A ViewPoint by Meredith Flory
I was raised in a church where my family had been active congregants for three generations. When my parents went through a divorce, through a variety of reasons not mine to share and that I didn’t fully understand as a teenager, I lost that church home. I drifted as a young adult in and out of churches and college religious groups, knowing that my faith was an intrinsic part of my identity. I still felt loved by a Creator God; I just didn’t feel loved by his church.
A strong connection to a specific church or denomination can give us a feeling of comfort, heritage, and belonging, but in a culture that demands we categorize everything, defining oneself by a denomination can also get in the way of centering our identity first and foremost in Christ and set us up to hold our perceived piety over others, or to feel a crisis in faith when we are let down.
When I returned to church membership, I naturally went directly back to Baptist churches, feeling comfort in the style of worship; however, I struggled to align my own experiences with church politics. After a particularly heartbreaking experience as part of a ministry team, my husband, who was raised mainline Protestant, gently suggested we try other denominations when we moved to a new state.
There are many reasons to stay at a church through hard times, and if the spirit leads you to become a pillar of reconciliation or leadership somewhere, listen. My experience, in part, was borne out of a need for a different theology, but was also forced by our more transient livelihood. Being a new congregant in a denomination whose liturgy had me page flipping furiously for months was a humbling experience, but one that was necessary for the mending of my spirit.
As my husband and I raise a family together, with every move we know the most important question to ask as we visit churches is, “Will we grow here?” The answer may not always be yes in the church with the label we prefer.
It would be easy to lament how we are unable to stay in one place long enough to feel a solid part of a faith community, but instead, I have recently been reflecting on how each move has allowed me to increase the number of perspectives through which I see worship.
Baptist hymns and music still eases my soul and makes me feel connected to family. I learned to read music and the Bible in this tradition. The importance of exploring the word of God on my own, through reading and memorization, continues to be pressed upon me and gives me something to turn back to and find comfort in through difficult periods.
I have not joined an Episcopalian church but have visited several through our search for churches and through my husband’s attendance of one while we were dating. Partaking in Mass and communion and a greater celebration of holy days at these churches is, to me, a beautiful experience that more deeply embraces the mystical and supernatural side of our faith.
In making the switch to membership in a Lutheran church, my understanding of and need for prayer was deepened through liturgy that focused on corporate prayer. The liturgy focused my thoughts in worship in a way that challenged me to be present, and the theology made clearer sense to me than the continual cognitive dissonance I had been facing.
As we now go forward with joining a Presbyterian church due to another move, I am encouraged by seeing a church that embraces women in leadership and demonstrates the joy and good work that comes from a congregation more committed to inclusivity and diversity. I feel as though I have found a place where my questions about theology and my desire to learn how to better serve the marginalized will be embraced rather than seen as a challenge to church culture.
My experience at various churches throughout my life is unique and not reflective of every church’s style of worship, and I am choosing here to focus on the positives of each season. To reflect upon what one has learned is often easier than to live with a patient heart through it!
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:14–16 ESV)
One day, the church will become whole. The focus on Christ and the eternal, rather than a human-influenced and flawed shadow of the church, as it’s meant to be, will pull us all into perfect worship. So, if you’ve been let down by a church, a leader, a denomination, or hurtful experience of the machine of cultural Christianity, perhaps it’s time to seek out the new—familiar through its connection to Christ but wholeheartedly different in its perspective.
Focus on the future day of perfection. Christ will never let you down, so be bold enough in him to find a family of believers that encourages your spiritual growth, and acknowledge that there will be different seasons of your faith walk. If the church of your childhood ushers you into a mature spiritual adulthood, that’s wonderful—what an amazing testament to the fruit it is bearing. But if it doesn’t, don’t give up on the prospect of growing your faith elsewhere.