What To Do Instead

Posted: October 14, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
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Several years ago, at the church I talk about in Part 2 of my story, the pastor surmised that if we were given incontrovertible evidence that God does not exist, that Jesus was just a myth, and that our faith was fallacy, we would still meet together, have classes and programs and serve the organization and the mission because for most, church is merely a country club.

While I eventually suffered spiritual abuse under this man’s leadership, I do believe he was quite correct in his assertion. The church has been and continues to be so much of a club or institution where too many people get caught up in position, politics, and minutia that they have very little thought for the relationship they are to have with God – listening to Him, talking to Him, hearing Him as He directs their lives and moves them toward extending His love and grace to others.

We have turned church into a place where Christians are so busy being taught about how they fall short, how they are not measuring up, the sins they commit – real or imagined. Instead of simply basking in the joy of being forgiven.

My last church was very much a country club in many ways. Some people were highly esteemed members of the club because of their pedigree, their position in the community, their income, their level of giving, the location of their neighborhood, etc. Observe the pastors and staff on Sunday mornings and you would soon see that there were certain people whom they were careful to speak with at length on a regular basis. The owners of the large business in town. The doctors. The politicians. The school superintendent. People with money and prestige.

Early on in our attendance there, the pastor told me directly that he listens to people who donate statistically large amounts of money. He listens to the multi-millionaire business owner who gives a million dollars to increase staffing over a three-year period. And he also listens to the widow who is on social security but still gives $1000 a month to the church. Being attentive to widows is very noble until you realize that he will never consider the thoughts of the widow who is only able to give $2 a week.

For many years the church has provided all-expenses-paid trips to conferences around the country to people who have been identified as leaders, whether it be in the areas of worship, teaching, spiritual growth and development, etc. But those trips were never advertised or open to the general population of the church – even for those who would have been wiling to pay their own way. Opportunities for training and spiritual formation at those events were limited to only those hand-picked by the leadership and rarely did the ordinary person ever hear about them. The hierarchy of the church determined who received ministry, who was to be raised up as leaders, who was worthy and valuable, and, of course, who wasn’t.

I was always one of those people who longed to be “chosen” – to be invited to go to training, to a conference, to a special event. But, even as a worship leader early on, and later as a teacher, and even one who was giving significant time and money to the church, I never met the criteria for being included. And neither did several of the people with whom I have interacted. We would occasionally talk about trips we had heard others discussing – both before and after. And we would express our disappointment in never being part of the “beautiful people” who were repeatedly attending those out-of-state events on the church’s nickel.

Now that I no longer attend a church, I have realized that I am in a wonderful position. Since I no longer tithe to a church, I get to be the church – to others and to myself. My old church used my money and gifts to take others to conferences and for training. Now, I can take myself with my “tithe.” My old church used my money to beautify their building and property. Now, I can use that money to beautify my own life. My old church used my money to buy the pastor hundreds of books. Now, I can use that money to buy myself books. My old church used my money to reach out to others. Now, I can use my money to reach out to others, to serve others, to encourage others, to embrace others.

I believe God is calling me to prepare myself. I believe I have come through the years of abuse as part of that preparation – so that I could know deeply the needs at hand. I believe that God is moving the church outside the walls of an institution – that many churches will become empty shells much like those in Europe. I also believe the church will become less measurable in numbers and more measurable in how they reach out to people. Those who have built their churches based on the political, social, and financial standing of others may well one day discover that they were building on sinking sand.

  1. Isabel Carr Smart says:

    “I believe God is calling me to prepare myself. I believe I have come through the years of abuse as part of that preparation – so that I could know deeply the needs at hand. I believe that God is moving the church outside the walls of an institution” – I also very much believe this to be true. Another friend in a similar situation described us as “the firstborn”, whom God is calling out to be His Church in the World. We are prophets and apostles.

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