It’s fun to listen to my teenage kids when they talk about how independent they are and how they can take on the world all by themselves. They seem to be unaware of the vast support network surrounding them. Our neighbors support the various school fundraisers for them, schoolteachers and coaches invest considerable time with them, many staying late just to have an opportunity to guide them a little better in life. Then, of course, they have their parents who work to create a supportive home environment, not to mention the food, clothing, and taxi services.
When we are young, we need support to prosper and grow, when we are older, we need it just as much. The only difference is that as adults, we need to consciously and deliberately build and maintain our quality support network.
That sad truth is that
The Love in a marriage is far more likely to fade away when a couple has no support network, because few of us, in America, grew up with the kind of role models and teaching needed to guide us in lasting love. We just don’t know how to do it.
In my book, Essence of Wisdom for Parents, I suggest that a good church is the best place to go in order to build a quality support network. However, many people I’ve talked to have a certain revulsion to the church because of bad past experiences like suffering through monotone sermons given by someone who looks like they’d rather be dead or dealing with pews full of hypocrites that will cut you off in the parking lot right after service. Many people have also had to deal with just plain stupid remarks made by supposed Christians either in the media, or in person.
I’ve talked with many people who have these feelings, and the truth is, I’ve had them myself. Over time, though, I’ve found that the root cause of this revulsion is a lack of understanding about the different kinds of Christian churches as well as ill-formed expectations about how a “Christian” might behave.
Before thinking about building your support network, it is important to come to terms with the notion that all people have serious character faults.
We all have streaks of judgmentalism, selfishness, and other bits of ugliness inside. Therefore, wherever you go, this is what you are going to find if you look long enough at any person.
If you think about it, you don’t go to an auto repair shop to see well running cars, you go there when you want to get your own car fixed and what you should expect to find is other cars that are in various phases of repair. A church is pretty much the same way, so it doesn’t make any sense to let yourself get offended if you run across a jerk in one.
When selecting a church to try out, don’t try to find one with perfect people, rather look for one where many of the people are humble enough to want to grow personally, who want to overcome some of their character faults, and who want to improve their own marriages, families, and other relationships. This kind of church will have small group programs and may have supplemental events specifically designed for men and women. This kind of church will have at least of few folks in it who you may later come to see as the best friends you ever had in life. Folks that will be there for you in hard spots and be there for you in times of joy, but most importantly, be there to help you grow as a husband or wife, and as a parent.
In selecting a church, look for a church whose focus meets the needs of your family and whose style is compatible and enjoyable.
Churches have very different focuses. Most churches have three primary goals of their Sunday service; however, there are dramatic differences in how they emphasize these different goals. The primary goals are:
- To bring together people and strengthen our relationships with each other through shared experiences.
- To take time to praise God for the grace that he has given us. (This is typically done through music.)
- To educate us in understanding better the heart and will of God.
What you get out of a church may depend on whether or not you have chosen a church that focuses on your needs.
If you have a deep understanding of Christianity and have studied the Bible extensively, you may want to seek a church were the focus of the service is not education, but rather a shared celebration of your faith. Many Catholic churches have this focus: they use many symbols such as incense burners and fancy robes that help to remind their parishioner of aspects of God or stories in the Bible that they have previously learned.
If you do not have this deep understanding, than an education oriented church is likely a better fit. Within this category, there are seeker oriented churches which are often large and very vibrant. The pastors at these churches will usually be engaging and will teach wisdom that can be directly applied to our lives today. These churches will have very good small group and other programs that cater to the specific needs of various groups of people. However, because these churches are large it will take personal initiative to get involved in these programs. Because of this, there is a preponderance of outgoing “type-A” folks in these churches. (I also think that they have many tall people in them, but that probably says more about me than the churches.)
Methodist churches each have their own personality, but generally are education oriented and very community oriented. These churches will often have a kitchen and encourage families to get together for events like Wednesday night dinners. It is easier for less outgoing folks to become connected in smaller churches because you likely sit next to the same folks every Sunday. If you miss a Sunday, you will be missed.
There are also churches that so focus on community and inclusiveness that they ignore quality teaching for fear of offending someone. These churches can feel very welcoming at first, but it is unlikely that you and your family will get the mentoring support you will need to raise a strong family from this type of church. If you rarely hear something in the sermon that makes you say to yourself “ooohhh, I might need some improvement in that area”, then you are not in a church that will help you grow, either that, or you don’t get enough sleep on Saturday night.
The final criteria, is church style. I have heard it said that the most segregated place in America today is the church. Usually when I hear people say this, they see it as a bad thing; however, I take a different view. We have an overriding culture in America that serves to bring us together, but we also have many different micro-cultures in our country: from the backwaters of Louisiana, to the streets of LA, from the forests of Oregon, to the suburbs of Baltimore. These micro-cultures have musical styles and speaking styles that can be diverse and I think it makes sense to go to a church that has a style and culture that makes you feel comfortable – as long as the church is meeting the spiritual needs of your family.
As a final note of Church explanation for someone looking at churches, there are different pastors that focus on different aspects of the faith. Some pastor’s focus on miraculous healing, some focus on “the world is coming to an end” stuff. Personally, I sometimes question if too much emphasis on these themes helps people to grow. I always recommend that people read the Bible themselves so that they form their own idea of what these passages are talking about rather than rely solely on their pastor to share their idea of what the Bible says. If you are trying a church were the messages seem quite off base to you, then do not give up on Church altogether, but rather go try a different one.
Most people I know who really like there church they attend tell me that when they first started coming to the church, they “felt like the pastor was talking right to them.” If you find a church like this, stick with it.
As a final note, if you are a women who has a husband that is less enthusiastic about the faith, then look for a church that has strong male leadership and an active men’s group. I think there are many great female preachers out there, but most men respond better to male leadership and also appreciate strong, positive, male role models.
If you found a church that you like, I’d love to hear what it was about the church that made it seem right for you.