Church & Needs, part IIb

Even though I believe we could discuss Emotional Needs exclusively on this blog and still not touch on every aspect of it, I’d like to add just a few more thoughts before moving on to some other topics of importance in relation to modern Christianity.

In yesterday’s blog, I used specific and–I think–obvious examples (abuse, broken families, sexuality, addictions, et cet.) of where individuals in the Church are crying out for something more than Christian jargon. Why are these such big problems in our culture? Why have they so affected individuals and the Church? And how can we address the problem if we don’t understand it?

The connection that I wanted to make yesterday, and sort of glossed over, is that these issues can drastically distort one’s image of himself. I think I finally started to understand my own Emotional Needs several years ago when I dreamed that I was trapped in one of those Fun Houses at the circus. There were mirrors everywhere I looked, each one distorting my image. One showed me that I was fatherless; one, that I was not beautiful; one, that I had nothing to say; one, that I was worthless; another, that I was to blame. On and on, the mirrors screamed at me, and after years (in my dream) of looking at these distorted images, I realized that I no longer knew what I actually looked like. Thank heavens it was only a dream! Still, it clearly illustrated my twisted sense of self and my dire need for someone (for anyone!) to look at me and see something of worth!

In my case, it wasn’t enough to just believe that I was created in God’s image. I needed the Body of Christ. I needed those individuals who spoke words of hope and truth about who I was; those who listened enough to see past my defenses and understand how tragically I have loved my father; those who saw God’s handiwork in me and reaffirmed my place in the Kingdom.

See, we are all in process. I don’t say that as an excuse for sin or justification for not being accountable; I say it because it’s true. We are all in process. If God is finished working on you, you had better check to make sure you still have a pulse. If you are living, if you are breathing, then you are in the process of being recreated in His image.

On a dvd, speaking of her song, I Then Shall Live, Gloria Gaither (one of my only modern heroes!) talks about surrounding ourselves with people who call us to be greater. It’s so important that we find that balance where we can accept another exactly as he is, but also see the gifts, the seeds of life and purpose that God has planted in him, and call him to something greater. And I think it is that acceptance that allows us to see greater things in another.

When you garden, you don’t tear a grapevine out of the ground because it has bad fruit. You choose to love your grapevine. You prune it, changing the flow of nutrients and life, so that the fruit on the vine is full and sweet. But it starts with choosing to love your plant, with committing to another year (or two…or three…or four…I mean, really…have you ever tried to grow grapes?) of tending and pruning and singing to your grapes.

So what do you say? How can we change the culture of modern Christianity to address the garbled images we have of ourselves and others? Who are the people in your life that need encouragement, affirmation, words of life and hope, a calling to something greater? And if this is not the Church’s responsibility…whose is it?

Pax Domini.

Church & Needs, part II

We’ve been talking about the necessity of church in the life of a Christian, and the needs of the individual. I don’t pretend to be a voice of authority on this issue; I am passionate about it, however, because I’ve known so many people who’ve been burnt by church, or by the lack of church.

Previously, I listed the reasons I’ve heard from people who’ve left a church. One of the things I did not list but have been directly and indirectly discussing with others, is Emotional Needs. I hesitated to list it initially, because it is such a vague category. And arguably, several of the other categories could overlap (or entirely consume) this group. Still, it follows me like my shadow. I have to at least try to talk about this–even if I fail miserably (and there’s a very good possibility that I will).

My reluctance to mention Emotional Needs as a reason that individuals might detach from a church comes, I think, from my own indecision and emotion on the matter. As someone with incredible Emotional Needs, I have always struggled to find church and friends and situations where I was not only able to minister to others, but where my Emotional Needs (and trust me, in this case, the capital letters are entirely appropriate) were at least being acknowledged. I have always really poo-poo-ed myself on this issue, though. I thought, “This is a church…not a day spa! Don’t look to these people to pamper you!”

But I think there’s a misconception about the Church in this regard. To ignore the fact that individuals have Emotional Needs, is to ignore humanity. Each generation has their own needs; but one of my biggest fears for the modern Church is Her ignorance of the Emotional Needs of the Millennial Generation. This is my particular concern regarding the IHOP movement–but that’s another topic, altogether.

So what are some of the Emotional Needs that I feel the Church has miserably failed to meet? Just to name a few:

  • Surrogate parents, men and women who will take the initiative to love someone as their own son or daughter, to invest in their lives, to guide them and pray with them (and for them), and to just wrap their arms around someone and say, “I am here, and I love you.”
  • Acceptance, Christians who will acknowledge that–whatever we think about homosexuality, or divorce, or pornography, or abuse, or addictions–Jesus came for those who needed a Savior. Some battles are won in an instant, but there are those who will fight each day with an issue; and instead of standing in support and encouragement, the Church has largely stood in judgment.
  • Counseling, I don’t know what the answer to this issue is, but it breaks my heart that young people who’ve been sexually abused do not feel safe to enter a church and deal with the emotions and issues related to such abuse. And worse–so many who have dared to trust a church and speak of such a traumatic matter, have been told to “forgive and forget,” or “stop reliving it,” or other trite, worthless words that offer no healing.

What am I talking about? Community. Last year, I read a book called Soul Cravings, by Erwin Raphael McManus. He was masterful in articulating the correlation between community and self. He wrote,

The power of community is that it helps us understand ourselves.

When the Church fails to be the community that an individual needs, what results? But Sarah, you say, community is made up of individuals! Exactly. Each one of us is “community.” Each one of us needs community; and each one of us is the community that someone else needs. The greatest part about it is that none of us are perfect. How incredible, that imperfect sinners like us can be the very Body of Christ to another imperfect sinner! The key, I think, must be to acknowledge that this is what we are, and this is what we need.

McManus also writes,

When we belong to God, we belong to each other. There are no outsiders.

This statement has stayed with me for some time. It is easy to get into a “routine” at church, where we talk to those we know and are comfortable with; we sit with those we always sit with; et cetera. But in light of the need for community that each individual has, and in light of the fact that we are One Body, can we begin to challenge one another to expand our community at church and involve those we might otherwise overlook? I’m not asking you to simply welcome the new guy. I’m asking you to know him, find out what his needs are, and pray, “Right here, Jesus…graft him right here next to me! There’s a place for him right here!” Pursue new relationships–not just new people.

As always, I welcome your comments, disagreements, quotes, questions, struggles, random postings, et cetera. I will leave you with the greatest McManus quote, which states all of this far more succinctly than I ever could,

There may be no greater gift than a place to belong.

Pax Domini, my friends.

Church & Needs, part I

Yesterday, as part of the discussion to Changing the Conversation about why some Christians don’t attend church, Rachel offered this question:

do you think that maybe Christians “try” a different church, or simply seek out a different church, because their needs aren’t being met?

This is a great question. After I read this last night, I started trying to think of real-life examples (not hypotheticals) where some have left one church for another, or have stopped attending church altogether. Here’s what I thought of–and remember, I offer no judgment on these issues, I merely acknowledge that they have been issues in real examples that I know of.

  • Doctrinal Disagreements
  • Lack of Welcome & Fellowship
  • Lack of Discipleship, Education, & Personal Accountability
  • Music
  • Atmosphere
  • Sexual Abuse and/or Addiction
  • Lack of Ministry Programs & Opportunities to Serve
  • Scheduling Conflicts
  • Lack of Humility and Accountability in Leadership

So what say you? What are some of the specific (though, no gory details, please) reasons you’ve known for someone to leave a church or stop attending church altogether? Have I missed any big issues that you know of?

Pax Domini.

Change the Conversation, Ben

It’s time to change the conversation, Ben.

This is my second attempt at posting a blog today that deals with the issue of what Ben calls “Rogue Christianity.” The first, I am sorry to say, was a little bit more rant than substance. It’s a hard topic for me to not rant about, because I’ve been there.

I’ve been the person who left church. I’ve been the person who didn’t want others to question that decision. I’ve been the person who rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t need the church in order to have faith.” And maybe those seem like flippant excuses to some. Maybe they are. But the point remains: I’ve been there.

And no matter what anyone says about it, I choose to default on the premise that most of the people who reject church or who reject Christianity do so for reasons that are much more complex than “I don’t need the church in order to have faith” or “I love God, that’s all that matters.” So treating the discussion as if these are really the issue…is as much part of the problem as anything, in my opinion.

Ah…I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to refer you to Ben’s blog for a moment to read his two pieces in the “Rogue Christianity” series. The first blog is simply titled, “Rogue Christianity.”  The second is titled, “Rogue Christianity: I Love God and That’s Enough.

I don’t want to debate the several points that jump out at me on this topic, because frankly, that’s what caused my ranting in the previous blog that remains unpublished. Here’s where I want to go with this.

People are unique. People are not a “mishmash” of conversation. Now, before I do this…I want to state that I’m not picking on Ben. Well, maybe I am a little bit…but I’m allowed. I love and respect Ben for a lot of reasons, and I know that HE knows that individuals are not a mishmash as his example indicates. Nonetheless, I have to do this. We have to talk about the conversations.

Let’s look at the first one, posted on the original Rogue Christianity post:

“Do you go to church?”

“No, I haven’t gone in awhile.”

“Why?”

“I haven’t found one that really meets my needs.”

“Sooooo, who is holding you accountable?  Where are you finding community?  Who is leading you spiritually?”

“Well, I listen to a lot of online sermons, pray a lot on my own and I mean, really, what is the church anyway?  It isn’t a building so when my friends and I gather, we are the church.”

I changed the color of the would-be-Ben in this dialogue because I get confused easily (I’m so dyslexic, dialogue makes me puke). Again, remembering that this is an EXAMPLE of a TYPE of conversation, not a word-for-word dialogue.

This dialogue offers two great things. First, the would-be-Ben asks specific questions about teaching and community. Second, the would-be-non-church-go-er answers the questions. We can debate whether the answers are good or not, but at least he answers!

What is missing from this dialogue? What’s missing, in my opinion, is this:

I am really sorry to hear that you haven’t found a church home. If you don’t mind my asking, what are some of the needs you’re referring to here that aren’t being met at the churches you’ve tried?

Maybe that seems dumb to everyone else, but to me, it’s a brilliant question that needs to be asked. Even if the result of the current conversation is a bomb, it gives the would-be-Ben in this case some ideas to take with him and pray about regarding his own church. And a lot of times, I think people’s needs aren’t met because the church doesn’t know there’s a need! Instead of figuring out who’s responsibility it is to mention needs, let’s jump at the opportunity to find out where we can minister to someone. If this were an actual conversation, the would-be-Ben would have a PERFECT opportunity to find out what the would-be-non-church-go-er is looking for, a perfect chance to glimpse his struggles and desires regarding his faith. This opens the door wide for ministry, for friendship, and for facilitating interaction with a church.

What if you asked the person about the needs, and he responded like this:

Well, I really have a lot of questions about doctrine and faith and how it all pertains to me. But it seems when I mention them, I am told to “just believe” or “not to doubt.” I would love to have an honest discussion about some of my questions.

Woah! Would-be-Ben! You’ve got a great opportunity here. You could attempt to answer all of his questions then and there, but better yet–you could offer to meet regularly with him to study and find the answers together. Suddenly, you are in the position of being that accountability he might need; suddenly, you are a voice of influence in his life; suddenly, you are someone he trusts and would listen to if you said, “hey, why don’t you come and worship with me this Sunday?”

My point here isn’t to correct Ben, because again–his example was a TYPE of conversation, not an actual dialogue; rather, my point is to get beyond the superficial issue (i.e.: John* is not attending church), and find out what you can do to impact or affect change in John’s life. And maybe you can’t. Maybe John is going to say, “look, I appreciate your concern, but bugger off.” That’s okay, too. But at least be honest enough to ask the real questions and not be so worried about whether John lives his faith the way we might think is “right.”

I said it before…I’ll say it again. This is a much bigger issue than people simply thinking they don’t need fellowship or teaching. People leave churches (and Christianity) for reasons–deep, delicate, personal reasons. I don’t know ANY Christian who simply feels they don’t “need” church. But I know many, many Christians who feel the church doesn’t need them; or who feel that the church is a joke; or who feel that the church doesn’t have anything to offer that can’t be found, for instance, on the internet.

Don’t make the mistake of letting church attendance be the issue. It’s not. It’s the symptom. Figure out the issue, put on your gear, and tackle it.

Oh, and…yes…Ben…you do need to be careful. You’re not dealing here with theories and ideas; you’re dealing with people created in the image of God. As Rich Mullins says,

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, forged in the fires of human passions, choking on the fumes of selfish rage. And with these–our hells and our heavens–so few inches apart,we must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.

Let’s hear your voice…I want to know what you, my trusted Blog Viewers, think about this topic.

Pax Domini, my friends.

*”John” refers to the would-be-non-church-go-er. I just grew weary of typing all of that, and changed it to “John” for simplicity’s sake.

The Vertical Self

The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers

If you’re looking for a self-help, Dr. Phil approach to finding your untapped potential and personality, this book isn’t it. And truthfully, I can think of no higher praise to offer Mark Sayers.

If you are looking for a Christian perspective not just on western culture, but on the effects of western culture on the Church and on the individual, then you need to add this book to your library and you need to read it with pen, paper and sticky notes close by.  Sayers cuts through all of the pomp and splendor of our concepts of “image” and challenges us to begin the search for our true self, which is often difficult and frustrating.

I’ve read so many books that talk about our desires and why we are the way we are and…et cet. But this is the first book I’ve read that ends with a clear teaching about holiness, peace, sanctification, and becoming our redeemed selves.

For more information about this book, please visit the Thomas Nelson product page for The Vertical Self.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program.

Crazy, Religious, Anti-Choice Commercials

Okay…seriously?

*Sigh.*

I understand that the Focus on the Family commercial during last night’s Superbowl could be seen as a “political” commercial, and thus, may be inappropriate for the Superbowl.

However…(and this is an enormous “however”)…

I really take issue with the fact that so many are spitting fire over a family-centered commercial, but nobody cares that there were at least two commercials last night that featured men and women in their underwear.

I, frankly, am weary of this idea that the only “culture” we’re allowed to have is the kind where women must be hot and controlling, men must be dumb and spineless, and everyone must run around in their underwear and drink beer. It’s about time someone stood up and promoted a way of life that challenges the “culture” of America.

Disclosure: I’ve no problem with nakedness, attractiveness, underwear, or beer. But then…I’ve no problem with a woman choosing to have her baby, either.

Facing Your Giants

Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado

Notice the “s”? This isn’t simply another retelling of the David and Goliath story.  Lucado walks us through the story of David’s life, of the numerous giants he faced, of his successes, his failures, and the God who was with him through it all. In classic Lucado voice—gentle and encouraging, we hear the message loud and clear: “Focus on giants—you stumble. Focus on God—your giants tumble.”

Other reviewers have noted how quick a read this book is, but I would encourage you to read it one chapter at a time, thoughtfully working through the study guide at the end. I have read several of Lucado’s books in my twenty-some years, and none have ever resonated so deeply and so consistently within me. Whether you are tending sheep, charging Goliath, fleeing Saul, exhausted at Brook Besor, or plotting Uriah’s death, Lucado reminds us to keep our eyes on God.  Our giants today may not look exactly like David’s did; we face poverty, depression, addictions—but Lucado shows us that our giants are all the same. And more importantly, our God is the same.

I give Lucado five stars on this. With the frustrations and worries facing Americans today (war, finances, addictions, abuse, etc.), this book is an excellent reminder of where our hope lies and who our closest friend is.

For more information about this book, please visit the Thomas Nelson product page for Facing Your Giants.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program.