I have issues with church. More specifically with church hunting, but since we've pretty well settled on a church here it's not so much church hunting as it is with church plugging in.
I like a lot of the things about our church here. I like the casual, come-as-you-are vibe. I like the music. It's perhaps a bit on the edgy side even for my tastes, but that tells me that they are not afraid of any particular musical style. I like it that they meet in their own facility now. I loved the idea of meeting in a movie theater, but I didn't like the reality of it very much, for no reason other than it was too different than what I'm accustomed to (Sometimes I think I am starting to resemble a stick in the mud). I like that they are into serving the community with no strings attached, and are supportive of other area churches. Indeed, no sheep-poaching there (to use a favorite expression I got from Mrs T).
But then...I dunno. I can think of about 5 things that bug me--minor theological differences, quirks, that sort of thing. In the context of relationship I don't think any of them would be dealbreakers...but we are not yet in the context of relationship with the church, so it's hard to get an accurate perspective. Here my neurosis really rears its head, in the form of an in-depth analysis of every message. I can always find something to disagree with or get defensive about, but the question is whether or not I would react as strongly if we were a little farther in. It's much easier to take everything with a grain of salt when you already know and trust the one who is preaching.
Compounding this is that the pastor is a fairly strong speaker. At times he has a lot of passion and emphasis. In general this is a good thing, but often when he delivers his strongest emphasis and most dramatic pauses, I cringe a little bit at the point itself. There's always seems to be a point where I go "no, I don't have to agree with that; I don't think that's what God says at all." Now if he's just using good speaking techniques and going for the big effect, I can understand that. On the other hand, if he really feels as strongly as it appears about some of his finer points, then maybe the minor theological differences are more of a problem than they normally would be. I don't know.
Further throwing a wrench into the mix is the increasingly-obvious fact that the pastor is introverted, and not necessarily interested in connecting with individuals. I am an introvert, and I don't particularly care for connecting deeply with everyone and their brother, so again I can totally understand this. The church is structured so that there are places and people with which to connect, so that people can be taken care of while the pastor is freed to do his pastorly things, which in this case seem to be preaching and overseeing the whole shebang. The problem here is that, having exchanged maybe 2 words ever with him, I don't really know where he's coming from as an individual, so I'm not yet sure how much I can trust his leadership. I know he's a good orator--Toastmasters would be pleased. I know that he and his wife are extremely hip and cool when it comes to distressed jeans and other edginess indicators. I know that he is the head of this baby church that has grown to over 500 in its one year of existence, and that he well aware of how uncommon this is, and is highly grateful for the whole thing.
That said I don't really know what makes him tick. What sorts of things has he encountered on his journey to give him his particular bents, and what are his essential points when it comes to talking about God. And I'm not sure I'm in the place to ask those sorts of questions of him personally. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm not. I would certainly feel defensive if someone came at me, looking more than a little bothered, and asking those sorts of things of me. Granted, I'm not in charge of an entire church, but still...I'm pretty sure I'm not in the proper state of mind to ask those things graciously and fairly, anyway.
Thankfully, the church has venues for such questions, and even has a catchy name for everything they do. Last week we attended the Tour, a little lunch shindig aimed at newcomers wanting to get acquainted with the place, and in two weeks they will hold what they call the Partnership class, where they talk about membership, and folks can ask more hardcore and/or theological questions and such. So that's our next step.
I have a lot of fears about plugging in here. I have a lot of fears about plugging in anywhere. What I would love is to go to a church and get a special feeling or instinct that it is home for the next 4 years, church-wise. I don't know if that exists for everyone, and I'm not sure it's fair to ask of a place before we've taken the time to plug in. Maybe my expectations are skewed in one direction or the other, or maybe I need to eat more iron-rich foods or something. Out of the churches we've visited, it does seem to be the best fit for us as a family, even if it might not be where I'd end up as an individual. But then again, maybe it is exactly where I'd end up; I dunno. What confuses me is that there are so many factors influencing my judgement at present, that I don't really trust my judgement. Hard to take that and make a solid decision.
I think the thing that sits heaviest with me is that, when all is said & done, to me it just feels like "doing church." Looking around during the service it is obviously not this way for a whole bunch of people, so it's highly likely that this is more of an indicator of the things I'm feeling about church lately, rather than the perspective from which this church is ministering.
I haven't seen any red flags, so that's a start. Still, my overall gut-feeling is one of discomfort. I don't see anyone else walking around in apparent bondage or oppression, but somehow I come away feeling neurotic pretty much every time. And I hate feeling neurotic. But again, I know my perspective is skewed, so it's hard to sort out much of anything. Ho-hum.
I think the next few weeks will be telling, what with the membership class and the new series they're starting up. The name of it is something like "21," which is borrowed from black-jack's perfect hand. The video trailer (yes, they do those here) has taunting little phrases like "living each day like the perfect day." I'm suspicious, but we'll see the angle they take...