“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’” – Genesis 3:26
“Church shopping” is a term that church leaders often frown upon. It’s the practice of visiting multiple churches in order to find the right fit before settling on the one that you plan to consider your own. I’m not as negative about it as some are. In fact, if I were a lay person looking for a church I would probably do the same thing. I would want to make sure that the theology of the church, its worship style, the preaching and the programs align with my values. I would also want to get a feel for the sense of community within the church. Is this a place where I could develop meaningful relationships? In order to answer those questions I would probably shop around.
The reason that church shopping gives some leaders pause, however, is the way it connects the deliberate cultivation of our spiritual lives with the consumerism that dominates our culture and the self-serving frame of mind it nurtures. The concern is that right off the bat we’re entering a spiritual community based on the community’s ability to serve our needs and interests. This is appropriate to a point, but when it becomes the dominant factor in our decisions about a church we quickly forget that the life of faith is not “all about me,” and my presence at church is not simply about, “what I get out of it.”
As Jesus tells us, we find ourselves by losing ourselves. In church we learn to give ourselves to God so that we no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to God and we experience purposeful and meaningful life in fellowship with God and in service to God’s people.
When I meet with potential new members I tell them that their presence in church isn’t just for their own sake. Their presence in church is for the sake of others as well. In church they get to practice being the “body of Christ” for others. Their ability to greet another with a smile, to share in another’s prayer, to volunteer in some way in the care of another, is part of the ministry of the church, and it is a vehicle through which others are blessed.
This message, of course, isn’t simply for those who are preparing to join. It is for all of us. It is very easy to get out of the practice of church. But, I would encourage you to consider church to be a spiritual discipline. And, Lent is the perfect time to adopt a discipline. If you’ve been away from church for a while I hope you’ll come back. If you haven’t treated your attendance with care and intention now is the perfect time to make a change. You’ll be glad you did, and others will too!