Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Benefits of Author Shopping

More than once I've heard sermons on how we shouldn’t sample different churches, like sampling appetizers, floating from one church to the next, trying to find out what makes us comfortable or what’s good for our personality. In fact I can’t think of a time I’ve ever heard a pastor refer to ‘church shopping’ in a positive light.

I understand the need for a commited community of believers as well as for churches to faithfully teach God’s Word and the mystery of salvation in Christ rather than pandering to public opninon, but I believe sampling different churches can be one of the most helpful things in your spiritual life. Many denominations are ingrown and the members don’t have a broad perspective of the Christian community and the way that their brothers and sisters worship.

Making someone feel guilty or unspiritual for trying different churches on for size would be like asking someone, “Do you still read Steven James’s books?”

“No, they don’t really speak to me anymore. I’m trying out some other authors for awhile.”

“What?! You’re author shopping? But reading’s not supposed to be about you, it’s supposed to be about God!”

“I know, but Steven James’s style doesn’t really connect with me.”

“You don’t go to a book to get something out of it, but to give something into it!”

“But he’s boring. I fall asleep reading him.”

“You're not supposed to go to a book to be entertained, that's not what reading is all about!”

“But really, the only reason I’m reading him is my parents read him to me as a kid. Are you saying once my parents introduce me to one author, I can’t switch?”

“You need to be faithful to your local authors. It shows a lack of commitment when you just start jumping around from one to the other.”

“Oh. I see. Well you know what? Then I think I might just give up reading for a while. If that’s how it’s going to be.”



Doc Op said...

I have visited enough different churches to know that most churches think that they are special. (And of course folks probably wouldn't end up at a church if they didn't find it special in some way.) Even so, I find it amusing when a particular church seems to feel that it has the corner on music, or teaching or authenticity, or relationships, or doctrine or whatever. And the church next door thinks the very same thing.

It is always nice when churches recongize that they are both strong and weak, part of a "team" -- and that other local assemblies will do some thing better.

The admonition to think more highly of others might also apply to other assemblies.

Anonymous said...

Three years ago my husband and I left our roots in a particular faith and started "church shopping." It felt uncomfortable at first, but I learned so much about how other believers worship God. I discovered there's not one prescribed way and that's the only way (as I'd been raised).

Visiting other churches has opened my eyes to the "body of Christ" and all her similiarities. If we as Christians could focus on our similiarities instead of our differences, we would have a stronger message to share with unbelievers. They might just interested in what we have and come visit to find out about it!

karla said...

As I read this blog, I was surprised at how strongly I agreed and disagreed with you, at the same time. I hesitate to disagree with you on a blog that is read mostly by your fan-base, but you seem like a man who is open for discussion...
I have listened to many sermons, and I have never heard a sermon for or against church-shopping. I hope that there are not pastors out there suggesting we belong to a church because our parents did, but I am afraid that is a very real possibility.
Church is about rleationships--relationships between God and His believers and relationships among the family of believers. It is important to find a church home where one is comfortable developing those relationships. Sometimes the best way to do that is to visit other churches. However, if one is constantly switching their church membership, it seems like those relationships would be difficult to form.
Comparing church shopping to author shopping is a stretch for me. The questions I ask myself when deciding where to worship and the ones I ask when deciding what to read are not the same, not really even close. Reading fiction is completely entertainment for me. Church is much more than that. Yes,I want to find my worship experience relevant, even exciting. But, most importantly , I desire to attend a church where I know the leadership holds the Bible in highest regard, and will never simply tell me what my "itching ears want to hear." To find that church, we must be students of the Bible, so that we may know for ourselves what God has to say and are able recognize false teaching when we hear it.

marksonger said...

I attended a Megachurch in a major southeastern city where the pastor would often chastise people who would attend their church because it's where they grew up then drive across town to hear his 4th service because he was "the guy" to hear preach. His admonition was based on how people were not able to effectively serve in one church if they were doing this.

Growing up, I attended a Baptist church Sunday morning, my friend's Episcopal church on Sunday evening and the Methodist church's youth group on Wednesdays. I never felt like I was missing out. If anything it made me have a greater appreciation of different denominations.

I have long felt that Paul's description of individual roles in the church through his Body of Christ illustration can easily and appropriately overlay other areas of life as well including the need for different churches and denominations. The need for Baptists and Presbyterians is as crucial as the need for a mouth and a heart. But just like we who are "mouths" in our church can sometimes bee called on to act as "hearts" but do not lose our calling as mouths by doing so, there's nothing wrong with us leaving our church which is fulfilling one role in Christ's Kingdom and visiting another if there is a need.

IMHO, of course

karla said...

marksonger--I appreciated your comments, somewhat because they are so different from my own point of view.
Because we do see things so differently, I am curious...as you became involved with organizations within different church bodies, did you ever run into conflicts with what they taught?
I feel great conflict when I am worshipping in a church and something is said, (or sung or chanted) that disagrees with what I have read in the Bible. I realize not everyone feels this same tension.
Also, I read the Body of Christ section completely differently. I did not, still don't, believe that Paul was telling us that we need to have different churches teaching different things. I read that we have all been given gifts within the Christian church (which I believe includes people from many denominations, even if they are not all worshipping together) and that each gift is necessary for us to be effective.
I greatly appreciate the comments on this post. It is a great thing when Christians can engage in discussions like this.

marksonger said...

Hi Karla!

First off, I'd like to say I'm all about churches teaching one thing and one thing only. The Holy Bible. Anything other than that and I'm out of there. As a reformed antidenominationalist, I abhor bylaws! If a church is focused more on getting people to dress a certain way when they come to church than on just getting sinners in there to hear the Gospel of Christ regardless of how they're dressed, then they have their priorities WAY askew and it won't be pretty when God whacks them upside the head :)

Now, as for the different teachings. Does it bother me when churches interpret particular sections of the Bible differently than I do? Not really so long as it does not fly in the face of The Truth. For instance, I don't care if a church preaches a premillenial, amillenial or postmillenial rapture. So long as they preach salvation through grace, not works.

I don't care if they take one interpretation of Hebrews 6 and suggest that means one can lose their salvation or if they believe nothing can take us from God's hand. As long as the teach Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Light.

I don't care if they are more in line with Calvin or Armeneus, if they are TULIP Calvinists, Reformed, 4-Point or what have you. If, that is, they teach that Jesus Christ is the living Son of God who paid our penalty for our sins that we may live with Him in His Kingdom forever.

Jesus is the thing. It is on Him all our focus should be. Arguing over these petty points is Satan's distraction from keeping us on task. And it's limiting to God. Who are we to say God can only operate one way or another? Why can't He be both?

Paul himself said it best in Romans 14:1 "Receive him who is weak and do not have disputes over differences of opinions." The whole chapter is on the fact that religion is pragmatic. We worship our Creator in the way that brings us closest to Him. What works for one may not work for another as well. We should each worship in that way that suits us best.

Along those lines (to bring us back to point), I see no problems at all in experiencing different kinds of worship and interpretations of God's Word. A worship service with electric guitars while you're wearing your most comfy pair of jeans may be the change you need to recharge your spiritual batteries. or maybe you need a quiet, meditative service to help bring you back to center. Hearing how God has used His word to touch other people's hearts, especially if their experience is different from ours, can give us a whole new insight into God and His nature. It can cause us to reaffirm or reevaluate our own feelings on the matter. It's not a bad thing.

And, finally, if you belong to a church that is mission oriented (feet) versus one across town that may be more evangelical in nature (mouth) or one that runs soup kitchens (heart), visiting the other churches to share in their experience and walk with them in their calling from God can do wonders for strengthening your own relationship with Him and maybe finding out what path He wants you to walk down next.

OK, I'm sorry if I'm hijacking the comment section :) I should stick to my own blog instead of writing a blog inside someone else's :) But if you give me a chance to talk about matters that are close to me... :)


karla said...

Marksonger, thank you for your well-written reply. We agree on many things, most importantly, Jesus is the thing.
I LOVE different kinds of worship, but not different interpretations of the Bible.
My husband and I are mission (feet) oriented people. Three years ago we joined a church that is not as mission-oriented. Rather than become involved in a different church, I would rather be the feet at this congregation, hopefully convincing some more people that God has called them to be feet also.

Deseree said...

I think it's important to recognize that there is a difference between "church-shopping" (defined in my comments as not committing to one church body but picking and choosing the bits we like from different bodies), and checking out different churches from time to time to experience worship in a new way. I think many pastors would be in favour of the latter (mine would anyway, and I know that he does it himself when he is on vacation). I don't think this is what we hear leaders warning against. God is so multi-faceted, we can always learn from others in how to engage with Him and worship Him.

However, I do agree with Doc Op on the point of growing within a committed body of believers. How can you develop relationships and serve wholeheartedly if you don't attend the same church most of the time? I think there has to be some level of commitment in order to develop personally, and in order to develop the body. I think that hopping about from one to the other forever is depriving the body of your spiritual gifts. I think Paul might take issue with that.

I also think that sometimes there comes a point where it's time to move on. I think for a season it is ok to move around and see what else is out there. But there comes a time where I think commitment is necessary.