I got this email yesterday and it offers a perfect counterpoint to my previous blog posting. It’s important that we not ‘choose sides’ in whether everyone should attend a local congregation or whether everyone should not. There are lots of ways for God to connect his people in our day and I celebrate all that are focused on Him and help others truly discover how to live in the joy of his life.
Wayne, I enjoy your books and perspective of “church.” (However), as I read your blog and comments from others who have found the freedom in God outside of the institution, they make it sound like they were dying on the inside.
I am on the inside as a pastor and the intimacy with the Lord I feel is tremendous. I don’t chase programs I love the Lord and let Him love me. The people are encouraged in this same manner. They know to look to Jesus not a pastor. The institution is not killing me and it NEVER will. It CAN’T because Christ gives me life not the institution and it wouldn’t kill others if their focus would be on Him and not the church. They find freedom outside of the church because for the first time they connect with Father on a personal basis.
If they are dying in the church I feel it is their fault not the institution. The Holy Spirit is continually speaking to their spirits we know this to be truth. They will not stand before God and be able to blame an institution for their lack of intimacy with Father their own hearts will bear that out. It is really not that hard to love Father or let Him love you whether a person is inside or outside the institution.
Here’s how I responded:
This is the other side of the story isn’t it? I agree with much of what you wrote here, but it all has to do with context doesn’t it? I know there are congregations like you describe that keep the priorities clear and encourage people to an incredible life in Jesus. But how many do you think do this well? When I ask most pastors or congregants who are excited about their fellowship, how many other churches in their community have a healthy life together, I rarely hear a figure above 5%. While they may be thrilled with what theirs is experiencing, they also realize it is not always the norm. There are also very harmful congregational dynamics that can be hurtful to people.
I hear from both and not surprisingly most are from people who felt crushed or overwhelmed by the demands, politics and performance/guilt messages of the fellowship they attended. And that really isn’t always their fault. I know of many groups that operate like a machine that easily slide into messages of your not good enough or not trying hard enough to be a successful Christian that are incredibly harmful to people who don’t get this journey. Could believers thrive in the life of Jesus even in a hostile climate? If they knew Jesus well enough, of course they could. But if they don’t, they are not probably going to discover his life and grow in maturity in that environment.
So I try to make room for both. There are healthy expressions of church life among traditional congregations. I applaud them whenever I hear of them. And there are not-so-healthy expressions that prove destructive to people. That’s why we’ve got to not make rules but let people have their own journey—both those who leave an abusive or innocuous system to secure their faith, and those who participate in one to share theirs.
I hope for a better day when there are far more healthy expressions of vibrant community among believers in local settings rather than so many ones that may even unintentionally be more of a distraction to the journey than a help. Let’s keep doing what we see Jesus asking us to do to help the Body of Christ reach greater healthy all over the place.
What else is there except to simply live in the fullness of his affection and follow him wherever he leads us?