Thinking Out Loud

August 7, 2011

Churts: When Church Hurts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

Once articles are 12-months old, they come up for review as repeats here.  This is actually two articles from last year that need to be presented again; expressing the hurts that some people have experienced in the one place on earth where they shouldn’t…

I met Mark several years ago.   He attended a similar church briefly and thought it would be the ideal spiritual environment for his two teenage sons.   He got involved himself in a midweek program, and, being a guy who has so much to give any local assembly, decided after a couple of weeks  to help stack the chairs when the meeting had ended.

“No, no;” someone quickly grabbed his arm; “That’s not how we do this.   We have an after-school program here and for insurance reasons we can only stack the chairs four chairs high.”

A little nuance  that had been lost on Mark.   But then they added, “Why don’t you just leave this job to someone else.”

Ouch.   A little over-the-top isn’t it?

Mark thought so.   He was a sensitive guy and that was a totally insensitive remark from someone in a respected leadership position.  Perhaps it was an over-reaction but he started to rethink the whole thing and decided to keep shopping for a church home.   He found one where the leadership team was a little less — for lack of a better term — anal; and where he could use his various gifts and desire to serve.

End of story, right?   Everybody wins, right?

Not exactly.   The new church didn’t have the same youth program for his teenage sons, and while nobody is blaming anybody, the lack of such a program may have contributed to where the boys are right now, which is not a very good place.

The similarities between Mark’s story and our story are huge.   Same kind of people.   Same pathetic mentality.

…I think it was Andy Stanley who said that “nobody has ever been hurt by a church; rather it’s people in the church who hurt people.”

Andy is right.

But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. 

The week I wrote this, it might have been better if I had named this blog Ranting Out Loud. But telling Mark’s story reminded me of Sherry’s story and I find I can’t not record it here online for someone to learn from.   Of course names have been changed.

East Grove Neighborhood Church was serious about church growth.   The new building was the pride and joy of everyone but especially Ron and Yvonne.   Ron was on every committee and every board.    Ron’s contracting company had worked hard to bring the new state-of-the-art auditorium project to completion on time, and did so within a day of the announced date for the first service.

Yvonne was as excited about the new church as her husband, but really wasn’t a people person.   She had her friends in the church to be sure, and wanted to see all the new programs and outreach succeed, but she couldn’t hide her lack of interest in getting to know some of those she perceived as the ‘lesser’ people at the church, such as Sherry.

It’s funny because if you had asked Yvonne, she would have told you how much she believed in the ministry plans of the church, but her actions just couldn’t always line up perfectly with her “on paper” ideals.   Sherry got in the crossfire of that disconnect.

That’s really too bad.   We knew Sherry.   We still keep in touch.  She is a really giving person.  An asset to any church, any place, any time.    The kind of person you want to keep excited about big-picture vision.    It wouldn’t surprise me to learn she’s a 30% tither to God’s Kingdom; and with a job that makes that percentage meaningful, although, you wouldn’t know it by appearances.

Yvonne just never spoke to Sherry, wasn’t too responsive when Sherry spoke to her; and Sherry, for all her wonderful qualities is human after all and over a couple of years allowed it to get to her.   Around that time we got to know her, and shortly after she admitted to us that she wasn’t attending that church anymore.

Both Sherry’s story and Mark’s story could be easily dismissed by readers as simply being the tales of two people who were oversensitive.   “These people just need to suck it up;” is what I can hear some of you saying.

But you don’t expect to be ignored when you’re part of a family.   Not for a minute.   The church shouldn’t work that way.   We should demonstrate that we belong to Christ by the love that we have for each other.   Visitors will see that.   Early church history documents that this is how we began.

So East Grove lost Sherry, but of course they kept Ron and Yvonne, whose contracting business hit a downturn about five years ago — two large clients couldn’t pay — and is now a shadow of its former self.   Ron got into a major depression over this and resigned from every committee and stopped a bunch of other church-related activities.

Sherry never invested herself completely in another local church after this, though she remains involved in at least a dozen ministry projects.   Her job requires she works some weekends, and a parachurch ministry that she is involved with requires her — like ourselves — to be somewhat nomadic some Sunday mornings.   But she continues to love and serve God with everything she’s got; and she really does have a lot to give.

Well, that’s Sherry’s story and you’ve also read Mark’s.    In every one of these cases I can’t help but wish things had turned out a little different for them, and also for us, who are also part of the chain of events.   In our own case I wonder what it would be like to have been able to invest twenty years in serving alongside a single faith family.   I wonder if a dynamic youth program might have helped Mark’s boys.   I wonder what all East Grove could have gained from keeping Sherry joyfully serving as part of that church family.    I wonder…

…One year later and the number of sad stories about this church continues to grow.  Brian moved here after attending a church in another province that, it must be said, did a number of things right.  While he would be the first to admit that every church is different, he offered a number of both creative and practical ideas that, to put it simply, nobody would listen to.  Finally, he just couldn’t take it any longer.  But his story will have to wait for another day… 

But hey, you learned a new word today: Churts.  Just don’t focus on the churts.  Focus on Jesus Christ, the originator and completion of our faith.

No animals were wounded in the making of today’s blog post, but a number of church attenders were left frustrated, hurt or wounded.

August 15, 2010

15 Years Later, A Confession

A decade and a half ago I was just finishing a one-year part-time contract at the local Christian school, teaching Bible, art, music, language and spelling.

Split grade seven and eight spelling to be precise.   A weekly list.  A weekly test.   The one piece of the job I could farm out to my wife, whose spelling is dead-on accurate.   (And proofreading, if you have anything that needs doing.)

This morning we visited the church where, at the time, half of the students in the Christian school attended; and one of them, who was not in my class, informed me that both my wife and I had been had.

Turns out, if they didn’t know how to spell a word, they would simply write down some other correctly spelled word.   My wife would mark the word as correct, never suspecting that they were up to something.  (And not noticing the variation in words, since she was doing two grades at once.)

Isn’t church like that.   We give right answers, not so much to direct questions, but insofar as we say the right things and use the right words and phrases.    Even if we’re giving the answer to a question that’s not being asked.  (“It sure sounds like a “squirrel” but I think I’m supposed to say “Jesus.” *)

As long as we’re providing responses that are not stained by the messiness of misspellings, we’re given the proverbial red check mark by our church peers.   Nobody ever suspects the possibility that they are being had.

We’ve lost the ability to say, “I’m not sure;” or “I don’t know;” or “That’s an issue I’m wrestling with in my own spiritual life.”    We’re too proud to say, when we don’t know a particular ‘word,’ something like, “That’s a part of the Bible I’ve never studied;” or “That’s an area of theology I’ve never considered;” or “That’s a particular spiritual discipline that isn’t part of my personal experience.”

So we just give the so-called “right” answers that will get us by.   Or we change the subject.   Or we say something incredibly complex that has an air of depth to it.

Today I read an article in a newspaper, The Christian Courier which quotes Rob Bell as saying, in reference to his church and preaching style, “…We want to embrace mystery rather than conquer it.”   In many churches they want the latter.  And if someone does “conquer” all things spiritual, we give them some letters after their name which mean Master of Theology, or Master of Divinity.

Years ago, when our youngest son didn’t know the answer to a question I would ask at our family Bible study, he would just say, “Love?”   It was a good guess.  (One night it was the right answer.)   He figured he couldn’t go wrong with “Love” as the possible answer, though he always raised his voice at the end admitting he wasn’t quite sure.

Well guess what?   I haven’t mastered it.   I’m working on it.   I don’t know.

And I have one more thing to say to all of you:  Love?

*if you don’t know this story, it’s in the sidebar — as well as being the theme — of this blog, and I’ve also posted it here as the first comment.

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