Yesterday, in Part 1, I left off with how my husband and I started to pray about leaving our church.
We were familiar with several churches in our area – some in name only, some because of people we knew who attended, some through recommendations from others.
So, we planned to make the circuit. Now, we came from a fairly conservative Pentecostal church (the one I grew up in was a crazy Pentecostal church; the one we had attended was balanced and biblically-grounded). We were open to other denominations. My husband had a little more of a Baptist background, and I attended Liberty University, a Baptist college, so I wasn’t attached to a Pentecostal church.
We didn’t really have a set criteria, but here were some things I was looking for. First, I wanted to make sure it was biblically sound. After my growing-up experience, I had seen enough manipulation and misinterpretation of Scripture. Our new church had to rightly handle Scripture. Second, while I didn’t need a Pentecostal church, I wanted a church where the Holy Spirit was alive and present. It didn’t need to be something outward and overt necessarily. I just wanted to be able to sense the Spirit of God. I know that sounds a little vague, and I can’t explain it fully; yet, I know when the Holy Spirit inside me is resonating with what is going on around me. And I needed that internal confirmation. Third, I wanted a pastor who came across as humble, knowledgeable in the Word and obedient to the Holy Spirit.
For me, those were the big things. It didn’t have to be a certain size or have a certain number of ministries or a certain type of music. We just wanted it to be biblically sound, a place where we felt that the Holy Spirit was alive and at work, and a godly, spiritual leader.
So, there was Church #1, a small Evangelical Free Church around the corner from us – literally 3 minutes and a mile and a half away. It was small and had a very homey-feel to it. There were maybe about 50 or 60 people, contemporary worship (Hillsong, Chris Tomlin) but in a simple, scaled-down way, and the people were warm and friendly. Style-wise, it was the polar opposite of our home church, but we liked it. The message was biblically-based (my husband actually listened to several of the pastor’s messages online ahead of time, to get a feel for the pastor’s theological position), and I definitely felt the presence of God there. In the meantime, while we were on our church-hunt, this little church had a men’s group that my husband checked out. He really liked it (which isn’t easy for him), and the pastor told him that even if we decided to attend another church, he was still welcome to be a part of their men’s group. J. really liked that about him. (Do you keep hearing me say ‘like’??)
There were still a few more churches to check out. The next Sunday we went to Church #2, which James had attended before he attended our church. He knew the pastor there very well and had a great relationship with him. So, we checked out that church. It was a little bigger than the first church we checked – maybe about 200 people at each of the two services. It was a independent, non-denominational church, although probably having more of a Pentecostal bent. It was a little farther from us- maybe 15 minutes way. I enjoyed the service, and it was a church I could see us at. James didn’t really see it the same way though; he wasn’t very concrete about his objections, but he just wasn’t feeling it. All he said was that it wasn’t like it used to be. So, it seemed like we would scratch this one from the list.
There was another church we wanted to check. Church #3 was about 10 minutes from our house, another independent, non-denominational church with more of a Pentecostal flavor. I enjoyed the worship, so that was a good start. On this Sunday, the pastor’s son spoke, and the topic was ‘Giving.’ (Hmmm… I knew this could go either way, as far as my husband is concerned. He is touchy about this subject). Then, after his message, the pastor’s wife came up and praised her son for his message, telling us what a hard message that was for her son to give, how he lives this message every day, how he agonized over sharing this, etc, etc.
Well, all three of those things were strikes in my husband’s book. First, he didn’t like it that the son was giving the message and not the pastor – especially one on a sensitive topic; second, he also didn’t like that the mother got up after and gushed over her son. It all seemed a little too over-the-top and nepotistic. Finally, he is very sensitive to charlatans-masquerading-as-ministers asking for money. Now, in the son’s defense, whom I happen to know personally, he is not a charlatan. As for the nepotism, I can’t really speak to that, but I could see James’ point. However, I knew by those comments that Church #3 was a no-go.
There were more churches in our area we could have checked out, but James said, “Why don’t we go back to the little church around the block?” I agreed.
Before we went back, we decided to go to our home church the next Sunday. At the end of the service, the pastors and other leaders are always up front to pray with people for various needs. We went up, found the pastor who married us, and told him that we felt like God was leading us to seek a new church and we were checking some out. Our pastor was so grateful we had told him and allowed him to pray for us.
(Let me just interject and give props to my old church. They get it about the church – all believers – being the body of Christ. They know they are not the only thing going and in no way are they possessive. They know God is at work in so many area churches, and there is no competition. In fact, our pastor meets monthly to pray with area pastors – of all denominations – and every Sunday from the pulpit, he prays for all the churches in the area, that the Holy Spirit would be working in their churches like He is in ours. So, we knew our pastor wouldn’t be personally offended or insulted about our decision. See how healthy???)
So, Pastor B. prayed for us, and he just had one request. He asked that once we found a church, to please not just ‘disappear’ – to come back and let them know, so they could pray us out and give us a blessing as we left. How great is that?
The Sunday after that, we went back to the little church around the block.
On my next post, I’ll tell you where we ended up.