Once we had settled in to our new life back in St. Pete, Bonnie and I knew it was time to address our “church” situation.
In 2006, when I first started attending the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, I was a different person. My understanding of my role in the world was different, my understanding of Christianity was different, I had a different job, and I was even in a different marriage. Fortunately, my situation had changed for the better of the four previous years and I had grown, my perspective had matured, and was in need of something more. Unfortunately, I believe that FBC had stayed the same.
Coming from a traditional Catholic upbringing, moving to a contemporary Baptist church was definitely an eye opening experience. The music was upbeat, jazzy, decently energetic and of a high quality. The message was relevant and fresh and the ceremony was minimal. But, despite the way things appeared on the surface, much of the same structure, tradition, and legalism that existed in Catholic church could be found here too. None of which I needed.
After having spent time as a missionary in India, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico and after having visited churches of all denominations and ethnic diversities throughout the U.S., my understanding of what church “looked like” had evolved. From the bottle recycler building that we converted into a church in a weekend in Costa Rica, to the random strip malls where we held services in Malaysia, to the Sunday Morning Mass that the priests would perform in migrant farm fields of my youth, an organ and a stained glass windows were no longer necessary for me to worship. In fact, I prefer to go without them.
What we were now looking for was to join with a group of people who were primarily seeking to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Not simply in word, or in study, but in action. Through our time with 6:8 Ministries we had experienced what it was like to be led by the Holy Spirit, to die to our own selfish desires, and to surrender our plans. It was during that time that we felt most alive in our faith and it was in that manner that we wanted to continue forward! But, we weren’t in a poor barrio of Costa Rica anymore where people were in great financial and material need. We were now back in the affluence of the U.S. where the poorest of the poor have more resources than the majority of the world.
We desired to continue living outside of our comfort zone, but that’s not really where FBC or the majority of the American Church really hangs out. Rather than sacrifice and surrender, rather do things that are uncomfortable, the church in America seems to be more interested in a country club mentality. A place where you can go and belong, a place with comfortable chairs and an uplifting message that only lasts an hour. A place where everyone is polite and dresses nice. A place where nobody curses, nobody admits to drinking or smoking, and nobody has any family / marital problems. Unfortunately, that place doesn’t actually exist. Instead, the real church is made up of is a bunch of sinning hypocrites with just as many problems as their non-church going counterparts.
But nobody wants to talk about that.
But we did anyways.
After a couple of tough conversations with our close friends and mentors at FBC, it became very clear that they were very happy in their comfort zone and they had very little interest in changing or challenging the country club they fit into so well. Nobody wanted to hear the hard truths and the consequences of a lukewarm faith from the pulpit. They were happy in they’re comfort. At which point, we knew it was time for us to go.
The next Sunday we went to a small startup church that was meeting in the auditorium of a local high school and ever since then, Sunday morning has played an ever smaller part in our faith journey as our Monday – Saturday faith life has continued to grow. We still continue to attend service every Sunday, but that 1-hour doesn’t make up the entirety of our faith life. Rather, everything we do, all week long, is what makes up our body of worship. As the church is not a building, but instead a body of believers, every time I assemble with my friends, family, co-workers, or students, the church is getting together.
Whether we’re literally studying the Bible, watching a movie, breaking bread at a backyard bbq, or simply kicking back a few cold brews, church is always in session. Likewise, whether we’re serving at the local soup kitchen, volunteering at the community youth group, loving and disciplining our children, or simply extending some extra patience in the checkout line or in traffic, we are always representing the church.
Who cares what I act like or where I am on Sunday mornings if I spend the rest of the week being a selfish jerk all over town? Sunday morning is important, but so are all the rest of the days.