I've been an "active member" of a church (the "a" is purposeful) since birth as someone who's been born into the faith, obviously ranging in the activeness depending on my worldly commitments as well as my commitment to the faith at the time. It's also worth noting that I've made 5 significant physical moves in my life which forcefully caused a transition to the next church, inclusive of a global pandemic that somehow granted the state government to dictate when to open or close a church for a length period of time - rest assured, this will not be a politically or even spiritually charged post. Today I want to discuss my thoughts and experiences in what I describe as church shopping (or hopping it you're feeling less capitalistic today), a phenomena I believe has only been enhanced by COVID-19. As a recurring theme throughout my blog, I firmly believe that optionality is not always a great thing, and when it comes to serving or even merely attending a church, I find the case is no different.
If you grow up in a upper middle class to upper class suburban area, the only thing more abundant than a whole foods is probably a place of worship, specifically of the Protestant variety. I'm not well versed enough to go into the details of why this is demographically true, but as everyone who's strolled through a city in Orange County knows, this is an unavoidable reality. This rings true for rather rural towns as well - of course limited in quantity as the population "TAM" is much lower, but in proportion, especially in the south, I'm sure the number of churches exceeds the number of Krogers in most towns. As we are faulty human beings and continuously seek the perfect match in whatever we do, although we acknowledge that "nothing is perfect beyond God," we apply such practices to choosing a church. It's even harder to detach my previous criticism of who we are as beings with this arena of decisions, as it is attached with the faith and there's a subconscious desire and belief that there exists a community of believers that will foster one's faith in a God-given and chosen way. Of course, different believers have different criteria they are seeking to fulfill, ranging from a sense of community and belonging to sound theology and others looking for churches to serve as a filter to meet their life partner (which I actually don't think is a bad thing) or to gain information as any large gathering often serves as a network that is a rare sight once you enter adulthood. I'm actually a big proponent of the idea that the reason why you enter a church does not matter - it can be for selfish or worldly desires, that's not for someone else to decide for you nor their right to criticize you for the reason not being "all for God." While it's important to acknowledge we're sinful and to exercise our new identity as new creations under Christ, it's equally important to understand that we're human beings part of God's story who can use anything, anyone or any event to bring us closer to him.
Now that the obligatory viewpoint declarations are out of the way, I think it's time to admit that I've been church hopping for the past 6 years. I could blame a lot of things - the fact that I went to school on the opposite end of the country in a city whose population was only about the twice the size of my high school. I could get real deep into progressive thinking and note that I've grown up in the Korean or Korean American church getting free boba off my pastors whereas the college town I was part of probably had members of the church that have never met a Christian Asian in their life (I'm trying to be sarcastic here for those of you new to the blog). I actually don't think, especially compared to my peers in my age group, that my faith suffered much throughout college. Although I wasn't actively part of a community that kept me accountable for my faith or my walk nor did I identify myself with a church community, my roots and baseline from my 18 years of Christianity allowed me to at least sustain what I had before. Furthermore, as the Liberal Arts education forced me to be introspective and engage in "civil discourse," it empowered me to truly challenge my beliefs for the first time and not rely on a church infrastructure to continue building my faith.
I've touched on this before, but I think my Church attendance in Chicago fell into a slightly different category. In reflection, a large part of why I went to church in the Windy City was to in fear of losing my faith without the tangible practice of going into service as well as an innate desire to find community in a brand new environment. It's hard to say that seeking God was at the center of what I was doing and I'll admit this was the case until March of 2020. Without trying to put too much meaning into what was the most confusing time in my life (and many others), I think the complete removal of the physical infrastructure we know as house of worship provoked many questions to ask themselves, are we worshipping the ideals only present with the existence of a real world community, or could we maintain our relationship with the Lord by ourselves. Maybe I'll be the first to admit - I did not turn on Youtube live every Sunday to sing How Great is Our God and I certainly did not sit up right in front of a big TV screen the times I did engage in worship. It's during this time I learned two things: (1) Faith will come crumbling down, regardless of circumstances, if you don't apply the word and practice walking with Him daily as it's a build up not a spike and (2) While your personal relationship matters most, we're also called to actively participate in a physical community. I strongly believe that there should never be another instance in history where we are mandated to close down our churches.
Now that I'm back in my hometown, but much different from who I was 6 years ago, I think I've been given the opportunity to really plant down on a church I can seek a community in as well as serve alongside fellow believers. It's been awhile since I've had the capacity and capability to do so - much of it is inexcusable excuses, as we continue to blame circumstances for our lack of practicing faith, the harder it is to pick ourselves up from the dry seasons. Much like anything in life, our faith is something we need to actively work on and practice with intent as opposed to dragging it along or leaving it on shelf. It's hard to partake in anything actively without a community to keep you accountable, and the thing that matters most in life is certainly no exception to that rule. Pray for me as I look to double down and seek such a community but also to come to a place in my faith where the personal relationship with Him takes priority.