Unintended Learning

There are a lot of things I thought I might learn about on this year.  Preaching, culture, change, church structure, flora and fauna, time zones, jet lag, new food, French, and a whole lot more.  But one has surprised me – and it hit me like a ton of bricks the other day when I first thought about it.

Going to a new church is hard.

I’ve been going to church since I was a little kid.  I’ve been to churches that are small, large, middle-sized; country, small town, big city; traditional, conservative; Lutheran, Catholic, non-denominational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, etc; English and non-English speaking; rich, poor; where I know everyone and where I know no one; and a myriad of other categories.  I studied theology for four years to earn a Master of Divinity degree.  In a colloquial way, church is what I do.

And yet I find myself anxious a lot of the mornings that I go to a new church here in South Africa.  I’ve been to at least a dozen different churches (I can’t recall exactly how many off the top of my head).  In the morning, I wake up and my first thought often is, “I hope their website is still up-to-date and they haven’t changed their service times to start a half hour earlier.”  I wonder what the parking is like – is there a one-way driving loop around the church with arrows saying which way to go?  Or will there be enough parking in the lot at all?

I think about what I should wear – is it more formal, more casual, extremely casual or very formal?

How long will the service be?  What will happen?  How long is the sermon – 15, 30, 45, 60 minutes?

Are the chairs comfortable?  Or are there pews?  Will there be cushions?  Will I have legroom?

Do I need to bring earplugs because it’s so loud?  (Yes, this has happened.)

If they have Communion, can I take it?  Will I offend someone?  Will I do it the “right” way for that congregation?

Will I know any of the songs?  Are people praising by lifting their hands and pumping fists, or simply by lifting their voices with maybe a little body swaying?

Is it weird that I bring my Bible to church?  Do they have them in the seats?

Do they have fans, air conditioning, a breeze?

Will the people sitting next to me acknowledge me at all, or will we go a whole hour or two without exchanging words?  Are they new, too?

Will I agree with the pastor, the songs, the prayers?  Will I get anything out of being there?

Do I really want to go to this church is the person driving behind me is tailgating me, then cuts me off in their hurry to worship God?

Going to a new church is hard.

There are some days that I wake up and go through these questions and wonders and fears and think to myself, maybe it would be easier to go back to bed.  It’s hard to get up and go through all that and still get in the car and drive somewhere.  And I’m sure there are other questions I have but can’t think of at the moment.

I didn’t think I would learn how difficult this is.

It’s definitely opened my eyes.



2 thoughts on “Unintended Learning

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  2. Pingback: Christians are strange | the year of endless summer

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