Monday, June 15, 2009

Church Experiment #24: N. Church of Christ

I really want to quit.

I’m not writing that so a bunch of people beg me to keep going. That’s not my style. I’m not going to quit because actually quitting at this point is just not an option in my world (for multiple, complex reasons). But I really want to.

Mostly, I’m getting bored. Doing anything every week for 52 weeks is draining. I have been a Christian for almost nine years, and I’ve never gone to church 24 weeks in a row. I would love to take a few weeks off, but the subtitle, “48 Churches in 52 Weeks,” would seem silly.

To make matters worse, I spent this weekend at a friend’s lake house, and I’ll be spending the next two weekends in the Outer Banks. It was super annoying leaving the lake house to find a church in Hillsboro, Ohio.

So, if this week’s reflection is grumpy, you have some background information. With that said …

I desperately wanted to find a snake-handling church on this journey. I thought I might be able to track one down near Hillsboro, but it didn’t happen.

The next best option was to locate the smallest, scariest looking church I could find and hope they at least handled nightcrawlers.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.

43 comments:

Sarah said...

I completely understand your frustration and annoyance with churches such as this. This is precisely why I left my Methodist roots in search of something, some place, where my faith could come ALIVE...didn't Jesus say he came to bring us life to the FULL? I don't understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to boring sermons, bad music, etc. instead of a place where you get a little glimpse of what heaven is gonna be like just by being there for an hour or so on the weekend. Where your faith can be challenged, refined, and you draw just a little closer to the heart of God. Wish you could've been at MY church this weekend, it was awesome (I even leaned over to my husband and said, 'You don't think Steve's here do you? This would be a great week for him to be here!!'). :)

The Reverend said...

Were they instrumental? I got from their "About us" link that they weren't.

There are some Church of Christ that are awesome (read my blog) and there are some that are, well, stuck (to put it nicely).

Anonymous said...

I have been following your church experiment and find it very interesting. A suggestion for you as you make your way to the outer banks - there is a brand new Hindu temple in Cary NC (close to Raleigh). Here is the link http://www.svtemplenc.org./
Also, Steve, God is not found in a church or church service, God is found within us, each one of us.A church community should share this belief, celebrate it,and become spiritual friends and helpmates along the journey. Keep up the good work, take time to notice God in everyday activities and love yourself and those around you.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I'm enjoying reading your blog every week since it was brought to my attention you'd visited Good Shepherd Lutheran. Too bad you weren't with us yesterday. Pastor Larry, as part of an articulate, wisdom-filled sermon about God's power, karate-chopped a board in half.

Unfortunately, in the mainstream Protestant denominations there's too little really excellent preaching going on. I think economics of scale are having an effect in that a lot of not-so-great preachers are serving a lot of small and ever-shrinking congregations. It's simply not an atmosphere that lends itself to the sense of excitement that the wonders of the Christian faith offers the potential for. Nevertheless, I hope you don't give up on your experiment. A vital worship experience is always just around the corner, you just have to happen upon it.

bshawise said...

one could argue.... if i'm reading this book one day, it might be nice to watch you go thru a bit of a struggle and hence have to take a few weeks off. it's your experiment, your rules, who says it has to be 52 consecutive weeks? could it be more interesting with a sabbath-esque pause in the middle? read a few psalms and talk to God with a bud light lime on the beach. as a reader, it might get a little monotonous to trudge thru 52 straight weeks of church reports. you're at the midpoint in your story where classically, it's time for the big conflict. let it happen, man.

Dan H said...

Steve,

I like reading your blog, but at some point you've started sounding like the guy treading water outside a sinking ship while pointing out to everybody else where the holes are. When are you going to get inside the ship and help patch the holes?

Because here's a hint for you... Nobody can tread water long enough to wait for the ship to fix itself! There are only two choices.

First, get back in the boat and start participating. Accept the ship and crew as being flawed but loveable. Find a place to contribute. Maybe patching holes, padding the ship forward, rescuing those still stuck in the water, feeding the patchers/paddlers/rescuers, or navigating the struggling ship and crew towards home port.

Or second, you can keep treading water. Point out the leaks, the holes, the boring sermons, the noisy kids, the small congregations, the homophobic members, the bad music, the old people, the ritualistic rituals, the mono-racial congregations, the.... You get the picture.

Pretty soon you'll have yourself convinced that the ship isn't worth being a part of. Then it sails on by, and you're left in the water alone. The rest of the water-treaders are already gone. Your own fatigue sets in. Sharks smell blood. You get the picture.

So what choice are you going to make?

steve-o said...

Perhaps some clarification on your visit. I guess this you could find this on Wikipedia, but I'll attempt to simplify it even more.

Among the many denominations that staked their claim in the US during those early years of our country was a group of Christians seeking to restore church governance to a New Testament model. The developed into the the Christian Churches, also known as the Disciples of Christ.

In the late 19th century there was a rift among the group, sometimes attributed to the use of instruments in the worship service but most likely due to the rift caused by the Civil War. The southern churches became knows as the Church of Christ, yet some northern churches maintained this affiliation.

In the 20th century the remaining group, known as the Disciples, split predominantly over the issue of theological liberalism. So the Disciples remained and the new church sect became known as the confusing label, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. This group is the moderate one of the three streams. The Disciples tend to be more liberal while the non-instrumental Churches of Christ are more conservative.

There are exceptions to the rule in each of these three, but typically when you find one in a rural area they tend to be uber-dogmatic.

Not sure if this helps, but my point in this is that it is difficult to summarize these churches by one congregation since there is a wide range of discrepancy here.

I enjoy reading the blog.

Steve Fuller said...

Steve-o,

Thanks for the info. Interesting.

Dan H,

I appreciate your thoughts, but maybe this is the way God has called me to participate in this season of my life. I would be of no use "inside" a church body right now. I probably wouldn't even be attending church at all if it wasn't for this experiment.

We are all called to do what we are called to do, and those callings change and mature over time. I am sure I'll have a new church home when this is all said and done, but for now, here I am.

I have no doubt Sunday played out exactly the way God intended. That he will use the experience to help me grow, and that my words (good and bad) are reaching the right eyes.

You view this as me treading water and pointing out leaks. I view it as me taking a swim to get a better perspective of the entire ship. Maybe church leaders steering sinking ships could learn some valuable lessons from a similar perspective.

Those inside the church always seem to view those outside as complainers, lazy, etc. Maybe we just like the fresh air.

My choice will be to continue following God. Even when that path looks a little messy.

Mindy said...

Steve--

Maybe to help with a "week off" you could find a labyrinth or visit a monastery...a place for solitude and spiritual refreshing. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Steve , just a thought I keep meaning to post since two weeks ago . Not all of us appreciate the same type of music, and not all of us want to worship the same .Some want the comfort and security of church rituals and tradition, others want the larger-than -life experience of a full steam signs and miracle church. The test really is this, I think - at the end of the sermon 1)did you come away having been nourished spiritually,and 2) were you a part of that particular body , with the accompanying blessings and responsibilities. As long as there is communion with the Lord and with one another then it will not matter much what type of music is played in the church - after if you ask just about anyone ,after all , everybody probably agrees that the majority of people on this earth have strange taste in music - we just disagree on the definition of strange !! Maggie

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve!

Loving reading this blog! I have it in my favorites and look forward to reading each week. I have also told a number of family and friends about your blog. So keep up the good work!

The church you visited Sunday describes my childhood church to a T. When I was small we had such a nice pastor but when I was around 10 y.o. we had what my parents called a church split over doctrine. Apparently a group of people started interpreting the bible differently than what was in the denomination doctrine. Instead of starting their own little church or going to another church that probably fit their version of scripture an argument blew up during one of the services and boy, I wish you could have been there. That would have made some blog post!

So anyway, I've been on a similar quest to find a church where I really feel God's presence and try to overlook the flaws that the church body can show. It's so good to be able to read about others perspective on different religions and church services.

Anonymous said...

If you want some info no Churches of Christ in Christian Union here is their web page -

http://cccuhq.org/

I enjoy following your experiment but it seems at times you delight in not knowing much (or anything) about the background of the church you are attending. Maybe that is appropriate since when many people visit a church they have little or no knowledge of what makes it distinctive unless it is a church/religion they grew up with.

Maybe we need a second blog that does offers some background or history of the different groups.

For instance, I have no idea of what makes a Vineyard Church a Vineyard Church as opposed to an independent evangelical church. Guess I should take my own medicine and do some research.

T-Rex said...

Steve,

I have really enjoyed your experiment since the beginning. It is unfortunate that this week's visit seemed miserable. From your post, I could tell how annoyed you were (loved the sarcasm in your riveting play by play comment). Maybe you should take a break. This is the first post I read that I have learned nothing about what the church stands for, the message the preacher spoke about, etc. Breath in, relax, and just go with the flow :) Your almost halfway done and you have a lot more to learn.

I did enjoy the clip, note to self, must rent Talladega Nights.

Steve Fuller said...

Anonymous,

I don't "delight" in not knowing a church's background. I purposely go into each context without doing research because I want to experience what anyone visiting for the first time would experience.

As you said, anyone is free to do their own research, and one thing I have loved about you guys in your willingness to post information in the comments section (as you and Steve-o did above). I already get mocked for long entries, so I try to stick with my experiences and leave the research for another time.

But if this ever does get published, going back and adding a page of background information for each religion/denomination is an excellent idea. Thanks!

Alex Green said...

I second Brad Wise's motion.

Christine said...

My daughter and I visited a Buddhist temple this week, and I wrote a "church experiment" of my own on my website. http://c3authorspot.vox.com if your interested (no pressure).

Rick said...

I don't blame you for wanting to stop this exercise. Although I find your blog entries interesting, in the end you're not likely to get much out of this. It takes a lot more than one hour on one weekend to really get an idea of what a church is about. When you visited the Catholic Churches you have been to so far you seemed pretty positive about the experience, but you were unfamiliar with the ritual so it put you off. You will only be comfortable with the ritual through the familiarity of regular attendance. The same is most likely true at every church you will visit. Worship services will always be imperfect, and some will really turn you off, but you'll only find the right place for you if you stick with one for a while. Perhaps that is not what you're actually hoping to find. But life is kinda short to spend it on an exercise that may have no benefit for you.

Anonymous said...

Is this a personal experiment to redefine your faith? Or is this just a ploy to get a book deal at the expense of the hypocrisy of humans and organized religion?

Joe said...

I'm on vacation, so good thing this isn't work. I'm glad that you so thoroughly enjoyed my denominational heritage this week. As a conflicted Campbellite - that's what the church historians call us on the one page of church history we are normally given - I find your experience at the Church of Christ rather reflective of this part of the country. (This may explain why I fled to Las Vegas 15 years ago.)

It started as a unity movement full of crazy holy spirit stuff and authentic frontier communities. I actually think it was a lot like the vineyard movement in the first and second generation. It makes me wonder how much effort we should put into maintaining our "movements" vs. just moving on to the next thing God is up to...

My advice on your current fatigue is to push through, but find some places that nearly all but guarantee a positive experience - ie, one vineyard/crossroads for every scientology meeting. I'd love to see you find a genuine house church community, maybe one at vineyard central in norwood?

toodles.

DanThoms said...

Steve, no break. I don't care how you feel or what anyone on here says, you don't get to take a break.

(I'm just reinforcing what you already know)

Steve Fuller said...

Rick,

I have to disagree. I have already gotten a lot out of this experiment. And based on the comments and emails from many of my readers, others have as well.

I get the point you are making, and I agree. But that doesn't mean there is NOTHING to be gained from this exercise.

I had an amazing conversation last night with someone (no more details to protect privacy), and that would have never happened without this experiment. It almost scares me to think your view of God is so small. No matter what we do, he'll find ways to use us and bless us. And I believe he will continue to use this experiment to do so in my life.

Anonymous,

Just a ploy, of course. I'm not even really a Christian...just looking for ways to get book deals.

Dan H said...

"You view this as me treading water and pointing out leaks. I view it as me taking a swim to get a better perspective of the entire ship."

Hmmm.... Okay, I'll buy your analogy. Perspective is good, and it is best gained from a distance. I have no doubt that you'll find a place to land when this exercise is through, and you'll land there with... perspective. That, and with maturity that comes from having wrestled with hard questions.

I'm comfortable with your journey because I went through my own about thirteen years ago. You're asking the same questions I did. The blog media didn't exist back then and the public nature of what was, for me, a private struggle, is a litte discomforting. I'm probably still a Luddite in that fashion. So goes it.

May I suggest next week (June 23-26) you attend the Summer of Service at the Vineyard? There are parts you won't like, and that's okay. But the reality of being around 900 teens with all their awkwardness and wierdness, but getting them past barriers to go out and show God's love to people in practical ways...

I know it's not a "church service" in your 52-in-52 model, but it's God's reality in all its messy glory.

Keep up the good work, and your search for "perspective"!

Steve Fuller said...

Dan H,

I actually served at Summer of Service for many years back when I was involved at the Vineyard. Even led a tent (back when those were still around) three years in a row.

It was definitely an amazing experience and a great way to spend a few days of summer vacation.

Sadly, I will be out of town this weekend, so I'm currently looking for a church in the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Dan Kalbach said...

the book deal comment was a little rough, but i also slightly agree. i mean you have a title for the series, one of which you worry might lose it's "catchiness".

i would take a break. i agree with brad. this is solely about you and your faith and its nice that we get to read about it but you say this is about your search for a redefinition of faith, not a readerships' unreasonable pressures to perform

Anonymous said...

http://www.outer-banks.com/churches/categories.cfm

Reverb said...

Now why in the world would you have to go and ruin a perfectly good post with a heartless slam against the beautiful McRib sandwich?

Ugh. Barbarian.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Steve,

I understand grumpy, but not the sarcasm (this time it seemed unfair, even mean).

Have you heard the story about a Quaker leader who felt God was leading him to preach even though no one was in the meeting room? He did so; it turned out there was a crook in the back room who heard the sermon:-)

Point? I, too, want emotional highs and intellectual stimulation, etc. in worship,
BUT
as C.S. Lewis pointed out (I think it was in The Screwtape Letters) we need to learn to worship in all situations and despite all situations.

If we are overly dissatisfied with a church service, who are we focused on?!

I appreciate your sharing your church experiences usually.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Jamie said...

I've been following your church visits fro some time now. Lurking around the comments, reflecting on what you've said, what others have said in response, and what I think.

This week was different. I didn't feel engaged in your writing, I don't think you had the enthusiasm to experience the church when you walked through the door.

I personally do not attend churches on Sundays or holidays. I find my solice in nature and feel that that is where I most connect to my God, whoever that may be.

I think you may need a break, or a return to your old tradition, something to bring you back to who you are and why you started. I don't think anyone would hold it against you. In a book, you can call it "Finding God outside of Church."
A church tip for you.. The Christian Church near Huber Hieghts Ohio. My husband's Grandpa preaches there and man was that an experience for me, especially the New Years pray in at the New Year service.. My daughter asked if the woman preaching that night had gone crazy. It was something I will never forget.
::::whew::::
I apologize for the length of this post.

Steve Fuller said...

Everyone take a deep breath.

It was one week. I wasn't excited about attending church and so the reflection was a little dry.

No need to panic. Everything will be ok. I promise.

Ruby Red Slippers said...

I wish you could have gotten a little more in depth about the Church of Christ, but I understand how this whole thing could be draining-
We are in a "more modern" church, but our best friends are Church of Christ. We have all had lengthy discussions about the differences of our two churches, and I personally have done a bit of research about that particular denomination. They have some beliefs that I personally struggle with accepting-
I wish you could have explained a little more your thoughts about the service...
And love the "Baby Jesus" clip-I know it is pretty disrespectful, but so funny.

Steve Fuller said...

I do want to clarify one thing for everyone who keeps asking about more detail regarding the service.

Nothing happened.

I mean, literally. There were five traditional hymns (no instruments of any kind, which I guess I forgot to mention), a few prayers, a normal communion, a very normal message that was pretty boring, a normal offering.

I literally can't think of one thing that would distinguish the service from any other service, other than the lack of instruments.

I feel like I learned nothing about the Church of Christ, other than they follow Jesus.

Anonymous said...

My background is different and I don't always agree with you, but I've enjoyed following your experiment and have told others about your blog. I have found some really inspiring "mini-sermons" thru the weeks. Don't be discouraged by the negative comments of some of your readers. Keep doing what you feel led to do. Most of the those who are being critical will still be reading.

Judy in Indiana said...

My husband was raised in the Church of the Christian Union. I don't know much about it other than it is a small denomination with many of its churches located in Missouri. (We live in IN and there is at least one church here.)

I did not like the church much, too conservative for me, but that may have been due to the pastor and not the church as a whole.

samarahuel said...

I feel the same way about trite cliches and dead churches. I can't stand them! As I've mentioned before, I live in Germany, and it's taken a couple of years to finally find a church that is tolerable. (And this one is more than tolerable. It's so refreshing.) I have the feeling that what I appreciate in a church is not the same as what you are looking for, but I'd like to share nonetheless.

Worship: I actually believe that an entire church service--every moment of our lives, really--should be "worship," but I realize that usually what most people mean when they say "worship," myself included, is the musical part of a church service, so that's the term I'll use. If I can say it without sounding too snobbish, I like to think I have pretty good taste in music. At home I listen to a lot of "good" music, none of which would probably appear in a typical church service, but much that does move me emotionally and sometimes moves me closer to God. Yet, I feel that I can listen to music that I like any time, but at church, I'm there to worship God corporately with other believers. And for that, I like hymns. I'm not saying corporate worship can't be done without hymns, but I happen to think they're the best because they can be sung no matter how you're feeling. Open a hymnal and look at the lyrics. Many a Sunday morning have I found myself moved almost to tears not by the skill or passion of the musicians, nor by an elusive feeling or experience, but by the powerful truth contained in those words, in language beautifully arranged. Any person, no matter their age, race, situation in life, or spiritual and emotional condition, can honestly sing, "How great thou art," "'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home," and, the one that nearly always gives me chills, "My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more." Singing hymns serves to remind me of these truths, which moves me to discard my emotional hang-ups and the distractions that inevitably build up, and praise God for the fact that he IS great, all my sin is nailed to the cross, and grace HAS and WILL lead me home. There is never a question in my mind when we get to the words, "Then sings my soul," "How sweet the sound," and "It is well with my soul," as so WHY I'm singing, WHAT is so sweet, and HOW it is well with my soul. It says it right there in the hymn--it is the gospel!

samarahuel said...

Preaching: I understand why you disliked the message at Northside. I don't think I would have liked it either. But, no offense, I don't think I would have liked it any more if the pastor had taken your advice to "tell stories of how Jesus has transformed lives - especially your life as a church leader. Make the words come alive. Help us to see Jesus as the revolutionary rebel he was and still is, not as a Sunday School lesson. Use your platform to stir my heart and soul..." A pastor has never, with his own stories and skills, stirred my heart and soul like Christ does. I think that where a lot of pastors go wrong is to think that they have to tell life-changing stories every week, with human eloquence, philosophy, style, humor, and innovation. There are really few pastors that are such dynamic speakers to do this well. I see that when they don't do it well, it gets on your nerves, as it does mine, but I'm beginning to get annoyed even when it is done well. As Paul said, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." I've seen far too many churches where it was evident that the pastor spent too much time trying to make his message appealing to human taste and not enough time immersed in the Scripture. The pastor at my current church is no great speaker, but he explains the Scripture each week and exposes the gospel therein. (It is expository preaching rather than topical--he selects a book of the Bible and goes through it verse by verse in order, refreshing what was explained in previous weeks for context.) I enjoy this because I honestly don't think there can be anything life-changing in HOW a pastor presents his message, especially if it's of the man-centered self-help variety. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (the passage I quoted) stresses preaching nothing but CHRIST and him crucified. The life-changing thing happens when one is regenerated, and if one is truly changed, that doesn't need to happen over and over again every week. That would get pretty annoying, actually, as we've both seen. All church services that follow the initial change (for which Christ bears the sole responsibility) are to assist in sanctification (Hebrews 6:1), not through "Christianity 101," but, like hymns, in simply presenting the wealth of truth found in the pages of the Bible, and the reiteration--not reinvention--of the gospel, which I believe is referenced in every word of Scripture.

People: We both know that there is more to church than singing and preaching. I don't know what the people of a perfect church would be like. I do know that after attending my current church for about 3 weeks, I felt like I'd known those people for ages. They are friendly, but somehow they manage to be extremely genuine in their friendliness. Sadly, this is something I've not experienced often. Maybe it has to do with the way they do worship and preaching. If you really wanted a road trip, you could come to Germany and try to find out for yourself. As I said, I recognize that our ideals, as far as church is concerned, are probably a bit different. I really hope you find some place as refreshing as my church was for me. But I'll close my lengthy thoughts with something I've heard R.C. Sproul say: "If you ever find the perfect church, don't join it--you'll ruin it."

Anonymous said...

If you're still looking for a snake-handling church, I hear Kevin Grace over at Blegen Library used to study them.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I am probably the oldest ever to respond on your blog. ( 69 and counting ). When are you going to realize that worship is not about you? You can and should attempt to fit anyplace where the truth is taught.Side note: In the church of Christ, we do not refer to the minister as pastor. This term is used, in the Bible, for elders. God Blessyou in your quest,

Steve Fuller said...

Ummm...next week...

Anonymous said...

HA! I was waiting on a Church of Christ-er to comment about "the truth" and correct you on some biblical thing that you got wrong. Classic!

Alex Green said...

Steve, ever consider not allowing the anonymous comments? Just wondering. Might make us all consider if we're really contributing anything.

Steve Fuller said...

Alex,

I don't really mind the anonymous comments. I don't get my feelings hurt easily, and sometimes people want to say things off the record. Sometimes those comments are the most valuable. If anyone said anything offensive I would delete it.

Erin said...

Churches are made up of the people that represent the nature of God. I doubt if any church represents the nature of God.

I speak at churches of various denomination and usually try to look up information on their basic doctrine before I go. It helps.

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