Returning to Church

 

The End of a Personal Era

We went to church Sunday morning. It actually looks very much like this one, except smaller.

It’s kind of a big deal. Ever since my husband and I decided to trade places putting him in the mode of Mr. Mom at home with our daughter while I go out and almost ruin my life chasing corporate fame and fortune, I’ve felt like a fish out of water at church. Shortly after the switch in roles, we adopted a baby born to a Guatemalan immigrant who’d been raped multiple times on the journey from her home country to the Texas border. The baby had had her own rocky journey, defying the threat of abortion through her protective and frightened mother, and then emerging quite strong albeit missing most of her brain’s left hemisphere.

It was about that time that we moved to a different county, one closer to my in-laws, one that, unbeknownst to us, offered a plethora of services for at-risk children, and one where the churches were … uh … different?

Or maybe we were different.

That’s when the trouble got more troubling.

So … I pick up vibes. When I do, I try to find out why … see what’s going on. It’s been my experience that few others want to “go there,” except back in the late ’90s when one light-hearted and persevering associate pastor nicknamed me “The Minister of Truth,” and thought I might be a prophet. I over responded, of course, and booked a meeting with the Senior Pastor to talk with him about what I saw. He basically told me that despite the problems of pride and power and corruption, the main culprits were volunteers … and you can’t be picky.

Really?

I wanted more. I’d recently read The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and had been inculcated into a bubble of heightened awareness; appropriating the view that we live and breathe and have our being in the Kingdom of God. Now.

The book was balm to my soul. I had been desperate for substance beyond the social cliques at church. I wanted to live a Kingdom life, have all I could get of the more-and-infinite, and live each day ever-newly seeing the realities and possibilities through Christ. To know Him: who He is, what He did, how He manifests Himself in our daily life, and what it is to live in Him and Him in me … to see beyond the limitations of this temporal space we occupy, as beautiful and miraculous as it is, and see His face. To enter into the mysterium tremendum, what A.W. Tozer considers as the basis of true fellowship with God.

It would be years later when we moved to the new county that offered all the good things except for the churches. I thought the problem was the churches, and it was, but not all of it. It was me too. Something had happened to me; I had developed an unquenchable thirst for the deeper life, one that brought together all three parts of the whole; the intellectual, the theological, and the mystical. What I found in the churches seemed like a replay of my earliest Sunday School lesson about the resurrection, including felt fabric characters arranged by the teacher so that the huge boulder was rolling down the hill chasing a fleeing Jesus. I was 3½. I’ve not been able to shake the image.

Anyway, here’s a flavor of the kind of new county church trouble I’m referring to:

  • The first church shunned me because I was a working woman with a Mr. Mom husband. That was fun.
  • The second church wouldn’t allow my older daughter to stay with our newly adopted special needs toddler (who was unable to walk, while also subject to seizures and shunt malfunctions). The rules seemed to be more important than meeting us halfway.
  • The third church was wonderful … at first. The leadership seemed aligned with the observations and philosophical views of Dallas Willard, and I had high hopes for my post-retirement involvement. A few years into it, things suddenly became political, the pulpit subtly weaving in certain cultural ideologies, and then offering church-type CRT courses before CRT was a thing, complete with unfounded accusations of systemic racism in the body. I pushed back, writing about the dangers of divisiveness emerging as the leadership drifted away from its focus on Christ. I was eventually boxed out (those are the pastor’s words, another unusual moment of candor). He told me that people, the women in the church, couldn’t figure me out, so they had written me off. I wasn’t surprised. One of the women’s ministry leaders had taken me on as a project (I didn’t realize it), and one day attempted to teach me about the basics of body language per the Oprah Winfrey school of female etiquette. I wrote a hilarious post about it, confessing that while she was trying to teach me, I was mimicking her every move.
  • The fourth church … yikes! Pastoral narcissism run amuck. Perfectionism and performance were emphasized – numero uno priority — and any associate pastor not meeting his standards was first publicly humiliated in the farewell service and then sent on their way with a confidentiality/non-compete clause termination agreement meant to squash their souls for another two years. He may still be adding to the trail of dead bodies behind him. His wife was even worse (but it would take too long to describe), not to mention the slick promo videos, his constant references to the famous people he knew, and the really loud rock concert services every week, complete with fog machines. It was located close by … that’s why we started attending, and I really liked the associate pastors … the ones that mysteriously disappeared one by one over a period of six months.
  • Then COVID hit, and we went online, spending a few months, and sometimes only a few weeks, participating remotely in almost a half dozen online church options.
  • Then we just stopped.

I told God that if this is how it’s going to be, then I’m okay with it.  That I would live out my life in Him as is; no church life, but everything else. I thought it could work; I like being alone in the quiet, sitting in the backyard listening to the birds, gazing over the wetlands and looking toward the hills in the distance from whence my help will come.

Our “no church” hiatus has lasted about two years. I no longer care about serving in some helpful leadership role (which is how I’ve always viewed myself – narcissism rears its head). I also no longer care what the expectations might be for women.

There are a lot of things I no longer care about.

However, I have never stopped longing to be a part of the church; the church of ages past, without all the stuff. There is no need for overdone entertainment, watered-down messages, ideological crusades, off-topic youth programs, etc. There is an ample and unending depth of reality to be explored in Christ, an endeavor that will keep us busy for eternity, while also transforming us into the image of Christ and equipping us for service. It’s all I want. Simple, profound, powerful, reverent, and worshipful.

We went to church this morning.

I didn’t feel like a fish out of water.

The church is different; simple, focused, profound, tiny, imperfect, and sweet.

I’m different: a little deader to my old self and a little more alive to Christ.

I like to think this was all part of the plan.

Here is a wonderful excerpt from Delighting in God by A.W. Tozer, my latest dead-guy mentor:

[1]If we have to struggle to try to drum up faith, it will be a pseudo-faith and nothing that will enhance our walk with God. Our confidence in God will plummet, and we will begin looking for a replacement. I am so afraid that the Christian church today has found its replacement in entertainment and social activities.

But my task is to give a report on the character of God, or as I like to state it, the perfection of God. I want to tell you what God is like, and when I am telling you what God is like, if you read and listen with an open mind, you will find faith spring up automatically. It takes the restored knowledge of God to bring forth our faith. I do not believe there was ever a time in the history of the church when we needed this more than we need it today.

And another:

[2]I realize the times have changed and the great temptation is to try to keep up with the times, whatever that may mean. The preaching that has stirred the church the most has been hard preaching of the Word of God, irrespective of the feelings or trends in the culture. This preaching was not to entertain, but rather to stir the hearts in worship of God. The focus of the preaching was God.

… Today’s preaching focuses on entertaining. If we can entertain the people, we can keep them. If we cannot keep the people, the church cannot grow. Therefore, whatever gets the people in and keeps them, that is what preachers are committed to. And that one word, entertainment, is in my mind a blasphemous word in the Christian culture.

The kind of preaching that stirred the church in the past is the preaching we need in the church today.

I almost hate to mention reading material. I think of the great classics that have blessed the Christian church for centuries and how God has used that literature. Today the literature—if you want to call it that—has been so dumbed down so as to not stir up anybody to holy passion. Today’s literature is cheap junk that I believe should be shoveled out and thrown where it belongs.

Tozer expresses feelings similar to those I’ve harbored for … well, decades at this point. Some might think it sad that so many years have been wasted.

I’m not sad.

I’m glad.

I was set on a journey from the beginning; a journey fraught with pain, suffering, rejection, scrappy periods of survival mode, worldly success, abandonment, sin, backsliding, victory, restoration, growth, humiliation, miraculous events, blessings, protection the entire time … layers upon layers of junk that served me with a growing compassion and a deeper understanding human nature. Uh right … it hasn’t always been “all good” … those same experiences have often hindered me in the way of faith and freedom. I had to learn that part too. It’s as if He had to put me through hell to make me see Him.

Really see Him.

I’ll write it again: When you move the junk out of the way and see more and more of Him … many questions are answered.

[1] Tozer, A.W.. Delighting in God (p. 19). In Print Media. Kindle Edition.

[2] Tozer, A.W.. Delighting in God (p. 34). In Print Media. Kindle Edition.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 7 comments.

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  1. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    Courage; thank you for this. Courage is a beautiful quality.

    • #1
  2. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Church helps with grace and humility. It’s necessary. I’m glad you went back.

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I presume the ground cover was not all white where you were yesterday morning.

    I’m glad you found a church again, and I understand the difficulties, but isn’t it a little early to say you found Mr. Right after only one date?  

    Forty-some years ago when we moved to Michigan we visited a couple of churches, one of them more than once. The pastor of the latter came calling and suggested that we should become members. 

    I explained my misgivings about choosing before we had looked over the entire field, and he said that if it didn’t work out, “there is always the transfer.” (In our Lutheran denomination, even at that late date, people often moved from one congregation to another by formal transfer.  Maybe it still happens that way.  And although my wife and I had briefly considered that maybe we wouldn’t stick with the Lutheran denomination in which we had been born and raised, we weren’t seriously looking elsewhere.) 

    I replied that I figured it was almost like getting married. Once we choose a church, we would stick with it.  We ended up joining, and when we finally bought a house, it was one that was just three quick miles from the church. 

    There were times that I regretted what I had told the pastor, like maybe 2-3 times a month.  And maybe 20 years later, I was dismayed to learn that he had remembered. He brought it up in a sermon (without mentioning me by name).  We’re still there and even though there are still times when I regret my promise (and the original pastor is long retired) we can’t just up and leave our church family.

    Not saying that things wouldn’t be different with sufficient provocation, but it would take quite a bit.

    • #3
  4. God-LovingWoman Coolidge
    God-LovingWoman
    @GodLovingWoman

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I’m glad you found a church again, and I understand the difficulties, but isn’t it a little early to say you found Mr. Right after only one date?  

    Maybe. I tend to move ahead when “prompted” to do so, which is difficult to describe here. God is the guide, and I don’t always understand His purposes or foresee where He’s taking me. All I can tell you is that I find myself moving in directions that in retrospect seem to have been engineered. I take my commitment to the church very seriously, but my commitment to pursuing and knowing Christ is first and foremost.

    That said, I am a loyal person. My post didn’t indicate how long the stays were at each church, but  I’ve always believed it’s important to stay with a home church through the good and difficult. It’s part of the iron sharpening iron process. For each of the examples listed in the post, we attended for several years; the longest period being ten years. The leaving was always a difficult decision, but it seemed necessary each time. I have suffered, but now after so many years, I feel I’m starting to come to terms with it. Most people don’t understand or accept my story, but that’s okay. I know it’s unconventional, which could be why it’s best I’m a comfortable introvert. :)

    This new church is different. I will write more about that at some point. The first message we heard was a deep dive on the flood, including a detailed overview of the scientific evidence. I was enthralled! What I learned in that first visit had a huge impact on my faith, much to my surprise, and I hope to share some of what I learned in a future post.

     

    • #4
  5. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    I believe being a productive church member is sometimes like being a parent.  Many times you end up putting more in than you get out of it. 

    And that’s OK.  Most people are just there to be nourished.  The Pareto Principle definitely applies.

    • #5
  6. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Ooookay.  You found some weirdo churches.

    • #6
  7. God-LovingWoman Coolidge
    God-LovingWoman
    @GodLovingWoman

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Ooookay. You found some weirdo churches.

    Lol!!!!!

    • #7
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