If you’re like me, you had to make the difficult decision of uprooting and leaving a wonderful church to attend seminary. Others of you have chosen to stay local, have been commissioned by your denomination, or aren’t terribly particular about choosing a new church. I’ve visited about twenty websites and six services in the past three weeks, and I’d like to share some of the principles my new friends and I have applied in my church search:
1. Choosing a church for a job. While your time in seminary is an incredible time to give yourself to intense study and formation, it’s still not quite ideal. You may be in school full time, working full time, and being a spouse and parent full time. If you can multi-task by making money and being involved in a church at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with that! It certainly leaves more time for your family and studies.
2. Choosing a church for a community. This one is trickier. When you leave your community to go to a new place, one of the things you crave most is to recover a sense of belonging. It may be good for you to choose a church where you can make friends your own age and live life alongside people who are not your age. However, God may be asking you to be patient and discerning before immediately jumping into a new community.
3. Exploring denominations. I grew up Catholic, Episcopal, Anglican, Baptist, and Evangelical Free. As I try to decide where to pursue ordination, it’s been helpful to take a look back at all those churches and see where I might fit best. If you grew up in only one denomination, it may be good for you to see what else is out there.
4. Getting a feel for local Christianity. After visiting so many churches–both virtually and in person–I think I’ve gotten a feel for what the more common expressions of Christianity are in this area. In particular, Denver churches seem to emphasize the gospel, community, and mission. If you’re looking for a ministry position where you’re going to seminary, it helps to have a birds-eye view of what Christianity looks like where you’re living. Otherwise, you may be stuck trying to import values from back home.
5. Understanding that the treasure is hidden deep. Visiting a church on Sunday morning will only tell you so much about a church. I recommend meeting with pastors to learn more about the life of the church. You may have experienced their worship band, preaching, and liturgy, but you don’t know what kind of mentorship is available in their men’s group, you haven’t met the affinity groups that you might fit in with really well, and you don’t know how long-term strategic decisions are made.
6. Loving Jesus more than the Church. So far, no church experience has been precisely what I want it to be, nor has it been a perfect conglomeration of all the positive experiences I’ve had in churches growing up. The most helpful thing I’ve done while visiting churches is to remind myself that no church is perfect, only Jesus is. We love the Church not because it is perfect, but because Jesus, its bridegroom is.
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.