Losing My Religious Security Blanket

I have been putting off writing this post. I am afraid it is overly transparent.

When we first decided to leave our CLB, I remember crying to my husband, “I don’t want to be churchless!”

The plan was that we would recover from the spiritual abuse, we would hang out at the local community church for awhile, and then we would become involved in some church thing that was amazingly awesome.

My underlying belief was that somewhere along the way we would discover what this amazingly awesome church thing would be. I have learned plenty by reading about the stuff that other people are doing. I have been happy for them and sometimes wondered if our church thing might be like theirs.

In the meantime, we have been hanging out on the fringes of house church and the local mega-church. I felt like I needed some sort of religious expression to define myself spiritually. Plus, I believe in community and gathering.

In spite of trying to stay positive, I find my disillusionment growing. Maybe it is time to let go.

Last week drove it home…

  • I told the house church organizers that we think what they are doing is great, but we aren’t likely to participate.
  • Then I tried to politely explain to the lady from the church that we aren’t interested in contributing to the building campaign.
  • Next I tried to tell one of my best friends why The Truth Project isn’t really where my heart is right now (which btw automatically makes me sound like a less-than-stellar Christian).

All of this pushes me toward what I have feared and avoided – a churchless faith.

What am I afraid of?

  • What if I’m wrong?
  • What if I backslide?
  • What if there is no substance to my Christian walk?
  • What if I lead my kids and other people away from knowing the Lord?

When I read Barna’s latest categories, I classified myself as an intermittent blender, but I knew that I was on the verge of being unattached.

The article said this about the unattached, “they tend to be relatively isolated from the mainstream of society, tend to be non-committal in institutional and personal relationships, and typically revel in their independence.”

Yep, just what I was afraid of.

This isn’t where I expected to be.

Maybe there is a way to develop spiritual connections outside of organizationally generated relationships.

Would God lead me away from my dependence on the forms and structures of gathering into something undefined and unpredictable?

Or am I already halfway down the slippery slope?

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81 thoughts on “Losing My Religious Security Blanket

  1. It is very interesting (to me) that I read this today. My wife shared with me tlast night hat her best friend is on the exact (almost) same journey that you are on and asked some of the exact same questions.

    I am just going to answer yes to you one of of your questions / statements:

    Maybe there is a way to develop spiritual connections outside of organizationally generated relationships.

  2. Grace,

    I’m with you. I’ve become an unattached, and not because of a lack of love for God or for the church…I just had to let go. I thought it was just a “phase”, like detox, but increasingly I feel like I could never go back to an organized church – house/cell, traditional or otherwise.

    It’s kind of the opposite of where I hoped/expected/believed I would be, but overall I think it’s the healthiest place I can be now.

    It’s scary letting go of everything that was once so central to my identity. I may be less of a “Christian” (as it has always been defined to me) than ever before, but I’m a better/healthier person than ever.

    All that to say, I commiserate with you. Peace be with you.

  3. Grace, why is it that the institution provides us with such security? Why don’t we ask ourselves this:

    If I stay IN the system I need to ask the following questions:
    • What if I’m wrong?
    • What if I backslide?
    • What if there is no substance to my
    Christian walk?
    • What if I lead my kids and other people
    away from knowing the Lord?
    I told a friend once that I was afraid that my kids would not follow God. She said to me, “Aren’t you afraid that Son#2 (my son that sees things totally black and white) will become a Pharasee if you keep him IN the ‘church’? Shouldn’t you be just as afraid to STAY as you are to leave?
    I had to admit that it is just as dangerous in the system as out even if it appears safer.
    It would appear to me Grace, that if any of us can do this, you and your family could.

  4. I am afraid to say I’m with you Grace. And what Barb said. I have recently been faced with the letting go process, finding the freedom to admit maybe I no longer need a security blanket. I am more inclined these days to fear what will happen to my faith if I return than if I stay out.

  5. Jeff answered one question so I will bravely/foolishly answer another:

    “Would God lead me away from my dependence on the forms and structures of gathering into something undefined and unpredictable?”

    Of course, he would! Relationships, which is what following Jesus is about, are just that: undefined and unpredictable. Much to our chagrin even our relationship with Father is not predictable. He really meant it when he said we should walk by faith, not by sight. We just enjoy walking by sight but claiming it is by faith!

    It seems you are at a perfectly appropriate place in your journey.

  6. Grace … yes, I know the place you are standing — being an “edge dweller” myself. The Abbess welcomes you to remember the value of the Virtual Body of Christ. So many good comments by everyone … especially resonate with you, Barb!

    Trust that the Holy Spirit is with you, Grace, and that this journey into the wilderness will be a time of growth. Isn’t is interesting that the Spirit has to “drive” us into the wilderness at times?

    Be blessed, sister.

  7. I have a friend who is a police officer and seen much violence. He tells me that he cannot believe in God because he has seen too much suffering. “There cannot be a loving God, when so many people experience pain.”

    There are also many people who have been hurt by the church and, like yourself, have given up on Her.

    Suffering, it would seem, is used as a rational to reject both God and to reject His Church.

    But where in Scripture is the promise of a pain free Church?

    Do not loose hope dear sister, and do not allow your experience to deter you from your calling to be the living Body of Jesus Christ.

  8. it’s not until you let go of man made created expressions of community and faith that you can feel the breath of the Spirit blowing in your sails and guiding you to her plan for your spiritual journey.

    Sail on sweet one :)

  9. Sounds like God is marching you right off the known maps of our day. I have a prophetic friend who once spoke about Alexander. He marched off the known maps of his day, and once his soldiers realized it, they freaked out. But, this is what I believe God is calling many to do. I’ve also heard it said, “The Church is not passing away, the systems are.”

    There are early adapters in Jesus movements, and they pay a price for being forerunners. But just as Jesus spoke difficult words in John 6 (thinning out those willing to follow Him), and He asked His disciples, “Are you going to leave too?” I love Peter’s answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

  10. I guess I should clarify more. I mean to say that sometimes Jesus leads us to unexpected places outside the camp. HE alone is our rock upon which everything in our life is built. And He is able to keep us, and re-train us when necessary. I’ve been in just such a season (with no real connection to ‘church as we know it’ – but in relationship with other believers, mostly in other nations – which has been a challenge. It’s been lonely at times. But I know it’s God. And I think it’s a very important season, so I embrace what He’s doing, as difficult as it has been at times).

  11. Very interesting … I had a similar conversation with a new acquaintance. We both used virtually this same language. The letting go is frightening … but then I remember the Irish monks who would get into their coracles and let the wind blow where ever God wanted them to go. I can’t help but think that was frightening to them too … some of them even ended up in Greenland and there is evidence that they may have gotten as far as Maine!!! So … it’s scary and exciting and breathtaking. I wonder where we’ll all end up.

  12. Jesus said that wherever two or more were gathered in his name, he was there with them. I am one of those who, at this stage of my journey, still desires a local church, but I also believe that we are the church and that spiritual formation can happen outside of the four walls. “Church” is not for every person of faith, but Jesus is.

  13. Grace … thanks for sharing so candidly. Rough spot to be in, and I don’t exactly have cheery language about “grand adventuring” and “new horizons” and such like to share.

    I must say, however, that last time I checked [15 minutes of fame ago?], deserts did not have “slippery slopes.”

    And it seems you have so much courage, conscience, and consciousness going already, you’d be kept afloat even if you temporarily landed in quicksand or some other undesirable Barna category!

    And this is not meant to minimize the anguish of setting a course when all decisions have substantial down sides. Every trajectory of perseverance inherently contains some forms of pain, yet in the “vocation” of the journey we willingly choose, we also enter pains that we must endure. I’m often exhausted by journeying in between church worlds, but weren’t the other alternatives even worse for me? I keep coming back to a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self.”

    Sometimes I wonder how any of us survives after trauma. I certainly haven’t found the toxicity to miraculously transform into triumphalism … daydream about that as I might. Maybe that’s just one of the usual mirages in the desert. I don’t know. But still, I do keep finding that there are oases (or whatever is the plural for oasis) people along the way. They are “soul soakers” when I feel on the verge of desiccation. They help keep me surviving outside the traditional/institutional situation. Praying you’ll connect with more such oasis people as you continue moving forward…

  14. “They tend to be…”

    What does that really mean? It’s not encompassing, and certainly many people leaving the “clubhouse” will fit those categories for a season. (The expression “detoxing from religion” exists for a reason, and it’s not to be taken lightly.) My first impression is to encourage you: don’t be worried about what others think, about what Barna thinks, or even about any misguided pride you may have. It will all sort out if you’re following the Spirit of God. Better to seek and possibly make a course correction later (it’s okay) than to hold off because of such reasons. Blessings on your journey! :)

  15. Grace,
    I hear your fears, loud and clear! As one who has been “outside the system” for 11 years I can speak this to you with full confidence: Peace! (Really profound, huh?!)

    I had a dream once where the Lord was this giant bird and I was riding on his back as we were flying over various places. I was hanging on for dear life, so afraid of falling. I finally told the Lord that and he laughed so hard. When he was done laughing he said, “You’re not hanging onto me, I’m hanging onto you!” So, Grace, I say those same words to you: Relax. You’re not hanging onto Him, He’s hanging onto you! (In the rest of the dream I was able to ride “hands free” on Jesus’ back as a bird and the ride was glorious from that point on.)

    Just one other specific point I want to address. You wrote: “Maybe there is a way to develop spiritual connections outside of organizationally generated relationships.” There is. It may be slow to happen, but it can happen and it does happen. I have that in my life and it is a wonder to behold as I watch God create the connection rather than my own feeble self-effort.

    I love watching your journey, Grace. There’s such a beauty to it.

  16. OK, apologies, but I feel a need to comment against the general tide here. I want to try and do this sensitively, because you have been so open and honest about your journey, and you are clearly going through some soul-searching here…

    I’m always nervous when people talk of dropping out of church. I’ve been on the edge of things for a long time myself, and I can certainly understand the frustration of being a ‘square peg in a round hole’, where the expression of the current phase of your spiritual journey seems to conflict with that of those around you. It is so easy in those times to think you would be better off somewhere else.

    I also totally get the hope and desire of finding “some church thing that was amazingly awesome”, and the despondency that comes with finding that that isn’t going to happen. The problem we face on our ‘faith deconstruction’ journeys is the brutal reality that the kind of ideal Christian community we are hoping for just doesn’t exist. There are some that come close, but really every community, however structured or unstructured, is made up of people. And we know how crappy and hurtful and damn imperfect they can be…

    Is there “is a way to develop spiritual connections outside of organizationally generated relationships”? You betcha (if you are prepared to stick your neck out and push for real intimacy and vulnerability with people you meet, without the context that facilitates that).

    Does that mean you should feel free to push out into the unknown of a churchless spirituality? Honestly, I’m not sure I can answer as positively as everyone else here, Grace. Sorry.

    My understanding of the value of church is that it is precisely the process of being stuck in relationship with people who are different to us; who are awkward; who are often on totally different pages from us; who can hurt us and abuse us; who can challenge us and imperfectly love us; that actually grows and forms us as people. I was going to write Christians there, but that’s not really it: its about getting our corners knocked off us buy the rough edges of those who are far from being diamonds themselves. Its about forming character.

    The value to us is precisely that the community isn’t what we idealise, but is messy and hard and sometimes painful.

    I know that because of the abuse you have experienced at the hands of church, that the idea of being in a difficult, imperfect church is hard for you, Grace. But please don’t give up on church yet, because I think it is still the main tool that God uses to help us grow into the people He wants us to be.

    I hope and pray that you will find plenty of grace and peace for this next stage of your journey. It’s a tough place that you are in, and I don’t want to make it any harder for you. I hope you won’t find any guilt or anything unhelpful in this comment; I just felt the need to present the other side of the coin…

    God will be with you, Grace, whatever you do, wherever you go
    Grace and Peace ;-)

    andy

  17. Grace it’s so funny, this is sort of what I was talking about in my last post.
    I really want to want to go attend a traditional church, I have never been to a house church , (but it always sounded to me like going to a regular church ,although I know methods vary).
    I just thought it odd that you posted about this discontent when I just did the same , on Easter no less.
    At any rate, God is everywhere , it’s all holy,
    what really is the difference?
    Much love & traveling mercies on your journey.
    Peace Be With You

  18. Andym, I applaud you for bringing a different opinion to the table in such a grace-filled manner. Very refreshing in blog-land :).

    I just want to respond to one part of your comment.

    I think the thing that took me so long to get out of my brain was the thinking that “church” means a building where people meet on a Sunday morning. What I found in contrasting my 10 years as a Christian attending a building with services (what you would define as “church) with my past 10 years without going to a building but still having relationships with believers is this: The real place where we are “getting our corners knocked off us by the rough edges of those who are far from being diamonds themselves” hardly ever occurred on Sunday mornings (or mid-week bible studies or home fellowships) because by their very nature they were pretty shallow as far as real heart-to-heart connection. (I’m not saying all “churches” are this way, but I think many of them are. It’s the nature of larger groups.)

    Being in very real, very deep, heart-to-heart relationships with other believers has forced me to find out quickly just how shallow my “love” really is! This is real “church!”

    I think Grace can rest and trust God to bring those people who are looking for “real” relationship (and not just the surface stuff that’s so easy to fake your way through every Sunday morning) into her life. This, to me is real community. It’s too easy to stay on the surface and never really deal with anything during Sunday morning services (and same goes for mid-week meetings, even if they are in homes). And, believe, me many of these people in my life now are SO different from who I am, and they are constantly chipping away at me as much as I do at them. It is glorious!

    I know I’m making some sweeping generalizations that may not hold true for all places at all times with all people, but I hope you can see my point. The “real deal” can be had often far more easily in a relationship with a few than in meeting with the many.

  19. I’ve been a mainline (Presbyterian) pastor for nearly 40 years and have searched for the Holy Grail much of the time, finding it here, finding there, only to discover that I hadn’t found it yet.

    Perhaps it’s the Adam and Eve syndrome – “See that tree? Looks good, doesn’t it?”

    The American consumer mentality sets us up to be “seekers” and never finders.

    We come to expect how levels of whatever, but withhold our commitments. We fail to see that we’re just as goofy, unexciting, foible-laden and self-serving as everyone else.

    For myself, the simple words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you … and wash a few feet now and then” continue to hold me accountable to the community of faith, “just as it is without one plea … though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt; fightings and fears within, without.”

    I know that communities of faith differ and it’s good to search, but sooner or later, we have to settle for and settle down. If we’re looking for home, we look for it in the new heaven and the new earth, because “this world [presently] is not my home.” Yet here is where we live, and here is where grace abounds.

  20. Andy – I am convinced that we have to live fully in Friday before we can fully experience Resurrection Sunday. I am also convinced that those who seek God will be guided by the Spirit and will not be able to stay “alone” in the faith journey. I’m not worried for grace or anyone else on a similar journey because I trust their journey and I trust the Spirit’s presence in it.

  21. Grace, I think the feelings you are feeling are very natural. I agree with what Mak has written. Sometimes we have to take risks and go into the unknown – I guess that’s what faith is. Many years ago people thought the world was flat and if you sailed too far you’d fall over the edge. However, some brave sailors went out and explored. I think that is what some of us have to do as Christians, go into the unknown waters. I really think you’ve probably gone too far on your journey to turn back now – but maybe I’m wrong about that? Bless you!

  22. jeff,
    Thanks for your input. I agree with your response, but have a new question. Is that enough?

    lori,
    I have thought about this a lot, and I am not saying my conclusion is right or for everyone. House church still feels like organizing my relationships around a meeting or service. At this time, I just want to enjoy my relationships without having them defined by a structure. When I meet new people, I don’t want to invite them to a meeting, just to my table.

    I am sure there is more I need to learn about how and when the focus of being together is Jesus, but if He’s always there, maybe we can learn to see the Spirit at work without planning a meeting. I don’t know. We’re just fumbling along.

    Thanks daniel,
    I can see where removing the security and identity of an organized meeting confronts areas where I need to grow as a person.

    Barb,
    When I first entertained this thought last week, my reactions were anger and fear, and I was literally forced to look at what I was clinging to.

    I’m still looking as the doubts and questions boil to the surface to be asked and examined. I was convinced that my kids were better off outside the CLB. I’m not so sure about the mega-church. It could still be a positive influence for them, especially socially.

    erin,
    I don’t want to be cynical or critical, but it would be easier to not be cynical if I didn’t attend.

    traveller,
    Your comment reminded me of when Jesus was teaching Mack how to walk on water in the book The Shack. When Mack doesn’t know how to start, Jesus tells him it is only one step.

    I would like to see everything mapped out, but I guess it’s time to learn to follow without a map, one step at a time.

    Thanks Peggy, especially for the encouragement to trust the Spirit’s presence.

    joe,
    I honestly think that I am okay with the hurt and pain that occur in relationships. In fact, I hope that I have learned things that help me to better deal with conflict.

    Thank you for your encouragement. It really is my hope to learn to be the living Body of Christ.

    Mak,
    Thank you for that picture and the encouragement of the Spirit’s guidance.

    sarah,
    I have begun asking myself what it might be like if I began embracing this instead of fighting against it.

    sonja,
    I love all of the different examples of sailing and journeys. Hope I don’t end up in Iceland. ;)

    Fred,
    I can relate to what you’re saying. I think that I would still prefer a local church, but at this point it looks like we will be experiencing it outside the walls.

    Brad,
    LOL about the slippery slope. As to the quicksand, there are so many threatening imaginary fences out there for those who are prone to wander. Maybe it’s okay if we make some mistakes along the way. Very good point that there will likely be painful experiences in whatever journey we take. We are already blessed with a few oasis people in our lives.

    andy,
    I think the power in Barna’s statement is that it agrees with the fearful voices in my mind. But to actually look at it, it isn’t really true of me.
    1. I was isolated when I was in the church bubble. I hope to change that.
    2. I won’t commit to an institution.
    3. I am committed to personal relationships.
    4. I am not revelling!
    Yes, I still worry about what other people think and about making a mistake, but as you said mistakes can be corrected along the way.

    Tracy,
    Thank you for the encouragement and the reminder that He won’t let go. Silly to think that I’m the one keeping this relationship tight.

    andym,
    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I’ve never wanted a blog where everyone feels like they have to agree with me. There is wisdom found in hearing from a multitude of perspectives.

    Believe me, I’m nervous too. My hope is to press into relationships, not to remove myself from them. I can’t figure the structure thing out, but maybe the Lord will teach me along the way.

    I hope you will continue to feel free to share your thoughts.

    shaun,
    You might be more likely to find good house churches in your area. Also, through Lifestreams, it is sometimes possible to discover others following Jesus outside the box. I pray that you find a few mates for the journey.
    Blessings to you.

    anonymous,
    Thank you for what you shared. You said it so much better than I could. I believe that relationships outside of meetings do require a deeper level of transparency and commitment. It is definitely easier to show up for a service, nod a few hello’s, and call it good for the week.

    More later, I’m late for work.

  23. So glad to see your transparent thoughts and fears. I currently share some of the them. I didn’t expect to be where I am either! Sadly, I think my primary concern may be the judgement of those still inside traditional church institutions and still worse – what if they’re right. There is security in following the masses. When I’m visiting a large city (a big deal for an Arkansas hillbilly) and get off the metro, I just follow the masses. They usually lead me to the right exit and often to the right platform for the next train, bus, etc. There is security in knowing that if hundreds of people are headed in that direction, it will probably take me where I need to go. But in spiritual things, this is a dangerous assumption and often produces false security.

    “Would God lead me away from my dependence on the forms and structures of gathering into something undefined and unpredictable?” Jesus instructed us to “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic” — and no security blanket. Jesus, after all, didn’t even have a place to lay his head.

    Perhaps the “way to develop spiritual connections outside of organizationally generated relationships” is found in Sarah’s comments in an earlier post: “just living out the alternative”.

    Are we wrong? If we “just do it” instead of trying to explain it as Sarah suggested, our actions can be judged by their fruit.

  24. Grace (and anon), thanks for your comments

    Just wanted to clarify that I’m not necessarily talking about buildings, or even formal meetings, when I talk about church. I think you could probably survive as a Christian without either. My concern more is in terms of the absence of ‘church’ in the sense of a ‘formal’ gathering of people with the (implicit) aim of being an open, sharing community… If you don’t have that formal bond (and the implicit groundrules that go with any self-defined group), surely its going to be much harder to find the intimacy and acountability that changes us…??

    Like I said, I really wish you well on this one
    God bless

    a

  25. Grace, having a churchless faith isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s where I am at the moment, and it’s done me good to spread my wings away from the institution, as it were. Besides, there’s no saying what will happen in the future. Maybe that “amazingly awesome church thing” will come along in time, or you may come across another gathering of believers into which you fit, but if it does it will be in God’s time. In the meantime, why not embrace churchlessness as a context for your faith and see where it takes you?

  26. This has really become a great discussion! I think a common misperception is that those who opt out of western cultural understandings of ‘church’ is that they do so from motives of independence.

    Maybe there are some people out there like that, but I haven’t met any. I know that from the time I opted out, I was constantly searching for believers who I could live in community with relationally. I approached both those within institutional structures (not to leave those structures, but just to intentionally build relationship), and with some leaders that moved seamlessly both “on the margins” (in churchless Christianity) and within ministries and institutions. It was the latter that I saw the most fruit in, and desired mentorship most.

    But these things never materialized. Then I wanted to move to Europe so that I could learn from Connect Europe – as their heart encapsulates so much of what is in my heart for postmodern mission. And then I realized that God wanted me to stop looking to someone else to do it for me, and to be the change that I desired. That was a really hard pill for me.

    I still look for those I can learn from. I continue to learn from those who are further down this path than I am (I’m reading Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways and totally identify with it – thank God there are so many others out there who are on the margins! And from those I’ve connected with to some degree in Europe). But I definitely do not relish any so-called independence. I continue to keep my eyes and ears open for people in my locality who desire relational Christianity and mission (vs. institutional). Which leads to me to this question:

    For those who have found fellow ‘out-of-church’ believers who are thoroughly committed to Christ and His mission – how did you find them? (I’ve been to Lifestreams, House2house – nothing in my area).

  27. andy

    surely its going to be much harder to find the intimacy and acountability that changes us

    but accountability and intimacy do not ultimately change us. I’m not even sure what accountability means anymore an intimacy is very often false in the institutional church structure.

    i believe in the Bride, I believe in the catholic Church, I believe in Christ’s mission and our joining with each other to join with him and I’m a missionary/church planter but I DO NOT put my faith in the structured institution of church nor should anyone else.

    there is no call for us to do church, there is a challenge for us not to forsake the gathering of believers but how that looks is not a command and to think that those structures change us for the better is folly

  28. Grace,
    Found your blog through your comment on mine. Great post, and a great discussion here.

    You mentioned George Barna, and I wondered if you had read his book “Revolution.” This book actually greatly encouraged my soul as I have struggled with many of the same feelings you are now experiencing–just to realize that there many of us who are dissatisfied with the systems of church, who are NOT backsliding, but are seeking something with more meaning. This isn’t just a few individuals falling through the cracks, although that’s what it feels like sometimes. Actually,the Body of Christ herself is going through a major shift and change, and I think the growing numbers that feel as you do are really part of something God is doing in His church.

    This isn’t a churchless faith, Grace. You are part of the church no matter what. It’s a returning to the original definition of what “church” really is, and taking off the mindsets of what “church” should look like. I believe in assembling together, and even in having servant leadership to lead us. But I also recognize we are in transition right now, and everything’s kind of messy; so we need to have grace on each other, and grace on ourselves, while we figure things out.

    So…grace to you, Grace. :)

  29. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:25

    I wonder how the narrow application of ‘going to church’ got extracted from this verse.

    Then one has to wonder how in the heck we got from having to go, to how it is done. And then to expect that to be extra spiritual. Or a spiritual necessity. Or whatever…

    Is there a synergetic spiritual unction that results from going to church? If the benefit is not obvious, have we misrepresented what “meeting together” actually meant to the writer of Hebrews?

    If Jesus is in the midst of 2 or 3 gathered in His name, does increasing the collection of saints one-hundred fold result in 100x more Jesus? More grace? More transformation? More whatever it is that is desired to happen in such a larger setting? Does the meeting in a ‘church building’ act as some sort of Holy Spirit capacitor that contains a divine spark not found anywhere else?

    I for one am disillusioned with the way church is expressed. Acted out. Choreographed. With each participant expected to play their bit part in an atmosphere of Christian propriety. I find little benefit from such a weekly meeting arrangement. And to think that I have to ‘tough-it-out’ because God throws a bunch of messed up, wounded saints together into the blender called church & I need to count it pure joy when sister so-and-so’s elbow smacks me upside the side as we whirl together into a gooey puree known as Such-and-Such Fellowship…

    I’m not convinced this is what Jesus had in mind…

    I had once thought marriage was that type of arrangement. You know, the ‘knock-the-thorns-off’ setup that produces a better version of me as a solitary soul. I am not so convinced now. I do believe there are some relational dynamics that theoretically can be realized, but not because it is marriage that makes it happen. In fact, marriage quite often exposes the fact that the 2 people involved would be better off in another arrangement…

    I do believe we are connected, like family, to the Church. Yet I am not all that ‘relational’ with every person I am directly related to by birth. It just happens that way. Because I am family we do get together occasionally. And more distant relatives are not any less related even though I encounter them rarely. I owe no denominational allegiance. Am not inclined to be a regular attendee of a local church group. And the weekly formula of ‘church’ does not make me into a more devoted disciple. In fact, quite the opposite has been my experience…

  30. Grace:

    I believe that it hinges on how the relationships re developed and what the purpose of the relationships are for you and for God.

    These can be done outside of the organizational structure. I do think that it is vital for them to be cultivated within the christian community context though.

    If this is done, I do believe that it is enough.

    As a person wo works within the institution, this excite and scares me if I am being honest.

  31. Hi Grace, I shared with you some time ago one of my poems that dealt with some of the “pain” of church.

    If I may, I would love for you to read along and pray as I blog through a series on the church. My journey has been rough, but I have come to discover that we still need God’s Family as much as we need God Himself… that is our design.

    The first part I wrote was titled A Divine Identity
    The second part of the series is titled The DNA of Church.

    With your blessing, my next post on the DNA of faith will include a quote from your post. May I have your blessing?

    Finally, let me say that I feel a strong leading to post here on your site. I don’t know to what end, but I am thankful to be a small part of your Journey.

  32. “Would God lead me away from my dependence on the forms and structures of gathering into something undefined and unpredictable?”

    Yup :) I don’t find that to be something contrary to His character.
    But I also think He is aware of our need to be in authentic relationships with other believers.
    I know He loves relationship…the real thing, with Him and with people.

    I have to say something.
    I work in a very interesting place. I guess you could say I’m in ‘aquaculture’ :)
    I do a lot of different things from mending fishing nets (Peter would be so proud:)
    to making covers for huge fish tanks (where they ‘grow’ or ‘farm’ fish for the industry)
    It amazes me how much I’ve learned about God and ‘church’ as I learn more about my job.

    I was thinking about church one day, and was just telling God the truth about how I felt. “I just don’t ‘get’ this church thing”
    I became aware of what I was making and something occurred to me. The tank covers I make are to protect little baby fish. When I sew them together I have to be very careful not to puncture the tarp because even the smallest whole will let in the light. When there’s light, the tiny fish will head right for it and well, they hurt themselves trying to get to the light, some die.
    I thought about this in terms of church life.
    Fish are designed by God to grow in rivers, lakes and oceans. A tank is an unnatural environment. Our churches can become that way. We ‘get people saved!'(A phrase I always thought was weird), and then tell them in a million different ways that they have to stay inside the confines of the church community, never again to venture out into the big bad scary world where the heathens live out their doom:) (Unless it’s to go out and get them)

    Some of what we do is so unnatural that there comes a time when we find we’ve lost our ability to relate to the outside world at all. This is unnatural. Christ gave the 12 aprox 2-3 months training, and said ‘go!’
    We train…and train…and train…and then preach to the saved…?
    we get so busy in church that we have no time left to sit at His feet, which is what Jesus describes as the better choice, the one thing that is needed…(referring to Mary and Martha)
    I know I’m being hard on church, but if I were to be honest, it’s been my experience that it is not a ‘natural’ environment for Gods …’Fish’ to grow up in. Many wonderful things can and do happen there….but ( for me) it has to be a place to visit…not a place to live.
    Just some thoughts… I don’t have it all figured out:)
    But hey, Jesus does and this is our comfort.
    Peace.

  33. The url in the last post is kind of old – and many aren’t referring to (what I call) “Christ centered ekklesia” as “house church” anymore (because of mini-church done badly) .

    About the first question I ask someone about house-church is who’s the head? After that is answered I usually nod my head and say something like ‘I hope it works out ok for you – Beth and I are just taking a break right now’

    It is very ackward – and if I say anything about what I really believe – then I just reveal how “crazy” and “messed-up” I really am.

    Thank God He has brought us some very close friends thru all of this who have been ‘underground’ a long time. It really helps a lot.

  34. Joe Miller,

    I think the disconnect in thinking is around the definition of “church”. If one defines church only in the sense of an institutional expression that requires a “pastor” as that typically exists, with programs, then I can understand your concern. Whatever may have been the case in the past this single type of expression of church is no longer predominent. As I look at your website it is clear your “church” is attempting to do things that many from a very traditional background would think similiarly to your thoughts about the ideas expressed on this blog. It is only a matter of degree.

    From my understanding of Grace’s journey, she is looking for “church”, the ekklesia, the gathering of those who follow Jesus but in an expression that may not be in an institutional setting, even though she remains open to leading of Father.

    While I would never criticize you, or those who are with you, in your institutional setting, I would, likewise, not criticize those who are finding ekklesia in other expressions as well. We are in a wonderfully interesting transition in “church” expressions. I believe it is important to give people the freedom to find the expression that best allows them to develop their relationship with Father and with other followers of Jesus.

    May you know the wisdom of Father as you and those with you live out your lives in relationship with the Trinity and with each other.

  35. Tom,
    I know I made it sound like I’m looking for the ideal church experience, but to me an awesomely amazing church would be something much messier than most church services I’ve experienced.

    I think sometimes this happens in small congregations. I think the popular programmed performance of the seeker church is pretty disconnected from reality.

    Lyn,
    Backpedal as I might, it would appear there is no turning back. Sometimes I’m tempted to warn people at the beginning stages of deconstruction that the outcome isn’t safe or comfortable.

    RC,
    I could certainly relate to what you said. I worry about my tendency to end up away from the herd. It’s possible I was supposed to take this step sooner, but I have been hanging on to the things that make me feel secure and give me at least a facade of normalcy.

    andym,
    I understand what you are saying. That has been my argument for the past year. Whatever “it” is, it should be intentional and there should be some sense of commitment. That is what I wanted and perhaps needed it to be, to have some sense of formality and definition.

    What I am dealing with now is, what if it isn’t? Can God still work through and among my relationships if they are undefined by a religious structure, even an unconventional religious structure.

    Perhaps I will have to learn new ways of being intentional in my relationships and new ways of depending on the Spirit to initiate ministry among myself and others, both believers and unbelievers.

    Thanks Barry,
    I’m very open to the possibility of this being a season with something else in the future. In fact, I think it is likely that many of us will experience more fluidity in our relationships among the Body of Christ than we have in the past.

    Sarah,
    Thank you so much for what you shared. I really desire more seamless connections among the Body and also in a missional aspect. I have experienced a degree of fluid connections with believers outside of church, although I would like more. I am pretty awkward with connections outside of church because I have been so removed from that realm, but willing to learn and change.

    mak,
    Sometimes there is a facade of relationship and intimacy that happens in structured church that has no substance beyond the organization. That is one of the dangers of organizationally generated relationships. They feel real, but they are actually a substitute and hindrance from authentic, intimate relationships.

    More later.

  36. traveller, if it is easier for you to dismiss me and my journey by putting me in the category of “institutional” then go ahead. I don’t know you, your faith, your prejudices, or your real commitment to Jesus, but I hope the best for you.

    But for those with open minds, and still want to be God’s church, I still encourage you to listen and read. You may still not like what I say, but if you can show where I have missed Jesus, then I am open to listening.

  37. Joe Miller,

    Far from dismissing you, I affirm you in where you are in your journey and only ask that you consider doing the same for others who may be in a different place in their journey. Open minds are appropriate going both ways.

    It is not a matter of liking, or not liking, what you have to say about church. I respect where you are and only ask that you consider offering the same respect to others. In other words, I am not trying to convince you to adopt a certain expression of church because I think during this transition time, which may last at least decades, different people will find the ekklesia in various expressions. The expression you adhere to is only one such expression. It is neither necessarily inherently better nor worse than one that is less structured and more organic, just different.

    We all miss Jesus in some way or another. The journey is about finding more of Jesus as we do journey together. I generally find that looking for where I am missing Jesus in my own life is far more productive than looking for it in others. Something about that toothpick versus the log in the eye keeps coming to mind when I try to look at others’ lives in a critical fashion.

    It was not my intent to offend you in any way by my words. So, if this is the case, I sincerely and deeply apologize to you.

  38. Hi Joe :)
    I have to say that it’s pretty obvious you are called and gifted as a pastor. I can feel your heart as I read your words and I understand your passion for the ‘local church body’. I understand it because I feel the same way, which is why it was almost unbearable the day I realized I had to leave the church I called home for many, many years.
    But here’s the thing, I never gave up on Her, I gave up on something disguised as Her. I gave up supporting something that had more passion for itself than it did for Christ.

    Jesus didn’t promise us a pain free church, but what I think many of us have experienced is; unacceptable treatment from leadership at the top. And a system of church government that protects people from having to change. It’s not always easy to spot, but the fruit is always the same. The people get devoured.
    This is something Jesus was extremely passionate about. Though He loved the Pharisees with as much depth as anyone else, He was very clear with them that they had taken authority for themselves and appointed themselves leaders over the people and that their focus was not God, but control for the purpose of honoring themselves.

    Being in churches where it’s all about the church, the church, the church….. Jesus isn’t the focus anymore and the people begin to wither spiritually.
    I believe in ‘church’, but not at the expense of my relationship with Jesus.
    Sometimes, the dynamics in our churches are so bad; you have to make a choice because it does affect you, it will affect you.

    I just remembered something spoken from the pulpit at a church I used to go to a while back, that caused me to start asking questions. It was this…

    “….this isn’t a safe place, so get over it”

    I had to ask within myself; (because there was a ‘don’t talk’ rule.)

    “Then why are we paying your salary?

    There are many scriptures that warn us to be very careful what and who influences us with regards to our spiritual growth and relationship with Christ.
    I understand it may sound crazy to you because you have such a heart for Gods people, but healthy churches are hard to find.
    I’m looking for one right now (with Gods help) and when I find it, I’ll be there. I’m not looking for a perfect church…but I will insist on one whose leaders are watchful and know their need of His mercy. One where I just know I will never here the words ‘get over it’ preached.

    Anyway, enough ranting…..Jesus will make it right; we don’t have to worry about church. He is in control

    Peace!

  39. I have to agree with Frank Viola – that the modern “pastoral” role is probably the biggest hindrance to the church functioning as “the church”. He outlines that very well under the sub-title “Serious Weaknesses of the Emerging Church Phenomenon”

    http://www.ptmin.org/fullyemerge.htm

    I kind of equate the modern pastoral role with ancient Chinese foot binding. Basically – our practices render people unable to work in the harvest. We are real good at teaching people how to “sit” and be entertained by someone who (presumably) knows the Bible better then they do. And pastors will “bind” them in that position for the rest of their lives – as long as they foot the bill.

    The “one anothers” in scripture become replaced with the “pastor” – who is the “spiritual expert” of the community. Instead of the body – each one doing its part… the pastor does most of the ministry. It works great – it gives the people someone to blame (the pastor)- and it gives the pastor someone to blame (the people).

    In the end – the blame for the whole thing falls on the pastor – instead of where it really belongs – (the rotten unBiblical pastoral system that we’ve built outside of scripture and set in place thru centuries old traditions). It chews pastors up and spits them out – it is really ugly on the back side. Too bad too – alot of these people are really quality people – like you Joe. Please read Barna’s book – Pagan Christianity?

    We turn Ephesians 4 into a license to dominate and possess God’s people (the church) – instead of as a mandate to train them and release them to be successful participants in building one another up (doing the work of the ministry) – and bringing in the harvest. We think “normal Christianity” is sitting in a pew for 20 years listening to someone talk.

    Jesus planted his church in 3 years – and left. Paul never stayed anywhere more than 3 years – and he had a fully functioning body of believers who were fully doing the work of the ministry. In many cases – Paul was gone in less than 6 months (he was ran out of town). And yet – he built something that was real – where there was real “church”. Paul paid the way for his disciples to learn at Ephesus. Shouldn’t fathers pay for children – instead of children paying for their fathers?

    Yet – I have asked this question over and over – where are the people (today) who are doing the same thing Jesus and Paul did?

    Is it any wonder 25% of all believers and non believers between 16 and 29 say the church looks nothing like Jesus? Actually I’m surprised those numbers are so low.

    Galatians 6:1 – point out something that is wrong as a humble lover of the saints….

    Something is very wrong with the model we have called “church”. It doesn’t empower, it doesn’t release, it doesn’t bring transformation, it doesn’t bring in the harvest, it doesn’t ultimately end with the saints doing the work of the ministry.

  40. I agree that you must let go of your dependence on anything less than God. As you focus on Him, I believe also that He will speak to you as to what you should do. He may lead you to an unexpected place – even a traditional church. It may not be your ideal, but it may be His for you, to shape and mold you. You have been through much and it is not without purpose – you have been comforted so that you can comfort others – 2 Corinthians 1. At the same time He may lead you to something completely different – a monastic community or a house church or an informal gathering of followers for fellowship.

    I don’t know what God will ask of you. He is infinitely internally consistent but also utterly unpredictable! I know we must not forsake assembling together, but I don’t think there is one mold for what that looks like. Keep turning to Him; keep repenting of desiring your own way and resist the enemy.

  41. 7Catz, I’m heading over to your blog to post this, but wanted to say it here, too. These two sentences are so deeply profound and beautifully said: “But here’s the thing, I never gave up on Her, I gave up on something disguised as Her. I gave up supporting something that had more passion for itself than it did for Christ.”

    I wish I’d had those words 11 years ago when I walked away from being on staff at a local “church.” They would have explained absolutely everything to those who kept asking me the “Why?” question!

  42. As I read through this, late in the discussion it amazes me that so much is duplication of what is previous. It amazes me that so much of what is said is said without any action to correct the issue.
    I don’t want to have you think I am attacking or arguing but as a pastor who really believes in the body of Christ and the priesthood of all believers but see little of it happening because the pastor has been hired, “to be the body of Christ to the world.” I am frustrated and worn out. I see the local mega church building its body and its building and its programs but ignoring the community in which it exists.
    I see a struggling church reaching out as much as possible but most are over 60 and lack energy and mobility.
    I work as pastor fulltime and as a hospice chaplain part time and get to minister to many who have little or no faith but still claim a denomination.
    I am a Presbyterian Church USA commissioned lay pastor and feel like the church is in a mess. It is so institutional that it fails to resemble anything close to the body of Christ.
    I read these blogs and want to give up but like most other things in my life have decided that giving up is not an option.
    The church needs change and it will not get it by all of us who struggle getting out and starting something new or nothing at all and calling that a relationship with Christ.
    I admire all of you and draw tremendous energy and insight. What I need is to get an idea of what the real church might look like. Is there a way that the church can own a building and offer it to the world to use, only use it with our faith perspective intact? Can the church really become the body of Christ in the culture we live in and be different than it is?
    How and who among you takes time to be with those in the hospital, nursing home, funeral directors office, hungry, homeless, etc. and actually works to make a difference in the situation they are in???
    You see I am on the edge most of the time but with questions of caring for all of God’s creation.
    Help me and Grace thank you for all your blog has led me to.
    Peace on the journey. WaynO

  43. WayneO, your story seems to be the story of so many institutional pastors, lay or professional, today. I have the deepest feelings of sympathy for you. You are overworked and over-emotioned with all the efforts that should be spread over the entire body of Christ instead of just a few.

    I do see the Spirit wind blowing but where it will blow we cannot know. Whether “reform” of the institution occurs or something totally new replaces the current institution is something we cannot predict. Maybe it is even some combination of these or more than we can now imagine.

    One reason I left the institutional expression of church was that it so consumed my time with meetings and organizational matters that I had no time to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world or among his followers. When I stepped out of the institution I, along with others, actually do have the time to be those hands and feet. The institution tends to consume us in such a way as to keep it alive but miss the work of Jesus in the world. I know this is not the intent but it is the result in most situations.

    What a difference that choice has meant for me. I find so many opportunities to be involved in the lives of others through conversations, helping them physically, sharing with them financially, providing a place someone can listen, etc. The result is that unlike institutional programs that tend to teach us to look for opportunities to “share Christ with others”, these opportunities arise naturally in my everday life. Indeed, people actually come to me because they see my interest in them and my expressions of love in our interactions. Let me be quick to add that this is a working of the Holy Spirit because I am not naturally this way. It is just sad it took me so long to let the Holy Spirit become effective in this way in my life.

    My prayer is that Father will give provide his encouragement and wisdom for you to make the choices in your own life that will result in your life being what Father continues to create you to be.

  44. jeff,
    Thanks for your comments. Churchless wasn’t the most accurate term to describe where we’re at. In using it, I probably am perpetuating the wrong mentality of church.

    What I am describing is the next level or step in this journey. As we left congregational church, I assumed we would eventually end up in some type of alternative gathering. However, it now seems we will have at least a season of something even less defined than house church.

    I agree that we definitely need grace for one another in transition, both for those who venture out and for those who continue in structured forms of church.

    I haven’t read Revolution, but I just finished Divine Nobodies. Awesome book, and just what I needed at the moment.

    joseph,
    Good thoughts on the Hebrews verse. I too am disillusioned with the choreography. The easter show about did me in.

    Thanks Jeff, truly exciting and scary.

    joe,
    Certainly you can quote me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the links. I read the links, although I haven’t had time yet to listen to the message.

    The church is in a time of great transition, and I believe that people like yourself are in a vital position with a wonderful opportunity to redefine church and produce transformative communities of disciples.

    Honestly, pastors like yourself who are searching for something different in church, truly give me hope for the institutional form of church.

    I hope as the transition continues we will see trust grow between those within and without traditional structures. If there is trust, I believe we will see a greater collaboration of mission and fellowship among the various types of gatherings.

    Thanks becky!

    Deb,
    Great illustration. From my experience, the church bubble is the norm, not the exception. Are there churches out there that aren’t so isolating and insulating? Maybe, but not very many. There is something about the organization that frequently becomes self-absorbed.

    Mark,
    I’m learning to follow, baby steps.

    jerry,
    Interesting. I think the house church people around here might give the right answer, but their actions and attitudes reflect a sense of ownership. “Underground” is an interesting term and “taking a break” is a good answer, but it wears a little thin after a few years. ;)

    traveller,
    I continue to appreciate the wisdom and grace you share with me on this journey.

    7catz,
    Very well said! Jesus continues to build His church. Perhaps part of that is in revealing the structures that have been damaging so that they can be replaced with healthy churches that truly encourage the dynamic life of the Spirit among believers.

    jerry,
    Something is very wrong with the model we have called “church”. It doesn’t empower, it doesn’t release, it doesn’t bring transformation, it doesn’t bring in the harvest, it doesn’t ultimately end with the saints doing the work of the ministry.

    I absolutely agree with this. The model we have has produced passivity that in many cases the members expect and demand.

    While I don’t believe in the clergy/laity split, I think in this time of transition, it is vital to have men in the leadership position of local congregations who truly understand the concepts of empowering and releasing.

    I am most impressed with the pastors who struggle from this difficult position, especially when often it would appear that their members aren’t interested in being empowered.

    Thanks Bryan! He is utterly unpredictable.

    Tracy,
    Those were really profound words.

    Wayne,
    No apologies necessary. Traveller really answered much better than I could. Too many churches consume the time of their members on programs and services within the church. If you truly want to equip your people, share with them the needs within your community, the needs that you are working so hard to fill alone. Yes, you will probably run into plenty of people too “busy” to help, but keep it out there until you run into those who have a heart to serve alongside you.

    Thanks traveller, well said.

  45. I probably don’t have much new to add, but I will put in my two cents anyway. Church is not something we do, it is what we are. So, having someone over for a cup of coffee, having a picnic with your family,or visiting and praying for a sick friend can be church just as much as walking into a building, sometimes more so. I believe that we are to gather together, but how we do that is not the issue.
    When Rickard and I started out on this journey we gathered together with some people who were on the same road, some in different places, but searching for something more/different in regards to church. That gathering together morphed into a church.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is this: surrounding yourself with people who are on a similar journing is more than helpful. We, Rickard and I, have people around us who understand where we are and the struggle of the journey, and that has made this rough road more bearable. The decision to take the path you are considering or are on is not an easy one, and you really have to know 100% that it is what God has called them to. If that wasn’t the case for me I’m not sure I could do it.
    I hope that makes sense, and sorry for the rambling;-)

  46. WayneO:

    I have to agree fully with Traveller. When we left our church – we spent 15 months out on the streets ministering in the poorest part of town. Our small group had more confessions for Christ out there on the street than I had seen in our old church in 20 years. (times 10) We went there every Saturday instead of going to church service on Sunday. We actually rested on Sunday. (imagine that – truly a day of rest)

    When I was “institutionalized” – we had Tuesday Elders meeting – years of Wed night services or dead small group meetings once a week (until we cut the head off). Often times Saturday worship team practice. Ofter times Sunday elder’s luncheons. Not to mention so many special training programs and special meetings that I lost count. Like Deb said above – we were training, training, training, training…. but nobody every graduated. We didn’t have time to do ministry – we were too busy training.

    I tried to figure out how many sermons I’d heard in my life – it was somewhere over 3,200. We’d heard so many sermons on “obedience” that one of the members came to me (as an elder) – asking if we were coming close to the Guiness World Book of records on preaching the same sermon.

    Comes a time when you finally realize your head is spinning from the merry-go-round. Thank the Lord He gave us the grace to get off of it.

  47. Lori,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. Fortunately we do have a few friends to journey with, although it seems we are being scattered in different directions as far as church gatherings. Maybe that’s okay too.

  48. hey grace, as always you put things to words so well. who knew this journey out would all feel so scary and complicated and beautiful at the same time? even though i have the refuge community, i sometimes am terrified of how far off the edge it all feels like i have gone. i was just on a vacation where i hooked up with some old friends from a bible study we were in when we were first married. they are all wonderful people but honestly it freaked me out because i feel like i live in an utterly and completely different world, we speak different languages, and i just felt so rebellious in light of their dedication to living out their faith exactly the same way we were all doing 16 years ago. a few times i interjected a comment here and there (extremely mild, i might add, not even close to what i wanted to really say…) i could see this weird look on their face like “what in the world is she talking about?” it made me feel more lonely in the moment than i ever expected and i spent a lot of time thinking later how weird it is that i am no longer a part of so much i was a part of…again, thanks for always spurring on such good conversation…

  49. kathy,
    Your comment was exactly what I needed this morning. The biggest struggle for me is the loneliness of seeing how different I am. Even when I know I am following God, it is difficult to not have the confirmation of familiar voices.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I am sorry but grateful that you understand so well what I was trying to say.

  50. My husband and I were discussing this yesterday, so it was cool to find your post today.

    Today I sat in church (we’ve only been back in a “church” for a few months after a 4 year hiatus), also wondering if I stay will I cause problems? I just don’t know about this formal church thing anymore. Partly I’m gun shy… and partly I’m just not in the same mode of thinking anymore.

    Kathy and Grace.. it is lonely. I felt very alone this morning in the gathering. Not people wise, but in terms of that connection with like-minded believers.

    Thanks for stating it.

  51. 7cata, I don’t disagree with you at all.

    Jerry, I have talked with Frank on the phone about his book and we are working on an interview that will be posted on my blog. You may want to check out this earlier entry entitled “Pagan Conversations.

    Wayne, I know your struggle. My solution was to plant a church so I could build a group of people without the baggage of history. Our church meets around tables, we have intense interaction and involvment in every service. Yet it is a struggle. I have a degree in Engineering, a Masters and almost done with my Doctorate, and I also scrubbed toilets to help plant this church. My family has lived without insurance and I do side jobs in web design to pay for our groceries. By the struggle is worth the mission to build a healthy biblical Family. My solution to building “ownership” was to start a seerate non-profit that is focused on building a community Arts Center and cafe. This building will be used by everyone in our community, and the church will be one of many groups who benefit. For me, it helps make the message clear, the church is not a building but a people. We also established a home for the disabled in a local converted farmhouse. We started a YoungLife in our schools instead of a “church youth group.” We take the kids to the farm, play ball and teach them to serve the disabled kids.

    What I teach to our community is that Sunday is not Church, it is an IMPORTANT, part of being church, but it is not ALL, there is to being the church. I also teach that if people can only come to one gathering a week, skip Sunday and go to their Growth Group or spend time serving… BUT, this is not a EITHER/OR debate.. it is a BOTH/AND. We need both the large corporate worship AND the intimate fellowship. Read Acts, the church did both! The Church had structure, (Steven and the 6 other deacons), the church had Elders, Paul did this from the start in his missioary Journeys and the Chruch in Jersualme from day one did this.

    True, much of what passes as “pastoral ministry” today is not biblical ministry… but there is for and structure to the Body.. that is why we are called the Body and not the Ameba.

    Keep hope alive and keep looking to the Scripture for guidance.. all of Scripture…

  52. You know what Joe – the church I left met around tables. The purpose of the tables was so they could discuss the pastor’s sermon. Hardly ever was a relevation introduced at one of those tables. I sat at that table for many years. Never once did I hear someone counter the sermon.

    You said “the body” and not the “ameba” – The Body of CHRIST – not the Body of the PASTOR – I would counter you with. My question is always one thing – Is this ministry Saul? I outline what I mean by that in one of my blogs posts entitled – State of the Church – Part 1 (Saul)

    http://inyourhouse.wordpress.com/

    We had small groups (we called them “cells”) – starting in 1991. We brought in Bill Beckham, had conversations with Ralph Neighbor, joined up with an awesome cell-based network called DOVE (whom I dearly love). The “two-winged” church – corporate gatherings and small groups. It is the model employed by the majority of cell-based organizations. This includes – Paul Yongi Cho in South Korea – whom most people are aware of.

    There is another type of cell based church – called G12 – a fellow by the name of Cesar Castellanos in Columbia is most well know for that. G12 is like hierarchy on steroids, but it and other cell-based groups have done very well at bringing in the harvest.

    It has been alleged that Castellanos is incredibly “controlling”. Bethany World Prayer Center – split from Castellanos. Much of the cell world is quite concerned about all of the accusations levelled at Castellanos. You can see that by blog posts by Randall Neighbor and Joel Comesky – two very respected people in the “cell movement”.

    My wife has been out to Bethany – great people – awesome soul winners – wonderful music!

    Like Grace commented to me above:

    —-
    While I don’t believe in the clergy/laity split, I think in this time of transition, it is vital to have men in the leadership position of local congregations who truly understand the concepts of empowering and releasing.

    I am most impressed with the pastors who struggle from this difficult position, especially when often it would appear that their members aren’t interested in being empowered.
    —-

    I think what Grace is saying is wisdom. I can cite one example of a guy who I think is empowering and releasing – and that is Bill Johnson (www.bjm.org) If you’re not extemely Charismatic – you won’t be able to handle Bill.

    I said all of that to say this – if you’re empowering people – I’m all for it. If you’re releasing people – you’re way ahead of the pack.

  53. mak,
    I try to remind myself to focus on what I have in common with other believers. For me, there is a balance in having grace for other views but also having confidence in the journey I am on and not becoming discouraged by those who don’t understand.

    Heidi,
    Being back in church does feel awkward at first. I hope that you will find your place of belonging and like-minded mates to journey with.

    Joe,
    I look forward to your interview with Frank. It sounds like you have some great things going on with your church. I really do appreciate your heart and approach. I visited your church website and watched the video. It was great. Anyway, blessings to you, your ministry, and those you gather with.

    Jerry,
    Good luck with your blog. I hope your email friends will join you in conversation too. I have heard good things about Bill Johnson (and not-so-good things about G12).

  54. Hi Grace. I live in Phoenix. All I have to say is, “Thank the Lord it’s not Summer year round!” Granted, it’s a long season here, but it’s not permanent. As much as I dislike the intense discomfort brought on by the barrage of triple digit heat months on end, it’s necessary for indigenous life here. The good news is that Fall does come. Then Winter, then it’s perfect for a while. But with the thought of summer depression sets in and I prepare.

    If you are moving towards a permanent state then there is plenty of room for concern on your part. But season’s change and some are more extreme than others.

    Congratulations for moving from the abuse of one spiritual system. I think you’re smart, taking time to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again — at least in the same manner ; )

    Thanks for your transparency and your willingness to be open and honest about something that I think entire generations are coming to terms with.

  55. This has been a long string of comments with a lot of good thoughts.

    Grace, I understand your present state of trepidation and feeling of isolation. Been there…still somewhat there.

    Perhaps you are at Point +1 of Wolfgang Simpson’s 5 Steps in Apostolic Migration ? (Link posted by Jerry.)

    To make a “broad-brushed” observation, and one that has been apparent in previous discussions…Form (HC, Cell/Celebration, traditional, etc.) certainly has some importance, but the over-arching concern still seems to fall in the area of “Leadership”.

    “The Church” is of no less importance than “personal redemption”. Let’s just be certain of what we’re talking about when we say “church”.

    I suggest that “church” and the phrase “amazingly awesome” are rarely combined in experience. Perhaps they should not be thought to be coordinate.

    Tom

  56. Joe Miller,

    Along with Traveller (and others) I affirm you in your journey with the Lord. I also recognize your considerable energy, grasp of the Word, and your apparent love of the Lord and His people.

    I must say, however, that this statement of yours from your blog entry about the DNA of the church is quite telling as relates to conventional wisdom about the “Pastor”;

    I will provide a clear dream for what this DNA should look like in the local Body of Christ and how I am trying to form this in my own Reunion Church.

    That kind of “telling” is what begins the crank-turning with folks like me, and inyourhouse, and Jerry, and Traveller, and Joseph Ostrander, and…

    Tom

  57. Hi Grace,

    You’re attracting a fair bit of attention with this post. These questions you’re asking are good. They’re questions I’m asking myself everyday as well. My family is not there but I did have a good discussion with my son last night. We’re hanging out in a large church (at least by our standards) and everyone is almost completely uninvolved except my son who is committed to just about everything and is going into the interns program in the fall. Awkward. We’ve never “attended” a church before and I don’t like it. Every Sunday I ask myself if this will be the last time.

    Your questions provoke some interesting personal reflections:
    *I don’t want to be wrong because I’m always right and I’ve got a few pedigrees to prove it.
    *I don’t want to backslide because that would damage my almost perfect record.
    *I don’t want to have a shallow walk with Jesus because I spent my whole life pushing people into the depths and being shallow would look bad.

    I want to be safe, status quo, dressed in my religious finery. You know what Jesus would have called me if I been hanging with Nicodemus in Palestine a few years back.

    I guess those three questions for me are pretty easy. I need to get over myself and move on, take a few risks. Your fourth question’s a little tougher. How will it affect others? How will my son grow in faith if his dad is a reprobate? Will my daughter understand my decision? She’s not exactly at the “my father is so wise” stage in her life. I’m wondering if the early believers went through the same thing when they decided to leave the security of Judaism and embrace Jesus. They had to be wondering what their families would think of them and whether they were doing something stupid.

    I think that its easier when you jump with someone else holding your hand—-you know how you count down and jump all at once—that kind of security. Did I mention that my lovely wife is afraid of heights. I’ve got her in therapy right now. I share some of your posts with her, I left Pagan Christianity lying around (she hasn’t read it yet but she did insist her friend read it), and I’ve printed off some of Wayne Jacobsen’s stuff. We’re getting there. Somewhere.

    “By faith Abraham….obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going”

    Ok everyone, on the count of three, one, two,….

  58. Hi Tom, I don’t understand your comment. I am trying, but I jut not sure what you are saying.

    Inyourhouse, no magic in tables… they are a tool like anything else that can be useful or useless. We have had some fun disagreements at our tables, and I have Elders in the church who disagree with some of what I say… personally, I enjoy the conversation.

  59. I like what Wolfgang Simson (in Starfish Manifesto) said about the rent veil.

    When the veil was rent in two – the Lord was saying – “Thank you Levites for all of your years of service – your job has been completed – we won’t be needing you anymore.”

    He equates that with the thing that happened in Christian Tabernacle in Houston (When a lightening bolt split the pulpit in half):

    http://www.evanwiggs.com/revival/history/penpulp.html

    “Thank-you Mr Pulpiteer for all of your years of service – we won’t be needing you anymore!”

  60. Joe, if I am reading Tom correctly (and please do correct me if I am wrong, Tom), he is indicating that the concern many have is that any single person would create the “vision” and “DNA” and form it in the ekklesia. At least for me, that is a work of the Holy Spirit, not a human. I understand that the person might believe that they are receiving this either from Scripture or directly from God but my understanding of Scripture would be different. Indeed, while I understand how you view the body would be “governed” there is an equally valid reading of Scripture that would say elders are not a position within an institution but people who are older and have the wisdom of God, that a pastor is one who has a gift from the Holy Spirit, not one who holds a position in an institution or organization.

    It is not that there is no organization but that organizing is by the Holy Spirit, not a human organization. Again, I have been a part of this happening when gifts are exercised instead of people organizing and directing.

    Since I have actually seen this happen, I believe it is possible for there to be no “leader” among followers of Jesus, except King Jesus himself, when those who follow him actually allow the Spirit to work. I recognize this frightens most people because there is the fear of chaos or heresy or whatever. In my experience when people give up leadership and exercise their spiritual gifts instead then it is amazing what happens!

  61. Joe, Tom’s absolutely right in his assessment of me – we view “vision” as a corporate thing. Kind of like putting the pieces together with the person next to you. “Vision” grows as others have input into it. My own “vision” is worth very little to me (or anyone) by itself. I think – if God wants you to have music – he sends in a musician. If he wants evangelism – He sends in an evangelist and so on. It’s not what we do – it’s who we are. What to do is kind of “made easy” by just looking at the people around you – and who it is they are.

    Right now in my life – I am surrounded by evangelists – I am a musician. We are marrying praise and worship and evangelism because that’s what our group is – evangelists and praise and worshippers. Everyone there loves to praise. Kind of like Reese’s peanut butter cups. It’s been awesome – and none of us would have done that on our own. It’s real doable – because our group is small. (though we’ve hosted one event that had over 700 people in it). And yes – theologically – I’ve been told it’s not right at all – – and that we all need to be in church – and under authority – and that the harvest we’re bringing in is rotting – and that we’re forsaking the assembly of the saints, and all of that ….. Reality is – we have two pieces right now – and we put them together – now that’s assembling the saints. I pray we’ll be able to put together more pieces – cause not everyone is a praise and worship leader or intercessor.

    I’m not an evangelist at all – but I had one of these sisters bring in 3 (three) 17 year-olds and say – Jerry these three want you to lead them to Christ and they want to be baptised. How awesome is that? What do you think that did for my faith? God was pitching underhanded to me.

    I went out with another sister – and saw this gang banger throw down his baseball bat – and pray to receive Christ. That kid had on a pair of shorts – pulled down 6 inches below his naval – and a pair of tennis shoes – and a baseball bat in case someone messed with him. He threw that baseball bat down on the ground and prayed. Wow…. I would have never experienced that – had I not honored those people around me who thought evangelism is the most absolute necessary and needed thing in the world.

    I personally think that praise and worship and prayer is the absolute most needed thing in the world – and you know what – they honored me in that – and what I believed too.

    The concern about your vision is that it looks eerily like sola pastora – in other words – you lay out the vision – and everybody is just suppose to fit inside of it. One size fits all. God calls down the vision to Moses – and Moses tells all the people what it is. You’re the “primary vision carrier” for your flock. Now – that’s the kind of “red flags” we have with statements like Tom pointed out. Maybe that’s not what it is at all – and maybe our “red flags” are not warranted.

    BTW – say a quick prayer for us – we have a big outreach on Saturday. Praise and worship – and evangelism in the streets. Thanks ya’ll.

  62. Joe M.,

    Jerry and Traveller understood to the “T” what I said earlier to you.

    You actually reiterated the same mindset in your response to inyouhouse;

    “We have had some fun disagreements at our tables, and I have Elders in the church who disagree with some of what I say… “

    “*I have* Elders…who disagree with *some* of what I say…”

    You have Elders?? Who owns those Elders? And, what if they totally disagree with some of what you say…who then “carries the day”, so to speak?

    Brother, you are operating out of a Sola Pastora institutional perspective rather than thinking/functioning in charismatic terms which is the reality of the Spirit of God empowering and enabling His people to fulfill corporately (and individually) His purposes.

    Traveller and Jerry both express my concern about what you appear to express about “vision” and “the DNA” of the church;

    “…the concern many have is that any single person would create the “vision” and “DNA” and form it in the ekklesia.”

    “…we view “vision” as a corporate thing. Kind of like putting the pieces together with the person next to you. “Vision” grows as others have input into it. My own “vision” is worth very little to me (or anyone) by itself.”

    Joe M., I’m criticizing an idea and an attitude–I am not judging your motives and, as I wrote earlier, I think you have a great love for the Lord and His people.

    Tom

  63. Ok everyone, on the count of three, one, two,….

    David,

    LOL! Do you remember Mel Gibson in Road Warrior where that goofy aviator guy was driving the large truck and and was impalled through the leg when someone chucked a spear through the door? And Gibson says, “Ok, on three…One…THREE!!” And the friend says, “OUCH!!! WHAT HAPPENED TO TWO???”

    Tom

  64. chris,
    Thanks for your words of encouragement. I think that you hit the nail on the head concerning seasons. I am moving away from a mentality of permanent membership. I think we will see more fluidity of relationships and connections within the church. Within this, I think that our gatherings with a particular group will be “for a season” and that is okay as long as we are fully invested and committed to the place we are in at the time. Permanence isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal, but rather faithfulness.

    david,
    Great thoughts. I could relate to your answers to all of the questions. God knows that I’m not about to get over myself anytime soon and whatever the situation, it ultimately is all about me.

    As for jumping, I am most likely to be the one hanging back saying, “No, don’t jump!”

    I don’t know where the whole church thing is headed. My husband says we’re “going rogue”, whatever the heck that means. We’ve had to give each other quite a bit of grace in this season of transition.

    tom,
    Awesomely amazing was a bit tongue-in-cheek. In reality, for now, I am no longer looking for “it”, but rather, at least for a season, learning to discern the church around me whether it is structured or unstructured.

    traveller,
    Good thoughts. We probably all have room to grow in our ability to trust the leadership of the Spirit within our gatherings.

    jerry,
    Great examples of appreciating the gifts of each person that God brings together. There is dynamic power available when people are released into their unique gifting. I loved the phrase and visual about God pitching underhanded to you. I imagine Him doing that for me quite often. :)

    joe,
    I hope you haven’t felt beat up on this thread. As you know from reading Frank’s book and others, the role of pastor and the organizational structure is being deconstructed in many circles.

    As I said earlier, I think that we are in a time of transition. There will continue to be church organizations and within that the role of pastor or leader. I hope as many of those positions as possible are filled with people who have a vision for empowering, equipping, and releasing people.

  65. When my youngest son started drinking heavily, I found peace and acceptance to his problem during my time I spend with Christ every morning. He led me into a deeper faith and commitment to trust him. Through prayer for my son, I found that he has a wonderful understanding of God’s will for our lifes despite his drinking problem. I am sorry ro say that no one from my church has done anything to help my son. I am still going to church (very seldom) for my husband’s sake. My time with Christ every morning and the presence of the Holy Spirit is worth more than all the churches in the world and the preachings I listen to over the radio or TV. Not going or going to church is a thing between you and God. Open up to Him and He will lead you on the way He has planned for you since the beginning of time. Found peace in His ways. I sence that you are very uncertain at present. He loves you and will never let go. I love you too.

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