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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Church


I ought to be in church right now, but I am not. Oliver decided to wake up at 5 a.m., burn bright and happy for three hours and then crash spectacularly at 8:15 this morning. I am fairly certain that I've never put any child down for a nap before 10 a.m., so you can bet my Mommy Radar is in high gear, ferreting out what potential infections are probably brewing in his little system.

Jo is sidelined (literally) with a cold. Watching the rain pour from the grey sky this morning, dh and I decided that the last thing our coughing girl--who is predisposed to lingering airway issues--needed was a nice, long stint inhaling rain and mud on the soccer field. She is currently shuffling a deck of Quiddler cards and looking for a victim.

So I am not in church. Instead, I am at home, pondering (yet again) the purpose of church.

I have reread the book of Acts twice in the past two weeks. For some reason "church," as a concept, is weighing heavy on my heart. I suspect that it is because my family has been through some major upheavals in our Christ-following thinking over the past year.

Nearly two years ago, my family embarked on a journey to begin piecing together a church plant. Anyone who has participated in a church planting process knows that I speak the truth when I say it is a labor of love that consumes much time, many resources and massive amounts of energy. We gave all three eagerly.

We are no longer with the church plant. While it is still serving the area, we have returned to our sending church. There was no fantastical drama, no explosive blow-up. Just ... silence. Just a clear leading that this was no longer the place where we could serve effectively.

The effect of the church planting experience has rippled throughout our lives together over the past year or so. Every time I think it has culminated--that we will return to the original joy that we felt in our church community prior to beginning the plant, that we will leave behind the disappointment and the sadness--it seems to crest again.

Our sending church no longer feels like home. The foundation is still strong. There is movement and growth and an upswell of the Spirit among the leadership that may just lead this church to experience a near revival-like atmosphere. Yet, as I have sat in service on Sunday mornings, I have seen only a handful of congregants respond.

There is no trickle down. No viral message. No buy-in.

This pains me. And, I admit--it pains me even more deeply to realize that I am among the unmoved.

I love the Lord. My commitment to Christ is strong and feels vibrant. I am still basking in the Truth and longing to share it with others. And yet my community of Brothers and Sisters seems stale and outdated. More over, they seem to not care. There is no joy. No breath of fresh air. And this makes it hard for me to love my church.

Am I simply still reeling from the planting hurt? Am I growing cynical? How can I break this cycle? How can I stop feeding into the problem? What does it mean to participate in the Body of Christ? What are our responsibilities? Is church simply for corporate worship? What are we called to do and be for one another?

I believe that if I can define for myself what the purpose of church is, I will begin to unlock the answers.

Anyone care to chime in?

ETA: I have already received an email asking for some clarification on my denomination. While I don't believe that this is an issue that requires such a disclaimer (and, truth be told, I find such labels to be extremely limiting theologically), I will give a little background. I consider myself to be a nondenominational Christian. I profess that I am a sinner and Christ is my Savior. Titus 3:5 sums up the faith/works issue to my satisfaction. I was raised by a Baptist-converted-to-Catholic mother, agnostic father, atheist grandfather (who has since become a Christian) and Bible-thumping, Southern Missionary Baptist grandmother who grew up Holiness and still refuses to play cards or dance. I have eaten cold fried chicken on the grass near the white clapboards of a country church and I have taken communion while kneeling at the rail of the most beautiful cathedral my eyes have ever taken in. I am a follower of Jesus. What more can I say?

13 comments:

Steve Sensenig said...

I'd be happy to share some of my thoughts and our experiences with you, but it's not necessarily an easy thing to do in a comment box of a blog! ;)

If you haven't ever read my non-foster/adoptive blog (Theological Musings) or listened to a podcast I do each week with a good friend of mine (Beyond the Box), those two resources might give you some insight into the journey we've been on.

In a nutshell: I've been a pastor, a music minister, a layperson, a non-leadership member of music teams, a professional performer with some high-profile CCM artists, etc., and five years ago, I started questioning the whole system.

I found that there is definitely life outside the box of what I now know as "institutional church", and the fellowship I have enjoyed with others outside that framework has been so edifying and so enriching and so beneficial to an ever-deepening relationship with, and life in, Jesus Christ.

There are many, many of us in this country who no longer "go to church" because we have discovered another expression of church that is very different, yet very exciting.

Feel free to email with questions or comments, or join in the discussion on either of those blogs I linked to.

Above all, keep seeking and keep searching. Keep reading the New Testament and asking the questions. I'll be praying with you.

KH said...

MG, here is a link to a blog you might like...

http://connectionschurch.blogspot.com/

It's the blog of George Saylor, pastor of a church plant up in London, Ontario... he talks about the purpose of church in some recent blog posts. (And there is a hilarious video on there too if you haven't seen it elsewhere already.) Anyway, scroll back to his Wii Church sermon messages... you can also listen to them on podcast here:

http://www.connectionschurch.ca/

I know George from my college days. Anyway, I think you might enjoy it.

Melissa said...

Hi Mary Grace, First I wanted to say thank you for your reply to my last comment. It sounds like your town is about the same size as ours, so i will just keep waiting and praying. He knows best :)

I just wanted to say that I'm praying for you on this issue. For myself, personally, I NEED to fellowship with other believers. But, I also enjoy the vibrancy of our church and can't say how I would feel if it felt "stale". I do have a Godmother who is stong in her faith, loves the Lord, and scares off Jehovah's Witnesses with her knowledge of the Bible. She has not attended church in about 15 years. She got burned out and just gave it up. So, I am always on the fence on this issue. I just hope you find the right fit for yourself and your family.

SmallWorld at Home said...

Really beautiful post. I completely understand where you are coming from. I think that we have seasons of being, as you put it, "unmoved." Short times, or more likely, long periods of just going through the motions in the pews while remaining energized in our own personal spiritual lives. I, too, feel often terribly frustrated at times with our congregation. I want to see action! I want to see that fresh air!

I don't have any answers. We have been through this several times before in our 8 years at our current church. We came inches away from leaving a few years ago, but somehow God called us to stay. And I can see why He did. Still, there are days when I yearn for tongues of fire visible on everyone's heads, eh?

Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family said...

Great post. Thanks for coming by and sharing with me. I can only try to imagine your pain. I wish I could cry with you and hug you, but I understand where you're coming from. Right now I'm suffering from a bit of PP depression, and any trials make the way harder.

We're actually unchurched currently. We fellowship with other believers casually in their homes and in ours, but we haven't found a place to BE with the body. Only having been believers for 2 years we've never had a really firm discipleship and grounding in the basics of being in Christ, something I think we've missed out on and that I long for.

Praying for you sister!

Sharon Brumfield said...

Boy am I glad you stayed home from church today. And I am glad that you came by to visit so that I could come and read this.
I have posted about our journey...to long to go into to here.
We are new to our area and looking for a church. I have sat in services and heard the word of God from the pulpit...and yet just last week was looking around at the faces and saw no reaction. I thought, Wow, I don't know if I want to go here.
I have been in church where the move of the Spirit was so powerful that it seemed time had stopped. Hearts were broken.....lives changed.
And then I think people were so happy with what was going on there- eyes turned from God to those around them. I think the people fell in love with each other and the fact that they were loving like they thought they should.
It all fell apart. It got ugly. It was hard to believe it could go so bad so quickly.
I write all this to say--I am very concerned about the state of the Church. And I am not talking about a building.
I guess what I figure is that when the Bible says in the end times there will be a great falling away.....maybe we are in that time. I just want to make sure that I am not one of those...the only way to avoid that...to pursue Him. Pursue Him while being honest with those around me so that they can hold me accountable.

I am amazed by the amount of Christians that I blog with that do not belong to a group of believers. We can all leave the church but the problem is still there. If you take the live coals from a barbecue then after awhile all the coals will loose their heat.
In Acts...the power fell when they were all gathered TOGETHER fasting and praying.
The thing that was very important to Jesus...that we be one at they are one.
I could go on and on.....don't give up on the vision.

Growin' with it! said...

i am new to your blog and i sure wish i could remember how i got here. but i love it! your honesty was like a "fresh breath of air". my hubby and i are in the ministry and i have felt this way even as a *pastor's wife*. so to hear someone say it like it is and ask those questions we all sometimes wonder is awesome. thanks.

Dawn Sodini said...

Have you considered stepping out of the box? 11 years ago I would have laughed if someone would have told me that this new year will make 2 years of having been in a home fellowship. We are in MS and have been hurt by a couple of churches here. We are from MI and were not hurt or stale in our former church. All of that said to say we have grown more, blossomed more, loved more our faith has grown by leaps and bounds in these 2 years. Even so we are walking through a crisis of faith and yet ever sure that we are serving the only Sovereign God! What a mighty God we serve! He calls us to fellowship, to help the least of these in any way we can. How can we feed others (physically or spiritually) when so much money goes into a building, payroll and so many other expenses. I know that God still calls some to traditional churches for individual reasons but he also calls some of us out of tradition and into deeper relationships with him. Loveing you even though I've never met you and praying that the Lord will show you and your family what to do in this time of uncertainty.

EllaJac said...

I love how real and transparent you are here. Thank you.

For some time I've felt a 'tremor in the force,' if you will, regarding the way we "church." I can tell you what I don't think it should be, but I can't (yet) put my finger on what it should be.

Maybe instead of church being the focus of our Christian week, it should be the final rounding-up time, of celebration and such... In other words, like the pie at Thanksgiving; important (it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it), but not nearly so important as the turkey, gravy, or family seated together. Our daily life (family, work, business) is perhaps where the true discipleship, fellowship, prayer, accountability, etc, should be happening. "Marketplace" Christianity, maybe?

Sometimes I imagine fellowshipping with believers from all over, not having to "belong" any singular place (or have churches competing for my salvation to be thru them), but being "part" and "home" many places, with many people...?

Your thoughts echo many I've heard lately. Perhaps God is preparing to reveal something? I don't know. But I agree that our current definition of church (or lack thereof) is key.

Anonymous said...

People who can not commit to a denomination are doomed to float through theological insecurities. This is why the marriage of scripture and tradition is so important. Protestants scoff at this fact but how many RC's do you know who can't define these deep issues? They may reject them or be nonpracticing but if they are truly RC they are sure of what has been set forth by GOD.

~ Angi :) said...

My wonderful, spirit-filled, Jesus-in-tuned friend. I'm fairly certain you've heard from me on countless occassion, so I shan't belabor any point here.

I will, however, support you with a {hug} on your journey, and a safe haven to explore and discover this Christ-life as He leads you.

:)

BrutallyHonest said...

My heart goes out to you. Please know that I am praying for you and your family. God bless.

Amy Kelley said...

I am going to give you my email address, and pray that you'll drop me a note, I am amazed again as I read your blog about how much we have in common. Christ-followers, though not content with what we see in the traditional church, missional, homeschooling, foster/adopt, international adoption longings, and ministry. We also live in Washington. My email is kelleykidsranch@gmail.com, and I would love to connect and become virtual friends if you will. I've been praying for you all night - I can't imagine how you could sleep on a night with so much expectancy. Please keep us posted about Bee and we'll keep praying her home. Praying for peace, protection, and provision!

Amy