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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual formation’

Just this past Sunday a couple visited our church.  They still go to our former church (spiritual formation/transformation church).  We were once in a small group together, and we really enjoyed time with this couple.  They have two children who are getting old enough to go to the youth group.  I commend these parents, they are involved with their children and followed them to the youth group.  This is where they have discovered enough problems to begin a church search just to see what else is out there.  The complaints I have heard are that the message and all the activities don’t always make any sense.  Things are disjointed, and the gospel is not clearly being taught through the activities and fluff.   There are so many distractions.  Apparently, one Sunday, the youth minister was speaking and there was a video playing in the background.  It was people falling, crashing into things, and getting hurt.  The mother could see no reason for this, and thought it wasn’t funny at all.  The parents have also complained that the youth room is often littered with trash because these teens will not use proper manners and clean up after themselves.  I recall the youth didn’t go to their church time with bibles and the girls often wore inappropriate clothing.  Rarely, were teens ever in “big church” with the adults.  We are so happy we are no longer there, it sounds like it is as bad as I thought.

 

I am so giddy, and I have high hopes.  I love to see people leave that environment.  I spoke to my pastor when I saw them at church, and let him know our past with this couple.  He knows many people have left that church including our family.  He’s always seeing people visit from my former church.  He commented something like this, “you’d think they’d try to figure out what they are doing is wrong since they are bleeding out.”   Yeah, you’d think.

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Coming out of a non-denominational church caused us to look for something with accountability for pastors.  We joined a church that is connected to a denomination.  For all it’s imperfections, at least there is the structure of accountability, somewhere to write if the church isn’t dealing with itself correctly inside.  Sure, it might be bad to have an association with a denomination if things are bad in that denomination.  The local congregation might not act like the big denomination.  However, there is a someone beyond and a sense of church being bigger than just my little building with people in it here.

So, what’s a pastor to do who has been kicked to the curb in a non-denominational church?  A few of our former pastors were let go.  What are they doing?  Creating their own “ministries.”  One is having meetings with Christians in other churches at times those churches aren’t meeting with their congregations.  The other started meeting in homes one night a week, and now has moved his family closer to the inner city and has started some sort of ministry and is soliciting prayer support and financial support.  (after all, he has no income even though he’s looked for a job…and I believe he’s looked hard).  But, I’m wondering if this is the best approach?  Should these men be forming “new churches” or new ministries at this time, or are they better served getting into a denomination and working through them to heal and build up again to be a pastor of a church there?  I just don’t know.  It seems to me that it could be a good thing to start a ministry if the pastor is solid in doctrine and solidly studying the bible.  But I wonder if there might be more of the same non-denominational mess being made out there?  What stops me from just going out and starting a ministry?  What about my husband?  Is there some qualification needed?  Some reason needed?  The pastors I’m speaking of do have degrees, there are not just out there without some sort of education.  To be fair, one of them was one we spoke to before leaving our former church.  He had the wisest advice, and was the one pastor we heard read scripture from the pulpit and seemed to always have a good commentary and teaching.  The other I’m not sure…but he was the one who presented the gospel during a week long VBS program where I was a “shepherd.”  His message was basic and clear, and it was the first time all week I felt anyone even made an attempt to teach scripture and how Christ saves sinners.  All week I would try to understand the content I was to teach, and had to revise the book we used because it was pretty fuzzy.  So both pastors were doing better in the church than some of the others.  But are they ready to launch a new ministry?  What would be the first steps for a pastor who leaves or is let go from a purpose driven/vision oriented/spiritual formation style church?

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Youthfront has a Spiritual Formation “school?”  I am linking an article with big claims about having a meal together and community.  I just have to say that you CAN have community without Christ.  You can.  You can budget, plan a meal, and become interdependent without Christ.  It happens in communes, it happens with college groups, it happens in families, it happens in cults, it happens in other religions and other cultures.  It’s not inherently Christian (or whatever Youth Front people are calling themselves these days) to eat together and plan and budget meals.  It can be a good thing to do, but it can also be a very dangerous thing to do. 

Link to the article here:  http://youthfront.com/_blog/Youthfront_School_of_Formation

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Switching from a Purpose Driven church with entertainment to a bible teaching church may have a few effects, one of which initially is boredom.  This may seem unholy and wrong to admit, but it has happened.  We felt it in our house.  A dry feeling.  But like eating healthy food for once as a normal way of life rather than just once in a while, old habits are hard to break.

Exercise and eating healthy will be difficult for someone coming from terrible habits.  We want to drift back to the soda, we want to taste the sugary sweet candy.  We want to have french fries and greasy hamburgers with lots of cheese.  Why?  We’re addicted.  What do bad eating and exercise habits get us?  Diabetes, heart problems, early death.  We become fat and unable to enjoy life.

This is what happened to us at the previous church.  We enjoyed a LOT of cool programs.  Our kids were entertained.  We felt we were growing in the faith.  Yes, we did grow, but looking back, the times we did grow were when we insisted to study the bible verse by verse in small group.  There were some messages by the pastors that carried truth, so we did learn from those.  However, much was social, much was wrong teaching.  We ignored the problems for a while.  It caught up to us.  We began to see the problems.

When we opened our ears and looked around, we heard the pastors preaching things that were not biblical.  Suddenly, the candy coating didn’t feel good anymore.  We realized the illness in our faith.  We were not being fed often enough.  Yes, there was service, we were served in many ways.  But the teaching was in error just as often as it was in truth.  We allowed the error to go on when we were blind to it, but once we saw it we realized we had to escape.

We eventually landed in a church where the bible is preached verse by verse.  We started out with some initial joy, because our worries about the former church were confirmed.  Still, we missed some of the trappings.  We missed the social time, many people were new to us.  We missed the upbeat music a great deal.  Still, the true spiritual food was making us feel better because our spiritual bodies were getting the right nutrition.  Now my children recognize the former church for what it is, and they do not want to go back to the candy.  We don’t either. 

Of course, we listen and are very careful, we do not want to believe the pastor without checking things out.  It’s kind of like reading the labels.  We want to know what’s going on at the church, what they are truly about.  Is the spiritual food healthy and true?  If it is, then we will see growth and not experience the physical illness.  The hard work put in (not works for salvation mind you, but the study of God’s word and prayer, the service to the body, and the support of those who go out and preach to others…or even maybe us going out some day when we’re prepared…these things are the hard things), will result in a healthy Christian perspective.  Staying on guard is important, reading for ourselves.  After all, it’s supposed to be our faith we’re working out right?  And as time goes on, what was previously boring is actually very exciting.  Scriptural study is not some mundane thing, it’s a wonderful joy to hear and read truth.

note:  If I am saying something wrong by winging it, PLEASE let me know here.  I know these are my human thoughts, not God’s words.

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So tired of looking around and seeking all this seeker friendly/spiritual formation stuff.  I think it’s much like the cults…mormons/JW’s and others only they have walked right into previously decent churches that once did preach the gospel correctly.  However, error was likely there before in small ways.  Then there were weaknesses highlighted.  People wanted to do better, bought into some lies, and then time passed.  Slowly, slowly, these false teachers have taken over.  Our desire for good feelings in church has pushed many to just swallow and follow.  Ugh.  I know I did it.  If I had any inkling there was something wrong I just swatted it away.  So now, we’ve got real problems all over.  The foundations have shifted and we’re not seeing Christ in the church buildings, we’re seeing falsehood.  We forgot our first love and now compromised.  I say we because, well, I was once in this type of church. 

Still, though I know how easy it is to be a party to all of this mess, I am sick and tired of it.

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I still want people deceived by the teaching of my former church to wake up.  I feel like a cult is taking over American churches and I wish things could be different.  At the same time I do not wish to be numb and cold in my knowledge.  I cannot think of myself as better than those who are deceived, just blessed to have been pulled from it. 

It doesn’t matter where I go, I could be on a vacation weekend or floating around facebook.  I see the same kind of seeker friendly or spiritual formation churchiness everywhere.  Many times a person stands up to speak and be an encouragement to a group…and uses a catch phrase.  Often it seems like a pep rally on Oprah.  That’s when I know a church goer has bought into the “bumper sticker” church.  I sigh, and sometimes feel quite helpless. 

So then I just wait.  Sometime, it might be appropriate to tell a person the truth and point things out.  I pray for an opportunity and hope to not get the “what ever are you talking about you space alien” look when I do share.

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We spotted one of the pastors who was recently asked to resign from our former church in the church we’ve been attending for a while.  His little family was with him, and I am praying so much for them.  This has to be a confusing time, has to be a hard time.  I pray God will lead them to the best place for them to heal and to worship.  I hope the pastor can also find a place to earn money so he can support his family.  I pray they trust God and don’t become lost in this whole process.

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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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Just today I saw 5 people in our current church from our former church.  These are new this Sunday.  One man was a die hard “not going to leave” and his wife was pushing hard to leave.  Letting go of two pastors, especially since they are viewed as solid, really put it over.  I wonder how many more have jumped ship?  Where we live there are hundreds of church options close enough to drive comfortably, so I can imagine if there were 5 in our church there could be many who have left.  It will be interesting to see what happens in our former missional/spiritual formation/emergent youth focused/ purpose driven church.

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There are two places I can see where a toxic church (abusive or has wrong teachings…or both can be outed.  First to others in the church through interaction between a person who realizes the church is toxic, and then in public through media or online. 

Most people, I believe, do not out a toxic church.  They may stay for family or for social reasons and not say anything to keep the peace.  Others do out the church to friends or family, but keep it pretty quiet.  Then there is someone like me, I’ve told some people that are not just family and close friends as time has gone on and am writing an anonymous blog.  Some friends who still attend my former church know my feelings and some of my reasons, but for the most part, people don’t know much about why we left that church.

Then there’s another group of people, bold people or maybe unwise, not sure.  They openly write the toxic church’s name out there in the public.  They name names not just situations.  They share it all.  Am I ready to do this?  I am not sure.

First, I must pray.  I must read scripture. I must seek counsel.  I must see what my husband thinks.  I must get organized.  I must decide.  Do I want to openly name our former church?  I’ve named a few associations, but not named them directly.  Do I want to name pastors?  I know my motives must not be for revenge or self promotion.  I also do not want to hurt someone (the pastor has a family and children…and the pastor need only to be accountable for what he’s done not smeared for assumptions or unfair conclusions). 

If I can help teach others without naming names, it may be better.  This church is likely similar in nature to a lot of churches.  I’ve had some people write me thinking I might be from their area after reading my posts, or they say their story is similar.  So the point can be made without bringing someone into the spot light of critique.

I just wonder when it’s time to be specific?

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