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Posts Tagged ‘fellowship’

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…

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Sometimes I get so discouraged.  What I thought was true turned out to be false.  Our former church was a place where I thought people were glorifying God.  I’m sure there are some people there who are true Christians, but the leadership is scary to me.  At least two of the pastors are not preaching Christ, the others go along with it.   The one who did speak up and worked to change things had been let go.  They want to be a spiritual formation/seeker friendly/and whatever the emergent thing is lite (not NOT emergent?).  They want what they are. 

I feel a bit helpless, and I guess I am.  I cannot save anyone myself, that’s God’s work.  He chooses whom He chooses.  I just hate seeing it happening, the sin of false teaching.

I have another problem, I have a new problem of trust.  I cannot feel completely like I can trust preachers.  I cannot trust church systems.  I want to be able to walk into a church and know they are okay, they are preaching truth.  I want to trust.  I feel some trust in the newer church (and we’ve been going for a year and 1/2 now).  However, I cannot commit to them in heart right now.  (I have seen a few things that are problems…not related to doctrine or teaching but on a side note…and it has to do more with safety than anything not teaching/preaching/faith).  I want to have a consistent place for my kids to go to worship.   I want to be involved.

What has happened to me is a coldness.  In our former church, it was all about community.  We had small groups, activities, we were busy.  We had adult conversation.  We socialized.  We did get frustrated, but we did enjoy being around the people.  In the newer church (to us) we aren’t yet feeling connected to the people.  It’s a good sermon, nice to see you, bye.  I want some family there if I’m going to stick.  We do have friends attending from the former church, but only a few we were close to.  I’m not young anymore, and I don’t like starting over.  I want long term friends.  I’m lonely.  Are we supposed to feel lonely in church? 

Part of it is our fault.  We don’t trust, we have busy lives with our kids.  We haven’t completely dug in to this church.  We’d just like to be invited over for a drink and cookies, some conversation, some connection.  People are friendly, but we aren’t their friends.

Our former church had the group thing down.  Small groups were an issue in that the bible study part was missing.  I think there is nothing wrong with socializing with your church friends and getting together into groups, but small group studies were how bad teaching was spread further.  Just getting together to socialize, well, that probably is actually a good thing.  Getting together to study a book that has nothing to do with the gospel but makes you think it does, now that is wrong.  We spent years trying to do bible study in these groups and were successful some of the time.  The church kept pulling us into this or that book though…manditory for the whole church.

I’m discouraged on several levels I guess.  I thought we would have feel more than superficial with friends at our newer church.  I am also discouraged looking at the churches around our area.  Many are into this seeker friendly/spiritual formation stuff.  I guess I kind of feel like I would if I were in Utah.  So many places preaching false doctrine.  So many “nice” people, but sooooo thirsty for companionship/fellowship and also for the true gospel to be preached.  At least I feel the preaching where we are is pretty good.  Eventually, we’ll get through the human stuff and make friends.  Right?

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I am going to go to church today to worship, learn, and fellowship.  Not at all interested in drama (meaning human disputes).  I pray for the Lord’s church and His people.  May we all wake fresh and new today in fellowship with Him.  I think I’d prefer to fellowship than to focus, wouldn’t you?

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I saw this as a search that landed someone on my blog.  I do think that is an excellent question.  I believe it’s there are many reasons why church is so hard.

First, sin.  Obviously, people are sinners, I am a sinner, you are a sinner, and so we’re going to be hard to deal with.  The church is going to be imperfect.  People get their agendas and their behaviors, and it is hard to deal with them.  I am hard to deal with.  Do you know how many stupid thoughts I have while sitting in church?  How many times I look at someone and think things about what they are wearing or how they talk?  I have to constantly check myself.

Church is also hard because people are confused as to why we have church.  Though I believe it’s clear we are there to worship God and edify the body, everyone has expectations beyond this.  Some of our hopes are that we’ll get all our needs met in church.  Then we sit there and don’t express those needs to anyone, and exactly how can that happen?  We have expectations for people to be our friends.  We have expectations that we’ll feel a certain way at Christmas or on any given Sunday.  We have expectations that the pastor will do someone this way or that.  We forget our fallibility and don’t always understand what’s being taught.  There are basics churches should have, some do and some don’t, and when our expectations are not reached, we can be disappointed. 

Some churches are bad, period.  This is not just your ordinary sin of each human here, it’s churches that are unhealthy and destructive.  I used tbe an RA on campus in a dorm, and we had to watch for groups that came in with cult like tendencies.  They would manipulate and shut a person off from their families.  Girls were breaking up with long time boyfriends because the boyfriend didn’t join.  They were being drilled and harrassed by the cult members, never alone.  It’s not just obvious cults though, there is abuse in church, there is twisting of scripture, power struggle, control, pastors who cheat on their wives within their congregation, and many other things that happen to erode trust.  Evil is everywhere and will find it’s way right into the church, right into pulpits. 

Waiting, it’s hard waiting.  Those of us in God’s family are still waiting for the return of Christ.  This isn’t always easy.  Sure, we have been given the bible and are told how to live.  We can love our Lord and worship Him, and we can at times feel near because of the Holy Spirit.  However, we are not physically with Jesus.  We don’t see Him with our eyes.  We have to wait.   We meet together every Sunday, and each Sunday it’s another week we have to wait.  We get accustomed to this life, and sometimes even forget we’re not made only for this life.  We get immeshed in the struggles here, and the waiting and hope is on the back burner.  It can be a faith stretcher to wait.  We can become complacent. 

Persecution, that can make church very hard.  I am in the United States, so I don’t have the real persecution of my brothers and sisters around the world.  We have a shiny building, we have cars to get us there.  We have bibles, many of us have more bibles than people in our homes.  We are free to preach from the bible as it is written here (so far).  Sure, we may get teased by media or others who don’t believe, but real persecution?  We actually have to TRY to get persecuted by protesting an abortion clinic or by doing door to door missions or maybe setting up a Christmas display in public somewhere.  However, in some countries, to be a part of a church means death.  It means abuse.  It means the government and your neighbors are watching you.  It means services can be raided and you can go to jail.  It means if you are teaching the bible as written, you can be punished for a long time. 

Yes, my friends, church is hard.  But, I’d rather have the church than try hanging alone in the world.  Why?  Because I really believe in Christ, and so do others who are in the churches I’ve attended.  We are family.  We belong together.  We have to deal with sin, and we have to work on making it better together.  If it’s right, the preaching is good, the fellowship is good, the church can be a wonderful place.  If I am willing to reach out, if I am there to worship, there to join my fellow Christians, it can be very good.

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