“Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.” Bridget Willard
This post will not endear me to many pastors. There are some who will understand. If you find one of these pastors, go to his church!
When we first started this blog, we told a story based on The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This story became a symbol for the two of us. In fact, I am looking at my Alice tea cup as I write this.
Wonderland is an allegory for today’s church. Authoritarianism, heavy-handed tactics, confusing or strident theologies and arrogant leadership have hurt numerous people. Many have found their way to this blog. Just this past week, I have read a number of stories from wonderful people who have shared their heart-wrenching stories of poor treatment by arrogant ministries.
Folks who come from these churches have had “theories” of theology pounded into them for so long that they accept these doctrines as if they are the unassailable truth, straight from the mouth of God. Many of these people are deeply devoted Christians and want to believe and do the “right” thing. So, when these folks finally leave the church, they are conflicted about how to handle their new found freedom
One thing is for certain, they do not want to get caught in Wonderland ever again. And so, they approach new churches with hesitancy. That is a very, very good thing. There is much to be wary of in today’s theocrats.
We have had a number of people who have told us they are having trouble finding a church that is short on discipline and long on grace. I believe them because I have had similar experiences. I saw Wonderland in all of it’s madness and do not intend to go through that again. I also have been disappointed in my search for the “perfect” church since that experience.
Before I begin, I want to reiterate something. There are wonderful churches out there with great pastors. But, they can be hard to find. Unfortunately many of today’s hip pastors, seminaries and conferences are preaching a similar authoritarian agenda. These teachings are invading our churches. This can make it difficult to find a church that is trustworthy.
There are many ways to lead a vibrant, fulfilling Christian life even if you are unable to find a church with which you fully agree. God has created us for fellowship. The Bible is quite specific that we must not forsake the gathering of the saints. But, what happens when you do not trust the saints?
Currently, in certain circles, there is an emphasis on joining the local church . It is being presented, by certain Calvinistas, as a primary doctrine. They reject the gathering of the saints as church unless it is in context of a particular building in a particular place. You are told you are disobedient to God if you are not a committed member of a local congregation.
Why is this? Forgive my cynicism. There are some good reasons for being part of a local church. But far too often, I have heard that we must join the church and put ourselves under the authority of a pastor who is going to lead us into paths of righteousness and truth. They also mention discipline and money a bit too frequently for this blogger.
However, I also believe that we should get together with our brothers and sisters. And most of these folks are found in churches. So, I have come up with a solution. The ruling church growth theologians will roundly condemn it.
First find a church you can tolerate.
In other words, look for the positives. These will vary from church to church and from person to person.These can include:
- Moving worship services with good music and prayer.
- Interesting Sunday school classes.
- Great small group Bible studies.
- A number of people that you know and like
- A decent children’s program
- Church dinners and festivals
- Interesting outside speakers
- Good youth programs
- Vibrant single’s ministry
- A number of missions programs:
- Outreach to jails,
- Inner city ministry
- Short tem missions
- Music ministry that accepts people who are of modest talent
- Outreach to the elderly
But, what if there are issues that concern you?
These might include:
- Authoritarian leadership patterns.
- A lead pastor who is a gushing Calvinista and worships at the altar of Driscoll or SGM
- Frequent references to church discipline
- An overreaching church covenant
- Too much talk about giving money/tithing
- Rich pastors
You are caught between a rock and hard place. The church has positives but you do not wish to get trapped. There is a simple solution.
Do not join the church! Instead attend as a non-member.
You can do as much, or even more, when not restricted by a church membership and you are not trapped into some membership covenant.
How about contributing money to that church?
Frankly, there is nothing in the New Testament that says you have to tithe to the local church. There is no question that in some fashion we should give to support ministries. I’ll leave that amount up to God and you. Tom Rich, at FBC Jax Watchdog, here , and Wade Burleson, here , have written some interesting pieces on this issue.
- Let’s say you are dubious about the pastor but you like the youth program. Ask about their specific needs and then purchase stuff for that group.
- Maybe you like a certain missionary from the church. Give him your money directly through his sponsoring organization.
- Suppose your church is involved in inner city missions. Give there.
In other words, give money directly to the programs you support.
How to serve the church as a non-member.
Rarely do churches restrict their ministries to members. Trust me, when it comes time to bring turkeys to the local mission downtown, they will be more than happy for you to use your Suburban to transport the fixings!
How to fellowship as a non-member.
Find a group within the church that is serving in an area that interests you. Spend time with those folks. Most likely you will meet sympathetic individuals who could become friends and confidants.
For example, you could join a woman’s Bible study or become part of a team that visits jails.
Outside the church
Here is where I really get in trouble with the Church Nazis.
Find or start you own small group outside of the church:
Find a small group which likes new people. Many churches have them. I have been in such a group for about 9 years. It started in a former church. We all left that church and have been attending other churches. The group is now made up of people who attend several churches. Yet, twice a month we still get together to study the bible and plan activities.
This group has supported one another through many hardships. We also have new members come in all the time. We don’t get all hung up on “commitment” yet everyone is committed due to friendship. In other words, we want to be there. You can skip meetings and no one gets his panties in a wad or reports you to a pastor. We have been with each other through sickness, death, job transitions and joyful events as well. It is the one stable point in my life.
Start your own group. You might be surprised how many people are interested but don’t want to be the leader. If it is formed outside of a church, you will not have to meet the restrictions of that fellowship. In fact, this is a way to show churches that God is alive and well outside of the local church as well.
Get involved with a para-church organization
Frankly, I am more than weary when I hear churches claim you must give all your money and time to them. Many of these organizations are doing far more in the world that some of these self-absorbed churches.
Here are some examples:
- Low income ministries: I know someone who tutored low-income kids for many years.
- Pregnancy Support Centers
- Christian Vocational groups: My husband and I are on the board of a local affiliate of Christian Medical Dental Society. We pray with the group and find good fellowship.
- Mission trips: Many groups sponsor relief work and need volunteers
- Care for the forgotten: Go to a nursing home or work with handicapped kids
- Big Brother/Big Sister: Take on a kid who needs a friend and build into her/his life.
- Moms in Touch
- Community Bible Study
- Young Life
- Prison Fellowship
In the end, I encourage you to seek support for your faith. But don’t let anyone tell you that you must do it “their way.” I believe that God will honor your search and I pray that one day you find a church home that you love and treats you as well as your loving Savior.
Pray for the leader’s of all the churches in SGM that they would be lead by the Holy Spirit in their decisions and not fall prey to fear of man or fear of anything else. This upcoming week is the time to really be praying as there is a pastor’s conference that will be like no other in their history. I’m praying and hoping for a total rewrite of history on this one.