when I got chatting was informed of a baby’s naming ceremony for a friend, which naturally I had to attend! This friend currently attends a church that I used to attend myself, so when I was at the naming ceremony I saw (and sat next to) the pastors of that church, a husband and wife team, who directed the naming ceremony of the baby (16 names! I tell you!) Thankfully I had left their church on very positive terms, so, as my former pastors, I naturally exchanged a few pleasantries with them, and then the head pastor asked me about the service I had attended in the morning….
I explained that this morning I had attended a church service of a church which to me happens to be a church very close to my house, but to him was yet another church that I had been associated with. Simply put, he was not impressed. “You have to be planted!”, he said. “No church is going to be perfect!” And then he gave an analogy about constantly uprooting a plant and moving it around from plant-pot to plant-pot. Even back when I had been attending their church a few years ago there had been issues about this “being planted” business, and I of course know that he is right. Uncharacteristically, I managed to keep quiet and say nothing. However, this is how things look from my perspective.
Firstly I am planted. I am planted in the word of God. This equates to being planted into God Himself. Perhaps I need to amend the emphasis in that previous sentence to this: “I am planted…” I know that not everyone is planted, that is not everyone who calls him or herself a Christian. However I hope it is clear from everything that I express about myself and my commitment to my God through this blog and through all else about me that I am very deeply committed to the word of Christ and the Bible. I do not hold it lightly, I diligently read it and seek to know it and apply it . I am determined in my determination for God. I am planted.
Secondly, about churches themselves….Sigh, where to begin?! Actually, I can sincerely say that the church of these pastors was one of 2 churches that I have been to in Edinburgh that I could have considered almost theologically adequate. So why did I leave? My understanding about “finding a church” was not as sophisticated then as it is now; I did not realise that finding a theologically fitting church would be such a chore, frankly. And there is more to it than that, naturally.
In my own particular case, my parents were pastors. They brought us up in a very fervent and passionately believing environment, and they definitely sowed the seeds for the level of my own commitment. Because they had a church, and I was very happy with all that they taught, I never really had an experience of trying to find a church earlier in my life. I was just a part of their church, and because it was always quite a small church, (and we are quite a big family) I grew up with the experience not of trying to negotiate an excellent church fit, but rather of being supercommitted to the one (excellent) church I belonged to. I was in the choir and I was in the evangelism team and I was in the children’s ministry and I was in everything – we all were – this is what happens when your parents are the pastors of a small church! Similarly when I went to uni, I just found a church that was an OK fit, and happily stayed there right from the start to the end of my uni degree. No big deal there either.
And then I totally moved away from my area where I grew up, and moved away to another city. And then the fun and games began!
When you’re in uni, it’s OK to be involved with a church that might not be the most ideal fit, because, you reason, you’re only going to be there for three years. However, when you are looking to settle down, possibly, then you start to be a little more demanding – or at least I do. I think to myself – “Is this the church I’m going to be involved with for the rest of my life? Can I submit to these teachings for the rest of my life?” It’s OK when the discrepancies involve “little” issues, like, “tithing” for instance. (But the tithing issue was not actually about tithing, which was what made it complex) But when it involves bigger issues like “the power of God” and “Does God still heal today?” then this is not something that can be so easily overlooked. Now the thing about “being planted” which I did not initially appreciate, coming as I do from an excellent church background, and from the easy years of uni church life, is that sometimes you can throw yourself into something, and then only afterwards come to realise that it is all wrong. This is all the more true for me because I am used to throwing myself one thousand percent into church life. Now church beliefs can be complex things. I don’t think I have ever been to a church that would say that they don’t believe in the power of God. But sometimes the extent of the belief is only evident in practice, and what I mean when I say “I believe in the power of God” might be radically different to what someone else might mean when they say they “believe in the power of God”. After a while, it might just become obvious to me: “I cannot move my beliefs from what I have happily believed and cultivated about God for so long to this – and I don’t want to. I also do not want to submit my expectations of my life….to this”. So point no. 1: Some beliefs were only revealed over time, after I (in my particular case) had already committed to the church in question…. Now please note that I am not in any way knocking any of these churches, I am just saying that they were not right for me. The body of Christ is necessarily diverse, and different churches cater to different needs. Unplanted!
OK, then at another church once again yours truly threw herself right in. Once again issues were only revealed over time – but this time issues of an altogether different nature. This is the thing about churches – you are encouraged to get involved straight away, to not hang around. And then after months or even years of committed involvement, you discover a big theological difference between your beliefs and what is being preached, and you are encouraged to “submit”. Yes, of course submission is necessary – but how can you submit to something that contradicts the word of God? And this is not necessarily a single teaching, but even a whole church attitude. What the church teaches does actually have to be true! Sigh! Unplanted again!
And then again, a church fulfils a few different functions. Theology is rarely the only thing you are looking for in a church. This is because it also provides a context for an active social life, friendship, potential-husband-scoping… (of course – where else would you look?!) If any one of these or other essential criteria is lacking in any measure, then you might decide that, regardless of theology, “This is not the church for me!” – Unplanted again!
So all these things have happened in my own interesting interaction with local churches, but not necessarily in this order. In each situation, I have gained a little wisdom about what to look for, and how to look for it….Sometimes, I have left a church for one reason, then on reflection, after being “interestingly” involved in another church, thought “Actually, my previous church was not that bad!”
So now, what if you find yourself in a situation where no church meets even the basic criteria of theological adequacy, even without looking at surrounding issues? How are you supposed to be planted in a church then?!
Actually, if I’m honest, you know what is really biting me at the moment? Laziness! The thought of dragging myself right across the cold, dark city through the cold dark weather to a church that is not quite ideal but almost OK is so unappealing! Look how two decades of ultra church commitment have been easily forgotten, just like that! Naturally I would prefer a “not quite ideal” church that is right on my doorstep, yes?! (Chuckles naughtily!) 😉