Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why I still go

As some of you know, I still go to an institutional church on Sunday mornings. The believers I spend time with are a wonderful group of people who call themselves Presbyterians. I attend the Sunday morning service regularly but I don’t go to any of the regularly scheduled programs although I may attend a special event if I want to.

About 12 years ago, God began to set me free from a religious mindset. As I became more and more aware of my identity in Christ and what he had accomplished for me by his death, burial and resurrection, I started to see the church differently.

I now understand that the church is not a building or a denomination but it’s a people who have been energized by the life of God. Also, fellowship is not a group of believers sitting in a building listening to a lecture about the Bible. Fellowship is a sharing of lives which can take place any time believers come together.

As I began to understand the truth of the gospel, my involvement in the organized church grew less and less but I never actually stopped going.

Those of you who have stopped going understand the stress you experience anytime you’re asked THE question . . . “Where do you go to church?” There’s always pressure to come up with an answer that won’t generate the infamous Hebrews 10:25 response.

Those of us who still go and can name a place have our own stresses too. I can feel a knot in my chest every time I’m asked where I go to church. Although church is a part of my life, it’s a relatively unimportant part. So, as a result, I struggle to find the right balance in my answer.

Then, I’m faced with another dilemma. There’s a tendency for some believers who have left the system to bash the institutional church. Before I continue, let me say that this isn’t a problem with those who comment on my blog and it isn't a problem with other believers that I’ve connected with through online groups such as the Free Believers forum.

However, I have seen this tendency on other online groups that I frequent. In conversations, those of us who attend are sometimes challenged about our participation. Comments are made and the result is that believers who understand grace but still attend are considered to be fraternizing with the enemy and are made to feel guilty.

At times, I’ve wondered myself why I still attend since I get nothing out of the sermon and don’t particularly enjoy the other parts of the service. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I haven’t gotten fed up and left. So, when talking to those who have left, unless I know them well, I’m always careful to come up with a good excuse for why I still attend.

Recently, I received an email from a friend who has been in a similar situation. He was going for family reasons but recently made the decision that "enough is enough" and it was finally time to make a break.

As I thought about what he shared, I began to see my own situation more clearly. I had to be honest with myself. The bottom line is . . . I go because I want to. I enjoy being around people even when I don’t actively interact with them. Laurie Helgoe in her book, “Introvert Power” talks about this desire of introverts to be alone among people and it’s true in my life. When I’m home alone for too long, I tend to get depressed so I do better emotionally if I’m around people even if we never talk. I can drift off into my own thoughts and do just fine.

So, I go Sunday mornings and pay no attention to what happens on stage. If I feel like singing, I do. If I don’t feel like singing, I don’t. I don’t raise my arms or clap when they tell me unless I feel like it. When the lecture starts, I tune out. I either look out the window that’s across the room or I watch the people and enjoy them.

As a free believer, God has restored to me choice and I’m now free to make my own decisions and to relate to him in a way that's natural. Of course, I’m not talking about freedom to sin but in the nitty gritty decisions of life, I’m free to choose. As far as church is concerned, I’m free to go and I’m free to not go. The decision is entirely mine.

I don’t know what the future holds. There may come a day when I decide that “enough is enough” but for now, I understand that it’s just not time for me to leave. If that time ever comes, I’ll know it and then I’ll leave but, until then, I have the freedom to go because I want to and I don’t have to feel guilty because I do.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Elders

Believers who have been hurt by the religious system have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to leadership in the church. Because many of us have been hurt by abusive and controlling leaders, the tendency is to get into a ditch on the other side of the road and to say that all leadership is under the Old Covenant and the need for human leaders ended under the New Covenant.

I think this teaching is as false as the system of leadership promoted by the institutional church. I really believe God intended for his church to have leaders. As I was thinking about this a while ago, I decided to put some thoughts down but I never posted them. I was trying to decide if I should post them when I read Bino’s latest post. I thought what he said went along well with what I had written so I decided to post what I had written and incorporate a few new thoughts.

In the institutional church, leadership is provided by a pastor with the assistance of a board of elders. In that type of system, it’s easy to determine who are the leaders . . . they’re the ones with the title.

However, this wasn’t the method used by the early church. According to Frank Viola, “The Christians themselves led the church under Christ’s direct headship. Leaders were organic, untitled, and were recognized by their service and spiritual maturity rather than by a title or office.” (Pagan Christianity, page 110)

In any group of believers, over time, it’ll become obvious who the elders are. They’re the ones who are serving and encouraging the others. They’re the ones that the other members go to for advice and encouragement. True elders don’t need a title and they don’t go around saying that they’re elders. They just live it without a lot of fanfare.

Eldership was never meant to be a position filled by a congregational election. Elders were supposed to develop as the members of the church grew in relationship. In this healthy, loving environment, elders would just naturally begin to function as elders.

The institutional church with its emphasis on titles and positions actually hinders the raising up of elders. In these systems, the work of ministry is done by those who have the position of pastor or elder. People are encouraged to go to the one with the title even if that person lacks wisdom and maturity. The true elder, the one who is mature and has wisdom, is often overlooked.

As the church leaves the building, I’m seeing elders begin to function in some of the online groups I’m involved with. As relationships grow, the elders in the group become apparent as they humbly move out to serve the others. This is the normal and healthy way the church is supposed to function. Led by this type of organic leadership, members will mature and the church will move forward as Christ intended.

In his comments, Bino posted a more complete list of the characteristics of a true leader. For those who don’t normally read comments, I’ll post his list here since I think the points he makes are very good and worth noting. He said,

"In my mind, a true leader:

-will serve people rather than control or manipulate
-will trust the Holy Spirit in each believer to do the leading and living.
-encourage people to question, challenge and debate various spiritual issues, doctrines etc
-do not force their opinion on others.
-give people freedom to make their own decisions as they are lead by Holy Spirit.
-tolerate diversity.
-promotes transparency and authenticity.
-admits his fleshly imperfection, weakness etc.
-willing to do more listening than preaching.
-will be humble, and have an attitude of a servant of God.
-do not act like they have a special hot line with God.
-believes that God has no partiality.
-encourages total freedom in Christ, teaches freedom from any kind of law.
-will not have an attitude of "I am in charge".
-accepts and loves people as they are, not as they should be.
-will not be a behavior modification therapist, rather point people to their righteous identity in Christ because of what Jesus did."

To read his complete post, follow this link.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Breaking the Facebook Habit

I held out for a long time. I had absolutely no desire to have a Facebook but several months ago due to a number of unusual circumstances, I decided to give it a try and I immediately became hooked. As my list of friends grew, the number of status reports on my home page increased each day. I found myself reading what everybody had eaten for breakfast. I read about someone’s run to the grocery store to buy milk. I got daily reports from runners who were training for a marathon. Interspersed among all of this chatter, I found an occasional blog or quote that encouraged me.

The only thing I didn’t realize was that all of this focus on chit chat was robbing me of something I needed desperately . . . my blogging friends. As Facebook consumed more of my time, I found myself reading less of the blogs that I had grown to love and that had encouraged me on my journey.

I didn’t realize there was a problem until recently when loneliness once again began to be my companion. About a year and a half ago, when I connected with a group of bloggers, I noticed that loneliness was no longer a problem. I felt a strong and deep connection with them that totally displaced the loneliness. Yet, recently, it seems like I can’t shake it.

Facebook has it’s good points but, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t satisfy my need for close relationships such as I had experienced through blogging. I find it hard to develop deep relationships on Facebook and I want to re-connect with all of my friends and again experience the friendships I once had. So, I’ve made a decision. I don’t plan to quit Facebook but blogging comes first and, if there’s time left over, then I’ll check out Facebook.