Church Search Update (May 2015)

Little White ChurchI have been meaning to write this post for some time now, at least since early December of last year and certainly since mid-January of this year. As many readers know, my wife (Hayley) and I have been undergoing a Church Search for nearly two years now. This post is intended to a) provide anyone interested in some of the background of this search greater context into what this process looks like for us, and b) to give a general update on the search itself.

Some Background

To provide a little bit of background on the thinking behind and process of our Church Search (for more information I encourage you to read my previous entries here), I should start by noting the somewhat unique situation that Hayley and I found ourselves in even before we were married. After growing up in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), my family began to attend a non-denominational Bible Church while I was in middle school. Over the course of the next several years, I really began to wrestle with theology and worldviews, trying to make sense of my world and what I believed. As it turned out, I was never comfortable with the doctrine of the church we attended and there was a fair amount of practice that I was concerned about as well. Yet my time at this church was important and formative for me, as the friendships made and the lessons learned have played a major role in shaping who I am today.[1]

The influence of this particular church was even greater on Hayley, as she had attended since she was in third grade. Yet she too had formed questions about certain doctrines and practices of this church as well. Before we were married, we spent extensive time talking about theological issues, with two important results. First, we determined that we held highly compatible belief systems (i.e., we would be comfortable marrying each other. It was a good thing to know.). And second, we perceived that—since we were moving away from home for graduate school—we would need to undergo a period of investigation and searching in order to figure out where we best fit within the People of God (i.e., which church we should belong to). After working at a couple of churches (and interviewing at another) during the first year of our marriage, we sat down and worked out the how and why we were church searching and then began to explore different denominations and churches.[2]

In brief, we anticipated three stages in our journey. During the “first stage” of our search, we sought to visit as many churches as possible and gain a wide range of experiences (including visits to bodies that we were fairly certain we would not be considering long term).[3] At the end of this stage, we had three “candidates” (the Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches) which we would investigate further during the “second stage” of our search. The “third stage” of our search would involve figuring out which body we best fit within/felt called to and then joining that church as members. It was at the juncture of the first two stages, however, that we first ran into some issues. For although we found ourselves most comfortable with the doctrine of the Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches (though not entirely comfortable on any count), we had reservations about some of the practices of each.

Our Search Moves to Saint Louis

Then, of course, we moved to Saint Louis. In one sense, the timing of this move was perfect, for it provided a nice dividing line between visiting all sorts of churches and narrowing our search. Yet in another sense, we were wary of too much change all at once and weren’t sure how the search would continue. We spent the late-summer and fall of 2014 investigating the Lutheran church as part of our second stage—we visited multiple churches, including regularly for a couple of months. By Christmas, we had come to two important realizations. First, we did not fit in the Lutheran church.[4] And second, since Hayley was going through another period of health problems, we needed to find a church body that could support us (and where we could serve).

A week after returning from an extended Christmas break with our families, we were driving home from the post office when a church sign caught our attention. Until that point, we were quite uncertain what the next step in our search was going to be. But for some reason, we both felt called to visit this particular church. I did a quick internet search and discovered that “The Rock Church of Saint Louis” was Baptist—not exactly what we were looking for. Yet we were determined to visit that coming Sunday. So we did. And there is no other way to describe what happened other than to say that God told us to attend this church. The people, the preaching, the ministries—this is where God has called us, regardless of what we may have had planned with our Church Search.

Moving Forward

Of course, the realization that we belonged at this particular church stands in stark contrast to our desire to use our church search to find our long-term church home (particularly since neither Hayley nor I are theologically situated within the Baptist tradition[5]). At this stage, God’s leading and the relationships we are developing are more important than ascertaining an answer to where we fit long term. In the short term, we fit where we are. Moving forward, Hayley and I will continue to learn about other traditions through extensive reading, ecumenical dialogue, and (when time permits) visits with other church bodies. I do expect that we will return to our church search down the road, though when that might be I cannot say with any degree of certainty. What I can say is that, to this point in our journey, intellect and experience have not coordinated. That is, we have discovered a rift between doctrine and practice that we neither anticipated nor understand how to bridge. (Perhaps this points to my futility or a flaw in how we are approaching this search, or perhaps this suggests something about the state of the Church in the United States. I’m not really sure.)

In the months (and years) to come, we will continue to wrestle with the heart of the issue which motivates our Church Search—figuring out where Hayley and I best fit in the People of God long-term—even while we seek to faithfully serve in the church where God has put us. From time to time, I may offer comparisons and/or reflections on certain churches and practices which will be categorized under the “Church Search” tab. And it is my plan to make it abundantly clear when it is time to earnestly re-engage in this search. In the meantime, we want to thank everyone who has followed along with our journey to this point, especially those of you who have asked us how our search has gone these past several months. I pray that our future conversations and actions are oriented toward Christ and the service of His Church.


 

[1] I should also note that during my college years I spent extensive periods of time attending Evangelical Free, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches in addition to my regular attendance at our non-denominational church and regular engagements with other church bodies.

[2] If you are interested in reading more about the specific aspects and approach of this search (and why we tried to be distinctly other than “church shopping”), see our posts on Starting Our Church Search, Denominations and Topics, Searching and Blogging Our Church Search, and the various posts on our Church Visits.

[3] If you’ve been following along our search, you know that for several months we postponed this process due to a health scare with Hayley, during which time we regularly attended (first) a Lutheran church and (second) a Presbyterian church. We’re confusing, aren’t we?

[4] Or, to be perfectly fair, we did not fit into the particular Lutheran church that we were attending regularly. We were especially hopeful concerning this church, as it exhibited a unique blend of Lutheran doctrine and “low-church” practice.

[5] For those concerned, the leadership of the church we are attending is aware of this fact.

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