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.


lionwoman said...

Aida, thank you for sharing this. I'm glad you can 'go or not go' with complete freedom about it in your heart. My husband and I have pondered whether we could 'go back' and not get sucked in or weighed down by all the things IC does to try to put people in bondage (intentionally or not). I have thought that going back to just be around the people might be good for me as well, but I'm afraid I couldn't do it without feeling burdened.

In Christ Alone said...

I totally hear you on this Aida and face this in my daily ponderings on living in Grace and He living in me. I think I can be content wherever He leads. If we don't have a community of like-minded believers around can be a lonely place at times. I like to get together with believers and most times we don't see eye to eye on things....and sometimes my brows do go up by the things I hear. Opportunities come and sometimes they go but I will not be weighed down by religious ideas that do not line up with Scripture or what I believe as a Grace follower. I can even go to a Pot Luck and feel OK about that. I do desperately want a group of like-minded believers to fellowship with and I search this out frequently. Organized churches are more popular and for good reason. People are there. I can be alone in Christ for a long time knowing there is union with others across this great expanse of earth. I know there is a unity with believers who do not experience walking in Grace. I will not be maligned or abused for my beliefs but I can stand amongst those who do not see Truth. I can also shake the dust off of my feet when necessary and move on. I can be anywhere because I am never truly alone. I am One with Jesus. Enjoy your community and let the burden of grace legalists not inhibit your living a full and complete life. I am the Church is my answer to those who ask. I am free to stand in Christ wherever and whenever I choose to BE.

In Him,


Aida said...

Amy, you won’t know until you try. You and I have had several discussions on this and I think you know where to draw the line. Just remember, if it doesn’t work out, you can always leave again.

Aida said...

Vanessa., like you, I would love to have fellowship with like hearted believers on a regular basis but so far, that pleasure has eluded me. However, I believe I can relate to others at whatever level I find common ground and that has its own pleasures.

I like how you put it. “I am the Church is my answer to those who ask. I am free to stand in Christ wherever and whenever I choose to BE.” Beautifully said.

Bino M. said...

I hear you, Aida! Being an introvert is sometimes very complicated. Sometimes I feel like being with people, but then I need my own space to regain my energy. It's weird. But one thing is consistent - that I need my own private space to recharge myself. Crowds don't recharge me (unless it's few like-minded people). But it wasn't my introversion what brought me out of IC, it was the irreconcilable differences with the foundation of their teachings.

There were times I had thought about returning to some kind of church setting for the sake of my kids. Right now they don't have good friends. I am still open for such possibility. But it hasn't been worked out and I am not going rush it.

Usually when I listen to a sermon on the basis of performance, I get burdened and even angry. I can't sit through it.

I am glad you are living in freedom, and making free choices from your heart. I think its great. Christianity is not about whether we are attend a church or not. the important thing is, our relationship with Christ Jesus. And you have it.

zinger said...

Hey Aida,

I'd share a pew and hymn book with you any day. Sorry to hear that you have been beat up about going to church on occasion. I just remembered the scene from the movie The Matrix where a little boy was bending a spoon, his comment was remember Neo there is no spoon.

So glad to see that you can live free inside the system. Still apart of me that would love to drive the bus into the other ditch and blow it up, but that's something we need to leave up to Papa.

My biggest beef with the institution like Bino is with the nature of what they teach, and for me it isn't a healthy place to be. I almost wish it was, 'cause it would have been a lot easier for me than some of the choices I've made.

But once you've seen through the crap, you can never go back, whether you still go or not....So live laugh love and be free wherever you're at.

Aida said...

Bino, I agree. I really enjoy being around a few people that I can share real life with but crowds are exhausting.

Bino and Jon, actually, at this point, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be going Sunday mornings. The group I spend time with Sunday mornings just got a new pastor, a really young guy with no experience other than being a youth pastor for a few years. He’s already done a four week sermon on authority. He told us about it in the newsletter so I just stayed home those four weeks.

Well, he didn’t warn us today. Now he’s doing a series that he says is on encouragement but today he spoke on being faithful with our finances. Well, you know what that means . . . tithes and offerings. I finally told my husband I was going to the ladies room and left. I was going to stay gone but then out comes hubby saying he’d heard enough and wasn’t listening to any more.

Since he took over, this pastor has always focused more attention on the offering than his predecessor but today he really turned up the heat. So, I don’t know but I may very soon be saying “enough is enough” like my friend. Anyway, it looks like I might need another little break so I may just stay home for a couple of weeks.

zinger said...

Hey Aida, I'm sorry to hear of the turn for worse. Sounds like some of the stuff that drove me out of the IC. I just couldn't bear to listen to "the pardon the expression" the crap that was coming out of the pulpit. There were some Sundays that I came home feeling nauseous, hmmm I wish that I'd thought of the going to the mens' room routine, that would have been helpful.:)))


Aida said...

Jon, I fully understand what you mean. The previous guys weren’t too bad but Charlie and I had red flags about this guy from the start but we decided to wait and see. The funny thing is he’s not even officially the pastor yet. He’s becomes official in October so it’ll be interesting what happens then.

I’m not too upset. I feel it may be time for me to make a change and this guy may just be the catalyst for that change. I just hate that people are being deceived and manipulated.