i'd like to hear your thoughts.

For the past few years I have been fighting with this unsettled frustration about the way we celebrate church. I suppose it's a love/hate relationship. Some days I'm very thankful and excited about being involved within a church community. Some days I feel like I'd rather be flossing my teeth. I've learned through many different conversations and blogs that I am not alone in these feelings. Should this encourage me? I am discouraged.

I feel stuck. I don't feel liberated to leave, but I also don't feel content with the way things are. I don't know how to change things, and I don't know that I even care. I believe in the church, I support the church, I even consider it to be my family, but I don't feel at peace when I'm attending and I don't feel like the church always represents what I feel to be the true heart of Christ.

When I pull aside some respected pastors and share these thoughts I'm usually left with convincing arguments that inspire me to stick around and to be faithful. Then I listen to other respected people and I realize that their words better represent who I am becoming. I cannot seem to find the peace I am looking for and it is running me ragged.

I have concluded a few things, things which strengthen me.

-I believe in God, Jesus, and Spirit.
-I believe that God loves me.
-I love God and I have committed my life to his service and that makes me excited and inspired.
-I want all people to know God.
-I love and need community.
-I think Christianity should be more simple than it seems to be becoming.
-I think actions speak so much louder than traditions, sermons, or cheesy salvation handouts.
-My life has no meaning without my faith.
-I love creation.

This is a difficult article for me to write. My church family is part of my closest family. I feel like I am insulting the people that I love.

I want to be free and to feel free to live out Christianity in a way that best represents my convictions. I'm so tired of feeling like a heretic, or a weakling, or a rebel. I'm tired of feeling like I'm the odd one out because everyone else is really enjoying the worship service. I'm tired of being the one who would rather be entertaining guests than sitting through another church event. I'm exhausted by the programs and the forced relationships and the expectations. I'm exhausted.

I want to gather in homes and share meals. I want to sit around a table and read scripture and literature and speeches and dialogue and learn from other people. I want to sit and pray with people, doubt with people, rage with people, laugh with people. I want to volunteer in my community. I want to help the elderly. I want to save money and go on service trips. I want to take care of my family. I want to have fun and go hiking and camping and meet people for coffee and have people in my home. I want to build relationships. I want to build relationships with people who don't know or don't care about God, I don't want to just have encounters with them.

Why can't I do all of these things that I listed? Maybe it's because so many of my nights and days are already filled up with services and small groups and worship events and planning meetings and the list goes on.... and I'm not even the pastor!!! I can't even imagine how stressed how they can feel!

My point is, I am constantly asking these same questions: What is Church? What are we doing? What are we trying to do? Why am I feeling this way? Why are SO MANY other people feeling this way?

This is the point where I ask for feedback from you. Please share your thoughts.

Thank you.


The Domestic Intellectual said...

First, I love the photo... Doors and windows have fascinated me for years.

Second, You bring up some absolutely fabulous points and have spoken some things that can be difficult to verbalize for fear of confusion or division.

There are so many directions you could take this: Biblical imperatives to fellowship, personal experience, historical precedents, etc. and I don't know which is most effective or most powerful. At the risk of sounding uncaring I will pass on to you something that some very wise people passed on to me: Church is not about what makes you happy. It never has been, and it never will be. That is not the role of the church universal or your local fellowship.

The role of the church is to make you more like Christ. It is much harder to love the narrow-minded prosaic believer that sits next to me at a worship service, than it is to love the free-thinking, energetic pagan that sits next to me at the coffee bar.

It takes much more grace, patience, self-control and love to make a community of fallen people, who often take a superior view of themselves and their perspectives, a cohesive representation of the awesome power of God's character than to just look for a group that more fully embraces your view of life.

I don't believe that the community required by the death and resurrection of Christ will ever come easily or naturally to us. This community only comes when you lay aside your own preferences and desires and commit to follow Jesus into the lives of broken people. There are as many of them inside the church as outside of it.

However, you do need to be in the place where God is calling you. This is just as important if you are looking for a mission field or a church community. Enter into these situations with your eyes wide open and focused on the Author and Finisher of the faith. Then it doesn't matter if the people are genuine, perfect or even nice.... They don't have to be anything other than a band of sinners united by their common need for salvation. God becomes the one who offers you peace and solace. He gives you love and acceptance. He provides a purpose and passion for your life.

Also, programs are not the church-- neither are worship services, ministry partners or buildings. All of those things wax and wane in popularity, fashion and productivity. They may seem important, but in reality they are ephemeral compared to the meat and drink of truth, doctrine, faith and love.

Is your church healthy? Is it the best place for you? I have no idea. But I would challenge you to pray and seek how you can help it to better represent Christ rather then running to one that looks "better." Every church, like every romantic relationship or friendship, is imperfect and prone to failure because it is made up of two or more fallen sinners. Can't get around that one. But when you make a commitment and see the relationship as something for the long-haul that will require the best that you have to offer and in return make you more like the perfect Son of God, it becomes easier to overlook stylistic differences or shallow people.

BTW, if you want a really good tool to help you evaluate if your church is a community worth committing to, I encourage you to check out this website: http://www.9marks.org/ They very clearly outline what they believe to be the Biblical requirements of a healthy church.

I know that this question and conversation will be revisited many times. May God provide you with opportunities to cultivate relationships with believers and non-believers alike and may you be a fruitful branch!

My name is April. said...

Wow thanks so much for your thoughts. I appreciate them more than I can express!

First, you really caught my attention with your thoughts about how love can sometimes be difficult. You are right. It is easier to love a group of people who accept me fully w/o question. It is also difficult to love fallen community. But I don't know that I'm able to conclude that the people I long to be commune with are necessarily easy to love. I might be willing to admit that they require even more patience and faith.

Secondly, I definitely feel that my church is very healthy...as churches go. I appreciate your care and concern on that matter. Many people don't seem to know the difference. Thank you.

I also appreciate your list of criteria--Biblical imperatives to fellowship, personal experience, historical precedents, etc. Those are the things I really would like to work through. I guess I ultimately wonder if Sunday morning church is necessarily commanded. I want to know if stepping back from traditional church = disobedience. I want to know what diversity can really look like.

I totally and completely agree that it's not always about what makes a person happy. I don't seek personal happiness in church as my goal. I'm asking more about effectiveness. If I am given a certain personalit and heart and talent and passion...and if I'm supposed to use all of that to share God's love with people...I want to make sure that I'm using my time in the most effective way. I want to be responsible with the things that build up in my heart.

I think I'm afraid of making the wrong choices. Maybe I'm just being emotional. Maybe I need to sit down and shut up ya know?

So to conclude, I want to know what sort of variations of church are possible? What is necessary? What if I stepped back from Sunday morning committments and invested all of my time in more communal relationshiop building? What if church was no longer a building at all....but a group of people with a committment to meet, to learn, to pray, to help, to serve the community??? Is that wrong?

Thanks again for your thoughts, keep them coming if you'd like!

Tracey said...

Hey hon,
you're thoughts are so valid. I think sometimes in a church we are so concerned about committees and meetings etc that we forget about our own spiritual growth and missions and just plain good fellowship.
When Jaime and I joined our church we took our time joining groups or finding what we wanted to do. We have committed to music.
Anyway, just wanted to say I understand your feelings.