Struggling with Church | Faith Friday

We are supposed to be the Body of Christ, His hands, His feet…why is church such an ongoing struggle for me? Sometimes I feel as if I’m going around in circles.

It’s been over seven years since I wrote the post on my old blog, pouring out my grief-filled thoughts about church:

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Changes

We’re less than halfway through January, and 2007 is already promising to be a year that is rather…well, interesting.

After much prayer, study, soul-searching, discussion with friends and advisers, sleepless hours, and uncountable hours of analyzing things from every angle we could, my husband and I have made the painful decision to leave our church. Today was our first Sunday to go elsewhere. The church we visited was friendly and warm, and we knew several people there. The worship seemed fresh and real. The man who filled in for the pastor had a powerful testimony, and his message seemed to speak to an issue that I’m currently living out in my life.

But it wasn’t home.

I have often wondered if church is forever ruined for me. Part of it is, of course, being raised as a P.K. (Guys, that meant “Preacher’s Kid” long before it meant Promise Keeper.) No pastor can fill my father’s shoes. Besides, I’ve seen the dark underbelly of the church, and it has wounded me forever.

But there is more…I’ve also seen, as Michael Spencer writes so eloquently, “When I discovered the voice and practices of the ancient church, and the language of the ecumenical church, I resonated deeply. All of the church was my home, but no single room within it made me so comfortable I wanted to stay there and there only.”

No church is ever enough for me. It seems that I always long for more, for something different, for some part of my heart and mind to be touched in a way that no one church has ever been able to touch. I want expository preaching and deeply heartfelt worship and beautiful architecture and pipe organs and liturgy and spontaneity and unadorned simplicity and lay pastors and ordained clergy and formality and informality and ancientness and newness — and there is no church crazy enough and contradictory enough to give me all of that, to feed all those parts of my soul.

I want a church that follows a glorious historical tradition…and a church that also offers, at times, a worship experience that is the spiritual equivalent of “partying down at the frat house.” (The last time we were looking for a church, a pastor friend of mine told me that I would never be happy in a church that didn’t encourage me to be a serious student of the Word. But he also told me that I would probably need to go elsewhere on occasion for a more exuberant expression of worship. “After all,” he said, “there is nothing wrong with partying down at the frat house.”)

Most of all, I want a church that is, as another friend of mine said, a safe place to land. I want a church that will not, yet again, add to my woundedness. I want a church that will instead minister healing.

The truth is that I’m not always sure what I want. I’ve found bits and pieces of my “church home” here and there but, in every church since I was a teenager, I’ve felt like a sojourner or, at best, a member of the extended family. I am already weary at the idea of searching for a new church, because I doubt that I will ever, this side of Heaven, find what I’m longing to find.

I want to see Jesus. Just show me Jesus.

What has happened since then?

In a nutshell, after re-examining and questioning everything I believed about “church”, after much reading and discussion, my husband and I have spent the last 5 or so years in a small home fellowship. It has been mostly wonderful. Unlike some “house church” people, especially those who use the term “organic church”, I have not become opposed to the institutional church. Yes, there is much within the American church that I consider problematic and disturbing. Yes, I have found it wonderfully restorative and freeing to “do church” without all the unnecessary trappings, the programs, fads, committee meetings, infighting, jockeying for influence and control, majoring on minors, etc., etc.

But sometimes I need my “churchy fix”: beautiful architecture, a sense of awe and reverence, the exuberance of a large congregation rejoicing in singing…

At the same time, I have found “church” in unlikely places. It’s not so much what we do in a meeting. It’s who we are.

I wrote this three years ago:

Saturday, July 23, 2011
Remembering and reflecting: where I’ve been

It’s been quite a while since I blogged semi-regularly….

…A lot has happened in my life and in the life of my family since those days. Life and death stuff, or I should say, near-death stuff. Crises. Heartbreak the likes of which no one should ever have to suffer. Anguish. Dark nights of the soul. But also incredible joy in the midst of that sorrow.

In other words, real life. Real nitty, gritty life.

When life gets that in-your-face overwhelmingly real, despite all the chaos and confusion that might ensue for a season, some things become really clear. You re-examine a lot when you’re treading through deep waters. You begin to realize what and whom — and Whom — you can grab onto for safety and what and whom will only pull you down further. You realize who you can go to with your burdens…those who will weep with you and rejoice with you…those who will hold your darkest secret heartaches as sacred trusts…those who will walk with you through the darkest valleys.

There aren’t many of those sorts of people.

Years ago, back in the day, I remember an online discussion of homeschooling mothers during which one brave soul dared mention a minor issue she was having with her teenage daughter. This girl was no longer content to play “Little House on the Prairie” and read Elsie Dinsmore for the 20th time; she wanted more out of life; she longed to do something that made a difference and was exciting at the same time. A number of the other moms, who only had young children, tore into this mother and her daughter. You would have thought this girl had announced, “I want to be a harlot” and that the mother had answered, “Whatever you want, dear, is fine with me; let me buy you some harlot clothes” — that’s how these other moms carried on. They gave advice that this girl’s “rebellious spirit” needed to be rebuked and punished, that the mother shouldn’t listen to her nonsense, that both were in sin, etc., etc.

Needless to say, these are not the sort of people you turn to in a crisis.

A few years went by, but it was still back in the day, when the son of a homeschooling family died under unfortunate and disturbing circumstances. The parents decided to alert other families to what had happened, so that others might be spared their tragedy. I was horrified at the lack of empathy, at the other callousness, in which some in the online world responded. There was much holier-than-thou shooting of the wounded.

Needless to say, these are not the sort of people you turn to in a crisis.

More than one mother, way back in my days of writing about my concerns regarding the Ezzos’ teachings, insisted that they had the whole parenting thing down and would never have to deal with any problems because their one-year-old was already “characterized by first-time obedience”.

Needless to say, these are not the sort of people you turn to in a crisis.

Also, back in the day, there were certain online teachers, some of them leaders in their own churches, who thrived on controversy, who loved to declare their authority over anyone who commented on their blogs, who sounded convinced that they held a special corner on doctrinal correctness, and who loved to argue until they didn’t have the upper hand, in which case they banned people from their blogs.

Needless to say, these are not the sort of people you turn to in a crisis.

In May of this year, I went to a retreat. It was my second year going. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. When my mother heard of my plans, she asked with some trepidation, “Is this the same retreat you went to last year? the one with the…troubled people?”

It’s always after the fact that I think of what I should have said. In this case, I should have said, “Yes, that one…because I am one of those troubled people.”

Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble…” Some people are just more honest and open about their trouble than others. Some people know what it is like to be broken, wounded, and lost. Some people know what it means to find joy after sorrow. Some people aren’t afraid of messes. Some people will let you grieve in ways that wouldn’t look pretty in a movie, and they will sit with you in your pain, without condemnation. Some people know the joy of finding hope after despair, and they share it with you. Some people will walk with you as you try to find your way out of the darkness, out of the deep waters, and they will carry you when you are tired. Some people are like beacons in the night. Some people will give you permission to fall apart if need be. Some people will let you be real, as real as real can be, without any pretense, without any self-protection, and their complete and total loving acceptance of you will be like a healing balm to your soul. Some people will love you so much and so obviously that they earn the right to speak painful truth into your life, and they will do it with tears in their eyes. Some people will, with a hug and some whispered words, give you hope to sustain and encourage you for another year.

There aren’t very many of those people, but I’ve been blessed beyond words to have found some.

Needless to say, those are the sort of people you turn to in a crisis.

And they are also the sort of people you turn to during times of joy and laughter, because they will celebrate with you like no one else will. They totally get the “rejoice with those who rejoice” part because they already have the weeping part down.

When I grow up, I want to be that sort of person.

And that’s what the church should be. Yes, doctrine is important, but not as important as being the living, breathing body of Christ, His Hands, His feet, His shoulder to cry on. One would think those who claim to have the corner on theological correctness would try to outdo everyone else in love, but I’ve found that not to be the case. Sometimes, when I’ve needed Him most, the image-bearer He sent to demonstrate His love didn’t even believe in Him.

3 thoughts on “Struggling with Church | Faith Friday

  1. This is a remarkable post. I have found a few people too, in my crew, of which, you and John belong, that I feel that kinship and safety. I pray our rejoicing abounds beyond all our weeping. Gods promise is: that is our future with Him!

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    • We definitely do have a wonderful group, Kevin. And you mentioned something important. Church, whatever form it takes, is not just supposed to be a weepy bunch. Truth is, there is much cause for rejoicing.

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