I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m looking for a good church,” or, “We’re church shopping.” I’ve said these things myself in the past. There is much “between the lines” of such statements. Overall, I believe those words often reveal a “religion of personal preference.” That is, we seek God under the condition that God will make us comfortable and happy.
People “shop” for churches that appeal to them. I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I chose this church because it made me feel so uncomfortable.” The ironic thing is that, although God calls us to peace and joy, he doesn’t call us to “comfort,” at least not in the sense that most people perceive comfort. The Holy Spirit is “the Comforter,” but that doesn’t mean he provides padded pews and nice feelings all around. It means we can have spiritual peace and guidance even in the midst of our greatest trials. Many trials are a direct result of following God. In fact, Jesus told his followers to expect suffering.
The thing we tend to forget is that Jesus calls us. We’re not supposed to “shop around” until we find our preferred selection on a spiritual menu. How arrogant and self-centered we can be! Think about famous people in the Bible that were called by God. Abraham, Moses, Jonah, all the prophets, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Apostles, are just a few examples. None of them were “comfortable” being called. They were afraid, reluctant, confused, angered, blinded, knocked to the ground, swallowed by fish, etc. None of them said, “Wow, this just feels right. What a warm welcome!” On the contrary, the calling was not what they were “shopping for.” It did not suit their preferences.
Why, then, do we insist on shopping for a church that suits our preferences? We’re not supposed to search for a church that we “like” or create a church that we “like.” We’re supposed to answer the call of the Church established by Jesus, like it or not. The Church is Christ on Earth. It is through his Church that Jesus calls us. It is “right” even if it doesn’t always “feel right” because it is truth. Truth does not change with our whims and our feelings. Truth unifies. Feelings tend to divide and confuse. Jesus calls us to unity through truth. The Church is not a product to be marketed. It is the truth to be lived and shared.
Pope Francis has captured the attention of the world, not by creative marketing, but by being a disciple of Christ. He is, as he says, “A child of the Church.” This is what we are all called to be. This is what Catholics are supposed to be like. He is leading by example. He is the pastor of the entire Christian Church. He is our shepherd. He takes his orders from The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Like it or not, there is no other “church” to shop for.
Let’s stop shopping for churches. Let’s quit trying to turn the Church into a “product” that competes for the attention of fickle consumers. Let’s dump the “religion” of personal preferences. Instead, let’s answer the call of the Church. Let’s allow Jesus to step into our boats and rock them. That’s what disciples do. Disciples follow their leader, not their own preferences. Let’s show the world Jesus Christ. He is what they long for.