Why church?

I was talking with someone on Friday and the topic turned toward the importance of community. Our context was a discussion about the reading of scripture, and I shared something one of my Fuller professors once said to a friend who was not interested in participating in any local church community but was committed to pursuing serious study of God’s word. There was a particular passage in one of Paul’s letters that this individual was struggling with, and my professor said to him: “Oh, that’s all right. You don’t need to worry about that passage. That passage doesn’t apply to you.” Shocked, his friend asked why, and my professor responded: “Paul wrote those letters to communities of faith; to churches. They are not written for an individual to try and figure out how to apply to his or her life apart from that context.”

In our age of church-less Jesus-followers, I marveled at how stark his comment is in my own context of peers and family and friends who “love Jesus but not the church”.

I started blogging a few years ago, and one thing I noticed fairly quickly was that a lot of the voices that were seeking to dialogue over deep questions of faith were doing so apart from membership in any faith community. A lot of folks would talk about not having access to people who “get it”. Others had been injured by spiritually abusive faith communities and were in some form of recovery from that. Others were simply disillusioned by marketing practices or hype disguised as faithfulness. But by and large, I recognized an alarming “new normal”: thoughtful, faithful folk with more invested in virtual friendships and communities of the like-minded than in any sort of local expression of Christian life-together.

I have always loved the church. I have always been a part of the church. I have never flown solo, and I have never felt or been pushed away, abused, expelled, or rejected. I have never been in a perfect church, and have always been in fellowship with people I disagree with over any number of fairly significant things, be they theological, political, cultural, or whatever, so I don’t have a lot of understanding of the church-less journey. I actually feel a lot like my seminary prof in that I don’t know how to understand what this life is supposed to be about apart from the context of a real community. But I don’t say that lightly, knowing well that there are genuine, faithful folk for whom this has simply not been their experience.

I would be interested to hear more from those who have felt, for whatever reason, that their walk with God required them to separate from others. Or from those who float from this service to that study to some other retreat, picking and choosing parts of a community’s common life as they find interest. And if either of these are true, how then do they engage the scriptures that are written for communities? What would they say to my professor’s response to his friend?

34 thoughts on “Why church?”

  1. This is interesting. I have had many experiences that have inspired my to choose away from church and/or community. (I have just gone to a particular church for 2 years and still have no relationships there.) But still, I agree with you.

  2. The first thing I would say is that the church does not exist *for* itself; it exists *for* the world. The church is the “public of the Holy Spirit,” it is (or should be) an embodied witness of a Divine way of living and relating offered as an option for the whole world. So the fact that some have opted out of the church because they have “felt or been pushed away, abused, expelled, or rejected” by the very body that exists for them, should be of major concern to those who have always found themselves comfortably in the church. I wish more people had the opportunity to “responsibly reject” the Good News from having truly encountered it in an embodied community, than reject it because of the pain and injury caused to them from their encounter with an unfaithful “christian” community.

    So, in response to your question (and speaking from my own experience of course), I think the difficulty people often have with the church (people whose “walk with God required them to separate from others”), is precisely that they have not encountered “the church,” or as you say, “the context of a real community.” Instead they have encountered a community of people who has prejudged them, discriminated against them, systematically excluded them, and lorded “the truth” over them – “a truth” that has often denied their very sacred worth.

    But, for some, by the grace of the Divine, they still encounter the Good News in the scripture, and engage the scriptures in hope.

    And in the end, it is for them that I hope the church would want to be the church for – precisely those who have been judged, excluded, condemned and made to feel as if they are not of sacred worth.

    So I am glad you are asking questions :)

  3. I think that you post has a lot of good things to say and I like that story. I am one who has been through clergy and church abuse. I’m still in the church (although a different denomination now). But there was a time when my family had to quit for about six months. It was like we needed to detox from the bad stuff we had encountered before we could get back in the game and try to find a community of faith. Even then it was very slowly over more than a year before we really got involved in our church. Even now, when we are heavily involved, we are acutely aware of all of the ways that it falls short in being Christlike. I think the key is not just finding a healthy church because even the most healthy are going to be broken and flawed. The key is growing in love for those within your community until you are at the point that your love for them is enough to cover over a multitude of sins. We have had real disagreements with people in our church. Many people have said stupid things to us. We’ve said and done some stupid things too. But we love them.

    I think that 1 John 4:20 really speaks to this: “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

    This is a huge challenge. I think that those who choose to isolate themselves from the church are missing the boat on this one. There are certainly times in which, for one’s own health, one must leave particular abusive and unfruitful church situations. But we must remember that we are not just called to love those outside the church, we are called to love those within it. Very often the latter is more difficult. Very often it takes an investment of our time and it calls us to find a way to work alongside those whose view are so different from ours.

    The ministry of reconciliation is not just about our own personal reconciliation with God. It is about our reconciliation with all, including those pesky clueless church members. If we cannot love them, who are made in God’s image and deeply loved by God, how can we claim to love God?

    It is difficult, I admit. I am constantly learning from my own mistakes.

  4. Thank you all for the great feedback and for the honesty and vulnerability in sharing here about past pain. Xochitl, your last paragraph felt especially significant in thinking about this. Thank you.

  5. Tom,

    Sorry for that! I am genuinely asking the question, and I am glad for those who have chosen to respond here. I am not shy about my bias-that comes through loud and clear, I’m sure :) And it is precisely because of my bias, I guess (which is how I am reading your “self-serving”), that I wanted to get some feedback from people who have a very different set of experiences and a perspective I don’t.

    I wrote quickly while managing two kiddos in the bath, so maybe I was sloppy in tone? Sorry for any way that came through badly.

  6. Erika,

    My experience is only my experience, but I can share a little of my journey. My husband and I were a part of an abusive leader-controlled style of church for a few years and then were sent to start a new church by that very church. Unfortunately, we did what we knew to do and were on the path to creating that which had hurt us.

    God in His grace has led us down a path that is quite unlike anything we’d expected. After recognizing the path we were on, we transitioned the church we’d started to more of a house church-like model, left the area and didn’t go to a church for a year. Like Indie, we needed to detox from the unhealthy things we’d learned about leadership, God, and His Kingdom.

    After that, God led us into missions for little over a year. Now we are back home and praying for the next stage of our journey. We don’t currently go to a local church. I don’t hate other believers and would love to be in community, but here is my struggle. I have serious concerns about traditional church authority, treatment of women, and lack of concern for widows, orphans, and those who are in need that I’ve seen in our area.

    Right now, for me to go to a church means that I cannot voice what I truly value on these issues. My desire is not to make anyone believe what I believe or to sow division into any local body, so I would stay quiet. But is that being genuine? Would I not be presenting a false self to those I would be in community with?

    Perhaps I underestimate people and let my fears get in the way. I agree with you that community is important. I also know that there is no perfect church out there. How do I go to a church and not become a “back row” member?

    I know that God is not done working in me yet, and I may understand things completely differently a year from now. What I need most from people who do go to church is love, encouragment to follow Christ (not just their tenets), and acceptance for where I am on my journey.

    I hope that my rambling thoughts make sense from this busy mommy.

    Thanks for asking the question.

  7. While it is not my experience, I work with many people who have been so hurt, abused, and the like from a local church that they have lost all trust in re-engaging with a community of faith again. And when the abuse comes from a pastor or leader, then it is the worst. So I do understand why people leave a community of faith because they don’t trust the members of the community.

  8. I can’t particularly say that I’ve been abused by the church (more than what I consider normative, or is that in of itself telling?) or deliberately driven away. Nor do I feel like I have been actively called away from any sort of commitment to local church community.

    I might be mistaken about the particular context of what the Fuller prof said, but it strikes me as flippant. A sort of backhanded commentary on the friend’s decision to opt out of local church commitment. More of a dismissal than exhortation or just good ol’ fashioned rebuke.

    But I think in my personal experience it’s fair to say that I don’t like church (here I particularly mean the Sunday ritual). What’s silly to me is that a lot of individual elements and disciplines that compromise the church (eg – worship, communion, scripture study, sermons, liturgy, giving) are entirely life-giving to me, and elements that simply cannot be engaged on an individual level (satisfactorily).

    I don’t think it’s an inappropriate analogy to say that I feel like a single man when it comes to church. It’s still hard to get over ex-girlfriends, a lot of blind dates suck, I get jealous at other people’s passionate relationships, I don’t feel that she wants to seriously commit to me.

    And I’m not sure I want to get into the game.

    That sounds very immature, but as somebody who hasn’t grown up Christian or churched, I don’t think finding love in church is easy.

  9. First, let me say that I attend a conventional ‘church’. Just keep that in mind.

    You say: “In our age of church-less Jesus-followers”

    I think this statement in it self is a true indication of a lack of understanding of some of the real issues that are currently being worked out in our time. Your statement should better read “In our age of institutional-church-less Jesus-followers”.

    Remember, I am an institutional-church attender and I am in a lay leadership position of said ‘church’. That being said, I do not get much fellowship with my church in the context of the church programs or church fellowships.

    I do have real christian fellowship with both other attenders as well as others that are outside of our institution [both believers from other churches and some that have been 'pushed out' of institutions altogether.] It is this fellowship that I believe – “do not forsake the assembling together” really talks about. After all, the assembling together that occurs at my institutional church only produces superficial fellowship that is driven by the agenda of programs and institutional needs.

    I am on the verge of “separating from others”, however in my case, and I believe that the is the case more often than not, I am ‘separating towards another others’.

    I fully believe with you and your prof that “Paul wrote those letters to communities of faith”. I just believe that the communities of faith that Paul wrote to did not look like or have the institutional baggage that the communities of faith alluded to have.

    As a matter of fact, there is no reason that one expression of a community of faith could not be manifest on the blogosphere.

    Anyway, this has been a comment from one whose walk with God is on the verge of requiring him to separate from [the institutional church].

  10. Barry,

    Thank you for adding your thoughts and experience to the discussion. It reminded me of a time someone once told one of my peers that his “church” was that smaller group of people with whom he practiced prayer, confession, service, and just plain relationship, and not necessarily the larger body as a whole.

    I am sure it is the experience of many (and this has showed up in the comments here for sure!) that what goes by the name “church” today can be superficial or harmful even, and that is difficult to swallow for someone who “loves the church”. I do think, however, that much of what we get from Paul was written precisely because communities were full of drama and sin and corruption and even harm. So it is not as if, in my prof’s words, Paul’s letters would only make sense or be appropriately applied to healthy, well-adjusted, faithful communities.

  11. Erika,

    I couldn’t agree more, but let me take it even further.

    Paul’s letters were not written to the ’1st church of whatever in your/ my city’ but was written to the whole church in your/ my city and it was not written to an institution but to a community.

    One of the main issues I have with most communities of believers -be they institutional or not- and the problem I currently have with my local institutional congregation is that conversation with people, like myself, who have ideas and ‘theologies’ that are outside of their circle of belief are not only discouraged it is often actively dissuaded.

    To think that the evangelical theology, or the baptist theology, or the catholic theology is the only correct theology is not only arrogant but is in the long run harmful.

    Iron sharpens iron only works when you are using two or more different pieces of iron.

    For too long we have been itching our ears not by gathering around us teachers of different doctrines that make us feel better but by keeping out those voices of different doctrines that we find undesirable. We have already accumulated the teachers around us that teach to our own desires.

    It was only after I realized this and sought out teachers outside my own desires, teachers that did not tickle my ears by challenged my current understanding of Paul’s letters, that I broke free from my charismatic, evangelical and even protestant idolatry.

    So my walk with God is not on the verge of requiring me to separate from an institutional church because that institutional church is messy and full of sin, but because there is not room for conversation over heretical [in their eyes] but orthodox views.

    Paul’s letters ultimately were not written to be understood or interpreted on a individual level but neither were they written to be understood on an individual congregational or denominational level. We need an understanding in the context of of the whole community of believers: eastern orthodox, oriental orthodox, catholic, the myriad of protestants, charismatics, and so on.

    True this is not a concern for everybody, most need only be concerned with their local community. The thing is, today we are seeing a larger number of people that are seeking a global community understanding. And these people become ostracized by their ‘church’ and are pushed out or leave before they are forced out. I believe that is one reason why we are in an age of ‘church-less Jesus-followers’.

  12. What a great conversation.

    I have been taking a break from church for the last three months. I haven’t blogged about it because I don’t want people to misunderstand and think I am *against* church attendance, or frustrated with my specific church community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    I have a painful history of spiritual abuse, and began to address that history in a very honest way over the summer. I found that simply going to church was making me so angry, I needed to stop for awhile.

    And in a way, not going to church has salvaged my faith.

    I needed to separate myself for a time in order to sort out some complicated issues and emotions, and I found that I was less angry at God than I thought I was…and more angry at the church.

    Now I’m at a place where I’m not lumping all the people who hurt me together as the church, but rather, seeing the individuals.

    And in doing so, I’m letting go of the anger and beginning to embrace the Church in a way I never have before — as a group of broken people, worshiping together. My expectations are changing. I’m changing.

    This is such a good thing.

    And I do think for me letting go of the rigidity of church attendance has been a huge plus — not just for me but for my children. We’ve talked a lot about what it means to follow Jesus and have a relationship with Him…that it’s not about what we *do* or *don’t do.* This has been powerful, especially for one of my boys who tends to be a very rigid rule follower.

    I do plan to go back to church in the spring. (And I have to say, we’ve had the healthiest winter we’ve ever had…I’ve kept the toddler out of the nursery!!)

    Anyway, just wanted to throw out where I’m at on this journey.

    Grace.

  13. Erika,

    This is such a fundamental, important question. Thank you for asking it. Two years ago, I discovered the emergent movement and so my responses to what I’ve read today are framed with that. It is refreshing to see it discussed from other viewpoints.

    I resonated with Mary when she said, “Right now, for me to go to a church means that I cannot voice what I truly value on these issues.” I absolutely used to feel that way. Like Llama Momma, I would sit in church and get angry. Since I wasn’t voicing what I valued (sometimes because the leadership didn’t want to hear it and sometimes because I felt like it would push me too far to the fringes), every word and ritual felt opposed to me. Church was like a internal wrestling match as I tried to quell my struggle so no one else could see it and judge me.

    At the height of my spiritual exhaustion, I found both the emergent movement AND a church that exists to provide haven to folks who have experiences of hurt and betrayal from institutional churches. It has been the blessing of my life to find both. The church is good for my individual soul. The movement is important to make this opportunity available to everyone.

    At church, we describe ourselves as the Island of Misfit Toys, which is the resolution both Llama Momma and Barry described of folks who disagree but are committed to live in community with one another. We are 30-40 broken folks trying to figure out how to love each other through our mutual brokenness. I just downloaded a worship album called Hope for a Tree Cut Down and one of the lyrics says, “We need each other more than we need to agree.” I couldn’t agree more. Having found a community that values authentic participation from everyone is amazing. I encourage people to keep looking, even if it means putting up Craigslist ads to find like-minded folks. It’s worth the effort.

  14. I’m not sure if my experience is quite what you’re asking about, but it seems close enough that I’ll share it, and simply ask for your indulgence.

    I’ve always felt that it is important to be a part of a fellowship of fellow believers, and that “going it alone” is a dangerous option, at best. However, I will confess to periods where I have “floated,” not properly being committed to a single community, for various reasons.

    Finding a community to make one’s own is hard, but I wonder if it should be so. There’s a sense in which, when I am told by others that one should just attend whatever community happens to be closest to them (without regard to theological teachings or the health of that community), I cannot disagree with them fully. Even so, I cannot in good conscience become a part of a faith community that is not in substantial agreement on what I consider “core doctrines,” or that has no place for women in leadership (the main “non-negotiable” that I don’t actually consider “essential” to actually being a Christian), or that has obvious signs of such severe dysfunction that it would drag me down, rather than be a place that I can (with God’s guidance) be a part of helping.

    But, even with those modest pre-requisites, I find (found?) myself often wondering if I am too picky. That despite my protests to the contrary, that I really am “looking for the perfect church.” Even though I have (finally?) committed to a current church, some of these questions remain. I worship in a significantly different tradition (PCUSA) than my wife (Episcopalian), and there are times when I feel that I should leave my current church (which is a pretty good fit for me) to worship with my wife, my difficulty feeling like I can “enter in” to worship in her tradition notwithstanding. And I think my wife would have same concerns if we reversed the question to ask whether or not she should leave (and thereby abandon her own calling and worship preferences in favor of something that she is simply not as “at home” with).

    There are no easy answers, but I definitely welcome the discussion.

  15. Rebecca and Barry,

    Thank you for capturing so well what I hear many people describe. I have not found myself in a place before where I felt silenced or marginalized to the degree you describe. But I have heard enough other people describe just that and I can’t say how I would handle that myself. I suppose I have self-selected, and moved toward people and places where I feel at home, and I happen to be a part of a denomination that welcomes a lot of diversity of thought and practice. I know that is not the norm.

    Mark, I resonate with your highlighting the issue of women in church leadership, and cannot really imagine being somewhere where that wasn’t affirmed. I can also barely imagine Doug and I worshiping in two separate communities yet I do identify your struggle. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over time for you guys.

    Thanks, all, for the continued vulnerability in sharing your experiences. I am glad I asked the question.

  16. [Erika, please feel free to edit this contribution if either the length or content is objectionable by your standards.]

    I have always believed that communal worship as a formally enrolled member of the body of Christ is a matter of obligation and not choice. I have therefore been shocked to discover that my body of work, which I consider lay ministry though technically it’s “gang research,” has rendered me quite literally unwelcome from a series of churches … even while I maintained a mild-mannered, conservatively attired, and deliberately low-key profile within these successive congregations. Becoming an eyesore to my own church has been, undoubtedly, the number one source of pain and puzzlement in my adult life. I saw an old friend from the community over the Christmas holidays, and the first catching-up question she asked me was, “So, what church have you been thrown out of this year?”

    I do not think my experience is at all unique, but I don’t think it’s quite the norm either, and I am trying to be faithful to understand what the Lord might be trying to teach me by granting this same experience repeatedly. I wish I knew … I’m glad you opened this topic. Two threads of dawning insight I can share.

    I now have tremendous, authentic empathy [an answer to my prayer – “at whatever cost, Lord”] with my friends in the African-American community (many of them long-since converted to Islam) who sensed “something threateningly not right” in the Christian churches of their childhood. This point will remain necessarily cryptic here, but my work has led me to understand that, just maybe, God let them go from that milieu for their own protection. While I grieve that my beloved Muslim sister doesn’t name Jesus with me, I would not wish for her to have suffered what my other African-American friends suffered in the same time period in the name of evangelical ministry (albeit, not at the hands of Christians, but at the hands of nefarious forces in history that used religion as convenient cover while real believers apparently did not test the spirit (?).

    I have come to bind on my forehead that phrase “Jesus’ other sheep.” At the height of my pain and confusion on this topic (sometimes redoubled by blog conversation, I might add), my former pastor Dr. Craig Barnes at Shadyside Presbyterian spoke the following words from his pulpit:

    “The goal for the follower of Jesus Christ is to know this revelation of God, and to pay attention to his words. Nothing that he tells us is more important than this reminder: ‘I have other sheep not of this fold.’ Our biblical scholars tell us Jesus meant his sheep are not only of the House of Israel, and that there will also be a fold of Gentiles. But it also falls to us Gentile adherents of Christianity to remember that Jesus has little interest in religions and a great deal of interest in bringing God to all people. How he does that, in what religious trappings he does that, or even if he does it outside of all religions is really the business of a God whose ways are not our ways.” (Full text: http://www.shadysidepres.org/worship/Sermon%20Texts/2007/2007_11_25.pdf)

    I serve a body of people who lie well beyond the reach of any institutional church I’ve ever known, with the rare exception of a few storefront operations dotted here and there in the historical landscape. Could I have an effective ministry to “my people” if I knew the loving embrace of my own congregation? Maybe not. We’re all outcasts now. But you’ll still find me rotating like a circuit rider, “passing the peace” on the back pews of a list of churches with steeples.

    For now, while I positively yearn to feel more than abstract solidarity with fellow Christians near or far, this is the best I get. And I am constructively reminded that every single bit of church-going is a gift from above. The wordless act of receiving the wine and the bread never seemed so precious, the sacred music heals me, and the mystery embraced more by the Catholic tradition is a sustaining comfort to my rattled soul. I’d give a leg to know what theological insights about the limits of the institutional church Bonhoeffer might have written in his next book, had he lived to tell. The movement of his thoughts at the end of his life seems tremendously suggestive, and I truly wish I understood more about these questions.

  17. Thanks, Catherine. I was hoping you would share a bit of your journey here. It actually reminded me, too, that there was indeed a season in my young adulthood where I lived and worked in Chicago with a group of kids that didn’t “fit” with the crowd at any of the local churches. I guess I did drift a bit during that season, longing for a church family that would embrace them, and me in my loving them. That was the first time I considered church-planting as something I might do (though I envisioned a very informal, seminary-less, version of it!).

  18. Your orbit between Chicago and LA is enormously important to unpack and maybe easier to do so with some distance. I know you have the street cred’s with exactly the kind of people I mean. I think of you cleaning bullet wounds back in Chicago sometimes when I am lonely.

  19. An interesting piece to this for me is that I know that there are a handful of people for whom my presence in the pulpit here is a significant challenge. In fact, I have been told that there are a couple who might leave because of it. So the whole “unity through differences” always has a boundary and we all have our own version of what those boundaries are. How we handle scripture is at the heart of that, and I think of Scot McKnight’s recent book, The Blue Parakeet, and his exploration of precisely that question.

  20. The McKnight book looks fascinating … very timely in light of the gay marriage debate too. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    I will definitely keep you in my prayers. I’m glad to know what to ask. I know it hurts you to feel as if you’re troubling someone, even for right reasons. You might find a kindred spirit in another Fuller grad, Lynne Faris Blessing, at Bethany Presbyterian in Seattle. A precious, humble soul who must have struggled with the same issue and did so with tremendous grace.

  21. I asked the “why church?” question to my on-line accountability group about a month ago. After 4 years, I thought I had put the demons to rest, but the encounters my wife and I had at First Judgmental Baptist continued to haunt me. I won’t bore you with specific stories. In Mark 2, Jesus says it isn’t the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. Instead of offering the physician, many churches today just shoot their sick. After investing 5 years of our lives to service and deep friendships we left FJB. After a couple months we joined a church that tries really hard not to be “church.” But as the community continues to grow, more structure and policies are required for efficient operation. It seems that we are becoming that from which most of us ran away. So, why church? I’d rather have a two-hour virtual accountability group meeting with my best friend who moved back to Holland. I get much more out of our in-depth discussions about our faith than a sermon for the masses or 4 or 5 praise songs. Please forgive my cyncial tone. I feel the doubt about church (doctrine, legalism, etc) that has come to the front and center of my life is making my faith stronger…a stronger faith that will actual do some good out in the real world where Jesus wants/needs us. I tend to agree with a friend of mine who said, ‘God needs more people out in the market place doing his work than behind the safe, self-serving confines of the church walls.’ With all that said, I’ve come full circle, “Why not church?”

  22. Erika,

    I am one of those people who go to church, sit in the pew, and feel completely alienated and unaffected. Week after week after week. I do it for family reasons, no more. I don’t find any community in it, and when I tried to immerse myself deeper (board chair) it was a disaster.

    I could no more open myself up to community with those people than I could with random strangers off the street. I did not grow up in that church, or even in that denomination, so I am not one of the “in” crowd, not one of the cliques who have known each other (and been cliques) since elementary school.

    To make it worse, this is one of those churches that are totally inwardly focused. 98% of the budget (really, I’ve measured) goes to in-house benefits. The amount of community engagement and service is laughable for the size and wealth of the congregation.

    So…I “go to church”, but I don’t feel like I am part of a church, if that makes sense. But I am supposed to go, right? That makes it all better, right? So I plod along, every Sunday wishing I was anywhere but there. Even so, I still feel convicted by what you wrote. I just don’t know how to fix it (again, for very strong family reasons “church shopping” or non-attendance are just not an option).

    Peace.

  23. Jim and myheartisinlynchburg,

    Thank you for being willing to share your stories here. I imagine that there are many others who can identify with what you are describing.

    It is gut-wrenching to read your accounts and know that your stories are the same as so many others. And I know that so many of us long for church to be “church”; a place of authenticity and mission and grace. And so often what is experienced is not those things but judgment, or politics, or something that feels self-serving.

    It is so complex, too, to consider the options: no church in favor of a personal journey; online relationships/community with like-minded people; families divided over preferences with each member participating in a different faith community; separating over theological issues/taking a stand on something (like women’s leadership); a period of recovery that simply involves non-participation in any structure; or sticking it out somewhere that causes your soul to feel less alive with each passing week.

    May God have mercy on us, wherever we are, and lead us as we need to be led.

  24. Erika,

    Amen.

    So what I do is “go to church” but then seek Church outside of that. By volunteering at a local food pantry (and for a while at a mobile food pantry run by, gasp!, another church in another denomination). By recognizing that time spent eating and drinking and laughing and crying with family and friends is also a place where God gathers. And yes, by seeking out community online, at blogs like yours and at my own. It helps. But in some ways it also hurts, because it shows what I am lacking when I polish a pew in that building called “church” that I am told is supposed to give me all that I need in terms of a community.

    However, if you feel love and comfort in your church, then give thanks and rejoice in it! For it is special and I personally believe it is rare.

    Good discussion!

  25. I’m going to borrow a philosophy from a friend of mine – if only church were a “practice of faith” instead of a “system of belief,” we wouldn’t have so many people shaping their self-serving “systems” by visiting the Bible Grocery Store and picking out what they want. Jim, I agree that this is a a great discussion. Maybe we’re having church right now?

  26. To make it simple, and if we consider this a heremenutical response to a word “community” which intails the delicate sharings of ones life; as well as largerly a formation of having “common interests in God and His sound doctrine written; along with a confidentality expression; a emmense respect for anothers opinions, as well as a founded representation of leadership being infactly observed with consistency in their beliefs and actions. Also having the ability to have interpersonal relations with others–meaning “the sinners” indeed. Otherwise , you have nothing but a falicy. Actually,in my opinion without the neccessity of any exaggeration; we seemingly present ourselves today greavely as leaders who continually falsify religion by their own hypocritical actions towards the innoccent parishioners needing truth instead,comfort,and love Chrsit like-I think?. I find it truly amazing how when I page throughout my Bible, it seems over and over, and over how God himself stated “Please, my leadership council of men….DO NOT yourselves walk in this way, but rather show yourselves in Honor before me with mercy for others….representing a more than astonishing community–rather show a intersession of being that of “a Saint” remember, through earnest “Prayer and love” for the other. Be wise now to affect the love of God bringing those who are alive to a real communion with Christ, rather not to head out the door instead. Best not to represent a “Three Ringed Circus” leaving the innocent with no knowledge, shaking their heads in a posture of disgrace, and a quick walk away again.” Matthew 23:27-28.

    Therefore, turn dear brothers and sisters…finding a body of the righteous supporting leaders; a cause of “Truthfullness and Perseverence” that’s real ~ a small earthly palace my children and I have found & observed….geneuine prayers, support for the good causes of God, Himself. Up-hold this sort of community-the right ones indeed. A community starts with a great Pastoral Leader, example: Sir’ Hybels….than it trickles down intently unto great men/council who truly love others, a Big Difference and its quite obvious. Therefore, I find if it is any brother/or sister who IS gravely hurting from a churches dissaster, perhaps not worth much….great authentic prayers, men who love, friends will come to the rescue for the real Gods Kingdom work~something worth talking about…inviting you to a Palace worth investing in, much….amen Psalm 45, Jeremiah 31 miss Rahab, snow bunnies

  27. Thanks for this post. I have no idea who you are, but I think Holy Spirit led me to your site:-) I’ve been struggling with not wanting church for awhile now, after growing up in the South where I LOVED church despite the good, the bad, and the ugly that can take place in communities. In LA, I’ve found less and less to love about church. One church exploded and lost its entire staff at once and went somewhat bankrupt, only to have a fundamentalist pastor take over out of nowhere who hated women in leadership, etc. The next church was liberal and seemed to have no standards (perhaps out of reaction to too strict tendencies in the past). A staff member (and former friend) was allowed to make lewd videos and post them on youtube (references to men’s private parts, etc). The pastor yelled at me for being upset over it. If we have no standards at all, though, what’s the point of being the church? Why go? We might as well not if we don’t get a different kind of love there. Basically, church in LA has sucked, so I haven’t wanted to go anywhere at all for months… but with that I also killed a deep part of my faith and the chance to grow and heal. Anyway, your blog helps me a lot. Thanks for writing it!! (I didn’t read the other comments, just the entry. It’s what I needed). Please pray for me, ma’am?

  28. I had gone to traditional Charismatic church for over 30 years , but something inside was telling me that something was wrong with this picture. Why is every service similar, why do the same few people do most of the spiritual stuff, why are things controlled by man, why so few deep meaningful relationships, why so many passive believers, why pay so much for buildins and pastors salaries, why the clergy laity divide if we are all priests unto God, why the building set up in a way to discourage face to face community? I had more questions also that I won’t go into, but God led me into the organic church, or some call it simple church or house church, and it has been what I was looking for, much more relational, life giving , and fulfilling. God opened my eyes and I was unplugged from the matrix and I took the red pill,

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