Churches, Kids, and Pastors

Well, our church hunting may be nearing an end. It hasn’t been an easy process, lemme tell you. Turns out there’s a lot to consider when looking for a church! But we limited our search on a couple of factors:

Number one: We’re not looking all over metro Atlanta for the right church. We’re only keeping to churches that we can drive to in a matter of 20 minutes or less. The reason for this is that we don’t want to just attend once a week. We want to connect with some people in those churches for a while, and we want our kids to make some friends that they can hang out with and get to know. That’s just not gonna work if everyone we meet lives on the other side of Atlanta.

Number two: We don’t want to drag our kids to twelve different churches in this process. Besides wearing them out and stretching the more introverted ones beyond their capacities, I figure this would only teach them to be seasoned critics of churches (“I liked the couches at such-and-such church but didn’t like the music and so-and-so church”). We want to get their input wherever it’s relevant, but then we make the decision and they can just run with it.

Number one limits the geographical scope of our hunt and number two made us prioritize which churches to visit. In the end we had three churches to choose between, with pros and cons spreading evenly among all three — no obvious winner. This made us have to think really hard about what matters most in this hunt. What exactly are looking for? Are we looking to connect to a church long term, or just for a while? Are we looking for ourselves, or for the kids? If one church seems clearly better for them while the others are better for us, what do we do? Whole lotta hard questions to work through here.

Perhaps hardest of all, how does a die-hard organic church guy make his way back into a traditional, brick-and-mortar, Southern Baptist church without going berserk? I’ll have to get back with you on that one… Still working on it.

One thing in this process that has been educational for me has been visiting with pastors from each church. Since I’ve been in a house church for nine years, I didn’t have much interaction with pastors for quite a while. But now, in the last three months, I’ve had lunch and/or involved conversation with no fewer than SIX pastors and at least as many church leaders of other titles (elder, associate pastor, etc) plus I’ve got one more coming to visit our home Monday night. These conversations have been helpful for me, reminding me how folks “on the other side” of the institutional/organic divide think about things.

I’ve been reminded how much people see the preacher as the mouthpiece of God in the congregation. A house church like the one in my neighborhood believes whole-heartedly in every member ministering (even in the sense of everyone sharing and speaking in the meeting). Not so in a traditional church. At least three of the six men I recently spoke with clearly believe that it is their responsibility to feed the congregations they minister to. They see themselves as feeders rather than equippers. They see the congregation’s dependence upon them as a perpetual thing, and they feel that is how it should be.

One minister I ate with handed me a book, which I will blog about for the next few posts. It was Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever.

It’s a pretty good book, all things considered. I believe it’s very popular (especially with counter-cultural neo-Calvinist guys) and I think I can see why. Dever says a lot of things that I can agree with. I like his attitude towards church growth experts (“Forget what the experts say,” p.54). Stick it to ’em. He sees the futility in chasing the latest fad in seeker-friendly church practice. I can identify with that. I can identify with much of what he says, in fact.

But Dever’s model hinges on a fundamental principle that I cannot accept: The absolute centrality of the preacher in the life of the church. Dever would probably say that preaching, not the preacher, is the center. Or more precisely, that the Word of God is the center. When you put it THAT way, I agree completely. But the practical outworking of that principle, in my mind, rests with the whole body of Christ supplying what each joint supplies (see Eph. 4:11-16). For Dever, God speaks through the preacher. And that’s how most of the pastors I speak with see it. Even the ones that believe in a plurality of elders, like Dever. The preacher is still there, and he’s still doing that function all by himself. He speaks. Everyone else listens. The end.

Well, more on that and other things in the next post. In the meantime, it looks like we’re going to pick the church that’s best for the kids. Two of the churches we’ve been looking at have too few kids to connect with. They also use programs that are heavily driven by point systems, candy, and other such “extrinsic motivation.” Honestly, that’s really a turn off. Do I want my girls learning praise songs because they get candy if they can sing the words correctly at the end of the lesson? Or learning Bible stories because if they do they get a chance to win a bike?

We also want the girls to be with us in the worship service. That knocks out one of my choices right there. Put that together with a few other details that I won’t belabor at this point, and we’ve probably got our church home for the next little while. I won’t lie to you…it’s gonna be a tough transition for a guy like me. But I’m putting my trust in the Father to know what’s best for us right now. I don’t know enough to make these decisions myself. What can you do?

On a side note, the surrounding community has done a great job of trying to help out the schoolchildren that lost their school last week in the flood. By the way, people here are dating everything now by saying “that was before the flood” or “that was after the flood.” Well, after the flood, the neighboring churches, schools, and businesses pitched in and bought supplies for the kids that have been displaced by the flood. Some neighborhoods got nearly two feet of rain in one day. I know my area got more than a foot just in the first evening. Anyway, here’s a story about the local news network presenting the kids with what they collected.

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2 Responses to “Churches, Kids, and Pastors”

  1. Chris Says:

    Neil wrote: ‘I won’t lie to you…it’s gonna be a tough transition for a guy like me. But I’m putting my trust in the Father to know what’s best for us right now. I don’t know enough to make these decisions myself. What can you do?’

    I know. I understand, Neil. The great thing is that you are doing what the Lord is calling you to do even though you are not liking it. And that is just one aspect of dying to self.

    It’ll be OK though. In fact it’ll be the best thing you could possibly do – BECAUSE you are doing what you have been shown. You and the family will suffer and grow and yearn and learn in ways you just can’t anticipate. You know as well as anyone that this is ALWAYS the way things are when Father’s in charge.

    Praise him, bless him, HalleluYah! May his grace and peace and joy cover you like the fragrant oil that ran over Aaron’s head and dripped from his beard!

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