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Church shopping

By Mike Ruffin My Good Wife and I moved to Macon a few weeks ago. At the time, I was in the last month of an interim pastorate in Stockbridge. I finished that assignment on the last Sunday in June. But Pastor Cyndi of the Barnesville First United Methodist Church extended gracious pastoral care to me by inviting me to preach there on the first Sunday in July, thereby letting us postpone for a little longer a process I really don’t look forward to: church shopping. (The process was postponed for one more week by a Friday afternoon root canal that left my Good Wife still feeling lousy on Sunday. Not being a full-time pastor and not having a preaching commitment that day, I chose to stay home to support her’”just like I was a normal husband.) Here I am going to admit one of my past pastoral peeves’”I never liked it when people who were engaged in their own process of church shopping visited a church I served as pastor. There were several reasons for my attitude. First, I didn’t like the idea of competing with other churches. After all, we’re all supposed to be on the same team, aren’t we? The second reason I didn’t like dealing with church shoppers is related to the first one: I didn’t know how to compete with other churches. What was I supposed to do? Give prospective members a sales pitch on why our church was better than other churches (or point them to our really great website that was designed to make the same case)? Or maybe I could tell them that this was a good time to join our church before our special This Month Only’”The Tithe Is Only Seven Percent! offer expired. My third reason for not wanting to deal with church shoppers is also a confession. I didn’t see why I had to compete with other churches when’”and surely it should be obvious to anyone paying any attention’”the church I pastored was the best church in the area. I mean, it clearly had the best pastor, so’¦. Anyway, I had a lot of growing to do in that whole ‘dying to self’ thing that the New Testament says so much about. But seriously, folks’”I want all of the pastors and churches in Macon that we might visit over the next few weeks to know that you don’t need to try to convince us that your church is better than other churches or make any kind of effort to recruit us. As a matter of fact, making such an effort will probably get you marked off our list. Besides, the truth is that we already know that certain kinds of churches will be a better fit for us than other churches will. We know this from over four decades of participating in church things. First, we want to be part of a church that takes following Jesus seriously. Second, we prefer traditional worship with a liturgical flavor. Third, we appreciate preaching, teaching, and ministry that focus on this world as well as the next. Fourth, we resonate with congregations that are willing and able to think and talk about challenging questions. Fifth, we value churches that understand the difference between prayerful patriotism and civil religion. I reckon the list of churches that fit that description won’t be a long one. But you know, in the end we will ask the good Lord to show us our church home. And then we will gladly embrace it.

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