Finding a Church, Part 2: Worshipping at Local Churches
Being a Christian in the military sometimes creates challenges in situations civilians take for granted. For example, how do you find a church? The concept of a “home church” and steady lifelong attendance takes on a whole new meaning when you move every two to four years.
This is the second article in a series of suggestions and guidance on finding a church as you move about in your military career. The first, Part 1: The Military Chapel, discussed the various perspectives and thoughts on attending services at the base/post military chapel. The topic of Part 2 is local/community churches a military Christian might choose to visit at a new or temporary assignment.
Attending a Local Church
If a military Christian decides not to attend the base/post chapel, most assignment locations have the opportunity for a variety of off-base services. For the most part, wherever you go you’ll be able to find a church of your denomination. If you prefer non-denominational services or you cannot find a familiar service to attend, you might end up attending a “new” church.
Ideally, the way to find out about off-base churches is through contacts who have attended there. Your first choice should be to ask members of a Bible study or equivalent fellowship, if you can find one. Also, most chaplains will have information on local churches’ styles and formats of worship that could help you make an informed decision. A final option is to crack open the base paper, local newspaper, or phone book and find a church. You can get information on the church by calling them and asking them about their doctrine and style of worship.
The less you know about a church you visit, the more discretion is recommended. The risk is not in finding a church with completely bizarre beliefs, but in finding a seemingly reasonable church with subtle but important doctrinal discrepancies. While every person’s spiritual development is at a different place, it is helpful in those cases for you to have a firm grasp on what you believe, and to listen with some “skepticism” at first. Once you determine that the doctrine of the church is in line with Biblical teaching, whether by attendance or by direct questioning of the pastor or other members of the congregation, then you can open yourself up to the teaching of the church. More on this in a moment.
For those of you who grew up in one church or a particular denomination your entire life, the first experience of finding a new church in a new place can be daunting. Likewise, the churches you “survey” as you search for a new church home face their own daunting challenge: to make you comfortable and willing to worship there, they need to be very much like the church you’re used to. As you attend new churches, the very characteristics that attracted you to military service, and have made you a good officer, fighter pilot/intel/maintenance/etc officer, and leader may begin to surface: You may find yourself critically analyzing the sermon, the building, and the budget; being judgmental of the doctrine, worship style, and structure; and wondering if you’ll ever find the “perfect” church. It’s important to remember that unless you happen upon the First Church of [Your Name Here], no church you attend will be “perfect.” (Someone once said that if you do find a perfect church, don’t join it — you’ll ruin it.)
There will always be something “wrong” with a church. You must know what is important; you must understand that which cannot be compromised, and that which really doesn’t matter. If it is a doctrinal discrepancy or other fundamental belief that cannot be reconciled with the Bible, then that church should not be considered. If the beef is stylistic, geographic, demographic, or some other minor issue, a skeptical Christian military member should approach it with an open mind and heart. A church with sound teaching should not be abandoned simply because they pass the plate at the end of the service instead of the middle. If the difficulties you have with a church are distracting you from your ability to learn, worship, and fellowship, then you must decide if you can plant yourself there. If you cannot get beyond those distractions, then perhaps that particular church is not for you. Use caution, however: if the difficulty is truly a minor one and you cannot let it go, your attitude — not the church — may be the problem: In that case you may inhibit your ability to find any church where you will ever be comfortable. Such a Christian runs the risk of church-hopping through all the local churches and never having a steady place to call his church home.
Some Christians may be comfortable in any church setting. For them and for relatively new Christians it’s important not to be too accepting of an unknown church. Ideally, you should have some spiritual foundation and a familiarity with the Bible so you can test what the preacher says; in the very least, you should have a trusted friend to talk to if you hear an unusual teaching. This caution is neither closed-minded nor unfounded; it’s actually a Biblically demonstrated practice. In Acts 17:11, Paul commended the Bereans for checking the scriptures to see if Paul’s preaching was true, rather than simply believing everything they heard.
During a short TDY I decided to try a generically-named church I had passed on my way to the base. The first Sunday I attended I was quite impressed. The style was a bit conservative but was similar to what I had known growing up, and the teaching had depth and knowledge. I gladly attended again the second week. The next week the sermon seemed to be teaching a concept with which I was vaguely familiar. When I approached the pastor of the church after the service, he confirmed that what he had preached could be described as a sermon on the fifth tenet of Calvinism. Had I not had some knowledge of Calvinism prior to that sermon, I may not have recognized it.
The point here isn’t to debate Calvinism; the point is that when “experimenting” with churches — as military Christians will do far more often than their civilian counterparts — military Christians will likely expose themselves to the gamut of doctrinal leanings. As you listen to sermons and studies, be prepared to “look it up” and see what the Bible says. In the odd occasion you walk into a church or study that insists on teaching something contrary to the Bible, then look for another church. Again, there is no need to run at the first sight of a challenging teaching, but you shouldn’t plan on blindly accepting difficult concepts, either.
Next time: “Leaving” a Church
This is an update to a prior article on Finding a Church.