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Church Hopping

Sleeping in on a Sunday isn’t a struggle I thought I’d have. Despite being accustomed to having to set my alarm on Saturday, I find myself foregoing that practice in favor of going on streaks of streaming church rather than attending church. I have begun to treat church like a pep talk video rather than church. It concerns me.

Church on Sunday has always been a demand for myself all the way back to my teenage years. I remember crying tears of anger because my job decided I needed to work Sunday morning knowing that I go to church. I was frustrated because I felt powerless, and I vowed never to let a job think they can do this to me ever again. Yet, here I am, willingly not going to church. These days, I’d just rather read my Bible or watch church online.

It’s not from a lack of trying. For the past three years, I have given three different churches a chance to make me feel at home. I have come close each time, but something disconcerting came up.

The first church I tried had a pastor who cheated on his wife. They removed him from his position, as expected, but it took me a month to realize this had taken place. After the fourth or fifth straight sermon from the music minister, I started to ask myself, “Where is the head pastor?” I did some digging. Sure enough, a news outlet had grabbed ahold of the story and wrote about it.

It concerned me that nothing was said in church. It concerned me that the pastor wasn’t allowed to apologize or, at least, be thanked for the time he did serve as they ushered in a new era. It could’ve happened when I wasn’t there, but at that point, I was attending almost every Sunday. If I didn’t hear about it one week, it should’ve come up at least a month later.

Instead, I felt like I was in the dark all over again. Those feelings took me back to my last home church, and I didn’t like it. I was concerned with how little it felt like mourning. It felt like a business replacing a CEO. At least, at my old church, we were actually saddened by the departure of our pastor.

My last church was the only church that ever felt like home. I knew most of the people who attended and served with them. We shared many meals and attended many events together. I even performed my poetry there more than once. It was home for me.

However, they, too, had things behind the scenes causing strife. Elder after deacon after elder departed the church until finally, my pastor and both of my music ministers left. I spent five years with a lot of these people. To have it all fall apart as slowly as it did caused damage to my image and expectation of the church body.

I couldn’t accept that this is how church was. This couldn’t be how Christians were. It hurt every time an elder or the pastor came up to the podium to announce another departure. It felt like a mass exodus dragged out over many years. After a while, when I looked up, I didn’t recognize the people. I had my few friends, but they felt like only a few. Once I felt his way, my church home stopped feeling like home, so I added my name to the list of departures.

Feeling like this again with the very next church I tried to become a member of turned me off from them. This man was the shepherd of God’s people. Not even two months ago, he was leading the church towards his vision to give the church an official building and home. Now, without so much as an apology, recognition, or explanation for what’s ahead, church just continued. It was the same sweeping under the rug cover up that churches are hated for. You had to go to some section on their website to learn about the change. While some could find that normal, I couldn’t accept it. Thus, I stopped attending.

Being back in the hunt for a church home so quickly made me feel like I had to make some changes. For personal reasons, I had started feeling disconnected with Black people. In a general sense, it felt like the culture was leaving from a place I knew to a place I did not want to go. This caused me to decide to attend a predominantly Black church up the street from my house. An old friend had attended it once before, and I trusted her judgment when it came to the word. So, for the next month, I began to attend.

Now, I love my Black people, I really do, but I cannot find it in myself to engage with hooting and hollering. The very second an organist or pianist begins to play as the pastor tries to match the melody rather than preach the Word of God, I zone out. My attention almost immediately disconnects until the end of the sermon. This church was a Baptist church.

For those of you who don’t know what this means, let me try to explain. Hooting and hollering is a cultural experience typically associated to Baptist and Southern Baptist. It is when the pastor begins to shout or sing his message while an organist or pianist plays to match the energy or rhythm. TD Jakes does it so much, his organist travels with him when he is guest preaching at another church. He even brought one to Lakewood! It is a rousing event that usually gets the congregation more excited for the word of God. While I don’t judge how people choose to praise God, I can’t say that I enjoy it. As soon as the pastor intensifies and elongates the words as if transitioning into hooting and hollering, I tune it out.

For me, hooting and hollering is great when the Spirit hits you and you can’t help it. When it hits right, it is hard to stay seated and not shout, “Amen!” However, hearing it for the third straight week, I couldn’t help but feel it was routine rather than heartfelt. You’re hooting and hollering because you hoot and holler. Just like your pastor likes to say, “And the word of the LORD, aha, says, aha, blessed are the peacemakers, aha!” my mind says, “What’s good to eat around here for lunch? Did I wash my clothes? When’s the last time I vacuumed my car?

If you’re okay with hooting and hollering, all power to you. As for me, I have to be moving on. I think it’s disrespectful to constantly tune out the pastor, and I don’t like positioning myself to be disrespectful. Thus, I moved on from the church.

The third church was another Black church and a return to something familiar. I used to attend the church with my mother, and I couldn’t remember why we left. I began attending and felt as if I made the best decision for myself. The service was grand, the church was big, and the word still hit. It felt like one big family gathering together. I began to see myself being seated with them and serving.

Then, the problem my mother had reared its ugly head. The head pastor of the church didn’t preach for a month. Instead, we heard from his sons and guest pastors. The longer I sat in the pews, the more dissatisfied I felt. His sons weren’t as wise nor their word as seasoned. Yet, whenever a conference was taking place, then the head pastor showed his face and preached. Of course, these conferences were not free.

I already take issue with a head pastor not feeding the congregation consistently. There are parallels to shepherds and sheep throughout the Bible. A shepherd not attending to his flock, unless the flock paid money, did not encourage me to continue attending. I began to slowly dwindle in my visitation.

Then, the final nail on the coffin hit. One of the son’s scandals came to its conclusion. It was such an end that news outlets throughout the city reported on it. I was even sent a text stating, “You see your pastor out here?” It wasn’t what he did, but how big the fine was that made me sever ties. What he did was evil, but how much they made him pay for it made it seem like the church paid to enable his evil. Personally, it felt like discovering that the leftovers I intended to eat did rot.

I was disappointed. Unlike the first church, they forgave; also unlike the first church, they allowed him to remain preaching. To be fair, it was a scandal that was going through trial for years and it had been spoken on before. Still, that court-ordered payment amount just didn’t sit right with me.

The church didn’t hide it, and I commend them for that. However, my concerns remained. How much money was this church making? Who was in control of financing? How did the pastors get their wealth? My mind wouldn’t let it go. Thus, I left. When they sent me the brochure for the year-end giving, asking for a giving spirit, it felt so on par for a church ruled by money, or at least too in love with it. I can’t tithe into something like that and if I don’t feel comfortable tithing there, why should I attend?

Thus, I am a free agent again, hoping that the next church that feels like home isn’t streaming distance only. It is a position I do not like to be in, but the way American churches are, I can’t find it in me to just attend for the sake of attending. It does my spirit harm to attend a church whose leadership lies with Satan, money, or idol worship. If it doesn’t feel like home, I will not settle there.

That be said, here are some things I’ve learned since being without a church home:

 

If you abide in God, and God abides in you, not committing to a church doesn’t pull you away from Him. You will definitely enable weaknesses to grow in number and prominence, but you won’t abandon God because a church did you wrong or misrepresented Christ. What keeps you close to God is having people in your life to hold you accountable to Biblical principles. There is a reason the Bible says do not forsake gathering together[1], but there is also a reason why the Bible says that when two are gathered together in the name of God, God is in the midst[2].

 

People in church do a lot of Christian things without faith in God. I’ve noticed people attend church just to say they attend church. They use the house of God as a morality or ego boost. They serve and give to the needy for pride and self-importance. It doesn’t always come from sincerity. Some even do things so you’ll owe them a favor later. To expect perfection from a church is to expect a politician not to lie for votes. You’re only fooling yourself. Even in a congregation, you must still find those who take God seriously. That is why the Bible says everyone that says, “Lord, Lord,” will not make it into heaven[3]. Also, that is why God said no one should base their faith on their works[4].

 

We have to do a lot better with how we treat those who abandon a church. We, the church body, are not perfect. We, the church body, are not God. It is one thing to care for one another; it is another thing to overstate your importance in someone’s walk with Christ. I’ve heard people claim that those who walked away from their church are unjustified by God’s decree and need to repent. People leave a church for good and bad reasons. It is not for the church to pass judgement on these reasons. Leaving a church is not leaving the church body. Leave a church is not leaving God. Leaving a church is not a sin unless God told them specifically not to leave that church. The only thing the church needs to do is be welcoming to whoever enters their doors, and stand on Christ’s foundation.

 

Church has to stop being a routine. Lives have to be changed. Souls matter. I’m not sure if church being the same everywhere is by design or influence, but if there isn’t revival, love, invitation, etc., it’s a dead church, in my opinion. If there is no fire from the Holy Spirit and every Sunday is just about following a program with no focus on prayer, fasting, study, or application to personal lives, I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 

Churches within five miles of each other should know, communicate with, and serve with each other. Your churches could have joint services since you both serve the same community but you’d rather compete for tithes and attendance? I’d argue your church needs a heart check.

 

A fancy church in a poor community is still one of my biggest pet peeves. Your pastor can afford a $100,000 vehicle but Ms. Rose, who’s been at your church for years, can’t get help when the doctor’s bill comes through for her cancer treatment? Your church can afford renovations but not afford to feed the homeless? I’d argue your church needs a heart check, and possibly a leadership change.

 

Churches are really some of the most beautiful places. From the designs of the buildings to the people that enter them, whether struggling with something or not, there is beauty everywhere.

 

There is still nothing like walking into a welcoming church. It doesn’t just make you feel loved and wanted. It literally gives you joy when it is done right. That is why streaming church will never be the same as attending. I’ve found more Spirit in a conversation about God and His word than I have watching a church service online. You need to be there.

 

Even across the globe, God’s word can be spoken just for you. I was listening to a church halfway across the United States and every Sunday was hitting me with something I needed to hear. God can use whatever avenue He wants. You just need to be willing to listen to, and for, Him.

 

I don’t regret being without a church home for all this time. It used to bother me, but I realized it’s not something I play about. Where I get fed the word of God is crucial to how I respond in life. Despite no church home, I have still managed to learn about God, about His people, and about myself. I have heard words from different cultures, voices, and languages. I’ve even attended church with Africans who mixed their second or native language into praise and worship. God is vast and can reach me whenever He needs to. His vast methods are all over His word. Though I am without a church home, I am not without God.

I will continue on my journey, searching. I will continue learning. I will continue praying for guidance on where to settle. Not every season in life will make sense to you. There was a season in my life where I couldn’t keep a job, for various reasons, despite being a really dependable worker. What that season taught me is that God displaces you to teach you things you couldn’t learn while settled. That’s why it’s called a journey and not a destination. I appreciate what I’ve learned so far, and look forward to the many more lessons to come.

To those who’ve managed to still read this far in, God bless you, God keep you, God lead you. I pray your church home remains a home for you, and I pray your visiting turns into staying and serving. May the Lord give you a role in your church that fills your heart with purpose. I pray that any who would try to derail you or me be punished and removed. Thank you for being patient with my writing. I hope I am helping you by sharing what helped me.

 

Blessings,

 

The Novelist, Dario



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