A few updates on life:
• Work is going well. I’ve been at the new job for about a month now and I’m still loving my position. The 9-5 is not so bad after all. The drive isn’t bad either.
• Valentine’s Day was fun and untraditional = I had a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a brown teddy bear, and a box of chocolates delivered to my cubicle from this cute guy I know. He spoiled me yet again. In the evening, Adam and I had a quick Mexican dinner at Los Tapatios, went to Sam’s Club for some groceries, watched Safe House in theater, and went home to chill with ice cream (you know that’s him, not me) and relax with the latest episode of The Lying Game.
• Running is awesome. I’m up to 7.1 miles. I think I might be addicted to the endorphins. I’ve written down a list of 9 races for us this summer including 2 triathlons and the 1/2-marathon in Schroon Lake that I plan to run! (Aaah!)
• I did a foot detox the last 2 weeks that was every color in the rainbow and even some that aren’t. It was crazy (and I thought I was living so healthily!). What do you think?? *Barf*
• One of my best friends Caitlin is coming out here for a week in July this summer. I can’t wait to see her.
• I’m in the process of actually writing fiction again. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m thankful to say the juice is flowing, and I’m about 70 pages into my manuscript.
Ok, that’s the update on life.
In all honesty, however, I’m not in the mood for the life update, and I’m away from my kitchen, so I can’t really do a product review. What I have on my mind is much more serious.
As a child who grew up bouncing from church to church, I never really felt connected to the church body the way, I believe, Christ designed it. I did have connections at certain churches I remember–like, Allen Memorial Baptist in Candor, where my closest childhood friends went, and First Baptist Church of Newark Valley, where we attended long enough for us to get connected to kids our age, attend Sunday School, sing in the kids’ choir, and even have stories from class about bullies, object lessons, etc.
There were other churches too. We probably went to the Congregational Church in Berkshire as many times as the fingers on one hand and only as a last resort. I remember there were reasons, but I never quite understood. We went to a non-denominational church with an over-zealous tambourine player, a home church where I sat on the floor or couch and the pastor taught with his eyes closed, and an Evangelical Free Church where the pastor commanded attention because of his amazing willingness to speak despite his speech impediment. That only names a few.
I often joke around that everyone I know, I know because we attended the same church at one time or another in the past….and…I’m only half-kidding.
That sounds funny, and believe me, I’ve learned to laugh at some of the peculiarities of my breed of family church-hoppers, and I might even be able to tell you a few ways that God has worked in and through me and my family by having us attend more churches than I can even name. However, in all actuality, for us kids and for me personally, church attendance became a very negative experience as a result. More importantly, the whole purpose of church as originally described in Scripture was overlooked and unfortunately, not experienced.
When I attended The Master’s College for the first time, I knew I would finally be able to get plugged in to a solid church and stay there. I looked forward to bathing in the Word every week. However, what I did not realize was how hard a decision that would be! Within 20 miles of great churches led by John MacArthur, Francis Chan, and many others, I found myself almost overwhelmed by the options. It was at our church fair on the lawn at North Campus that I met Logan and Elijah and their girlfriends and decided to attend Church of the Canyons Evangelical Free Church.
I continued to attend COC for the entirety of my stay at The Master’s College. Over the years, I felt very at-home and very confident with my decision. In fact, after 3 years, I was sure it was time to make a commitment to the local body of believers.
Of course, if you know my story at all, you know that I came back to New York after my junior year of college. Even after a few weeks home, I missed TMC, I missed my close friends from California, and I missed my church family.
I could not believe it. My family had attended a new church almost every year (if not every semester) that I had been away. They had bounced between locations and denominations and now were somewhere completely different. In the few months that I was home that last summer, we attended a few different churches, and I began to see not only how sad a perspective that is for a Christian believer but also just how wrong church-hopping is. Sure, my family was “in church” every Sunday. Sure, we were “looking” for a church that met every one of my family’s standards. Sure, we were hearing the Word of God preached (in some of the churches). However, we were missing out on the richness of and original intent for the church as a whole.
If you look back in Acts at the formation of the church as well as the discussion of the Church in Hebrews, you will see the Church body has very specific functions:
• To stir each other up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
• To meet together to form the bonds of family and grow those ties (Hebrews 10:25; John 21:16)
• To prepare our hearts for the End Times (Hebrews 10:25)
• To assist each other in avoiding sinning (Hebrews 10:26)
• To learn and grow together in our faith (Hebrews 10:35, 38; John 21:15)
• To go through persecution united instead of alone (Hebrews 10:39)
My family attended church. My family sang songs and listened to sermons, but if I look through that list taken from John and Hebrews as to the original intent of the church as Christ designed it, I can see that my family was nowhere close to that.
I understood that coming back from TMC. I had been living in a “bubble”, as we called it, a whole community founded specifically on the original intent of the Church, so that for three full years, I was surrounded day and night by people who desired to live out those verses. We lived in dorms together like any college, but the depth of the relationships of those longing to live out the Word of God was awesome.
I remember talking to my family about the beauty of true Church fellowship that summer after I got back from school. It was not about lunches together and songs and sermons. No, it was about truth and being involved in each other ‘s lives. What I came to realize quickly is that it’s hard to miss something you’ve never had. Such was the case with real church fellowship and my family’s sad predicament.
It has been almost 3 years since I moved back to New York. It has been a struggle to find the joys of Church fellowship away from the depth of the Word as it was taught in school chapel and at my old church. It has been hard to reconnect with new people, new friendships, without many of the people my own age. However, as I look back over the few years I have attended the same church where I am soon to become a member, where I work alongside Adam in youth work, and where I spend time with family and friends worshiping Christ regularly, I am thankful for a place to call home, for a church family that I know and love (and who knows and loves me!) and look forward to the fruits of our labor in years to come.
This is not a bash on my family and the tendency to jump around. It’s not. It’s not a praise of myself for finding a church to call home. No. Believe me, it’s not easy. The tendency to want to leave is there. The temptation to find something better that serves me and my needs is right there every Sunday. However, God has given both Adam and myself a passion as well as a purpose to stay where we are, to faithfully be involved, and to affect lives for the glory of Christ.
Unfortunately, things with my family are not as they are with me. Thank God–My mom does faithfully attend church and is involved in a Bible study. However, as a whole, half of my family goes to church somewhere and half is hardly interested. More specifically, my father has thrown it all out.
I wish no disrespect to my parents. I love them both. However, there are some serious things happening spiritually in order for my father to decide he no longer believes the Truth of the Bible.
Is this decision of his sudden and rash? No.
Is this something I can say I have known for years now? No.
As contradictory as that may seem, his decision to walk away from Christianity is a definite by-product of a trend that did start years ago.
The problem is this…
Church-hopping causes a few of the following:
No spiritual accountability
No submission to church leadership
No solid theology
No stability in teaching for children
As I look through my life, this list is descriptive of my family. There we were, bouncing here and there, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:14) Our attendance at a church could be determined by a variety of things from sickness to busy schedule to depression to an argument within the household. Our choice of church was just as scattered. We could attend this church this week, another the next, and neither one the week after that. Our reasons could be as diverse as topics of teaching, style of teaching, music, ministry opportunities, friendliness of the congregation, etc. No one knew what the reason would be from one Sunday to the next and from one church to the next. Therefore, there was neither any accountability. Sure, we got involved in the churches we attended. My father led Bible studies. My mom worked with the young girls. We kids worked with music or sound or the younger kids. We were “involved”. However, because we were not making a commitment to that body of believers, because we failed to join ourselves to these people in a commitment, my family was accountable to no one.
Of course, people could ask us where we’d been if we stopped attending, people could invite us back, and people could speak into our lives, but in actuality, our failure to make commitments to the body of Christ told others that we did not want anyone to really tell us what we were doing right or wrong. We wanted to always have that easy-out option.
It’s like a relationship where a couple always dates and never gets married. In fact, my family even got so close as to being engaged (talking about membership), but those things never came to fruition. That lack of commitment demonstrated in action that we always wanted the option of leaving, were always looking for something better, and were never willing to commit ourselves to the hard work of a real, lifelong relationship.
But, you might say, lack of membership does not mean lack of accountability all the time. I could agree if those without the membership really and truly received the accountability of those who spoke into their lives. More oft than not, when constructive criticism was given, it was not viewed in a humble manner, so the family was shuffled away from the “judging” to another church who was unaware of the often painful trend that had been taking place for years.
Along that same lines, because there was no membership and no accountability to a specific body of believers in that location, there was no respect for or submission to Church leadership. Without having submitted oneself to membership in a body of believers, one seems exempt from church discipline. In addition, in a majority of those (like my family) who have bounced between churches, there is a tendency to attend and be involved in home churches, which primarily consist in a group of 3 or more families coming together to worship the Lord collectively. Those kinds of “churches”, or in reality Bible studies, offer no spiritual and Biblical form of leadership, with each family doing as they deem right in their own eyes with zero accountability and coming together in a home or other untraditional location for the purpose of creating there a church body as they see fit.
Because of that tendency, my family, like many other church-hopping house-church attendees, there is a temptation not to honor those in authority in the church body in a rightful manner. There is most-definitely not a respect as deemed in the following list of verses:
1 Corinthians 16:15-8
1 Thess 5:12-13
Hebrews 13:7, 17
Additionally, this lack of commitment to a body of believers as well as a lack of respect for and submission to Biblical church leadership is disobedience to the Word of God. Those in this rut would most definitely not consider it as such, but as a difference of interpretation of Scripture. However, Scripture, like all writing, possesses and original intent on the part of the writer and the message sought to be communicated to the reader. Therefore, it is just as foolish to say that there can be multiple interpretations of a passage of Scripture as there would be to say there are multiple interpretations of a love letter, a legal form, or a business contract.
With this “interpretation” of Scripture already offering license to those members of this faulty understanding, this church-hopping often coddles misunderstandings of Scripture. In fact, not only does it coddle those understandings that give license to the flesh in either areas of liberality or legality, but it allows for an even more dangerous temptation: the picking and choosing of doctrine according the whims of the flesh. This most-definitely a perfect example of the previously mentioned Ephesians 4:14. Because the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9) the tendencies of the heart will allow for the flesh as well as the devil to guide the wandering soul to areas of sin and not areas of Godliness.
(Amazingly, another area of sin that is often overlooked in the life of a church-hopper is that of not giving tithes to the local church. The church-hopper (as was the case with my family) gave to numerous national organizations and charities, however neglected the whole purpose of tithes as it was discussed and set forth in the New Testament church.)
That is the beauty of the Christian body. The church acts as a sounding board for the heart of the believer, allowing for discussion, growth, inspiration, challenge, confrontation, and repentance. However, if one is off moving from church to church to find the perfect assembly or to find a group that meets with 100% of that person’s peculiarities, that person and/or family is seriously keeping themselves from the growth that comes with true and Biblical fellowship with a consistent body of believers who are given the freedom to speak Truth, however uncomfortable and hard-to-hear, into that person’s life.
Amazingly, it is also found that the people who bounce from church to church are also the most lonely believers. They have the sense that they alone are running after Christ in the way they ought to be and lose perspective of the others that run the race besides them. In fact, it often models the heart of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. There, he felt like the only one who had not forsaken the Lord, yet the Lord reminded him there were thousands of others who had not bowed to Baal either.
God gave us the local church for edification as well as for confrontation. Without those things, there is an obvious lack of growth in the life of the believer as well as a twisted perspective on the church of God, its purpose in the lives of the saved as well as unsaved, and that person’s own walk with the Lord.
Last but not least, this church bouncing confuses children. The varied teaching on Scripture confuses the young minds and hearts as to what is solid doctrine and what is preference. This is accentuated when the family leaves a church for a minor reason of preference, teaching the child that small, unresolved differences as well as issues of preference are enough to break fellowship, lose friendships (as is what most-oft happens personally on the child’s level), and avoid meeting together. Not only does this breed confusion spiritually, but it demonstrates an awful example in the area of relationships. Church, instead of being a safe-haven and a place of spiritual growth, becomes a place of perpetual strangers and perpetual feelings of being alone and unknown.
This also fosters within the child all the negative beliefs of multiple interpretations, teaches a lack of respect for church leadership, and encourages an untrusting attitude towards Biblical teachers, accountability, and the church as a whole. [I truly believe this is why my siblings have such a twisted view of the church and Christianity as a whole.]
My father is a perfect by-product of this church-hopping, this “independent Christian living.” Lonely, isolated by choice, confused as to the teachings of the Bible, accountable to none, and never grown beyond the stages of being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”, my father has decided that it’s all false and that Christianity “never got down to the core of [his] being.” What he’s wrong about is that the Truth would have, if he had allowed himself to be penetrated by the consistent Truth of the Word and to be held accountable by, to be grown along with, and to be challenged by the Church body of Christ as God originally designed it.
[Of course, all these attitudes can be continued in while attending one church for a long period of time as well. Church-hopping, however, merely exasperates the sinful tendencies found within the human heart and offers an accountability-free cycle in which to live.]