A few years ago my wife and I began searching for a car. We had just been married and were both making due with the vehicles that had got us through our undergrad days (mine a two-door pickup truck and hers a two door coupe). As I began working in ministry, giving copious car rides to people looking for jobs or going to appointments, it became clear that we would need to trade in the truck to find a more “adult mode” of transportation. So we sat down, got out a sheet of paper, and made a list of features that we knew would be important for us in a new car – a car that could last us into our adult years and support a growing family. Little did we know that just four months after making our purchase, Katie would hit a deer on a lonely rural road, thus requiring us to perform the entire task again and purchase two cars in one year. I do not recommend this.
I do however recommend making lists of expectations; not because you expect to get everything on your list, but because you will have an idea of what your expectations are. So many problems occur when expectations we never even knew we had are not met.
What do you expect from church?
Just like you might with any other decision, make a list. Pull out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, making two columns. On the left side, write down your expectations for the church you hope to find. What theological tradition is important for you (if you’re at that stage)? What programs are you hoping to find? How close to your neighborhood? What size? What style? Don’t judge your expectations; just get them out of your head and onto the paper. You can head this column “My expectations”.
Now go ahead and pull out a Bible and turn to Ephesians 3:7-12. Here Paul is describing his ministry and discusses what I would call God’s expectations for the Christian church:
“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
From this text you could head the right column on your paper “God’s Expectations” and write down what you read here: what does the Bible say the church is for? It seems that for ages and ages heavenly authorities, angels, were wondering to God how He would demonstrate His wisdom and reconcile creation back to Himself, and when He finally reveals that it is through the church that the riches of Christ would be made known to all the nations, those heavenly authorities cried “Manifold wisdom!!” God will use His church to testify about Himself to a world in need of His love, grace, and mercy. That is what God expects the church to be.
Now, how do your two lists compare?
If the church is about God and demonstrating His wisdom through the message of His Son Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and reign – how much of your list are you willing to lay down to find that? What if, in looking for a church that meets God’s expectations, and not necessarily your own, you end find a Church better than you could have imagined from having all of your desires met?
I’ve been a worship director for a number of years and I can confidently say that the two most compelling worship gatherings I have attended in the last six years were a noon-day Ash Wednesday service at an Anglican church, and a midnight Taize service (a non-denominational gathering with traditional monastic elements) at a Catholic cathedral. Neither of these worship spaces or experiences are a part of my personal spiritual background, but, by laying aside my expectations for a time, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and find a deeper encounter with God.
In your search, don’t count out this or that type of church because it doesn’t fit your expectations on the surface; rather, as Jesus puts it in Matthew 6:33
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”