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?

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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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7 Comments Our Faith Journey 2 - Church Sampling & Disillusionment

  1. Picture of Marci GMarci G January 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 boyinkboyink January 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 angieangie January 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 kevinkevin January 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 Boyink January 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 wegener May 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 LenLen March 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!! :-)

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