1. Everyone is created different and that’s a good thing!
My husband has always worked in ministry so we’ve never had a time of church “shopping.” However, during a time of transition we were trying to narrow down what our next step would be. My husband sat me down with a pen and paper and asked me to make a list of the things that were of “utmost importance” in a church. He sat with me and did the same. After we made our lists, we compared them. Wouldn’t you know that after being married almost 8 years (at the time) our lists were completely different! My list had things having to do with the life of the church, where his list was filled with the theological matters of the church.
After moving and settling into our new congregation (which wasn’t a perfect match to either of our lists) I realized some important truths:
We as the Body of Christ each relate to God in different and unique ways. My husband is very theologically minded. He relates to and experiences closeness with God when he is learning deep truths. I am much more experientially minded. I relate to and feel close to God when He answers my prayers, when there’s a powerful time of worship or prayer or when healing occurs. I need to see and experience God, not just know about Him.
Many congregations are a larger scale reflection of this and likewise, are often made up of like minded people. I believe this is okay as we are collectively the Body of Christ. It would be extremely rare for one single congregation to posses all the special qualities of the Body of Christ.
2. Everyone is human
Because my husband is in ministry, I see and hear a lot that gives me a different perspective then most wives. It is from this perspective that I urge you to do the following:
Resist the notion that your pastor/leaders will be everything you would like and hope them to be. I’ve seen so many people genuinely disappointed in their pastor or leader because they disagreed with their pastor/leaders’ decision. In no other relationships that I have witnessed on Earth, do people have such high expectations of another human being! (except perhaps the president but let’s be honest, that almost always ends in disappointment.) Leaders are people, and as such, they possess the same capacity of all humans for: weaknesses, preferences, annoying habits, gifts, talents, and the need for sleep and rest. I would argue that those in ministry require more rest then your average person because they carry an exceptionally high level of others’ burdens!
All this to say, go easy on your leaders. Pray for them, pray for their families and for God to lead them. Seek quality friends and companions that you can share and enjoy life together with. Your circle of friends should be your main encouragement in your relationship with Christ, it should not all fall on your pastor.
3. Give it time.
Getting to the heart of a church takes time. Just like the old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover, well, don’t judge a church by one service. I’ve seen perfectly excellent churches dismissed because they use a multi-site model, or because the style is “too liturgical” or because they use electric guitar or for that matter, because they don’t use electric guitar! All of these are weak reasons to not give a church a chance.
This final two tips cannot be followed unless you give a church a little bit of time.
4. You will get out of it what you put it to it.
We live in an area where many military families come and go and I have never seen such a thing as military wives. Because time is not on their side, they know not to waste it. They plug into a church and get involved in small groups and begin building relationships immediately. They don’t wait for someone to greet them and invite them over for dinner. They go ahead and set one up themselves.
While this “go get em” attitude is not for everyone, learn something from these women and their families. They know they need relationships, they love Jesus, so they are going to go after them. They’ve recognized how to let preferences take the back burner and make the most of the situation.
5. Take ownership.
Your ultimate goal should be to grow in Christ alongside fellow believers. So things like prayer and Bible reading will hopefully be encouraged by the church you are in, but no one can do those things for you. Be sure you are doing what you can do to grow in Christ and are not putting that on others to do for you.