What’s in It for Me?

The weirdest thing about this whole church shopping phase we’re in is that I have consciously to ask what I can get out of it. I never wanted to be a “what’s in it for me?” person.

Yes, yes, I’m familiar with the idea that some people like to espouse which says that even altruistic acts are never entirely altruistic because you always get something out of it. And I guess if you want to be that guy and say that somehow doing something for love of someone else (or Someone Else) is still “getting something out of it,” you can be that guy. Either way, I know myself well enough to be able to admit that even if a truly altruistic act is possible, and even though I don’t think the question a person asks when they’re looking for a church should be “What’s in it for me?” it’s entirely plausible that my current preference for small mainline orthodox churches indicates that I get something out of that type of worship and community–although I still have to figure out what that is. And I’m also not sure that that type of church is where we’ll end up at the end of all this. We might. We might not. We’re not making our decision based on that preference, is the thing–although it’s still a factor, as will be seen.

The real problem is this very conscious need I have for a church to officially endorse me. I don’t like having to base our decision so largely on something that sounds so self-centered and even mercenary. But that’s what it’s looking like right now.

As you will know, if you’ve been paying attention over the vast swathes of time elapsing between each post here this year, during the summer I did a unit of CPE. It was great. I am hoping to be able to blog about that for a while after this post, but anyway, it seems like a good vocational fit (which might actually, in three or four years (!) lead to a small income, unlike spiritual direction which is an even better fit and even less financially viable). The thing about chaplaincy certification is that it’s pretty “hoop-y.” There are seminary credit hoops, and equivalency hoops (if you don’t have the sufficient amount of seminary credit, which apparently a Master’s in Theological Studies doesn’t provide), and church membership and endorsement hoops.

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys ...

Right this second? This might be my circus and these might be my monkeys … Or I might be.

This is awkward for someone who has always been active in church and highly endorse-able and now, suddenly when she needs it, doesn’t currently belong to a church that can endorse her. This is further complicated by the fact that even though it appears that the accrediting body for chaplains will accept any form endorsement from a recognised church entity, each church itself has different requirements for endorsement.

Most of the small mainline churches that my Paul and I like so much belong to denominations with even hoop-ier requirements for endorsement than chaplaincy accreditation has, including, say, extra (and expensive) higher education through one of their denomination’s own seminaries (as opposed to that unaffiliated one I graduated from). And I mean, I get that if I’m going to join a denomination of which I’ve never been a part, and one of whose churches I just attended one or two times, I should get some solid info about where they came from and where they think they’re going and whether or not we’re a good fit for each other. But some of these processes cost around $10,000–and I just finished seminary. Also, some of the denominations and I are probably not a good fit for each other. Just that one little church and I would be. And so I wish that the one little church itself could get to know me, and I them, and they could endorse me by themselves.

On the other hand, there are independent (or loosely affiliated) churches which might well endorse me without any of that stuff if I spent some time investing in their community (also a reasonable expectation–I certainly don’t expect anyone to endorse someone they have no actual connection with or benefit from), but–well, here’s where our preference comes in after all. These churches are excellent, and faithful, and love God and people, but they are big. (Well, I mean, for New England, where there might be like 3 megachurches in the whole region and those are probably tiny compared to anywhere else.) They have contemporary worship. Which is fine, and I used to like that and I’ve even played the flute on “worship teams” in such settings, and if we went to one of these churches, I’d probably offer to do so again, but if we’re talking about preferences, I’m in the hymn camp. They have lots of ministries and lots of great people but–well, they don’t need us to help them with any of those things because if we don’t, they have a couple hundred other people who might or could or should.

The little churches my Paul and I would like to go to are lucky if they have a hundred people. They are located near halfway houses and they reach out to the people there, and contribute to food banks and homeless communities. And it’s not that these bigger churches don’t, but the littler churches are right in those neighbourhoods, and need the person-power. And both types of churches may be expressing deep and challenging faith in God, but–maybe as a function of my church-planting upbringing–I just get motivated by the small-church, all-band-together, close-knit, down-home kind of faith expression.

In the end, though, we’re open to going to either kind–as long as there’s some hope of endorsement for me eventually, but even more as long as we’re certain we’re where God wants us to be for this time. It’s tough, not to be certain, and it makes the hoops and the mercenariness of the process feel even more stressful and hoopy and mercenary. But we’re both praying and asking God to help us discern where He wants us to invest. We’re in this for Him in the end, after all. And in the end I hope we’ll discover that what was in it for us was actually Him.

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16 thoughts on “What’s in It for Me?

  1. Jen, I am interested in your journey and I know that your journey is one that others are on as well. Prayers are being said for you both!

    Jim

  2. No wonder your search is so complicated. I was going to say that where ever the Spirit guides you, but with all these other complications I see how much is at stake. I guess that you will need to do a lot of prayers for this one.

    • Yep. Exactly. It’s also why the process feels so entirely unfamiliar, even though I’ve been involved in many churches before. I think we’d still be pretty intentional about our search, but if it weren’t for all these other factors we could also be a little more relaxed about it–hang out at a church for a couple of weeks or months and see … But not this time!

  3. So below I have written a book, but I have never actually been church-hunting and really have experience with one church. So either everything I have to say is useless or maybe there is some inspiration in here. Good luck.

    To me it sounds like what you are looking for is to get involved in a closely-knit community and help with an established ministry. That sounds really healthy since in your professional life you were looking to start something completely new (neither of those is bad but it sounds balanced). You want to really be helping in a needed and not letting someone else “off the hook” to coast because God brought you instead. That sounds like a reasonable desire.
    I guess the issue is that you really have to get involved and see what is going on to see if you can fit. That takes time commitment, and you are looking at huge time commitments professionally already, and you want to avoid more huge time commitments to get what you are looking for. To move on professionally, you need to be endorsed, so you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you won’t receive endorsement or it’s prohibitively difficult; but at the same time it seems like your own gain is the wrong motive for choosing a church.

    So that sums up your situation, I think (feel free to correct me).

    If your only goal was endorsement, you would probably go to one of the larger churches, perhaps the one you were brought up in, and you could pretty much expect that the hoopyness would be minimum and you would receive endorsement with some investment. I suppose you might even be able to do that on a temporary basis, with everyone knowing you were there for a time–or could you even be endorsed without spending much time their since they know you? I’m not familiar with the process.

    Have you asked your parents for advice about churches that might fit what you are looking for and be relatively non-hoopy for getting endorsements? Former professors or classmates? Or is that basically what you are doing here? It probably couldn’t hurt to reach out to some people personally though (but maybe you already have).

    If your main goal were finding a church home, and you didn’t need anything from them other than a connectedness, common cause, and fellowship in growing in Jesus, how would you choose? Would you look for a mission you particularly believed in, somewhere as close to home as possible without compromising on doctrine, people you “clicked” with?
    It might be possible to just see where that leads you and what the requirements are… and you might find out that once they know you and look at your credentials, some of the hoops disappear… but you couldn’t count on that unless you knew someone in a similar position that particular church endorsed, and even then it’d be iffy. So you could be looking at a lot of time and/or money to achieve endorsement, and in a way that seems more hoop-y than useful. So to just follow “what you really want from a church family” is in some ways risky, and you would definitely want to bathe it in a lot of prayer.

    And I guess what you are leaning toward is some sort of middle way, where there’s not so much “hoopiness” but you still feel at home and growing in the church. But as I think about the issues that almost seems the least viable. If you are not truly feeling comfortable and called to a church body, would you stay long term? If you did stay because they endorsed you, would you be doing it out of obligation and resent it? Or would you be able to settle in and really feel that’s where you were meant to be for now? If you ended up following your heart to a smaller church, would you feel like you were betraying or using the church that endorsed you? Or could you choose a church just for the endorsement and be up front about it, and clear about how long you were staying? Or could you participate in two churches–one to fulfill the needs of your heart right now and one that can give you endorsement, especially if one of those has a service at a different time? Or are you really wanting the go-ahead to follow your heart, and trust that God will provide a simpler way to the endorsement and the stated requirements, or that His will includes a longer and more expensive road, and that He has a purpose in that and will provide the funding?

    It seems to me like those are the options/questions which of course I can’t answer for you…

    But I can pray.

    Father, please bless Jenn with the abundant and overflowing wisdom You promise to all those who ask in faith, trusting that You will provide it. I pray that You would make her way clear, if not easy, and that You would allow her to make choices which glorifiy You. I pray that the path You show her would involve being honest and transparent about her personal and professional goals and the deep desires of her heart, and that she would be met with understanding, grace, and love in the church that You have ordained for her to be involved with, a church where Your gospel is being powerfully lived out and “Aslan is on the move.” I pray that the direction You give her would lead to both gainful employment and meaningful ministry, and that You would bless both her and the church she chooses. May Your sovereign will be done. Give her peace as she commits to the path You have for her. n Jesus’ name, amen.

    • This is great, my friend. Thanks for all of it! Yes, you seem to have figured out exactly what my questions and concerns are. Thanks for the prayers.

      Also, did you know/remember that I preached a sermon about Aslan being on the move, on December 28th last year? I can’t feel like it’s a coincidence that the year has turned out the way it has… Or that you brought it up again. Kinda feels like He’s saying, “Remember that? Still moving. Take heart.”

      Thanks for listening and speaking.

  4. Finding a church home is incredibly difficult under the best of circumstances, but it sounds like you’re searching on a varsity level. I’m sure you’ve already done this, but if not, have you made a list of things you absolutely must have and cannot compromise on, and things you would really like, and things that would be great if possible? Do you and your Paul have the same deal breakers?

    I think the other thing I would say is that it might be possible, as someone else mentioned, to do both–to find a church that will endorse you and meet your needs, and to find a ministry that will meet other needs. I worked at a non-profit for a while, and that filled a need to give back to people who most needed my abilities. The other possibility is that you may be able to find a church in your area that does Taize services to get the hymn and orthodoxy that you desire.

    • How did I not see this comment until now? Sorry, Jerusha! Those are good thoughts as well. For the most part, mercifully, Paul and I, though coming from wildly different backgrounds, seem to have by and large the same reactions and assessments of the places we’ve visited, and by extension the same deal-breakers. Actually, that part of this process has been almost astonishing and incredibly heartening–as we are discovering how God continues to unite us in this new area of decision-making. After the suspense of trying to find a church is over, I suspect we will look back on this time as very positively formative for our marriage. I’m grateful at a minimum for the opportunity to grow together like this.

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