We have been attending our church now for well over two years. We’ve been members for almost a year (I think, I’m terrible with dates etc, I remember how long we’ve attended because we started in January two years ago). I enjoy the sermon, and the brief talks we have with people. We do have some people we are getting closer too. But, there is no excitement when getting ready to go to church. It’s not that we ever regret going, we just don’t look forward to it here, unless we’re talking kids, they love it.
We still feel distant. The sermons are solid, even it seems with the associate pastor. He gave a sermon on “the law” yesterday, and it was one of the best I’ve heard him give. Not an easy topic, and yet he hit it. We are in this church because the preaching is solid. We are in this church because it has no agenda in terms of promoting men’s books or pastors, it is not even about the lead pastor. What I see in this church is strong teaching directly from the bible. I see people who live their lives according to the bible as far as I can tell.
So, why the distant feelings? I believe there are two definite and obvious possible reasons. One is that it’s us, the other is that it’s the church.
I think we have been distant ourselves for self preservation. We came out of a church with problems, serious problems. I now think our former pastor was a bit of a bully. I did not like the church being led by Warren, Hybels, and others. The small groups were less about good true teaching from God’s word that any young church member could run a small group with just a meeting place and a DVD player. Seriously. We did learn there, there was some good teaching. However, there was enough of the bad we had to get out. But before we really opened our eyes to the problems, I need to say that we looked forward to Sunday. We were going to church. There were friends there. I can think of some specific people, some awesome and wonderful Christian friends (some of whom are no longer there for various reasons, most left because they saw issues too). We had fun there, we had fellowship there. Despite all the problems, the goal for many of the people we were in fellowship with was to live the Christian life and was to honor God. It’s just that the leadership derailed some of that, pushing people into manditory studies of Warren books, or preaching from simple formulas. Not all messages were bad. What really drew us back again and again? The people. We also enjoyed the music most of the time, and the pastor who lead music always read directly from scripture and included it in his worship sets.
We were also immature and not seriously paying attention, we were responsible for being in a place with bad teaching (again, not most of the time…it was good sometimes). We didn’t really examine the Purpose Driven Life the first time around. I understand that people were fighting in small groups over that book. We were just immature, laughing at Rick Warren’s shirts and generally doing just enough to get by, we were in it. This makes it hard for us to trust ourselves now, we know we bought it or ignored it ourselves. We were not really in the bible in our own free time enough, we had a weak personal life with God. We relied on church time and small group a lot for our own personal study of God’s word. So, our own faults kept us blind. Our own ignorance and laziness kept us quiet.
We also enjoyed all the extra stuff our church had for our kids. There were carnival like events, soccer camps, VBS events that were more like summer camp than VBS. There were concerts and more. Most was free for our family. Even without money, we could get. Thinking back, that’s part of it. We had some time when my husband lost his job, and really, financially, we struggled for years after due to his gaining a job with much less pay as we had bought our house when he was employed at a higher salary. We kept having kids, and sometimes we couldn’t pay our bills. Our car died, the church gave us an old but working car. Our furnace died in the middle of the winter, we were struggling to buy groceries, the church paid the bill for the repair. We were taken care of. Our kids were taken care of, and were kept busy and entertained. Our family was given fun in a time when we couldn’t afford it ourselves. Our family was strong, and we had great friends too. Our social standing as “poor” in the church didn’t mean anything except we were a couple who could be served.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just take, we did give as Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, and helpers in various capacities. We tried to be there for the church, and even began to lead a small group with DVD’s and books for a while ourselves.
So now, we’re members in this new church and we’ve avoided mooching. This is a good thing, but it means we don’t feel the gratitude for all the help. It means we’re not depending like we did in our former church. We also avoid small groups because of schedule conflicts, but I also believe because of fear. That kind of commitment, meeting together, is a risk. What if small group is the same? Sure, we might make some great friends. We did in the former church, and I believe we did meet with brothers and sisters in Christ. But what if we find bad teaching? We’ve made a commitment in membership, and I refuse to just leave without a very good reason. If there is error, we’d have to learn how to properly address it (not sure we properly handled the former church, though we think we did in some ways….). It’s a risk to get close, to open up. Not taking the risk though, it means we haven’t spent time with the members to really get to know them. In fact, our church offers Sunday night activities. We don’t attend. We also don’t go to the Wednesday night things because our kids are in activities. We miss out, and I think has made it harder to get to know people.
Yes, it’s possible it’s our fault, very possible. What if it’s the church though? They do reach out and offer all these activities. They introduce themselves to new people. They speak to us. We’ve gone to some church wide events, but we still feel like strangers there. We have not been invited to people’s houses for dinner, or even out to dinner. I attended a women’s retreat, and it was okay. I had my little one with me and she my priority. One woman was exceptional in her contact, but we don’t really intentionally call one another or anything regularly, we’re just friendly at church. We do have a few families we knew before we went to this church that we have deeper relationships with, but not the people who were there before we got there.
Some of it might be that the church building itself is basically a big sanctuary with a hallway and entry lobbies on two sides. There are small classrooms, and is no real formal meeting area besides. There is not space to stand around and talk really, it’s clogged in transition time in and out of the church. There’s no place to really sit and enjoy. There’s no big kitchen (I think there might be a very small stove there), so meals are all pot luck and it’s mostly picnics. There’s not a real “fellowship room.” The teen Sunday school room is used for this, but it seems there’s not really a place in the church to get together other than the sanctuary (which is more like a gym with a stage than an actual church sanctuary…chairs come up and it’s a basketball court). People do chat there, but it’s not easy to just sit somewhere and really seriously talk.
So, our issue is trying to figure out what involvement we need to do in order to be connected to the people. Likely, we need to find ways to be more involved. We also need to be willing to serve. I am helping with VBS this summer, that will at least put me with other women who are helping. We really need connection to other families too, people who feel safe with a large family. I know some of it is that my home is not really a hospitality haven, because we could be very active in inviting others over for dinner, which would be less intimidating than having people invite our large brood over. Some changes can be made that are practical. But if we make the effort and still feel distant, what then? Good preaching, no fellowship in our hearts? I still feel we’ve made a commitment…