Thursday, July 25, 2013

Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Church

St. Stephens, the local Episcopal parish in town, posted a fantastic article from Shane Blackshear to their Facebook page, entitled "5 Ways to be Unsatisfied With Your Church."  All five of the entries on his list ring true to me, some especially so.  But because the post was written in the negative tense ("do not do X"),  I wanted to write a post in the positive tense (ie, "do this") as a parallel sort of perspective.  And so, I give you five--but by no means the only or best--ways I think you might be able to get the most out of your church:

1. Relationships matter more than doctrine

I don't care if I agree with every single item of a congregation's statement of belief (such a circumstance is already a long shot to begin with, let's be honest here)...if I don't see myself being accepted into this community, I'm not going to bother.  Doctrine is something that can be spoon-fed individually, but building a great cloud of witnesses takes a lot of relational investment, and part of being church means accepting those who want to help build that cloud with you.

In other words, if you come to this church, will you be affirmed for who you are, not just who they want you to one day become?  Can you build relationships and friendships there that will strengthen you in your walk of faith and that will be a source of grace and love to you, even if you don't agree with everything the lead pastor or preacher says?  Because in the long run, I think those are often more important.

2. Prepare yourself for Sunday mornings

Pray for a minute or two before going to church.  If you know what the Scripture your pastor will be preaching on is, skim through it once or twice.  Take a quiet moment or three in front of the mirror.  And leave the cell phone at home.

Now, I get it...that's not always possible.  Especially if you have kids (or a spouse who acts like a kid pre-coffee).  But I firmly believe that worship is something that we only get out what we put into it--preacher and layperson alike.  If I phone in my sermon, I am unlikely to feel that excited or inspired myself about the worship service (plus, I am doing both God and the entire parish I serve a disservice).  Similarly, if you phone in your presence--if you aren't really there, for whatever reason--please do not feel surprised if you do not feel moved.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. Don't settle for what already exists

I realize that a big part of "church shopping" nowadays is seeing if a particular church can meet the needs of the person/couple/family doing said church shopping.  And that's for a good reason--you want a place that is able to understand and meet your spiritual needs.  But a good church will also encourage and empower you to build ways to meet those needs yourself.

One of the most successful ministries we have had here at FCC Longview during my tenure was a Pilates class that met on Saturday mornings in our fellowship hall.  I had no intention of ever having something like that--my idea of exercise is running on the elliptical until my lungs give out--but when we had a woman who happened to be a Pilates instructor become a member, a new ministry was born.  And out of that ministry came new ministries--a knitting circle, impromptu games of pool, and just good old-fashioned getting to know each other over coffee.  It was a fantastic way to do church, and it would have never happened if she hadn't stood up and said, "Hey, why don't we give this a try?"

4. Invest, invest, invest

Shorter explanation: Minimal investments usually reap minimal returns.  See also: you reap what you sow.

Longer explanation: I am almost too quick to pour money into the things I love.  A new Kansas City sports team jersey?  Check.  Want to visit my favorite sushi restaurant for lunch?  Check.  Part of this is because I only let myself become totally emotionally invested in a few things.  I'm the type of person who would rather have one or two best friends than a gaggle of acquaintances.  But if you're like me, church cannot be the sort of thing you half-ass your investment on.  Giving to the body of Christ is a powerful way to feel invested in, and connected to, the kingdom work it does.  And I'm not just talking money here.  If you are a dedicated attender of worship, Bible study, mission projects, whatever--trust me, the effect happens there, too.  Spiritually investing yourself is a holistic process, and it is how one ultimately gets the most out of the church.

5. Forgive, forgive, forgive

I saved the biggest for last.  Being a part of a community means that sometimes, your wants and preferences are going to take a backseat to others'.  Amazingly, sometimes church becomes the place where people are most apt to forget that particular fact of life and fight tooth and nail for things that, in the grand scheme of things, matter little.

Speaking as a pastor, I cannot be all things to all people, and the minute I try, I risk becoming nothing to everyone.  I cannot please everyone, and sometimes, the person I will be unable to please will be you!  Forgive me for doing so, and let us move on together in our work as Christians.  After all, how many times must I forgive my neighbor?  As many as seven times?

"Not seven times, but seventy times seven," replied Jesus.


May you always be looking for new ways to strengthen your relationship with the congregation you consider to be your home!

Yours in Christ,

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