I used to believe there was such a thing as a perfect church. Then I became a youth pastor and started working for the church. I quickly realized just how imperfect the church is.
Of course, this shouldn't be surprising. The church is made of imperfect people, led by other imperfect people. Nevertheless, this discovery startled me... Especially when I learned it after having been deeply bruised and battered by a church I worked for.
Despite this, I still love the church and believe it matters. For this reason, Rachel Held Evans' Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church is a book I've looked forward to reading ever since she announced she was working on it.
It did not disappoint. Searching for Sunday is Rachel Held Evans' at her best: Raw, honest, and vulnerable, yet daringly hopeful, fearlessly tackling tough subjects of faith.
The framework for Searching for Sunday is the church's seven sacraments. In fact, the book is divided into seven sections, each exploring one of the sacraments. This framework works incredibly well for Searching for Sundays because as Rachel admits, people are “looking for Jesus – the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he's always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”
Without a doubt, some of Rachel's strongest writing comes at the start of each of these sections, with a chapter that explains that section's sacrament. The writing in these chapters is, in a word, stunning. Rachel's evocative language will help breathe new life into your understanding of the sacraments, regardless of how familiar you are (or aren't) with them.
After laying the foundation for each sacrament, in the remainder of each section, Rachel then goes on to explore each sacrament further, using stories from her own life. Additionally, she highlights congregations – from a variety of denominations – that live out each sacrament in unique ways.
Even if you're totally unfamiliar with the sacraments, through Rachel's words, you'll come to appreciate them. According to her, “When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn't meant to simply be believed; it's meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.”
To be sure, far from being a diatribe against the church, Searching for Sunday is really a love letter to the church. It acknowledges the church's imperfections and yet at the same time, affirms that it matters. After all, as Rachel says, “I can't be a Christian on my own. I need a community.”
One of the things that makes Rachel's understanding of community and the church so unique is that she finds value in a variety of very different denominations. She challenges us to “think of the various Christian traditions as different facets of a diamond refracting the same light, or as workers tending to a shared garden but with unique tasks, or as a single body made of many interconnected parts.”
Searching for Sunday is a book for anyone searching for community; For those longing to understand why the church matters; And for those who have been hurt by the church and yet somehow, can't let go of their desire to be part of it. It's a reminder that at it's best, “church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us”; That it's a “family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and shouting, 'Welcome! There's bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.'”
May we, like Rachel, have the courage to accept that invitation, to seek out the church and acknowledge not just it's faults, but it's value. In the process, may we find and encounter God's grace in the church, in and amongst it's people.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Searching for Sunday from Thomas Nelson in exchange for a fair and honest review.