As the old saying goes, if you think you've finally found the perfect church, run like crazy before you ruin it.

What to Do When You Think You’ve Found the Perfect Church

Church has been the influence that has pushed me, challenged me to a greater faithfulness, and stretched me outside my comfort zone. It has also been the pebble in my shoe, the sandpaper which has knocked off some of my rough edges. There’s no doubt about it:  Church can be difficult.

By definition, church is the company of people who embody the ways of Jesus, both in word and in deed, throughout the world. In practice, this means doing business on the regular with people who see the world in ways that are incomprehensible to me, who utter words which make my head spin, and who do things that rub me the wrong way.

Doing church forces believers to grow up to maturity and the reward is a loving bond that advertises God’s love in large letters. We worship together, yes, but in a deep way, we walk through life with each other.

Since church is not optional, Eugene Peterson offers this helpful observation:

Sooner or later, if we are serious about growing up in Christ, we have to deal with the church. I say sooner.”

I say “sooner” as well, and that’s why I’m grateful for Traci Rhoades’s new book about her experience with churches in a number of traditions. In Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost: A Story of Church, she meanders through the highs and lows of her own story as a faithful church woman. Then, inviting the voices of others into the room, she creates a space for holy curiosity in which we discover that there just might be more than one “right way” to gather in celebration of our faith.

According to Ephesians 1:14, we have been created and rescued by God to live “to the praise of his glory.” We do this by participating in what God does, and since he has chosen to do his work on this planet through the church, I appreciate the way Rhoades beckons her readers toward unity– but with this caveat:

You’re not going to find the perfect church experience.”  (36)

So, as the old saying goes, if you think you’ve finally found the perfect church, run like crazy before you ruin it. Even in imperfection, there is great hope and ten thousand reasons to “deal with the church”–and to do it “sooner.” Here are three thoughts harvested from Traci’s good work that encourage me to persevere:

We have been formed by things that may surprise us.

From the outset, Traci knew that her faith had been influenced as much by her father’s unwillingness to attend church as it was by her mother’s faithful following life. This speaks volumes to me as a mother and also as a woman who shows up in the pews on the regular. My life is different because of that commmitment to gather, and Traci began making observations early on:

I saw firsthand a life lived with God and church (my mom’s) and a life lived without God or church (my dad’s). I have never doubted which one seemed right and true to me.” (xiii)

Grace lubricates the relational gears over the long haul.

If you’ve spent any time at all participating in the life of a church family, it goes without saying that you’re carrying some hurt, some regret, or even some downright erroneous teaching. In church, we are thrown in with a group of people we did not necessarily select, and are given the command to love and to serve one another. At times we follow leaders who seem to have lost their compass.

The truth is that if God allowed me to self-select my own “perfect” church family, I’d still be cherishing all sorts of inflated notions about how godly I am, because the conflict or discomfort I’ve experienced in some church settings has been exactly the course of study I’ve needed to lead me to repentance–with the goal of becoming more like Christ.

Watching my own children who have grown up in church, I am trusting for that kind of grace saturated curriculum to form their faith as well. Traci found it to be true:

Overall, when I look back at my early years in the church, I’m more thankful than disillusioned.”

We really do need each other.

Fresh out of college, I joined a busy and growing church and was loved well by the people with whom I served. One of these women had grown up in the church. Her grandparents had been founding members, and she and her husband were raising their family in those well-known and beloved pews. I couldn’t begin to picture that kind of rootedness, and it left me longing.

Today, after twenty one years with my present church family (and a grandson in my Sunday school class!), I am beginning to understand what it is to make a deep investment with a body of believers. Even so, I also need the wide open window of other peoples’ worship experiences and thoughts about the nature of God to remind me that being right can easily get in the way of being holy. The church is God’s gift to us, and we need one another with all our rich harmonies of expression in order to sing the beauty of God, which is infinitely more than one of us could ever express with our own small voice.

Many thanks to Church Publishing Incorporated for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Grace and peace to you,

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost: A Story of Church, simply click on the title or the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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51 thoughts on “What to Do When You Think You’ve Found the Perfect Church”

  1. Michele, this sounds like a wonderful book. It is so true – Church is an investment into a group of believers and the opportunity for them to invest into our lives as well. It’s mutual and we so need one another.

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  2. Michele,
    I like the comment about learning to “deal with the church.” We have these overinflated notions that church will be this perfect experience. How can it be, when the church is made up of sinners just like me?? Thanks for turning the “perfect church” notion on its head!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. I just can’t get enough of Eugene Peterson’s insights on the church. He was so realistic–no rose colored glasses after over 50 years of ministry, but still galvanized in stating that church is essential to our spiritual formation.

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  3. Michele, I definitely want to read this book. I have found it to be very true, there is no perfect church. My husband and I have had tough waters to navigate over the past ten years of our church life. But, we press on because we need a local body of believers to speak into our lives. We do need each other.

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  4. No church is ever perfect because none of the members are. The important thing to remember is that we are there to worship God and serve one another in our imperfect ways.
    Blessings, Michele!

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  5. It’s true we won’t ever find the perfect church, however, it’s that same thinking that opens the door for inexcusable happenings in the church that make it unappealing to many. I’ve been going to church since conception and I’ve been involved in church all my life; I’ve sung in choirs, taught Sunday School, participated in Sister’s meetings etc. I love the experience of going to church…it’s a part of how I mature in my walk with Jesus, however, with that said, as of late, I’ve been completely turned off by my current church. Having gone to both large and small churches, I believe a smaller environment works best for me. A place where I can be connected and a part of it. It’s nice to know the pastor by name and to reach out to him if/when needed. It’s nice to get a phone call from a member when they don’t see you on Sunday or at another church function. That becomes impossible in a big church like the one I currently attend. When this is over and we move into our new normal, I will be looking for a new church home and a new place to live. New everything is on the horizon. Please keep me in your prayers, Michele. Thank you.

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    1. I will do that, Yvonne. And I hope you will keep me up to date on your search for a loving church family. I agree with your assessment of the positive aspects of a small church.
      When will things be opening up in your area for a return to “regular” services?

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  6. Thank you for the insight on this…I’ve been going to church for many years but I’ve never thought of church the way it is expressed here. “In church, we are thrown in with a group of people we did not necessarily select, and are given the command to love and to serve one another. At times we follow leaders who seem to have lost their compass.” – Love this! Really makes me appreciate the church in a different light.

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    1. The only “thing” here on earth that we have available to worship with is sinners like us. Whenever we come into close, vulnerable space with other sinners, sin happens. This is true (unfortunately)even in church. But then, there’s grace…

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  7. Thanks again for taking on another book review. I just saw this title come across my feed recently and was intrigued by the name of the book.

    My sons and I have had many discussions about the fact that there is not a perfect church. I raised them in a ritualistic church where I was raised. When religion was not enough and our relationship with God became our focus, we searched for a new church. Traci Rhoades seems wise in her experience and teaching about church in her book.

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  8. Oh, Michele, I had to smile when I read the words you wrote about church members “who see the world in ways that are incomprehensible to me, who utter words which make my head spin, and who do things that rub me the wrong way”. I have been there too. If only all church members could be as reasonable, well-informed, and thoughtful as I am! 🙂 Kidding, of course.

    This book fits right in with what I am reading right now, even though I have been attending the same church for over 30 years. It is going on my list.

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  9. Well said, Michele. There are reasons and seasons where leaving a particular church is needed for a person or family. It is never easy, but it is important to keep in mind grace as we do this or see others do this. We have not walked in their shoes and it isn’t always that the church isn’t perfect enough, but that what is imperfect in them and what happens there gets in the way of seeing the One who is perfect. My lived experience also reminds me that those who get close to or serve on a church staff see a great deal of the behind the scenes decisions that make it harder to sometimes remain. The behind the scenes and the outward sometimes do not match. Loyalty is not what should hold us, but more a clear commitment to the Lord’s leading. Sometimes we have been a part of church where leadership considered loyalty the coin of the realm no matter what they did or how they wavered from the preaching of the gospel. We all need much wisdom and discernment here.

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    1. So true, Pam. Church leadership does complicate our relationship with our church–and it makes us very vulnerable to hurt because we put ourselves “out there.”
      I really appreciated your thoughts about “seeing the One who is perfect.” Yes, that our role, isn’t it? We stay out of the way so others can see him.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I appreciate your sharing about this book and your thoughts on church, Michele. It’s especially relevant for me after our move from Austin to Arlington, TX last December. I left my home church of 30 years (they supported us all our years in Turkey, first sent me in 1989.) It is hard to find another fellowship that measures up. I am trusting God to guide us to the right place. (Corona virus kind of put a damper on church-hinting! 🙂 )

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    1. Oh, that’s a tough one. I can’t imagine having a church hunt stalled and living “between churches” outside the comfortable fellowship of a loving church family.
      Find a church that feels like home is a challenge even under the best of circumstances.

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  11. In our last church search, it was amazing how churches with the same doctrinal beliefs online translated into a variety of worship experiences in real life.

    It’s so true that there won’t be a perfect church or church experience–not when they are populated by imperfect people. That’s not an excuse to be careless and thoughtless in how we interact, but it is what all those instructions in epistles to forgive and forbear are for.

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    1. Yes, I completely agree. We bring those instructions with us into our church families, and ask for grace to BECOME what we wish others would be in our unselfish commitment to reach out and to build into others.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. “I also need the wide open window of other peoples’ worship experiences and thoughts about the nature of God to remind me that being right can easily get in the way of being holy”. This is so good! Thanks for sharing this post.

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  13. I have been to many different Christian churches. I started Catholic and have been spent time in Baptist (where I actually learned about the Bible), Episcopalian. U.U., Congregational, and a short stint at a Methodist church. With the exception of the Methodist church which I did not care for and the Catholic Church where I spent my childhood, I have gone every Sunday for at least a year or two. I have not one friend from any of those churches. Not one church friend who would call me to say hello…not one established relationship from any of the churches I’ve been to. I still go to church but do not have one church that I have a connection to. I have no roots in any particular church. I go for myself and not for anyone else. I think it’s very sad. Many of the churches here in New England are falling into disrepair. Their congregations are not big enough to support them.

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    1. That is just the saddest thing, and it demonstrates that so many churches feel like Sunday morning duties, and then off-duty for the rest of the week. Ugh.
      We here in New England are in the freezer section of Gods’ supermarket. Church is no longer part of our cultural context, and people just plain don’t see it as a place to have their gnawing emptiness filled. I bang my head against the brick wall of that culture every time I try to reach out to our community.
      The people in YOUR church are missing out on a good thing by not getting to know you.

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  14. This looks like another interesting book. I wonder how many people will go back to meeting with the church after this pandemic eases. Our church is actually opening back up May 31, but I’m not sure if I’ll be attending or not that quickly. They’ll keep online services going as well, so I may do that while they work out the kinks of social distancing. It’s going to be different; I need to be prepared for that.

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  15. This is so true! I hardly ever go to church, but I do need the fellowship of others. That’s why I read Christian blogs. I just listened to a sermon in which the pastor said that some people believe that you need to be completely healthy and whole to go to church. Then she counteracts this with the psalms, almost half of which are of lament. The church is made for imperfect people and that’s what makes the church imperfect too.

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  16. That phrase, ‘a space for holy curiosity,’ grabbed my attention, Michele.

    It’s laced with grace, respect, kindness, and a willingness to put our personal preferences aside so we can listen well without judgment.

    I think that’s been one of the many gifts of blogging over the years. I am grateful for all those who’ve influenced my faith and grown it stronger.

    Including you, friend.

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    1. “Listening well without judgment” is in short supply in this season.
      And I agree that my blogging community and some online resources have done so much to challenge me in this way.

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  17. This sounds like another interesting read, Michele. We moved to a new church last fall … it’s been a wonderful move for our family but not something I’ve written about because it was such a quiet, personal decision, if that makes any sense. It can be complicated when people are involved, right? It’s not like switching to a different grocery store.

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    1. Oh, you’ve sure got that right!
      People are SO involved in our worship choices. I understand, too, why it’s not something you’ve written about. Church changes are visceral.

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  18. Church is indeed a place where we’re thrown in with a group of people we did not self-select, and for all the good reasons cited here. But stick around in a fellowship long enough and the folks become family. Yes, there are the crazy uncles, chatty aunts, and ornery cousins. But they’re good for us. Without them, the fruit of the Spirit–our love, patience, perseverance, etc.–would grow all the more slowly. Churches are like rock tumblers–a place where our rough edges can be smoothed, characters can be polished, and we have the opportunity to become like jewels!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I have so missed my church family during this quarantine. And they really are a family – although all so very different, unique and gathered together from so many different places. It is wonderful – and a bit amazing – how God creates a church:)

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  20. This sounds like a good book making an important point! I’ve been in the same church for 24 years now and have had plenty of reminders that it’s not perfect, the people aren’t perfect, but neither am I, and we can make things better together.

    Traci’s story of her parents makes it clear that it’s important for churches to welcome families that have one or more members who don’t attend. I have been to churches where people who were married but attended church alone were constantly nagged to bring the spouse. That can come across as, “You’re not welcome here unless your whole family attends regularly.”

    Many members of my church have partners who follow a different faith or do not belong to an organized religion. I’m in this situation myself and really appreciate being able to talk with other people who are managing complicated holidays, discussions that come up at moments like a death in the family, and the awkwardness of being in love with someone who doesn’t share all your beliefs. Also, I love the way my partner is welcomed to the few services and events he does choose to attend each year: People are eager to talk with him and get to know him, but they stick with, “Come back anytime!” rather than making him feel guilty about not showing up more often.

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    1. So hearwarming to hear that your church family is open and welcoming to those who believe differently. That’s certainly the best stance for a faithful representation of the ways of Jesus.

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  21. Michele, we’ve moved around a bit, so we’ve been in a number of different churches. However, we’ve been a part of our current church since we moved to Colorado 12 years ago. We’ve worshiped in big bodies and small bodies and found that God had plans for us in each house of worship.

    It’s in church where I’ve found my “go-though-life” friends. Even though not all of them attend the same church anymore, we’ve managed to stay in touch, even during quarantine. Church has been that place where our boys have heard about Jesus and have learned a little about serving. I know my experience is probably not the norm, but I am thankful that, in the midst of some of our other struggles, being a part of a healthy church body hasn’t been one we’ve grappled with.

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  22. A great, heart-felt post! It’s never easy finding a church.

    I am so glad that you took the time to share your world at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week! Thanks!

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  23. What a lovely post Michele. My own church in my hometown means an awful lot to me. I was baptised in it, made my holy communion in it and got married in it. And now my children have been baptised in it too which means more than anything really. So many wonderful moments! #globalblogging

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  24. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

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