I left off yesterday’s blog with an encouragement for people who are turned off of the church, or turned away from it, to find a community with which to reconnect. And for our organizational churches to find ways to reach out, quit judging, quit blaming, and welcome our de-churched brothers and sisters into a fellowship that seeks God for who he is, not for what he can do for us.
I’m a little worried that might have seemed a little too pat. It’s not my intent to say, “If you’re not in church, get to church! If you are in church, shape up!!”
None of what we’re talking about is simple. If you’ve been turned off of or away from the church, believe me, I know how you feel. There is little motivation to return to a place where you have experienced no love, no embrace, no redemption.
And turning churches around to be more open, more loving, and less self-centered is like trying to turn an ocean liner. You need several miles to do it. An about-face will just toss everyone overboard.
In the concluding paragraphs yesterday, I mentioned that, for the de-churched, the community you need may or may not look like the traditional organizational church. Let’s explore the implications of that for a moment.
Traditional churches, first of all, are hard to pin down. There are more types, shapes, sizes, flavors, and styles of “traditional” churches in America today than one could begin to count. You can’t even categorize them broadly…it’s not unusual to find traditional liturgical styles blended with hard rock music in one church, mysticism blended with deep scriptural teaching in another, somber choirs with charismatic preaching in still another.
Finding a “style” of worship that fits you perfectly is a quixotic undertaking at best. (That’s right. I said “quixotic.” Look it up!)
My advice, then, is to look beyond the style, the music, the order of worship, the preacher, the praise team, etc., and look at the people.
Where do you see people who share your struggles? Where do you find common ground with the honest questions being asked, and how is that community trying to deal with those questions?
It may take time. As my dad always said, it’s a process, not an event. It starts with conversations in coffee shops, restaurants, living rooms, softball fields, bowling alleys, golf courses, trout streams, classrooms, offices, body shops, beauty salons, cubicle farms…wherever you find yourself already in community with people.
Those conversations have to be honest. I mean brutally honest. Not the, “Hey-how-you-doing-I’m-okay-howbout-you” types of conversations we skate through life on. I mean the, “Man-you-look-awful-what’s-wrong?” kind of honest.
I was talking to a friend the other night in our favorite local watering hole. He’d told me a few days before that he was helping lead a suicide survivor’s support group, and he was asking me about To Write Love on Her Arms, a movement I respect greatly for its work in the areas of teen depression and suicide.
It would have been easy for me to just send him the link to the website, tell him to buy a t-shirt, and leave it at that. But as we stood together at the bar, I decided the best way to really dig into the issue, to make our conversation meaningful not only to us but to other people we may encounter, was to ask some hard, honest questions.
So I asked him why he was involved with the group. What was his personal experience that led him to take on that cause and that responsibility? And I found out about three recent suicides in his family, including his brother just days after his own business was wrecked by an arsonist-set fire.
Because we got into that space of honesty, we were able to have a conversation that, in the future, will be able to help people. My work with teenagers over the past 5 years has opened my eyes wide to the junk that kids and families are facing that often lead to that sort of ultimate hopelessness. Being able to share my friend’s story, I’m certain, will save someone’s life sometime.
And because I was honest with him about my deep desire to bring hope into those places of hopelessness, my connections with experts in the field of depression and suicide, and my experience with organizations like TWLOHA, he has one more place to point someone he might encounter who might benefit from my voice, or the voice of one of those other people I’ve met in their lives.
Honest conversation is the first step to healing. Nobody ever BS’ed Jesus when he approached them. If they tried, he called them out. He got them to be honest about their circumstances so he could take them beyond those circumstances into the ultimate reality of God’s redemptive love.
It almost goes without saying that one of the places this whole issue hits hardest is in the gay community. The “voice” of the organizational church over the past several decades has been so hostile, so harsh, so judgemental, so HATEFUL to our LGBT brothers and sisters that it’s no wonder many, if not most, of them have given up on God. Because God’s supposed spokespeople have been so insufferable.
I’m not here to get into the whole issue of whether or not it’s a sin to be gay. It’s a sin to steal, to lie, to lust, to cheat, to be greedy, to gossip…you get the point. If being gay is a sin it’s no more of a sin than anything else anybody else does every single day. Besides, sin is not an issue of individual behavioral acts. It’s a mindset of putting ourselves first, above others and above God. It’s what happens when love is absent. So let’s drop that club from our hands, shall we?
I trust God when he says he loves EVERYONE. I trust him when he says Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection were for the forgiveness of ALL. I trust him when he says there is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation. I trust him when he says his grace is sufficient. And free.
For our churches to summarily dismiss millions of people because of who they choose to love is a travesty. And we desperately need more people who will speak truth into those lives, to tell them that God loves them whether his churches do or not. And to lead him into a loving relationship with Jesus that is higher and deeper and better than any other relationship of any other kind they’ve ever had in their lives.
Again, it’s complicated. That’s why I believe conversations like this one are important. They are the starting point from which healing and restoration can begin.
And as I’ve said before, I think it all starts with simply learning to love God for God’s sake and not for our own. Loving him because he created us, he loves us, he desires to be in relationship and community with us. Not because he can heal us (which he can), or because he can bring us joy (which he will). But because he is God.