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10 Things I don't miss about "doing church"


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , , , ,

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Yesterday I wrote about my new church reality and I compared it to taking the red pill, as in The Matrix.  I wrote that once I discovered some of the corruption that lay at the heart of some church institutions, my eyes were opened to the truth and there was no going back to see church as I had before.  I wrote that I took the red pill and I did not like what I saw.

One of my readers wrote to me and said she had been disillusioned by church too and that my analogy to taking the red pill was like becoming de-illusioned.

De-illusioned.  That's exactly right.  Because although I did not like what I saw, I am definitely very grateful and glad that we are no longer living in an illusion and I do not miss it.

Of course there are things I miss about my pre-red pill vision of church, and I know that if I really wanted to, I could find another place in which to fellowship and worship again.  And as I learn to trust wisely, I'm sure I could even find a safe place.  I'm just not convinced that I'm supposed to.

And here's why:  since leaving the church, my family has grown from strength to strength, spiritually, physically and emotionally.  We have bonded and flourished in our new-found freedom and I use that word on purpose.  We are free where once we were bound.  And our relationships with others have grown too.  You might assume that having been hurt so badly we would put up thick impenetrable walls.  While tempting at times, we have never done that.  Instead, we have learnt (are still learning) to trust wisely and invest carefully, so that our community now is truly authentic and caring.

Here is what I don't miss about "doing church."

1.  I don't miss Christian pressure and manipulation.  There is a lot of do-ing in church today.  A flurry of activity under the guise of serving.  Yes we are called to serve; I do not argue with that.  But Jesus distinctly said, "come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  (Matthew 11:28 NKJV)  I didn't see a lot of rest in my church.  And the pressure to do as much as the do-ers was intense.  I had a friend who committed herself to this that and the other ministry because she felt she ought to. When I asked her about her God-given passions and shouldn't she instead be devoting her energy into those, she said she didn't feel she had that right.  That made me sad.  Leaders are very capable of manipulating members into doing what needs to be done.  And I won't go near the type of manipulation which creates guilt and oppression in its members so that they are then more easily controlled.  Although I have seen it, I hope it is not common in churches.

2.  I do not miss inauthentic community.  Think about it:  we gather on a Sunday morning because that's what we're supposed to do, all smiles and cups of tea.  Chit chat and pats on the back and then we go away again.  People wear their masks and then they feel good about doing the community thing.  I believe that churches with a good homegroup structure experience more authentic community together.  Our church never successfully maintained week-night home groups or life groups.  Whether that was a symptom of inauthenticity or the cause of it, I am not sure.  


3.  I don't miss the infallibility of leaders.  Of course they are fallible, but they pretend not to be, gloss over their mistakes or worse lie, and when questioned, they hit you with "submit to your leaders."  They conveniently ignore that the verse in its entirety says, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."  (Hebrews 13:17)  The implication here is that a leader's role is to shepherd, watch over the flock and care for them for their benefit.  If the leaders are not doing this well, then of course we would have no confidence in them and then it would be foolish to submit to their authority.

4.  I don't miss the constant pursuit of the next big thing in church.  I have heard a pastor say that we just need to try stuff and if it flies, great, if it doesn't, then we'll try something else.  I wondered at the time, where is the Holy Spirit in that?  Where is prayerful seeking and conviction in that?  I have sat in on meetings which discussed endless projects and strategies for reaching the lost.  I realised very quickly that I was a thorn in their side for suggesting to the leaders that actually, perhaps, if we focus on teaching and equipping each other what it means to live a Christ-filled life, that when we allow Jesus to live in and through us we become transformed, then these things that we are trying so hard to do will happen naturally, as we are going about our daily lives.  I was not a lone voice; but I was in a minority and  I remembered Major Ian telling us at Capernwray Bible School all those years ago, "you may have a hard time going back to your churches."   He knew about the red pill and he was warning us:  knowing the Truth won't make you popular.

5.  I don't miss Christian arrogance.  I'm speaking for myself here because I know how arrogant I was.  I'm a Christian; I know the Way, the Truth and the Light.  Pity you for not knowing.  I first started to see it when a friend of mine said he didn't have any non-Christian friends.  That phrase troubled me but I knew I would have used it too (except to say that I have several non-Christian friends).  WHAT?!  What on earth gives him or me the right to make such a distinction between people?  How do I know where the line is?  Why should there even be a line?  How dare I judge what someone elses faith may or may not be?  What right do I have to label anyone?  Above, I wrote about my relationships now and how strong my community is.  I purposely did not say my Christian community.  I know for a fact some of them do not believe in Jesus.  And that's okay.  It makes no difference to how valuable they are to me in my community and it makes no difference to how I look at them.  I no longer label my friends with anything.  I also remember one friend  from church saying, "isn't it great that people around us see us Christians having fun together?"  Some of us were together in the same swim club.  I looked at "us" very carefully--our sitting together every week and laughingly oblivious to those around us--and realised...no one appreciates us for having fun together.  They actually think we are an arrogant clique.  And shame on us, we were an arrogant clique.  Ugh.

Arrogance presented itself in other disturbing ways too.  We wanted to be the church with the best music, the biggest projects, the most externally focused, the most generous to missionaries.  None of these things are bad in themselves but when they become an ambition and a focus then the church has gone astray.  

Added later:  I also don't miss the arrogance amongst denominations. We agree to respect one another but then some people display an attitude that we in our denomination know best and our way is the right way.  I do not miss the jibes and jokes at another denomination's expense.  And I can't tell you how many times I have cringed upon hearing something aimed at Catholics.  I am not Catholic but my children are enrolled at a wonderful little Catholic School and we have attended Mass on numerous occasions.  Often I have found myself wishing I had the guts to stand up and say, 'hey, those "catholics" you're insulting with that joke?  They worship just down the road from here and you know what?  They are real people living out their faith just like you and me, the best they know how.'  Besides which, Mass on Palm Sunday has become my favourite time of year.  I have found it to be a truly Christ-centred and awe-inspiring service.  

6.  I don't miss the labels.  Perhaps this was unique to my church but the labels flew and they stuck.  It was very destructive and we challenged the leaders but still it happened.  Sadly.  And because they were leaders labelling others, we listened.  I will always regret having heard a label about someone else from a leader and believing it.  I didn't question the label or the fact they were telling me this about another person.  It wasn't until I learnt that I also had a label that I started to see how wrong it was and how ingrained the sin of gossip, assumption and labels was in in our church.

7.  So I also don't miss the gossip and the assumptions made about others.  Gossip in church is rife.  It is also damaging and painful.  I have learnt the hard way that I have a responsibility as a listener of gossip as well as a speaker.  I need to be ready to say to someone, "actually, you don't know their story; you haven't walked in their shoes."  

8.  I don't miss having my gifts squashed.  Our experience in a pentecostal church was no different from that in a mainstream church with regards to gift squashing; in fact it was even worse.  We are all members of the body and we all bring our God-given gifts to contribute to the wholeness of the body.  But most churches don't practise this because they know if they do, they will struggle with control.  When I was asked to stand down from the music team by my leader, I protested and discussed it with one of the elders, making it very clear that there was no reason for me to step down.  I had done nothing wrong and everyone (the pastor and his wife included) had said that God's ministry through me was powerful and valuable.  I asked the elder what I was supposed to do if I couldn't use my gifts.  He suggested I come to church, sit and receive.  Hmmm.  Yes, that's a healthy church, where we all become pew-sitters.  Ironically, the pastor preached on using our gifts the very next Sunday. 

9.  Which leads to, I don't miss the hypocrisy.  The leaders put on their "up front" faces and then we saw something very different behind closed doors.  We knew some of what was going on behind those closed doors and it was very hard, in fact impossible to swallow the lies and set-smiling faces on a Sunday morning. Image was increasingly important.  It seemed to us that it was more important to maintain the image that everything was okay than it was to truthfully and honestly deal with sin and corruption in the church.  

10.  More than anything, I don't miss being spiritually bound and under attack.  I still shudder to think of it.  The little yeast was spreading and infecting the whole loaf. We could see it and feel it and we would come away from a service feeling absolutely deflated.  It began to affect our health.  It should never have been that way.  It shouldn't have been a battlefield; we had our own armour on, but the shield of faith should have been so firmly in place amongst the people that the flaming arrows could not penetrate.  Somewhere there was a breach, a chink in the armour.  Not only were the arrows penetrating, they were burning and maiming the flock.  It was terrible and frightening and no place in which to raise our family. 

So I think you'll understand my reluctance to "do church" again after reading through the list above.  If that were your recent experience of church, then I think you would run a thousand miles in the other direction too.  (Note:  it is not my only experience of church.  It is my recent experience.  I have experienced very loving and safe and worhsipful churches in the past.  But I believe everything has a purpose and this recent experience has made us take stock, ask questions, seek answers and go back to basics.)

But I know that's not really Church.  Lest you think I am wallowing in a pit of negativity here, I am actually really excited and hopeful about Church.  Tomorrow I plan to write more about my new Church reality.

Until then, let us "encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."  (1 Thess 5:11 NIV) 

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