So after 40 years of ‘religiously’ attending church every Sunday, I find myself re-thinking how I’m going to do this church thing. The last 10 years have made me re-envision church over and over again. Now I’m wondering whether to give up on it altogether.
When we found ourselves living in a rural area, a few of us began to meet as a small fellowship, first in our house and then in a school hall, at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. It was relaxed; it had that ‘come as you are’ end of the weekend feel about it. Then we caved to pressure and desires for growth in numbers and changed to a traditional morning meeting. It was good, but it had that, ‘have to get up early and get ready and nag the kids’ kind of feeling.
And then I after a total of 6 years I came down with an attack of spiritual fatigue. The people were there, some were doing stuff, but mainly it was I who had to produce the goods week after week and whether it was a failure on my part to develop leaders, or to maintain my connection to the Spirit, or whether it was simply the reality of a small church, in a small town and the absence of leaders… whatever the reason, I came to a place where I couldn’t even stand up and pray anymore, there were no words in my head or heart, so we celebrated our journey and sent everyone on their way to find new spiritual homes.
Our first post-plant visit was to another small, local church. There were good, sincere people, praying and praising God, but I went outside and cried because it was SO different to what we had had. In so many ways, some small and some significant, it was a million miles from the way we had done church in the last 6 years. For my family there was also a language barrier, so we moved further afield.
For a year we alternated between two churches from our ‘denomination’ in town, both about 55km away from where we lived. We didn’t go every Sunday, but still it was too far, the kids dreaded the drive, they didn’t enjoy the Sunday school; it wasn’t working.
And then we found a church just 35km away. Initially it seemed great. But. There are these things I don’t like there. Yet again the issue of women in leadership rears its ugly head. Often the emphasis on the ‘already’ rather than the ‘not yet’ smacks of triumphalism and makes me cringe for those of us who aren’t ‘healed’. And. And.
I know there are no perfect churches. I used to think people shouldn’t have the luxury of choosing a church, but unfortunately even in a small town there are so many divisions of culture, of language, of style, that even these little churches are not generic enough for me. They are so highly ‘styled’ that I just can’t fit in.
I’m tempted to throw it in. I have found a ‘community’ of like-minded people on the internet. They don’t know me, but they do encourage me and they build my faith. I read books including the Bible and they generally speak to me in deeper ways than the average sermon. Should I need a sermon I can download countless hundreds from the internet.
What about the old ‘accountability’ issue? Well I like Michael Cheshire’s concept of ‘accountable for’ rather than ‘accountable to’. I am accountable to the people who will truly dive in and rescue me when I need it. I have two such people in my life; I wish I had more, but two will do.
So how will I manage this? This being part of the body of Christ?
This Sunday my family went out for breakfast at a quiet local tea garden. We read a psalm together. I didn’t have to rush, or nag or drive 35km, or go and set up tea and coffee, or greet strangers at a door or listen to a sermon I disagreed with or despair because yet again my back was not healed. Do I sound cynical? But I had time to connect with God and my family, and I rested. I feel ready to face my week and serve my community.
I long for a flesh and blood Jesus-community of like-minded people, and I have some who come close. I can’t travel further to find one. I can work with the one I have, but should fitting in be such hard work?
I’m not ready to give up yet. So for now I’ll probably visit my big, far away church about once a month. And then I’ll meet with the local home group from that church maybe twice a month. And for the rest I’ll keep reading books and blogs and trying to serve my friends and acquaintances in my local community. It’s not really my idea of church, but for now it will have to do.