Saturday, January 21, 2023

Adventures in Church Shopping


This week I decided to leave the church.

Not THE church, just A church.

Calm down guys…

We started going to a new church a couple weeks ago, having decided to stop going to the one that we had been going to for a year. The previous church was good; nothing wrong with it, whatsoever. Doctrine and theology was solid. It’s mission was solid. But after a year of going, we still knew no one.

To clarify, when we were in Santa Barbara, we would go to Reality Santa Barbara. I was involved in Children’s ministry. And there was even a mid-week gathering focused on building community with the team. The group was strong. It persisted and it grew and I met and knew so many wonderful people while we went to it. But at the first church we went to, after moving to the Santa Ynez valley, I felt like I had been invisible. I was helping with the kids ministry, and I knew a few people. But I just felt like another cog in the wheel at the end of the day. Most of the church was older. Most of the cliques had been formed. We were just bouncing around, like a ball in a broken pachinko machine.

The new church (that we decided to leave recently), was also good (theology, worship, preaching, etc), only it was in a process of rebranding. The vision the pastor had was to structure the church off of a discipleship program steeped in reformed theology. We watched a video by Douglas Wilson, a conservative, reformed pastor, that spoke of a time of reformation in our own culture. His premise (one that I disagreed with) was that the Sexual Revolution had destroyed the Nuclear Family (already not biblical in its literal sense), that our course was changed irrevocably. The only recourse was to implement a structured, biblical life, where church fellowship and worship was held in the highest esteem. (All of these things aren’t bad, by the way.) But all the propaganda reels of “sinister” LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter rallies turned me off. It turned me off, not because I don’t believe what the bible tells me (that gender and sexuality are created aspects of our identity, established by God), but because the imagery employed was not meant to call people to repentance, it was meant to create an object to vilify and to hate. This serves no purpose. It’s a lazy way to galvanize people by pitting them against the very people we are meant to minister to… Not only this, but my days as a follower of Mark Driscoll’s teachings still linger in my memory. (There was a time when I was radicalized by the Reformed Church in my 20s.) And I have no interest in going back to that theological framework.

I don’t believe that there is a “best way” to worship. Orthopraxy does not equate to orthodoxy. Everyone has the ability, and calling, to invest in a community that serves the “Orphans and the Widows” that live among us, but I don’t believe the Bible calls us to seclude ourselves from the world. When Jesus ran his ministry, he critiqued the religious elites for their orthopraxy and (seemingly) spent the rest of his time with the spiritually sick and destitute. All the people that we do not desire, or make time for, he loved AND died for. Far be it from us (THE Church) to shirk that responsibility.

I guess what makes me so depressed by this turn of events is not that I was wronged or had been ill treated by this new church. If anything, the pastor was gracious and kind. He remembered my name, and even approached me on our first Sunday visiting. What makes me so depressed, is that, either intentionally or unintentionally, the church’s identity shifted from its Sunday persona to something completely different on the mid-week gathering. It was a classic bait-and-switch.

Yes, that may sound petty. But the lack of consistency was a red flag. It reminded me of a darker time. A time when I had been hurt, and jerked around. And I wasn’t going to do that again. The most important thing about being in community is about being in sync with the pastor’s vision for the community. This time, though, it just wasn’t happening. And that sucks.

 Anyways… time to go looking for another church then.

Two down, one to go.  




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