“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV
I have no memories of a time in my childhood that I did not go to church services three times a week. We were a two services on Sunday and Wednesday Night Bible study people to the core. It was a part of the natural rhythm of my existence, and I loved it. The church has been the basis of my understanding of community the entirety of my life. My closest friends were from my church. My parents’ closest friends were from church. If I made a friend outside of my church, it was not long before I was encouraging that friend to come to church with me.
My faith in God has been consistent, simple and strong. I have no recollection of ever doubting a triune God. I have loved God my whole life. I trust fully in Jesus, believing Him as the incarnate Son of God and Savior Messiah. As a child, I didn’t fully understand the Spirit. Much of my childhood, I formed the idea that the Spirit was the Bible. Whether it was through the teachings I received in Bible classes or a misunderstanding of those teachings, it was not until I reached adulthood that I became fully aware and convinced of the active and powerful third person of the Deity. I guess that is what growing in knowledge looks like.
Somewhere in my late teens, I started to wonder about the purpose of the church. I knew I loved the community it offered. I loved the space to worship God collectively with other believers. It was familiar and such a part of my understanding of the world, I could not imagine life without it, but I also began to struggle with the full purpose of it. There was something about the church experience which felt off for me. Now, thirty years later, I still feel unsettled in the very definition of church.
Perhaps, it is after eighteen months of church being in a transition due to the COVID pandemic, or perhaps, it is because in the past decade, I have seen parts of the church experience that have really challenged my walk of faith. I feel a great stirring within me to figure out just what church is meant to be. The hardest part of such a journey is knowing that my search may never lead to definitive answers. I want to think I will be satisfied by the growth which will come in pursuing the journey.
Multiple reports state that only 33% of churchgoers who attended church services regularly prior to COVID continue to attend. Part of the challenge of this pursuit is realizing that the church, at least in presentation, is in a transition it did not intend to make. While this, in part adds to my personal desire to pursue this now, I cannot help but feel like I am far from alone in wondering how this particular time in history will impact the life of God’s people and Christ’s church. I invite you along on my trip of discovery, as I would a travelogue of an epic journey. I hope you understand this invitation is not to take over my itinerary, although I am willing to entertain your suggestions on ideas to feast upon and people to visit along the way.
Before I embark, I feel compelled to share a few things from my heart:
This journey is toward something, not away. In this I mean that I am in pursuit of greater understanding of something I love. Just as in my marriage to Jonesy, a part of my way of understanding him best is to challenge him, question him, hear stories of his past, and dream of his future. I believe I will find a greater understanding of church in the same way.
Out of fairness, to those of you who do not know me personally, I want to share that my faith tradition and church experience would be classified as Christian, Protestant, Restorationist, of a congregational polity, specifically church of Christ. I understand that this faith tradition impacts how I view the church on a universal level, as well as within what my tradition is referred to as the local congregation. I am very willing to confess to my bias. Yet, I am unwilling to affirm an inability to see a bigger picture outside of my own experience. There will be some in my tradition, who will struggle with the questions I will ponder along the way. I apologize in advance for any discouragement you may feel from my efforts. Yet, I am confident, by the example of those who have loved God before me within the scriptures, my questions will not be an offense to God. In fact, I believe He will be the source of any answers I will receive.
To those of you who want to take issue with Christianity, the church of Christ, the universal church, me; you are welcome to share your concerns with me, yet you must understand I stand firm on my belief in the Creator God. I appreciate your doubts and your questions. I, too, have many. I am open to discuss with you why I believe as I do. I am willing, even, to tangle up in a heated debate now and again. However, those conversations cannot distract from this journey in this place. Feel free to email me, privately. With that in mind, I will not allow arguments between strangers, or for that matter, those of you who are acquainted within this space.
Finally, this search for better understanding should not be interpreted as a message of discontent with any church I am currently or have worked with in the past. The very best of all people I have known have sat within the pews of the churches to which I have been a member. This search should not be seen as a dismissal to the beautiful faith heritage I have received generationally within my family of origin or marriage. I believe the very best parts of who I am, if there is any to be found, developed from the instruction and practice of my faith within the context of the church. I ask your grace if you decide to follow along. I will be working this all out with reverence, but also with a healthy dose of honesty along the way. I will be sharing the truth of my thinking and it must be received, as it is intended as a growth experience. I imagine, along the way I am going to land on knowledge that seems rooted and firm, yet will come to be without foundation. I am, because of a deep faith in my God, ok to be a bit disbalanced if it leads me to better understanding. Yet, if for any reason, my questions would be a hinderance to your faith, I would encourage you not to follow along.
Lord, my God, I lift this search for understanding to You. I seek answers and believe You are the One who will provide them. Lord may I be open to Your words and instructions. May my traditions not cloud my understanding. May the answers You provide convict me to action and transformation. I boldly ask this because of Jesus.