On Church and Cousins
I’m moving forward in trying a new church. It’s an English-speaking Korean church (ESKC) that meets about a 5-minute drive from my home and (I know this is so VAIN) has air conditioning. It’s still a part of my current denomination.
It’s got a mix of Asian (not all of them are Korean) and white members, which thrills me because I’ve bemoaned the lack of diversity at my home church for some time now. I’m tentatively moving forward in becoming more involved with the church: joining up with a softball league for July, joining community groups for Bible study, and just plain looking forward to the way God will work in that church. Maybe it will be some time before we become members. Maybe it won’t. Maybe we’ll never become members. But I’m willing to step out in faith and take the risk of making new connections. And making new connections is always messy because we are all sinful people, belief in Christ or not, and we hurt each other, sometimes far more than we ever know.
As I think about attending this ESKC, I recognize, perhaps a bit more acutely, my issues with my home church. Some of the issues are a matter of preference and the blame lies with me; the other issues aren’t sin issues but rather a culture of the church that has come to frustrate me over time.
- The congregational singing. This isn’t the product of the song selections by the choir director at my home church, in fact, I love them! (Reason why I know and love Getty music.) I’m frustrated by the most drab and monotone way the church sings the song selections. They sing it in the way that I remember hating at Catholic Churches when I was kid: dull and lifeless. My husband would argue that it’s because the organ makes everything sound dismal, but I can’t think of a better accompaniment to “A Mighty Fortress” or any other Luther hymn. At ESKC, while the song selections tend to be more of a contemporary nature (I can’t stand this “Majesty” song), the performance is done on a low-key level with a variety of instruments (bongo drum!) that isn’t boring but provides to a quiet, worshipful atmosphere. (As opposed to simply a “worshipful” atmosphere with a loud band.)
- The cold church culture. This is something that has always been an issue but I either failed to recognize it or purposely chose to overlook it in an attempt to become rapidly engaged with a church when I first moved to Pennsylvania. From the moment I stumbled in as a new visitor (perhaps rudely because it was unannounced), I failed to realize that people are polite and welcoming but certainly not warm. Maybe the warmth I’m looking for will never be found this side of heaven. Or maybe I can lower my expectations and not expect group hugs with tears at the end of every community group. (Just joking. I really don’t expect that.) I don’t expect every community group session to full of openness and bare feelings. But I’d like that sometimes. I’d like to know people don’t always want to hide their imperfections. I want to know that Christians aren’t afraid of showing they don’t have it all together. (A friend who was a longtime member of my home church and just recently joined the ESKC as members really talks a good game about the church and the community group. I’m putting her to the test.) My home church isn’t bad, unbiblical, or even awful. It’s right for some people, and perhaps, since it has grown over the course of 2 years without a pastor, it has grown in a vein that I don’t think I am a part of any longer. I have attempted to change the cold culture by taking a risk and being more open, and I know some people have too, but in the end, many congregants of the church prefer to retreat to their sections of privacy and keep their Christianity as well-polished vases for display on Sundays. I’ve attended the church since Fall 2006 and joined in April 2007. After four years, I believe we’ve grown away from my home church, which saddens me. Some people are okay with the imperfections. Some people don’t expect more from the Bride. I think it’s possible this side of heaven. Call me an idealist.
- Emphasis on doctrine—the right syllable. My home church is strong—excels really—in the area of Reformed theology. There’s no i that hasn’t been dotted and no t (or f, for that matter) that hasn’t been crossed. If you want to learn more about Reformed theology in an in-depth manner and live in the Philadelphia ‘burbs, my home church would be fantastic for you. But as one friend (who also recently left my home church for another) put it, “they teach doctrine without love.” I’ve bemoaned the lack of emphasis on practical Christian teaching (taking what we know from the Bible and putting it into practice in our lives) in our community groups. (The pastor does a fine job.) I have walked away from Bible studies saddened and discouraged because I feel as though I’ve gained a lot of head knowledge and nothing useful to equip me with the tools to live out an effective life for Christ. An IKEA instruction manual is useless (more so than normal) if you don’t have the tools to carry it out.
- Church growth. This is really an issue that I take full responsibility for. When I joined my home church, it was a smaller church of about 100-150 people. It’s grown to about 200+, making me feel a bit lost in the crowd. While church growth is important to the life and vitality of a church, I don’t really handle it well. This is an area I need to work on.
- Disagreement in practice of keeping young children in the entire service. We don’t have kids yet, but we don’t foresee a change in this practice at our home church any time soon. Children 5 years and older are required to sit through the adult service; we disagree with this practice and feel that it is a waste of valuable time that could better be used in a children’s service. If we weren’t looking for another church now, it would happen in the next couple of years over this (provided we have children).
Those are a few issues I have, the biggest problem probably exemplified by the large paragraph I devoted to it. The ESKC won’t fix all of these things nor do I expect it to. The ESKC won’t be perfect. I will find things that I don’t like about the church. (In fact, I need to before I become a member so I’m not stuck in this position again five years from now!) But it’s a matter of priorities, and while a Bible-based church is first and foremost, I want a warmer church culture where the congregants can grow with one another. Whether that will happen at the ESKC will remain to be seen.
Cousins. I’ve written about them previously. Specifically the ones on my dad’s side. My friend who recently lost her father (to leukemia) is friends with a girl who runs in the same circle as my father’s family. My friend kindly told me in not so many words that the mutual friend said “they’re not very nice people” and that “they gossip and talk about each other behind their backs.”
Well, that answers that. I don’t need that drama. I’ll only make an effort for my mom now, especially since I realize they don’t care nor respect the connection we have through my father. (That’s fine.) When my mom moves down here or if she passes on (God forbid!), I’m not going to any of their events any longer. If I have any one major pet peeve, it’s being two-faced. If you don’t give a crap about me, don’t pretend you do. Just do your thing: say you’re busy if I want to come over, say you’re occupied—tell me this enough times, I get the hint. Our lives are too short to be wasting time on people we could care less about. Don’t waste my time; I won’t waste yours.