So we have been trying to find and connect at a new church since leaving our last church, and the place I was a Pastor for 5 years (to the day) for the last 9 months. 9 months without a church home, for lack of a better expression, has felt odd. It has been an interesting experience. Here is why.
Several years ago I was musing with a friend over why people connected or stayed with a church, and why they left. Not differentiating why they left, just that they left was our parameter. They may have left because they decided Jesus was not the answer for them, or because they decided to go to another church, but they left. We surmised that when people were involved socially with other people in the church (a small group perhaps), or involved in helping out at the church they were more immune to leaving.
In retrospect that was a good observation, but the deeper answer I think lies in what that interaction produced. After several years as a Pastor, with arguably, more insight in to why people leave churches, I saw another thing. That VERY involved people sometimes leave churches. I don’t view that scenario as disproving the former theory, but rather adding a deeper bit of data. Being involved in a church socially or as a volunteer is still only one aspect of the actual interaction. The interactions must be in a safe environment that allows people to ask questions and learn more, a environment where people can deal with hard issues and grow and change. When that happens, the real qualifier is that the social interaction quenches a deeper desire to move a long a journey, and if someone is trying to learn about God and Jesus, and they are getting no where, then they will leave to somewhere else, or give up. (I suppose it could also be they just did not get what they wanted, but the whole consumer thing I am not going to address here)
So here I am a former professional pastor who believes in connecting with community and who is having a heck of a time finding a community where I feel I will be accepted. Where I feel that who I am can mix in, and the questions that I have will be accepted and worked through with me so that I can grow. You think as a former leader I would feel it easy to connect with those who believe what I believe, but the truth is, places where dialogue instead of monologue are present are rare. Having previously taught, I value having a voice.
I also value, perhaps above all else, freedom. Freedom of expression. Freedom to be sad, freedom to still wrestle and not have to put on the persona of having arrived, when I know I have miles to go. Freedom to jump up and down in worship, or lay on the ground in grief. Freedom to test a religious piety that doesn’t seem to agree with what Jesus taught.
My wife and I were talking, and I surmise that with some lack of clarity, we have always sought community that gives us those things. Most times it wasn’t the church itself, but people within a church that we could relate to and who could relate to us.
I will say that we have finally landed. You will figure out where after a time I am sure. It feels like maybe it will be a place where both the church and the people we are already starting to connect with will be a new and real community, and hopefully, we will be that to them as well.