This is part one in a series of weekly posts I'll be doing as Phil and I look for a church. I hope all of you involved in church leadership will take the time to read because I think you can benefit from our insights as we take this awkward journey of figuring out what church God would have us now call home. Having spent the last fifteen years in vocational ministry, we haven't looked for a new church in a LONG time. Undoubtably, my perspective as a church seeker is quite different from the perspective I held as a "church professional", but I continue to view everything through the eyes of a leader. So I hope you'll learn from our insights and experiences as previous church leaders now longing for a home.....
We've only been visiting churches for a couple of weeks now but I already hate it. It's uncomfortable. It's stressful. And perhaps most of all, it's lonely. If you've been in vocational ministry for some time, or if you've called the same church home for many years, you may have forgotten - or never known - what it's like to walk in the doors of a church a total stranger. Many times we, as church leaders, are so in love with our church and have invested so totally in our congregations that we simply cannot understand the perspective of a first time guest.
Each Saturday night I go to bed with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. Even though I've enjoyed the services we've attended I find it hard to actually concentrate. My guess is many first time guests feel this way. I don't know what's going on and I spend a lot of my time observing. Even though I've led worship for over 20 years I still don't always know all the songs and I wonder if it's okay to express myself in worship. So I'm looking around, watching, waiting. It's harder to worship and almost impossible to relax. I feel like I am an observer instead of a true participant.
I'm wondering if I could possibly fit in here, I'm missing all my friends, and I feel invisible. No matter how many people greet me, I still feel like the invisible woman. Although I am acknowledged, I am not known. And isn't that the most significant part of any church experience? To do this spiritual life in community with others? Without any relationships -or a place of service - I feel useless, and my attendance feels a bit pointless. It's the oddest feeling to realize that my attendance to church matters to no one else but Phil and God. No one else cares if I'm there because they do not know me or need me. This is a strange - and sad - realization.
If I've learned anything at all about church in the past few weeks it is this: sermons are great, worship is uplifting, but the real point of church is spiritual community - to learn, and to worship, yes, but to do so together with those we love.
The truth that the greatest needs of any human are "to know and be known, to love and be loved, to celebrate and be celebrated" has never been clearer to me than at this time in my life when I feel the lack of a church home so deeply. I go to church on Sundays and I am NOT known, I am NOT truly loved and of course I am NOT celebrated. Nor can I really do these things for anyone else. I'm attending but I stand apart from the crowd, feeling very much like the outsider I am. I feel like I've dropped off the ends of the earth into an alternate universe. It's uncomfortable, awkward, and - many moments - very sad. And while there are sweet moments of worship, some laughter, and even truths learned, there is just something missing. It doesn't feel like home.
So pastors, fellow worship leaders, and anyone else who leads on Sunday mornings, be patient with us who are visiting your church fellowships each weekend. Forgive us if we don't sing or clap, or even if we don't look particularly joyful. We probably feel lost! We're still trying to figure it all out and we may be going through a major life transition - we may have just moved, or have experienced a deep grief, or be seeking God for the first time. We're nervous so please show us some grace! And don't be offended, it's not personal or a judgment on you or your church, it's just us.
We're longing for home.....