Our Faith Journey 2 - Church Sampling & Disillusionment

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This is the second in a series of articles exploring the impact that ditching the suburbs had on our church life. Read the backstory to get an idea of our church life before we became fulltime travelers.

Pre-trip Expectations

As we hit the road fulltime in our RV, I wanted to be open to the unknown and the unexpected. I wanted to have no expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed if or when they didn’t get fulfilled.

And yet - I expected to encounter God in new ways and in new places.

I knew that we’d get some of that by visiting National Parks and other places where God’s handiwork was displayed in nature.

But I also hoped we’d experience God through the people we’d meet by visiting local churches as we traveled.

Church Sampling

Our first couple of weeks on the road we “skipped church” - a month in or so we began to try and attend a local church.

What Denomination?

We had to first decide what denominations were we willing to attend.

We settled on the Apostles Creed as a deciding factor.

If a church looked to believe that then we could attend. Other differences from our own history and beliefs weren’t significant enough to worry about for one visit.

Finding a Local Church

Being a web guy I took to the internet first.

Um, yea.

Church websites are horrible at answering the most basic of questions that a new visitor might have. Is the service casual or formal? Is it traditional or contemporary? When you say “casual dress” do you mean leave the tie at home but still wear the rest of the suit, or are flip-flops OK?

Ditching Suburbia Manifesto Shirt

Ditching Suburbia Manifesto Shirt Suburbia-ditchers have different values than most people - tell the world what they are:

Simpler Living. Closer Family. Richer Education. Uncommon Adventures.

Styles available: t-Shirts, tank tops, and hoodies.
Colors available: black, navy, gray.

I quickly gave up on that and started calling phone numbers.

This approach was no better. I often got answering machines or - in one odd case - the number was answered with “Hello?”

We never did find a reliable way to choose a local church.

Sometimes we’d just pick one that was close to the campground. Sometimes we got a recommendation. A few times we attended with a local friend.

We visited Baptist, Southern Baptist, Bible Church, Lutheran, Methodist, Non-Denominational, RV park churches, and National Park Services.

Specific Memories

A few church-visiting experiences still stand out:

  • Being way under-dressed at a large formal church and then the first order of worship was to have visitors “Stand up and identify yourselves so we can give you a packet of information.”
  • Being 2/3 of an RV park church where the Bingo caller on Saturday night was the Pastor on Sunday morning (he was better at Bingo).
  • MsBoyink being asked to “play the pianer” and then having to wait until they could find the key to unlock the keyboard cover.
  • Attending a downtown mega church and after singing with 1000 people settling in for the message. The Pastor “arrived” via a 40’ tall video screen. I’m still not sure if he was live somewhere else or pre-recorded earlier in the week.
  • Getting the kids back from youth groups excited about some hamster races they’d had. I asked if they had talked about Jesus or the Bible? “No.”
  • Miranda almost getting real wine during a Lutheran Communion.
  • Experiencing Easter at a sunrise service on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Overall, Though?

Most of the time our experiences visiting a local church were just…awkward.

We were always newcomers, not knowing the flow of the space or the service. We’d read “Visitors Welcome!” out on the sign but then not feel it once inside.

When we were asked about our story some people got it. Other people just smiled and nodded politely while they mentally filed us under “On Vacation / Just Visiting.”

We often found ourselves hearing sermon 2 of a 5 part series. Or getting a visiting pastor because the main pastor was on vacation.

After the services we felt ignored and passed by while people scurried out to their normal Sunday traditions.

We came to realize - we didn’t want to invest too much in getting to know a church we wouldn’t be at the next week. And they didn’t want to invest too much in us knowing we weren’t going to be there.

A friend commented on our frustration:

It’s not about going to church. It’s about being part of a church.

But how could we be part of a church if we were traveling fulltime?

Other Church Attempts

We tried:

  • Online church
    We didn’t like the topical “how to improve your marriage” type messages (just a repeat of what we’d heard in churches for years).
  • Listening to the podcast of the sermons from our home church
    They were often over an hour in length and we just couldn’t pay attention that long.
  • Creating our own services
    This felt awkward, contrived, and even more isolating.

The Disillusionment

It took awhile - but I slowly came to realize this:

Fulltime travel and Church life (as it exists in mainstream North America) were not compatible.

Churches want:

  • Ongoing attendance.
  • Committment.
  • You volunteering in some fashion.
  • You active in small groups or Sunday School.
  • Your ongoing tithe.

This doesn’t work if you aren’t there most of the time.

It felt like either we had to give up fulltime travel or church.

After much prayer and thinking here is where I arrived:

  • Is God the God of all people? Yes.
  • Does all people include nomadic people? Yes.
  • Are we the first nomadic people? No.
  • Is God limited to achieving his purposes through Churches? No.

So if the issue isn’t God or being nomadic, that left only one thing.

It occurred to me that as much as we had questioned the suburban life and why we were living it, we had never questioned our Church life in the same way.

Questions About Church

I started to ask questions like:

  • For as important as “going to Church” seems to be there is little in the Bible that looks like what I know as Church. Why is that?
  • Why do we have “services” with pre-defined content and order?
  • Why is music and singing an acceptable form of corporate worship - but not dance or artwork?
  • Why do we have dedicated buildings?
  • Why do we have paid, professional pastors?
  • Why do we sit in pews?
  • Why does Communion in the Bible look so different than what we experienced in Church?
  • What are we looking to get out of Church?
  • What are we looking to put into Church?

Once I started asking the questions they came fast and furious.

And the Answers?

Read part 3 of this series, where I cover the books that tore down and rebuilt our understanding of church.

 

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9 Comments Our Faith Journey 2 - Church Sampling & Disillusionment

  1. Picture of Marci GMarci GJanuary 03, 2016

    Hmm . . . interesting observations.  We’ve had a different experience in this area—maybe it’s because we have narrower parameters (Roman Catholic only) or less expectations (only really looking for a place to go to mass each week), but we’ve had no trouble finding a church to attend (even in the south! (Bryce is actually my church locator)), and we’ve always felt very welcome.  We’re actually almost always picked out as visitors by the priest, which leads to questions on our lifestyle.  They always encourage us to visit again.  We’ve had lots of interesting experiences—large cathedrals, tiny churches where the priest alternates between the altar and the piano, a Spanish mass that started 15 minutes before the posted mass time, among others - it’s actually been one of our favorite aspects of travelling!

  2. Picture of boyinkboyinkJanuary 03, 2016

    Hey Marci -

    I didn’t explain that part well.

    I could find any number of churches. It was trying to choose one that we would be comfortable at that got hard.

    Between denominations and worship styles the differences between a Methodist church over there and a Baptist church over here can be many.

  3. Picture of angieangieJanuary 07, 2016

    Well written! Thank you for your transparency and for being willing (brave enough) to process this here in a public forum.

  4. Picture of kevinkevinJanuary 17, 2016

    Hi Mike. I love these posts. Honestly, being new at traveling, I never gave much thought to it all.  I’m really glad you’re writing these. Some of your thoughts about dress style NEVER occurred to me to even ask or think about. We always just do casual nice - maybe like a business casual??
    This comment really stuck out at me:
    “It occurred to me that as much as we had questioned the suburban life and why we were living it, we had never questioned our Church life in the same way.”
    You know, I haven’t either, so I love reading about the different experiences you had. In one sense, they strike me as just par for the course– you’re going to end up in some funny/awkward places, as well as some very cool places. Looking back in my own history, I’ve been there. But, I really hadn’t thought of that in regards to traveling. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as we travel and attend churches too.
    I ‘get’ all the “questions”, (the one about the pew confused me - is that really an issue :) ? )
    At any rate, I once left the church because after attending several over the years, no pastor could answer basic questions, and I tired of all the “mystery meat” sermons. It wasn’t until I attended a bible teaching church (genesis to revelation, verse-by-verse) and began to study, that things began to make so much sense. No wonder pastors couldn’t answer my questions, they didn’t teach thru the bible nor study it. How could they possibly teach it. In a bible store once, I found a book like “52 prepared messages for Pastors” and I realized, man, the church whose pastor uses that book is going hungry.
    The bible is pretty clear on what church should be, and who a pastor & deacon should be, and what a Christian should be. Church is required to be organized, not chaotic. It should be edifying to the body, and glorifying to God. Much of what goes on in a church is not pagan, it’s man’s attempt at organizing. Not every church is the same, not every church is biblical. And that all starts with the pastor (or in some cases, the organizing denomination - too many have strayed from the bible in order to build memberships)
    There’s not a lot of need to “interpret” - the New Testament spells out fairly clearly what should be happening, and what should not be happening. 
    I’d address some of the questions, but I’m sure you don’t need that. I’ll just caution that you be Berean, and check that the books (referenced in part-3) line up with scripture.  If we Christians spend time studying the Word, it’ll be a LOT easier to see when others distort it. There are a lot of books about church and the Bible, but the Bible does a good job of saying what it needs to say. And if you think pastors get paid too much, these authors make significantly more writing books to stir things up - that’s why they keep writing them – but it doesn’t mean they’re biblical. But if you aren’t studying the word, you could be caught up in some bad theology.
    Can’t wait for the next installment!
    Thanks for writing these. I’m sure they take a lot of time and thought.
    K

  5. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJanuary 18, 2016

    Hey Kevin -

    Thanks for the comment. Just to be clear - the questions I posted here were rhetorical in this context (just examples of the questions I had at the time).

    We’re comfortable that the place we are at in our faith journey is where we need to be, and also understand that God works through other means & situations for other folks.

  6. Picture of kathy wegenerkathy wegenerMay 01, 2016

    Hi,encouraging to hear others looking for same meaningful experience on the road.Florida can be tough.First question every on seems to have is are you a snowbird? No half year commitment for those Christians.lolWhat to wear…..We have sat in car trying to figure that one out.Oh well still happy.

  7. Picture of LenLenMarch 08, 2017

    Yes! This made me smile and it also made me frown. Smiled at sunrise service at Grand Canyon! :) Been there and done that with church folks NOT making you feel welcome or outright ignoring you.
    Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.  James 1:27 (KJV)
    Religion is complicated. God is not.
    Thank you for taking to document so much information in a smashing format!! :-)

  8. Picture of Tim LantzTim LantzNovember 10, 2017

    Greetings Michael -
    As a fellow Jesus follower and member of a Bible anchored church - my heart goes out to you as well as my prayers.

    Church community is one of the many questions my wife and I are pondering before we go full-time in a few years.

    Many of the questions you ask can be answered by examining the Catholic Church in the world. I am not blasting the Catholic Church. I am merely pointing out historical/traditional habits. But even traditional habits need to be evaluated regularly for Biblical adherence.

    For as important as “going to Church” seems to be there is little in the Bible that looks like what I know as Church. Why is that?
    - Paul outlined much of what God’s church on Earth should look like in his epistles. Our job is to Grow as Christians, convert others to our faith and grow churches. Modern churches have gotten away from planting churches to fuel the “business” of church. They have also gotten away from teaching the Bible as ultimate truth - which is the first fault.

    Why do we have “services” with pre-defined content and order?
    - This can be traced directly to Catholic Mass.

    Why is music and singing an acceptable form of corporate worship - but not dance or artwork?
    -Singing actually has Biblical reference. Singing is a communal lifting of God’s holy name in joy and supplication. I truly believe that he made our voices to sing to him together.

    Why do we have dedicated buildings?
    - this can be traced back to Parishes in the Catholic Church structure. 

    Why do we have paid, professional pastors?
    -This is a separation from Paul’s teachings and a continuation to the priestly tradition of a priest at every parish. Traditional churches adopted this practice loosely when pastoring became less about the community of faith and more leader- centered. Some Apostolic churches do not pay their pastors more than a weekly tribute. They have a full time job elsewhere.

    Why do we sit in pews?
    -There was a period of time when pews were “purchased” through tithe - the more the family gave to the local church - the closer to the front they got to sit. That - and you gotta sit somewhere!  I have seen churches with recliners!

    Why does Communion in the Bible look so different than what we experienced in Church?
    -Another carry-over from Catholic tradition. Communion should be intimate and simple.

    What are we looking to get out of Church?
    What are we looking to put into Church?

    -This is the two BIG questions.  Some would say you get out of church what you put into church.  That answer is way too contrite. Some would say we shouldn’t be looking to get anything out of church and that our time, worship, assets, and talent should be given freely. Jesus says to Love. Paul says to give of yourself unselfishly in love.

    What I get out of church - suburban church: we are a community of believers leaning on each other in love and lifting the name of God through worship. that and learning and planting churches.

    I just realized something - your questions could have been entirely rhetorical. If that is the case - I hope I planted a seed somewhere. 

    You are Loved

  9. Picture of Crissa BoyinkCrissa BoyinkNovember 11, 2017

    Tim,
    I do think Mike’s list of questions was rhetorical. However, I appreciate your response.  Thanks for taking the time to share.

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