It's August vacation and you're miles from home, and from the church you've been attending for 10 years, with a commitment that has settled more or less to the robotic level of your commitment to the Acme supermarket you also frequent.
You're at Yosemite or in Cape Cod and don't know the churches there. Perhaps you will take the safe way and look for a sign in front of a steepled building that boasts your "brand" on it: Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist.
Last year at the Jersey shore, after a little eeny meeny miny moe, I went for one that had no steeple or building at all, but was tucked into a strip mall on touristy Asbury Street between Eighth and Ninth. A little placard by the door read: "Cornerstone Ministries: Casual about dress, serious about God." That sounded like good priorities, and like a place I would feel welcomed at. It turned out that I was not disappointed.
A very interesting situation arises when you walk in cold like that to a church, with no denominational clues to automatically set up your expectations. Anything is possible. You don't know if you will find exuberant joy in Christ, or dead formalism---or any of the myriad shades in between. You don't know if they will like contemporary Christian hymns, or think they're of the devil. You don't know if they will talk a lot, or a little, or not at all about the Holy Spirit. You don't know if the pastor will overflow with high expectations of the present power of the blood of Christ, or will merely offer erudition in a three-point sermon.
I can make do with just about any church for one Sunday of the year, even if I end up as disappointed as Jesus was when he went hopefully to the fig tree and found it barren. But it's a different story if I am looking for a home church. Then I will come with a few tests to determine if it's the place for me. I will observe the following:
Does the church exhibit joy in Christ? Does the pastor set a tone of faith by putting the most faith-ful construction on every word of Scripture? Are my faith in Jesus and my love for Him built up by being here? Are people evidently loving and serving one another? Are they welcoming of strangers? Do I feel the ineffable presence of God? Would I be embarrassed to raise my hands in worship if I felt like it? Would it be OK to voice an audible "amen" during the sermon now and then? Would I feel comfortable saying in the midst of this assembly, "Oh, how I love Jesus!"
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.