Church Shopping

Tomorrow I should have regular wireless again, but I found a way to wish you all a happy Pentecost!  Among the “joys” of moving, I strongly dislike “church shopping,” the process of bouncing from one church to another looking for “the church for me.”  It always feels too self-centered.  I don’t want a church to be “for me”; I want it to be “for Jesus”!

But the reality is that when one moves a long distance, one must find a new congregation to worship with.  In the US, at least, this typically involves a fair amount of individual choice, as there are several churches which may be acceptable.  (This is not just a Protestant thing; I’ve watched traditional as well as liberal Roman Catholics pick their parish based on the theology of the local priest, and the competing jurisdictions of Chalcedonian Orthodox churches has given various American Orthodox friends of mine the freedom to prefer one congregation over another.)  How does one exercise this individual choice without elevating one’s personal preferences over Christ’s purposes for his Church, thus setting oneself in judgment over the people of God?  (“And who are you to judge the servant of another?” wrote Paul in Romans 14.)  If individual choice on this matter is inevitable, can it avoid being evil?

It can, I think, when exercised with the right goal.  The goal of finding a new church is not picking a congregation who is like me, or who will like me, or whose theology/worship style/dress code/architecture I find appealing or comfortable.  Those matters are not irrelevant, but they are also not the goal.  The goal is to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of his body, the Church.  The other body parts go where the head tells them to.  If I move from one region to another, I am moving from one part of Christ’s body to another, and my job is to figure out where my Lord would have me serve, as part of his body in this new location.  Choosing a church as part of a move is not the same as picking a new phone company or a new internet service.  Instead, it is a matter of discerning my Master’s wishes and fulfilling them.  There are big questions about how to discern God’s will, but prayer is a necessary starting place, and looking for where one is called to serve Christ will raise different questions than judging whether this congregation is comfortable or appealing.

This doesn’t make it easy to find a congregation in a new location.  (Or at least, not usually.)  But it can make it less prideful and self-serving, and therefore not necessarily evil.

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2 comments

  1. Hi,

    I’m somewhat new to your blog, and I’ve found it interesting so far.

    As an ex-Protestant who’s joining the Catholic Church, one of the great “perks” that I look forward to is that I’ll never have to “shop” or “hop” again. After my “individual choice” to join the Church, the rest is pretty well settled. Like you say, it’s no longer about me, it’s about Jesus.

    I no longer have to focus on testing what I hear from the pulpit against what I think the Bible means in an effort to keep-in-check the very person who’s teaching me how to read the Bible…

    The wonderful Church that I will be a part of is the same one that my kids and my kids’ kids will be a part of as long as my family lives in this area.

    Are there differences among those who call themselves Catholics? Of course. People can call themselves anything. However, in an RCIA class that I was in, the priest pulled out a giant book which lists churches that are in agreement with Rome, and are therefore legit. He pointed to where “we” were in the listing. Although Catholic differences can be confusing when seen at face value, there are ways to see if a Catholic Church is legitimate. Could parishes overlap? Maybe someone might live on the line between them or something. I suppose people could drive farther away to be part of a preferred parish, but that doesn’t seem right. Catholic Mass doesn’t center around the sermon (actually “homily”) anyway.

    Therefore as I understand it, if I move to a new place I see what Roman Catholic parish I’m in geographically (anywhere in the world), and I walk into my home Church.

    By the way, I totally agree that finding ways to serve as part of the Body of Christ should be a primary focus.

    -Ben

    1. Thanks for your comment, and welcome! The parish model is certainly one approach to selecting a congregation to join, and I used that approach with the Church of England the year I was there (it helped that we moved into a really good parish). But I have known several Roman Catholics who did not find their closest Roman Catholic church to be the most suited to their tastes, for a variety of reasons, and therefore have found a different parish. One of the more common reasons for this is disagreement with the priest on the various liberal/conservative divided issues that the Roman Catholic Church is presently debating, and therefore laypeople critiquing the priest on the basis of scripture and tradition is not actually very uncommon among serious Roman Catholics. In addition to that, the existence of Uniate Catholic churches causes overlapping parishes in many parts of the US, for example.

      I pray that the Lord uses your switching denominations to bring you to a deeper knowledge of him and a fuller life in the Holy Spirit. There are many wonderful resources in the Roman Catholic Church for growth in grace. But I suspect you may find some things are not as different as you might have expected from when you were a Protestant (depending on how awful your experience as a Protestant was!). Pax tecum.

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