Seven and a half years ago we drove away from our East Texas wedding, crossed Arkansas through the middle, turned left at Memphis, and made the long drive with no turning that takes you to Wheaton, Illinois. Next week we make darn near the same trip in reverse to begin the next season of our life in Arkansas.
A lot has changed in that seven and a half years. We have more stuff. For the northbound trip, we pulled all our worldly belongings in a trailer behind my dad’s pickup. For the southbound trip, we’ll rent a big truck. Also, our family of two has grown by a cat and a kid. We’ve become grown ups, more or less. At the very least, we have a better idea now who we are and what we want than we did seven and half years ago. But that’s another story.
One thing that’s changed since that last cross-country move is what we look for in a church. Seven and a half years ago, my main criterion was that the church we attend must be completely unlike the church I grew up in. That’s not very mature, I admit, but it’s the truth. I didn’t really care where we went as long as it was different. Now our priorities have changed. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but this time we’re looking for a church:
1) that functions like a family. This is more than smiling and hugging and knowing everybody’s business. It means that older men and women rise to the challenge of offering guidance and godly example to younger men and women (as here and here). It means weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. It means bearing one another’s burdens—whether physical or financial, spiritual or emotional. We found this sort of community at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, and now I can’t imagine living without it.
2) that creates opportunity for intergenerational fellowship, worship, and service. This is related to number one, but it deserves its own line.
3) in which men and women of color hold visible leadership positions. Here’s an item I didn’t anticipate. Amy’s background in international churches has had her longing for a culturally diverse community for some time. But the older Jamie gets, the more eager we are for him to experience—and for him to see us experience—the spiritual leadership of godly black ministers.
4) in which children are invited and encouraged to participate in the worship and mission of the church. There’s a theme developing here. Basically, I’m for having the generations together more often than they’re apart. We want our children to know ow to worship and serve because they have done it all their lives.
And, most important, a church
5) captivated by the majesty of Christ and animated by a vision of the gospel that brings life and light to the darkness. Jesus is not my homeboy; he’s my savior and king. And I’d like to worship in a church that keeps that straight. A vision of the majesty of Christ should send us out into the world with confidence and joy, whether we’re barbers or bankers or editors, to do whatever it is we do for Christ and his kingdom.
There are other things to consider, to be sure. And maybe a week from now I’ll have a slightly different list. But these items are priorities for us. We’re eager to see where God leads. And I’m interested if anyone else would like to share their own top 5 (for the sake of conversation).