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.