Because of the historically transitory nature of our church (read: we have tons of college students,) this is the time of the year when we experience both the joy and the sadness at saying "goodbye." Although we have seen an increase in the amount of graduates sticking around Waco and UBC when they begin their careers or continue their education, we still have a large segment of students leaving us as they move on to different cities and towns, all over the world. This weekend in our worship service we will recognize them, show them a video about Mr. Rogers, and commission them to do the work of Christ in whatever place and profession they find themselves in next. It will be a time of tears and a time of excitement about what is next. For numerous reasons these students have found a place of rest, home and Christian community at UBC. Some have poured their lives into small groups and Bible Studies, some have made tremendous sacrifices of their time and resources to worship and do life with us. Still others were a part of us from a distance. We were the "last chance" at faith for many of them and they simply needed a place to breathe and to ease themselves into the life of worship from the periphery. We consider all of these, those we know well and those who are only friendly, familiar faces on Sunday mornings, to be part of us, and we pray the next step in their journey is a meaningful one that finds them a few steps closer on a journey toward Christ.
One of the things we often hear from our graduates once they move on is how difficult it is to find a community of faith to worship with in the new places they find themselves in. Sometimes they find a place that "will do," as they continually to seek a place that is more like UBC. Other times they give up altogether, reckoning that they will never again find a church that resonated with them in the same way UBC has. We do not want either of these to happen. We believe that faith in Christ is best lived out in the midst of other believers who have committed themselves to worship, prayer and the proclamation of Scripture. Meaningful Christian faith has always been done in the midst of community, and we pray that our graduates find that community.
With this in mind, we would like to offer a few suggestions to help you along in the next step of your journey...
1. UBC is a very diverse place. Socially, theologically (how we think about God,) ecclesiologically (how we think about church,) soteriologically (how we think about salvation,) we are ALL OVER the map. Sure, there is a general trajectory that most at UBC find themselves on, but that trajectory has room for a lot of people. We have hand raisers and stoics; Calvinists, Arminians and Open Theists; those who would never considering drinking alcohol and those who would never consider not occasionally drinking alcohol; Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, even anarchists; Pacifists and Just War proponents; And the list goes on and on.
A couple of things about this. First, don't become anxious if you don't find a place that is diverse as we are. While there are definitely churches out there, the general feeling of many churches is that there needs to be a rallying around of specifically agreed upon principles that participants should give ascent to before they become members in good standing. This is not necessarily a bad thing. (In fact, it can sometimes be a very good thing.)
Second, think about 2-3 elements of UBC that are especially meaningful to you, and move in those directions as you begin to think about new churches. For example, you may find a place that has similar teaching, puts a high premium on community and social action, but whose musical worship styles are vastly different from ours. Don't let this prevent you from worshiping with a church that is a good fit in every other way. Similarly, you may find everything else is meaningful to you, but the teaching may really rub you wrong. Don't let this necessarily be a deal breaker for you. To be sure, there may be teaching that is so far out of the realm of Scripture and Christian tradition that should keep you away from a church. But it could also be that you are simply hearing a different perspective on the gospel that you haven't heard before.
In short, be wise in choosing another church. Feelings are important, but don't make a decision based solely on feelings. Reasoning is important, but don't make a decision based solely on reason. Begin praying now that you will find a community of faith, knowing that there is no perfect place.
2. Look for a place to serve. Being in such a "Christian" place as Waco, with the world's largest Baptist university just a few blocks away, most churches do not lack for people to do the work of the church. In our own church, there are people on just about every row who could preach, lead worship or a Sunday School class, organize an event or provide very important pastoral care for the people in the church. However, this is not the norm. The vast majority of churches in this world are PRAYING FOR YOU RIGHT NOW to come their way and to give yourselves in service to them in a sacrificial way, and for them to be able to love you as their own. Be on the lookout for these places.
3. Find a church close to you. All too often we hear about that church forty miles away in which "God is doing some great things" and we want to see "what is going on there." While it isn't unhelpful to visit these places, it is more important that you can be in a place where you at least have some chance of interaction with the congregants OUTSIDE OF CHURCH. You are more likely make a church home (and it will be better for your stress level) if you find a place that isn't a "Church on Display for the world to see," but a "Church that is quietly doing the work of Christ in your very neighborhood."
4. Three tangible resources in finding a church--
- Although "emerging church" is a term that is so broad and elusive that it is hard to sometimes describe what it means, UBC can be described, at the very least, as a church that has the fingerprints of that movement all over our history. We are by no means forerunners of "emerging thought," and many would even question us falling under that umbrella, but we certainly identify with many of the churches whose trajectory of faith has been influenced by that tradition. As you begin to look for a church, this may be helpful knowledge for you as you begin to navigate terminology.
- UBC is affiliated with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF is a very diverse collection of historically Baptist churches that work together in an effort to be the presence of Christ in the world. While we are certainly unique among CBF churches, most of them share our desire for authenticity, generous orthodoxy and authentic community that seeks to transform believers into the image of Christ. Here is a "Find a Church" page on their website that is very helpful.
- Between the full-time and part-time staff of UBC, as well as dozens of more people in leadership positions, we have connections literally all over the world and would love to help put you in contact with a church that we may have relationships with in your new town. If you would like us to help with this, email firstname.lastname@example.org, let me know what town you are heading to and we will do our best to find you a list of options.
Remember that we are praying for you to find a meaningful community of believers to share the next steps of your journey with!