Monday, March 10, 2014

How to Survive a Local Church

This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;  Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme . 1 Tim 1:18-20

 Church life can be rather perilous, apparently. If you're not careful, you can go from being a vibrant active part of  a local church to being a bitter shipwreck who lives to shipwreck others.  You'll be one of those "used to" Christians that we  run into so often when we're door knocking. Something or  somebody knocked them out of the race and for whatever reason they never recovered.  Some of these people look for somebody to blame, and  find an easy villain in their pastor, or their denomination, or the guy in the pew in front of them. In fact, there are actually websites  dedicated to this very thing. One  in particular that I look at from  time to time (out of some  curiosity as to which one of my friends they are slandering this week), is populated by people who  left my particular flavor of Christianity, and though they claim to be  happier now than they were before, their days are now filled with scouring the internet  for  former friends of theirs  and ministries to criticize.  They take  everybody who is still trying to do right, and pick them to pieces while feeding off each others critical spirit.  No flaw or shortcoming is below their notice.This is not the  pastime of a happy person; this is the pastime of a biter shipwreck. 
  I have been at our current church for  almost 12 years. I have seen  backbiting and infighting. I have seen critical spirits, and I have seen hypocrisy.  But yet her ewe are, still doing our best to keep our hearts close to God and serve in the local assembly.  Recently, someone who was struggling with their own bitterness over some legitimate issues asked me how I  had  done it without becoming a shipwreck.  I basically boiled it down to three things, none of which are  particularly profound.
 The Bible says in  Galatians 5:3 "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."  I read somewhere a great analogy that most people treat church as a restaurant. When you  go to a restaurant, you come there hungry, expecting to be fed.  Furthermore, you expect to be catered to.  You expect that a variety of choices will be presented to you. from that a variety of choices you will pick what you want, and then when it is  brought to you, you are then free to pass judgment on what was presented to you.  If you are unhappy with any facet of that, you can justify taking your business elsewhere.  The author of this superb analogy went on to say that  church isn't a restaurant; it's a cooking school. The  local assembly is a place where you  learn to minister to others.  The only way you can effectively do this is  if you feed yourself before you get there.  If you are relying on your pastor to do all your Bible reading, or all your praying, or all your witnessing, you are a starving Christian, and starving people are  cranky. Starving people  don't survive long unless they address that condition.  I am at my church to serve, not to be served.
  If I may delve into the personal for just a moment, here, all 4 of my children  were born at my current church.  My wife received no baby showers from the ladies at the church.  I think  my wife may be alone in that statistic. Nobody even offered, even as a huge fuss was made over some of the other ladies. some of whom received multiple showers.  Now my youngest is 5, so we are a few more miles down the road, but that was  a source of pain for my  wife for  a  very long time. Years actually. It was hard to convince herself that people cared when that  slight was going on , not just one time, but every time.  My tasking at the time was to  try to guard my  wife's heart and  not let it grow bitter.  I tried to remind her that we are there to serve, not to be served.  Ultimately, it was my wife's own spiritual maturity that saw her through that.
  In Colossians  3:12-24, the Bible says "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved , bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;  Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye."  I'm not sure if you realize this, but you go to  church with some horribly flawed people. I  mean, the guy in front of you doesn't treat his wife the way he should, and that young couple in the back has yet to figure out how to properly discipline their  child. That  guy  a few  rows over  has  some just plain weird ideas about the Bible. There are drama queens and hypocrites, loudmouths and sociopaths.  You couldn't find a more  messed up bunch of rejects and nutcases  if you tried. God, in his wisdom, binds us all together  by the common cause of Christ and then  uses these horrible  flawed people to teach us to live with  one another.  The secret to surviving the  local church is this; forgiveness.
  As an aside, this includes your pastor, who may be the most issue-ridden one of the bunch.  Over the years at my current church, my pastor has crossed the line with me and my family more than once. He has said things from the pulpit that are goofy, doctrinally suspect, or just plain wrong. He has taken liberties I did not give him.  Time would fail me to tell you of the times I have sat there and went 'Did he just say what I think he said?'. When it was all over, I took what he said, filtered it through  what I know to be true about him, and forgave him for being  as messed up as me.  I am not obligated to follow a man into heresy, and I am not obligated to follow a man into foolishness, but I am obligated to forgive him his humanity, and his imperfect attempts to serve God and lead a  group of people that frankly, nobody else wants.
  In fact,  according to  2 Cor 2:5-11, the unforgiveness of the brethren seems to be one of the devices of the adversary. Intersting, isn't it?
   Finally, the Bible says, in 2 Thess 3:11-2 "For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work , and eat their own bread."   Unfortunately, we live in the Facebook age  in our churches, and everybody knows everything about everybody else. We know that so and so had a birthday party and we wonder why we weren't invited. We wonder why nobody 'likes' the  posts we put up while other  people seem to get  flooded with attention when they announce what they  had for  breakfast.  So here's my advice; knock it off.  Get busy.  There is a world  dying and going to hell out there and  we cannot afford to indulge in our own self-pity or own own propensity for introspection. Honestly,  if you and I go to church together, I already see you 3 or 4 times a week, and that's plenty. I have a wife, 4 kids,  a Sunday school class, a ministry, some chickens, a horse, and a  hundred unfinished projects. I don't have time to  get involved in everybody else's business, and neither do you.  If you  covet my prayers, please ask, but I don't think you really want  or really need me to hold your hand while you contemplate your own belly button. I'm not that good a fellowship anyway, and if I got invited to everything that everybody had going on, I'd get even less done.
  Oh , one more point, that I don't really have a scripture on.  Outlast the mean people. Every church has them, and if you  ignore them long enough, they either repent or move on. Trust me on this one.  Make your forehead like flint, and serve God and one day you'll realize that the braying jackass has left the  building.

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