My Second Stop in a Search for a New Church Home: Thoburn UMC
These past two Sundays, I’ve been going to Thoburn United Methodist church. It’s a reasonably large church, and the entire flavor of the church service is pretty different from what I am used to. They light candles before the service (which I was told represents the presence of the Holy Spirit), and sing hymns and use a choir, organ, and piano as accompaniment. The sermon both weeks was also quite short – just about twenty minutes or so.
The focus of the sermons were so different from what I’m used to as well. At my other church, there was a lot of time spent reading long stretches of scripture and talking about spiritual discipline and such like that. And while this was broadly addressed in the two sermons I listened to the past two weeks, I also got the impression that the pastors at Thoburn were very outwardly focused. What I mean by that is they talked a lot about scripture and what it can teach us about relating to others rather than focusing on individualized spiritual growth.
It was pretty refreshing. The first morning I attended, I was introduced to a group of women and one of them invited me to her small group meeting on Sunday evenings. Small groups are, I believe, critically important to the body of Christ. They are where we break through the superficial veneer we always put on display on Sunday mornings, and we have the opportunity to talk through matters of faith on a more vulnerable level. So I was pretty excited.
So I’ve also gone to the small group twice now, and both times I came away with somewhat mixed feelings. Most of the people in the group are married, so the discussions often revolved around parenting and raising their kids to love Jesus and such. These discussions are important, but they don’t really matter much to me as a single person. And what is more, I kind of miss meeting with people my age like I was able to do at my old church, because when I am with people in their late twenties and thirties, I feel much more intimidated and it is harder for me to speak up. So mostly I stayed very quiet and listened. I learned a lot, but found that participating was difficult for me.
The second Sunday I went back to Thoburn and I was pretty excited because they would be kicking off their Sunday school classes for the new school year. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed. The last thing I want to do after sitting through a sermon is get together in a small group and…sit through another sermon. I think sermons have a place, and they can teach you, but when you’re in a small group you should be having a discussion, not sitting passively and listening all over again.
That’s what we did though. We listened for about 45 minutes to a Louis Giglio sermon about space and the universe and all these admittedly fantastical facts about how huge the universe is and how terribly tiny we are. And it was pretty cool, I guess, to put things in perspective like that.
But if I wanted to listen to a sermon about space and God’s hugeness, I’d curl up in my home with my laptop and pull up a Google search. That is not what church is for. Church is for collaboration, fellowship, and growing corporately into men and women of God.
The short discussion itself was rather troublesome to me as well. Before he started the video, the group leader talked about how Christians must get the basics of the faith down before moving on to more theologically murky waters. And what was the basic that we covered that day? The existence of God. Yup. The leader talked very carefully about how he thinks it’s an important part of Christianity to believe in God.
I saw no conviction there, no confidence. Instead, it was like the group was doing their best, in a room full of Christians, to speak with tolerance about belief systems other than Christianity. It was kind of unnerving, especially after coming from a church where the sovereignty and holiness of God was brought up on a constant basis.
That Sunday school class was like a wake-up call for me. I realized for the first time that I probably won’t ever find a church that has struck the right balance between celebrating God with confidence and creating room for different theologies and genuinely nurturing each other in our walk with God. Such a church would be perfect, and perfection has never really existed in this world.
So I’m not sure what’s in store for me next week. I think I might go back, and perhaps try a different Sunday school. I don’t know yet if Thoburn is the church for me, but I definitely want to keep going for now and see where things go.