“I believed in Jesus, I just couldn’t stand the church.”
I am sure you have heard a statement like that in the past. Maybe you have even said something like that. I know I have, and I have worked in church ministry since the 90s! We are seeing all kinds of changes happening in the church globally right now, and a lot of it rings true with that quote. Especially here in North America.
I have gone through a number of conversions in my life, as have you. Many of them were small changes as I grew in belief and understanding. Some were reactionary, based on the thoughts, assumptions, and stressors from others. These conversions shaped my life and faith today. There will be more to come as I hope to have plenty of life ahead of me! We all go through conversions and moments of revelation as we grow as people in general. And that can create a problem if we expect something to remain static in our communal life, change can be painful. But as the saying goes, change is the only thing that remains constant.
I grew up in a fairly conservative community, a part of a fairly conservative church, and a family that struggled to be fairly conservative. Due to all kinds of different dysfunction my household had all but given up on the church by the time I was attending regularly on my own. That may have been a good thing for everyone. The struggle in small community is understanding acceptance and, even more so, how to dialogue differences. The result, as is often the case when we are worried about losing ground, is to become more rigid and set in our patterns. So naturally, I tried to find anything opposite of this. Unfortunately, I first went the path of certainty and dogmatic declaration, even on the smallest of things. I say unfortunately, but like I said before, it was part of my own growth. Another conversion, if you will. This is something I see a lot of people doing today as they question where their church has gone. Or rather, the church they thought they had.
Historically and personally, there is no good old days, there is only how we go and grow forward.
I believe my main conversion experiences that shaped where I am today have much to say about that background and where I came from. At some point, I had to choose church and figure out what that looked like. I am not satisfied with the North American Evangelical general stance as we see it in the news, filled with all the extra political and social declarations. So much of what I have learned to love about church meant going back to the original stories we read in the Bible, and so often needs to be corrected because I’ve read it through my personal lens. Some might say, idealistically. The actual gathering, the declaration of a world-changing and eternal Christ, personally striving to know God in my setting, somewhere between heaven and Earth. And each stop along the way takes a decision, I believe, and the words and actions to follow.
There is discomfort in having Jesus at the centre and living outwards, compared to living inwards and telling people to find Jesus. But there is also great freedom in doing so.
Unfortunately, much of what you and I have experienced of church in our lifetime has been focused on attendance and morality. While both say something about where we hold belief, their place is not at the forefront of the message. There is far more to the story, maybe the Monday after Easter, that says something about what we believe and how we walk together. When we are afraid of change, and respond accordingly, we forget that change is what got us to this point. Historically, all individuals and systems go through stagnancy, hit a crisis, and must make a decision on what to do next. Often times, the things that received the most scorn and ridicule ended up being the norm going forward. Our focus says a lot about what we scorn, what we change, and how we discuss those things. Either way, the church will continue to go through its own conversion experience. How we respond and grow through it is up to us.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.