When some feel alienated  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , ,


Over the past months I’ve been drawn into an ongoing conversation with people I care for very deeply. I am honored they are willing to talk, because I am a Christian and what they say would not be well received by many Christians.

My friends are believers—they can and do, for example, gladly confess the truth of the Apostles’ Creed. The problem is that attending church riles up within them deep hurts and wounds, painful memories of abusive legalism and pressure to conform. They tend to be discomfited by not attending but find upon attending that they leave feeling discouraged and sometimes deeply angry. When they attend somewhere they are known their Christian acquaintances tend to make unwarranted assumptions about them, revealing that in this place no one really listens and few really know one another. They find the experience unhelpful, physically tiresome, emotionally draining, spiritually disheartening, so they attend rarely if at all.

Can I hear such things without taking the easy way out? The easy way is, after all, so very easy. And the perverseness of my heart means I know all the permutations.

I can speak in tones that are all sympathetic while reminding them of the biblical command not to “give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:5). Applying law is always so easy. Of course, such legalism always fails because the law can never meet the deepest needs of the human heart. To say nothing of the fact that this use of the text badly misconstrues its meaning.

Or I can suggest they ignore the irritating parts, concentrate on whatever feels good in the service, and think happy thoughts. After all, it could be worse. They could be trying to find their loved ones in the tsunami debris in northern Japan. Sentimentalism is always easy.

Or I can assert it is the institution’s problem, since corporate structures always mess up, sucking the creativity out of life, and substituting a bottom line (money or souls saved) for anything resembling true humanness. I find cynicism to be not only easy it is fun.

Perhaps there are more easy responses, and if there are, I have no doubt that in the brokenness of my heart I will uncover them. In the meantime I want to listen, with care. I want to be a safe place so that the affairs of the heart will be treated with the dignity and significance they deserve. And as I do I find I need help in understanding more deeply.

I wonder: do you share my friends’ discomfort over attending church? How would you express what you feel, experience, and yearn for? Or do you know people who have talked to you about their discomfort? (Feel free to leave anonymous comments if you prefer.)


Image: a still from Federico Fellini’s film (1963).

This entry was posted at Monday, May 09, 2011 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

34 comments

I find myself wondering if the pains your friends experience at church are unique to church. I find that people hurt and disappoint me consistently in all sorts of contexts. Indeed, the greatest hurt I've endured in my easy life was in my workplace. And while it did necessitate changing jobs, it has not called into question in me the value of work. The commandment to love my neighbor is at best inconvenient in any context, but I hold to it nonetheless without fear of legalism. The fact is, I need them, frustrating and irritating though they are.
"Solo Christian" is a non-sequitur.

May 9, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Greg- now you are a guy who knows his doctrine.

May 9, 2011 at 8:06 PM

Greg:
I agree solo christian is a non-seguitur, and though I did not state that phrase specifically with my friends I suspect all of them would agree.

I think I did not express the issue clearly enough that you hear it correctly. All of them agree that they need to live in community and seek to do so. None of them see the problem as centered around them because there are so many others who share their problem. In no case is it an issue of inconvenience or even frustration--at least not in an major sense.

Rather, my friends find that attending church does not uplift, encourage, stimulate, or in any other way cause them to be glad to have been there. Instead, attending consistently discourages, depresses, drains, raises doubts, promotes guilt, and stirs up deep anger. So much so that they find a good portion of the following week is required to regain equilibrium.

More is going on here, I am convinced.
Denis

May 10, 2011 at 8:28 AM

Sorry for my misunderstanding. I'll press on despite my fear that it may have persisted despite your patient attempt at clarification.

I guess I'd like to know why church is so disappointing to your friends. In my limited experience, churches aren't all the same. Is their experience of church the same even in different cultures, communities, and at different times? If the problem changes with the setting, then I'm inclined to blame the setting. It's a problem I'm rather familiar with myself, and when faced with it I've been tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, mistaking the church per se for a particular expression of it that offends me. At those times I was encouraged to discover that there are indeed many ways of doing church and while none of them are perfect, some are much more amenable to me than others.

If their experience of the church is the same regardless of its cultural trappings, then I wonder if the gospel itself offends them. The whole guilt-and-forgiveness thing is rather unflattering.

One last note: my commitment to community and my commitment to the church while similar aren't the same. Living where I do, when I do I have the luxury of being able to choose my community, i.e., my friends, very selectively. It's a luxury that I do not enjoy to the same degree with my own family, nor with the church.

Thanks for bringing this up.

May 10, 2011 at 3:26 PM

Greg:
Glad for your perseverance--I am struggling to adequately describe and write what I have been hearing.

You ask, "I guess I'd like to know why church is so disappointing to your friends." My answer is that there is nothing to list that they find disappointing because this isn't the point.

Lot's of times I've talked with Christians who list things they don't like about church: liturgy or lack of it; music style; length of sermon; etc etc. And as you suggest, different churches are different in how these details play out. Except for people in very isolated situations, there is usually some choice, and that can be helpful. Sometimes these folk drop out, but that is, as you point out, a silly choice under the circumstances.

My friends here do not list "things" that are disappointing, that if changed would cause them not to be disappointed. Rather, they find attending church to result in a weight descending on them that saps their joy and seems to make life feel like walking through molasses.

Part of it, I think, is that by attending church they are publicly associating themselves with an enterprise which advertises itself in the public square in ways they find frankly repulsive. Their commitment to the faith and the gospel requires them to distance themselves from this public face, and immersing themselves in it by attending feels like being tainted by the stench.

I fear I still may not be summarizing it correctly.

87 degrees here today, Greg. Almost as bad as Austin!
Denis

May 10, 2011 at 4:24 PM

The questions I've been dancing around here boil down to these: is there something inherent to gathered Christian worship that is so depressing? Or is your friends' experience of church tainted, as it were, by other issues? The example you cite--"they are publicly associating themselves with an enterprise which advertises itself in the public square in ways they find frankly repulsive"-- seems to me a prime example of the latter, although even that is at best a mixed bag. Some of the church's bad rep in the public square is due to the unholy alliance of some elements of the church with the Republican Party. But some is due to issues that are central to the gospel-- e.g., Is Jesus the way, the truth, and the life?-- and yet deeply offensive to modern inclusive sensibilities. The fact is, you can be a liberal Democrat, but if you are at the same time an orthodox Christian, it'll get you in trouble here in Austin, Texas.

Where it was 96 degrees yesterday, by the way. And summer hasn't even started yet.

May 10, 2011 at 5:56 PM

Greg:
Good question. None of my friends, to the best of my knowledge, are questioning the truth of the gospel. In fact, I think their belief in the gospel is part of what makes their experience so painful.

Your illustration about politics is a good example of the phenomenon (though politics hasn't been a big part of our conversations). Go to church and it is assumed you are a Republican. Speak up and be treated with disdain or as a spiritual pariah. Stay silent and not stand for what you know to be the truth. And in the process publicly identify with an institution that prides itself on being the last bastion of morality and integrity in the nation which everyone realizes is an utter sham, which when pointed out is smugly counted as persecution.

Attending church begins to feel like selling your soul.
Denis

May 10, 2011 at 7:40 PM

Hypocrisy certainly isn't in short supply in the church or out of it. To be sure, it looks worse in the church, because Christians are supposed to look like Christ.

Still I am, I confess, uncomfortable with labeling the church a total sham for it simply isn't. There are too many good people trying too hard to hold their faith with integrity for that shoe to fit.

I was once a part of Christian organization that ministered effectively to those who were disillusioned by the church, often with good reasons. Calling a spade, a spade, acknowledging the failures of the church was a necessary part of helping them. But the odd mixed result was at times a rescued faith-- those we sympathized with would confess faith in God-- , but an abandoned church: they simply had nothing else to do with God's people, except for the odd Christian individual who appealed to them. Looking back I can't help but feel that I failed them.

May 10, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Denis and Greg, thank you for your conversation on alienation in church. I am like your friends, Denis, I feel it all the time in the particular church where I attend. I keep longing for "them" to be different when perhaps I am the one who needs to be more accepting, less judgmental. I came across this post from Justin McRoberts, a wonderful musician and songwriter, that speaks to this issue. Here is the link: http://www.justinmcroberts.com/blog/2011/03/the-cost-of-belonging/

May 11, 2011 at 7:05 AM

Greg:
I agree with your assessment of hypocrisy: it is worse in the church because we have both the reason and the power to be different. None of my friends have expressed the idea that the church is a total sham. Quite the opposite--they would be indifferent to not attending if they thought it was without merit.

Your sense of failure is something akin to my motivation in beginning this conversation. I have been listening, and want to be certain I am hearing accurately. I also want to be certain I can write about my friend's experience with sensitivity and honesty. And I am struggling to know how to respond, beyond listening.
Thanks for walking alongside, my friend.
Denis

May 11, 2011 at 9:52 AM

Lynda:
Thanks for affirming what I have written, and for suggesting a post that might deepen our discussion.
Denis

May 11, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Lynda

Thanks for the link. His reference to letter 2 in Screwtape is, I think, especially appropriate.

"When he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy's side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have shoes that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must somehow be ridiculous."

Thanks again, Denis, for bringing this up. Press on, my friend!

May 11, 2011 at 10:20 AM
Cal  

A very good discussion. Trying to think about it from afar is difficult as exemplified by your wrestling to put the problem into words. But I will take a stab. Richard John Neuhaus' Freedom For Ministry has some great chapters (such as The Thus And So-ness Of the Church). But a few sentences from "Reconciliation Against Resignation" come to mind: "The Christian proposition is that the discontents, the feeling of alienation, the inability to be 'at home' with existent reality, are all signs of health to be celebrated. The fatal disease is the premature 'resolution' of that which cannot be and must not be resolved except by the resolution of all things in the consummated lordship of the Christ." Both the discontent and the hope should be held together and that is what I would counsel. It is hard but our lives as believers is built on the promises of God - living by faith and not by sight. The danger is what Bonhoeffer described as the "wish dream" of Christian community.

May 11, 2011 at 3:21 PM
Bob Graham  

Denis, The most difficult thing my wife and I do each week is go to church. Our reasons for disappointment are numerous, complex, and not always defined enough for words. Contrary to Greg's comment, my greatest hurts, by far, come from my church. A large part of it is the open hypocrisy and maneuvering for 'control'. Scriptural language is continually used to define political positions. Maintaining the social club is paramount.

The youth of our church have left. We still talk with them and discuss 'why'. Again, many complex and ill defined reasons, but they express a feeling of no acceptance. "The church [people] won't accept us until we are like them, they will never accept us as us". "The church is focused on itself, not others". It's not as if they are aliens with 3 eyes, many are devout followers of Christ. But there is no acceptance unless they follow in the same style as the "old fogeys" and support the same social structure. Many of these 'kids' form their own groups, hold each other accountable, and meet on their own. Here is a bunch a kids meeting together and worshiping, and their churches want to divide them into Baptists, Presbyterians, whatevers, and destroy the fellowship they have. Why should they want to go to "church".
Bob G

May 11, 2011 at 9:23 PM

Cal:
Neuhaus' point is lovely in reminding us how the gospel always turns things on their head, the unexpected becoming normative. The grandest example, of course, is the resurrection, but it is hard to translates a belief in it into a way of life. To imagine that a sense of alienation should perhaps be expected in the pew is both a striking and unusual take on the gospel.
Thanks, my friend.
Denis

May 12, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Bob:
You state things well, though reading your comment filled me with sadness--for the kids of which you speak and for you.

Like you, part of what I am struggling to put into words is what to say to the young adults you mention. To be cut off, or to cut ourselves off from the means of grace administered by the church is a fearsome thing, yet that doesn't suggest any quick answer.

I'm glad to have you involved in the conversation.
Denis

May 12, 2011 at 9:07 AM

Some readers have been uneasy about leaving comments, and have communicated with me in other ways.

“It was hard to read a lot of that post because it spoke so precisely to my experience of church,” one friend wrote. He attends church regularly he says, “though most the time I couldn't explain why—and I know that most the people in my life will question me about it if I’m not there regularly.” The Christians questioning him probably mean well, but knowing how to ask questions that encourages someone instead of burdening them with guilt isn’t something we can take for granted. (There is an article on this in Critique 2011:3, by the way, for those who might be interested.)

“I don’t fit in,” he continues. “All the people around me seem to find church easy. Attending church is simply a normal part of life and they find it easy to attend and participate. I’ve never been that way: Church—and Christianity on the whole—is hard for me. I don’t feel a burning desire to read my Bible every day. Never have. I don’t feel like I have to jump into ‘ministry’ opportunities or sit around for ‘fellowship time’ after. Sorry… Being told that I’m commanded to love them simply makes me feel guilty and confused. Guilty because I don’t love them and confused because I have no idea how I’m supposed to ‘love’ a crowd comprised of people who are so busy none of them have time to get together for coffee or beer… I don't easily trust Christians. I need to get to know you as an individual before I feel anything toward you, much less share any of my junk with you. I feel dead inside. That smile I’m wearing is simply my way of hiding the deadness that’s crushing me because I don't want to talk to anyone at church about it because I don’t know if they’re safe."

Another friend put it this way: “The church is not bad, it is hideous.” Everything it represents today, he said, is something I want to distance myself from. The desire for power in order to impose rules on people; the public expression of anger, ridicule, and contempt towards those it considers its opponents, and its main concern is a numbers game—the salvation of souls or the proliferation of more churches. Because of the gospel it should be a center for beauty but it is not, and what is worse, seems not to notice or care.

May 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM

A couple days ago there were something like 19 comments for this entry. Then the comment area didn't work, and when things came back up, the total had dropped from 19 to 12.

Sorry.

I'll try to post some of the lost comments if I can find copies in the system...

May 14, 2011 at 3:59 PM

Here is a comment that had been posted, then lost:

Bob Graham has left a new comment on your post "When some feel alienated":

Denis, The most difficult thing my wife and I do each week is go to church. Our reasons for disappointment are numerous, complex, and not always defined enough for words. Contrary to Greg's comment, my greatest hurts, by far, come from my church. A large part of it is the open hypocrisy and maneuvering for 'control'. Scriptural language is continually used to define political positions. Maintaining the social club is paramount.

The youth of our church have left. We still talk with them and discuss 'why'. Again, many complex and ill defined reasons, but they express a feeling of no acceptance. "The church [people] won't accept us until we are like them, they will never accept us as us". "The church is focused on itself, not others". It's not as if they are aliens with 3 eyes, many are devout followers of Christ. But there is no acceptance unless they follow in the same style as the "old fogeys" and support the same social structure. Many of these 'kids' form their own groups, hold each other accountable, and meet on their own. Here is a bunch a kids meeting together and worshiping, and their churches want to divide them into Baptists, Presbyterians, whatevers, and destroy the fellowship they have. Why should they want to go to "church".
Bob G

May 14, 2011 at 3:59 PM

Another comment that had been posted, then lost:

Cal has left a new comment on your post "When some feel alienated":

A very good discussion. Trying to think about it from afar is difficult as exemplified by your wrestling to put the problem into words. But I will take a stab. Richard John Neuhaus' Freedom For Ministry has some great chapters (such as The Thus And So-ness Of the Church). But a few sentences from "Reconciliation Against Resignation" come to mind: "The Christian proposition is that the discontents, the feeling of alienation, the inability to be 'at home' with existent reality, are all signs of health to be celebrated. The fatal disease is the premature 'resolution' of that which cannot be and must not be resolved except by the resolution of all things in the consummated lordship of the Christ." Both the discontent and the hope should be held together and that is what I would counsel. It is hard but our lives as believers is built on the promises of God - living by faith and not by sight. The danger is what Bonhoeffer described as the "wish dream" of Christian community.

May 14, 2011 at 4:00 PM
LM  

i can definitely identify with this heavy, sapping weight that descends after attending a church service, ending with tears at times, which was strangely indefinable and ambiguous.

this social element is a large part of this, quite apart from the service content. we have all the trappings of community at a church, under one roof, worshipping side by side, so when we're rejected, or feel alienated, or simply show up and talk to no-one and go home, this rejection hurts even deeper.

i'm convinced church is still vital, not only to encourage and empower us, but also to humble and at times hurt us, to make us more whole as any long-term relationship does. i'm skeptical of reasons to avoid this process, though i can totally understand them.

somehow we need to build authentic connections in the church, remaining open to the new and the 'other', while not resolving into satisfied, closed off cliques.

May 15, 2011 at 1:27 PM

How to respond...twice now my comments have disappeared into the webosphere.
I haven't weighed in in a while, but this subject is important to me. I am one of those people...It is not my desire to be a solo Christian, and yet, going to church was so painful I had to stop. I struggled with a depression that has greatly decreased since my decision.
The reasons why I'm sure are too numerous to discuss in a comment box.
One thing I realized came to me as I thought of another community I am involved in. I go to a yoga class every day. It's a very westernized yoga, and quite frankly, it's really not yoga; which is why I can be there. Everyone in the class is at a different level. This particular yoga is done in a heated room; about 105 degrees. It's hot. As I've practiced, I've let go of the wiping of the sweat. I used to bring a little hand towel and wipe away. Over time, I wiped less, and less until I don't bring the towel anymore. This is a "sign" that I'm becoming a better "yogi". But then when we talk about water, I am unabashed; I am not going to stop drinking water in class. The hard core teachers of this yoga say you do not need water; it is a crutch.
Here's where the connection comes in....I could care less...I love my crutch. And, I don't aspire to ever be a true yogini. So, I kind of laugh at the whole thing, and actually tell people, "Oh, I am not a true yogini; I love my water too much."
But! I would never say to someone in my Christian community that I am not a true Christian; I love my (fill in the blank) too much. I do aspire to be a true Christian. But I feel like the definition is different for each and every person, the interpretation of scripture is different. And there is no room for me to laugh off my differences or my crutches. Christians sit around having heated debates about which interpretation is more accurate, and some try and decide who is saved and who is not saved....there is a pressure to conform in church, in a way that doesn't always seem Christlike to me.
This is just one of many thoughts that has gone through my mind since reading this post and these comments; it's certainly not meant to be an exhaustive answer. I would love to be in a Christian community; and have been a part of many different communities over my lifetime. I'm just waiting on the Lord for now.

May 16, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Cassandra:
I'm really thankful you commented, since you can talk about this all not just theoretically, but really. (And sorry you had trouble with the software--I'm going to shift my blog this summer to a new site where this will hopefully happen less.)

Sadly, though the Christian gospel is one of grace, the Christian community is fixated on works. I am a Christian because I have bowed before Christ as Savior and Lord on the basis of his work of redemption on the cross. Plus nothing.

I am Christian, in other words, if I read my Bible everyday (or don't), or if I like Harry Potter (or don't), if I voted for Obama (or didn't), if I drink bourbon (or refrain), or anything else we could possibly list here. It is grace plus nothing.

When Christians identify things that are included in their "list" (that you term your crutches) they have left the gospel of Christ.
May you find safe community among God's people.
Denis

May 17, 2011 at 11:24 AM

If I may chime in once more, another aspect of this dilemma presented itself this morning. As I'm sure some of you heard, or most of you; that the rapture was scheduled for yesterday. Maybe it did happen, and my lack of church attendance left me behind.
In all seriousness, I read an article this morning that set my wheels spinning. We can all agree, I am sure, that setting a date and time for the rapture is a gross misinterpretation of scripture. But, there's a more subtle tendency that is a crazy maker for me. One of Camping's associates said, "When you say something and it doesn't happen, your pride is what's hurt. But who needs pride? God said he resists the proud and gives grace to the humble."
True. But that generalized sweeping statement does not acknowledge that not just his pride was hurt. People drove thousands of miles to be in specific places for an event that never took place. They emptied their bank accounts, euthanized their pets and so on. This is not a case of simply hurt pride.
So, while I am not saying I've ever been a part of a church that bangs on about the end times, I have found myself in many a situation where scripture is handled in a trite manner. I've come to believe in a God who cares that you get a front row parking space, but not about slavery in other countries....a God who will pull the strings to give you date night with your hubby, but who backs the politics that want to take food out of a child's mouth....
Though my last church taught truth from the pulpit, it taught triviality and nonsense in its day to day affairs. The sad thing is, I think many churches do. I think the problem lies with me, in being able to stand outside of that, but for now, it weighs too heavily.

May 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Sorry to be so verbose. I feel badly about my last statement about my last church. It is a lovely church, and I wouldn't necessarily bash it. I've had conversations with the Pastor, and he has been full of compassion and encouragement. There are wonderful people in the church. I just think an overall paradigm shift is necessary before I can really immerse. Thanks for hearing me out!

May 23, 2011 at 11:14 AM

Cassandra:
Indeed you may chime in again--I always appreciate your comments.

Your comment on trivialization raises an issue that is of real importance. Though, like you, I do not know anyone personally who was taken in by the silliness of Camping's prediction of the rapture, often the church does trivialize.

There is an unfortunate belief that to be serious one must be solemn (not true), and if one is to escape that problem one needs to be dismissive of things with which we disagree (also not true). Too often, for example, world views different from Christianity are dismissed by setting up a "straw man" that can be easily demolished, or positions that are held sincerely are simply ridiculed. I cringe at both.

To trivialize reality is a great crime against the gospel, because if the cross is anything, it is an event that takes reality seriously.

Blessings
Denis

May 23, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Cassandra:
By the way, I did not take your comment to be church-bashing, but to be exactly what you intended: the need for a paradigm shift.
May it come quicker rather than later.
Denis

May 23, 2011 at 11:27 AM

I'm way late in joining this conversation, and still hesitate to do so.

I identify with both sides. I'm a pastor so am automatically lumped in with the "institution" of church. And yet, I find myself deeply frustrated by the church at the same time. I won't go into detail but Denis you know how much I don't fit.

I have lots of thoughts that could go all over the place but the thing I keep coming back to is Jesus. At risk of sounding overly pious I wonder if at at least some of the following questions are pertinent for this discussion and a way forward:
"How difficult was it for Jesus to attend synagogue every Saturday?"
"How blinding must the hypocrisy of the religious appeared to him as he worshipped with them?"
"How frustrating must it have been for him to see God's people sinfully marrying cultural and political agendas with the mission of his Father?"
"How did he keep fellowship with such people?"
"Why would he die for and create a church full of the same people?"
"How loving is he that he puts up with the same hypocrisy, false agendas, and spiritual blindness in ME?"

While I ultimately think this needs to pastorally be dealt with on a case by case basis, I also think you can't make the church more what it's supposed to be by walking away from it. You can't fix a marriage you've abandoned. While remaining, and participating, is deathly painful at times I wonder if this isn't a part of taking up and bearing the cross for some of us.

Apart from my personal past and experience here this is an extremely pertinent issue for me as I find myself planting/pastoring a church where a significant portion of the people have had extended periods of walking away from the church. Thanks for the post Denis.

May 25, 2011 at 8:10 PM

Travis:
I appreciate your post, not just because you are good friend, but because you can address this topic with real understanding--from both sides, as it were. The questions you raise about Jesus are instructive, and ones I haven't given enough thought to. Thanks for raising them.

The question that remains in my mind is how to help (case by case) the Christians who find themselves torn over this issue. Your analogy about marriage, and not being able to help one you've abandoned, is helpful only up to a point. Let's face it: the vast majority of us have no genuine possibility to shape a church in the slightest degree, no matter how long we stay in it. A marriage involves two, while I am one member in a church of say, 200, who are eager to go in directions that may make my suggestions sound, to their ears, faintly annoying at best.

This is a topic I will be returning to on my blog. It's too important to ignore, and the problem is too widespread to pass under the radar.
Blessings, my friend.
Denis

June 2, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Denis,

A few thoughts:
1. Regarding the marriage analogy - Of course you're right. The struggle many face is that the church is not receptive to their feedback, suggestions for change, etc. And oftentimes this feels like a one sided marriage. However, just as there are a limited number of reasons for a person to leave a marriage might I also suggest there should be as limited a number of reasons to leave the church (with a lot more flexibility in leaving "a" particular church). I'm seriously not trying to lighten the responsibility of the church here but as with marriage counselling I often find that people are quick to criticize the other party, in this case all the short-comings of the church, without paying serious mind to how much they fail by their own standards. At the end of the day I feel the weight of this issue and am trying to create a church culture that people can feel comfortable in (able to be vulnerable, raise doubts, vote according to conscience rather than party, be a place of grace based ministry) and yet some easily take this for granted and over react to any call to change themselves.

2. The case by case issue is the trick I think. That's the difficulty of pastoral ministry. Figuring out how to best incarnate the gospel to each person. Which person is too comfortable and needs to be disturbed a bit? Which person is overly disturbed and just needs to be comforted? You've been at the work of pastoring those who feel alienate and burned by the church for much longer than I have so I'm eager to see your future posts on this subject.

3. For the record, the ministry of Ransom Fellowship as embodied by you and Margie is one of the main things that God has used to keep me in the church and hopeful about its future. Thank you.

June 3, 2011 at 2:47 AM

Travis, thank you for your comments. I read them several days ago, and have been thinking on them. I think they are good questions, but I believe they raise more.
One thought that kept coming to me is that perhaps I ought to go to Synagogue, and not church....as that is where Jesus attended....and that before He did His work on the cross. Perhaps my bringing this up at all is a sign of my short sightedness, but I think on it.
I know at the end of the day, the answer is to die to myself. But I'm not there yet.
As for your marriage analogy, it is ironic, as it is in part my singleness that drives me from church. I am not a woman who chose singleness to pursue a career, I am a woman who wanted to get married too much, and be a good wife and raise children, and doubtless this and my damaging upbringing drove the suitors away. So, how to navigate a world where marriage is the end all be all? How to sit in sermon after sermon or prayer after prayer where the married couple is addressed, but not the single person?
How do I navigate through a fellowship where well meaning people tell me I better hurry up and get married, as if I have any control over it? Or where harassed mothers give me attitude because after years and years of taking care of other people's children I no longer want to take on childcare at church. I have likely changed the same amount of diapers as any parent of 2, and yet, it's not enough....I'm single so I'm supposed to volunteer my time at church....and be the one to bless parents by taking care of their kids so they can go on a date, because I have nothing else going on as a single person.
These are petty complaints, I've already addressed some larger issues I have.
All that to say.....I know the church won't heal or grow if I take my voice out of it. I realize that. But...as a single woman who has been stepped on time after time, I had to take myself out of the equation before the damage was insurmountable. Perhaps one day, I will be strong enough to allow God to be my only protector...but I'm not there right now. I'm a broken person. It's not an excuse, but it is a reality.
And for the record, I have Christian friends from many different backgrounds who have known me for 20 years or more, and nearly all of them who know my experiences are surprised I lasted as long as I did, and do not fault my decision.
I am so grateful to Denis for taking on this dialogue. I do love the church, and miss the body. I'm looking forward to reading the most recent post.

June 3, 2011 at 11:25 AM
meg  

just a squeak of a comment here. i just happened upon this conversation and read through, squirming all the way.
by the end i was a bundle of raw nerves.
the marriage analogy was especially interesting because when i enter a church i almost think it feels like what it would be like to sit quietly next to an abuser for two hours.
in my head i know that there are good people and good things but something physical happens when i step in a church. as much as i would like to engage with these persuasions of pro-church intellectually, my ribs are busy removing the all the air from my lungs and pushing my heart into my throat.
and i think this might be the process of as you said,"selling my soul". i just identified a little too much.
any advice for those of us in this corner?

June 6, 2011 at 8:20 PM

Meg:
Thanks for your squeak--much appreciated.

This is a topic that obviously warrants more discussion, so I hope you (and the rest) will keep joining in as I return to these questions in future blog postings.

What advice would I give? I'd like to listen more first, to make certain I understand. I'm beginning to suspect that perhaps what we are talking about is a group of lovely people who find themselves doing something similar, namely pulling back from the church. This similarity, however, might mask some significance differences at a deeper level. Some have been deeply hurt by opening themselves to accountability in a setting that proved to be unsafe. Others were drawn to the church because of grace, but then inside have heard almost nothing but law which quickly turns the soul into a dry husk. Others find entrenched political ideologies assumed so passionately that one's faith is questioned if it is revealed that you happen to vote for "wrong" candidate. Others spend their week with non-Christians and their Sunday mornings in a place they would feel uncomfortable inviting those non-Christian friends. And there is probably more.

I want to hear, to listen carefully. Some suggestions are forming in my imagination, but I'd like this to be a conversation, because I know the idea that I have "the answers" is ridiculous.

Stay tuned, please. I will return to this topic soon on this blog, because it is a topic that has captured my heart. Thanks for being part of the discussion.
Denis

June 7, 2011 at 8:37 AM
Anonymous  

I went to an Anglican communion service this morning, and happily said the creed, however, I was so uncomfortable and feel manipulated into going by an elderly friend. In fact only went because of contact with cancer sufferers and a need of God.I shan't attend again and could sense the contact between the vicar and my friend. Protest has been my recourse these last years.

June 8, 2011 at 4:52 PM

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