On The Road Again

I didn’t go to Sojourn Sunday for church.

There’s a post coming about where I did go, but first I needed to write this post to provide context for it.

I believe my journey has resumed. It’s time for me, I think, to start visiting churches again. Not because I’m not happy, and not because I’m looking for a new church. In fact, even saying I’m “visiting churches” again is not entirely accurate.

The journey started about two years ago, with the groundwork laid before that when I started attending a house-based church. We had no building, we didn’t even always meet at the same house. Or at the same time. Or every week Our pastor had no formal ordination, and we sought no official church status.

And that led to discussions. “I was at church Saturday night and … ” “That’s not church.” “Why not?” “Well, you don’t have a building.” “So the church is the building?” “You don’t have a preacher.” “Why do you have to have a preacher?”

I realized that I didn’t know the answers to a lot of those questions. Why do churches have a preacher? Is that a requirement? Where does that come from? What does make a church a church? What are the requirements? What does the Bible say about what a church is?

I did a lot of reading, both of scripture and other books; one of which I’ll recommend — Pagan Christianity? I did a lot of discussing it, and did a lot of praying and meditating on it.

I came out of that with a lot of changes about how I see the idea of church, which probably flavors some of what I write on here. My view of what a pastor is, for example, has been radically redefined in a way that has serious functional implications. We tend to treat “pastor” and “preacher” as synonyms, while, really, I don’t think they have anything at all to do with each other. A pastor doesn’t have to preach. A pastor doesn’t have to be the top guy in a church. In fact, those misconceptions really hurt the church a lot, because it means that most Christians don’t really have a pastor, at least not that they recognize. “Pastor” isn’t a career, it’s a relationship. It’s a shepherd. It’s someone who can leave the 99 to find the one. The guy who knows members of his congregation only as faces in the crowd when he’s preaching can’t really be a pastor to them. If you don’t have a personal relationship with your pastor, you don’t have a pastor. OK, rant over.

But one of the earliest things that came out of that research was the idea of where I go to church. If I were talking to Jesus or Paul, and they asked where I went to church, what would I say? Well, I go to Whitesburg. But that means nothing to them. No church names in the Bible, that’s not a language they would speak. Well, I’m a Baptist. Again, blank stares. (I mean, obviously, Jesus, being God, would get it, but you know what I mean.) No denominations in the Bible, despite what the Catholics or Church of Christ would have you believe. Well, um, then … I’m part of … the church at Huntsville. Ah, OK!! That means something. Like the church at Jerusalem. Or the church of Corinth. Or …

The lightbulb goes off. I come home and promptly change my religious affiliation on Facebook from “Christian – Baptist” to “Christian – Huntsville,” becoming the only member of that particular religion. And that’s still how I list myself there. But what does that mean? Well, when Paul wrote his epistles, he wasn’t writing to one particular congregation, he was writing them to the church in the city, the collection of congregations there. My “church” isn’t Whitesburg, it’s the body of believers in Huntsville. Whitesburg could be my congregation, but it’s not my church.

But again, what does that mean? What do I know about my church? Basically, nothing. At that point, I’d regularly attended three churches in Huntsville, all Southern Baptist. I don’t know that, in my entire life, I’d ever attended a non-Baptist church for two weeks in a row. My familiarity with the body of believers was very limited. So I needed to rectify that.

I was ready to start doing that, but God wasn’t ready for me to. There were things I needed to learn at Whitesburg first. He had me stay there another 10 weeks to teach me some things, some very personal and some simply using Whitesburg as the first step in the journey, helping me not to see it as a church, but as a congregation within my church, one that served a particular purpose for particular people. I’m glad He did. It opened my eyes in a way that was key to the journey; helping me to see not through my particular biases but through the beautiful variety in the body that provides diverse homes for diverse people. I went into new churches not with the self-focused approach of “Is this place right” but with the view of, “What does this place offer people.”

I spent about a year doing that, in various forms. I left Whitesburg and visited, in a dramatic leap, a Southern Baptist church that wasn’t Whitesburg. I went on to spend time being Catholic, Methodist, Church of Christ, non-denominational, etc. And learned something everywhere I went. And tended to find myself where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

During the journey, I had no idea how it would end, or even if it would. And I never had any intention for Sojourn to become my new congregation, but, a year after I left Whitesburg, I realized that, apparently it was. And I like Sojourn, a lot.

But now, I feel like I’m supposed to begin journeying again. I have no idea what that means, how long that lasts, what I’m supposed to be looking for. I’ve known it was coming, and I knew where I was supposed to go last week. And I know what I’m supposed to do this coming Sunday, and that’s it.

This doesn’t reflect any discontent with Sojourn; I’m still very happy there. I will continue to be very involved there. In fact, this is very different than the first time, which required me leaving Whitesburg as my church. Sojourn has never been my church; it’s been one congregation in my church I’ve been involved with. And that doesn’t change at all.

And so, I begin my journey again. I have no idea that destination, but I’m looking forward to what He’ll do as I’m journeying. And I suspect that in this and so many other things, that’s the way He likes it.

One Response

  1. Excellent post… excellent Journey! I get your drift (so to speak…) But I especially liked your line, “If I were talking to Jesus or Paul, and they asked where I went to church, what would I say?” because the instant response came to me, “Neither one would ever even ask that question.”

    Which is one of the points you make. The church in the New Testament is a locality and certainly not a building — it’s people. Specifically, every person who (by trusting Him) have been made one with Jesus Christ. We are one with Him, one with each other and all members of His Body here on earth.

    I tend to think if it like this: the church is the people and not the property. Recently, we sold our buildings which we’d owned for the last three decades. People in town asked various people in our local congregation why we sold the church… But our people responded, “We didn’t sell the church! We sold some property! You can’t legally sell the church because the church is the people and our police frown on selling people…

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