A FB friend of mine linked to this article. In it, Nyquist raises some valid points. OTOH I’m not buying the whole thing.
I don’t like church. And if I had to make a wager, I’d say the average Christian church doesn’t know what to do with me.
My church-attending routine is minimalist: in the door two-and-a-half minutes before the service begins; out thirty seconds after the closing prayer. Until recently, when I escaped before the end of the sermon and did my own prayer in the nursery hallway.
“I’m frustrated, God, but it’s not You–it’s Your church!”
I would say that, while the Church can be frustrating at times, keep in mind that it is full of imperfect people with every manner of baggage. Just like you, Ms. Nyquist.
I spent my twenties tasting a dozen flavors of churches, from Baptist to Catholic. I’d volunteer, build friendships, and tithe. Then my family moved, the church split, or a pseudo-romance fizzled. Weary, I’d return to Church Hopping 101, hoping that next time would be different. And after growing up as a pastor’s kid and graduating from Bible college, I made a venture into the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Well, I have an Eastern Orthodox friend. They are good folks, even if they get some particulars wrong. The problem is, switching denominations–or switching sectors (Catholic vs. Orthodox vs. different Protestant variants)–doesn’t remove the fundamental problem: Man. Sin is what it is, and it manifests itself differently among individuals, and even among the two sexes.
I wanted a stable community where honesty was welcome and failure was accepted. But we’re a generation whose comfort zone is in transience. Our relationship with church can resemble a spiritual friends-with-benefits pact: pleasurable companionship with the option to bail when something better appears.
I’ve been guilty of this more than once.
If this was your approach to personal relationships, then this is worth calling out. And if that reflects the way you have approached the Church, then you need to face the fact that you are part of the problem, and–before calling the Church out on this shortcoming–acknowledging that you yourself have contributed to the problem.
If you want acceptance in the Church, you must be willing to get into the ugliness of your own baggage, as well as deal with the ugliness of the baggage of others, all with the same grace you want for yourself.
Plus the church has both helped and hurt me—often simultaneously.
Its potential to heal is tied to the risk of new wounds; we all participate in the helping and hurting. Holding ourselves to impossible standards, we condemn others when they fall short. An acquaintance calls me damaged goods because I’m a divorced mom. I seethe at her narrow-minded judgment.
We both feel superior.
We both sin. We both crave community even as we hamstring it with our actions.
That is because each of us have baggage, and we each have this tendency to think that “my baggage isn’t as bad as someone else’s”, or even, “my baggage is so bad that no one will accept me, so I won’t bother trying.” Both approaches are rooted in pride, which is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, the great sin.
Before my first marriage, I felt accepted and worthy of belonging to a church.
That’s part of the problem: even without your baggage, you weren’t worthy then. You just FELT like you were. Fact is, none of us are worthy.
Now with two failed marriages, a toddler, and raging PTSD, I don’t fit. When someone initiates contact, it feels more like pity than friendship, though maybe that is my insecurities talking. When the singles events occur, I’m tucking my son into bed and settling in for a night of work.
When a young mom asks for a playdate, I don’t want to tell her I have a therapy appointment.
How much of my dislike of church is due to others, and how much is due to my failure to meet private expectations of a model Christian?
While the Church has its share of hypocrites who have rubbed you the wrong way, it’s a lot more on you than you think. If you aren’t willing to tell people the hard truth–and accept that how they deal with it isn’t your problem–then you are playing the same game that they are playing. You’re both being hypocrites; it’s just that your hypocrisy tends to garner more public sympathy among the church-bashers in MSM.
Could part of my struggle be rooted in my desire to control relationships?
Yes, and it goes both ways. Many churches seek to control their relationships with you; you seek to control your relationship with others. Some of that is legit; some of it is dysfunctional. The problem is no one–not you, not your pastor, not the folks sitting next to you in the church–is going to bat a thousand in the discernment department.
When I told one of my closest Orthodox friends that I was returning to a Protestant church, her response stung.
“It’s just as well,” she shrugged. “You didn’t make a very good Orthodox Christian anyway.”
Problem is, I don’t make a good Protestant either. How ironic that I grappled with my then-Orthodox faith at the same time my dad and brother were writing their book on why Millennials are leaving the church. By the time The Post-Church Christian released I was attending a nearby Protestant church, despite feeling out-of-place.
My relationship with God feels more strained than strengthened by going.
I think it might be worth asking what about it is strained? Is it what you are hearing from the pulpit? If it is that, then it might be worth having a discussion with the pastor. If it is others, then what is it about them that is frustrating you? Are they failing you, or are they just not coming off well? Perhaps you might want to talk with them and seek some resolution.
The Eastern Orthodox world–even in its richness–has a significant amount of legalism. That’s not to say that many Protestant sectors don’t–in fact they do–but my point is not so much about the shortcomings of the Eastern Orthodox, but rather to point out that you were jumping from one frying pan to to another.
Each side has its strengths; both sides, however, have a common denominator: the people.
I’ve yet to participate in a Protestant communion. One attempt landed me a shaky mess in that nursery hallway. A foundational sacrament of our faith paralyzes me, but I cry reading to my son from his Bible storybook. I choke on phrases like “I’m trusting God,” or “I’ll be praying for you.”
Yes, many times, when people say that, it’s empty crap. That said, it would be worth discussing what it is about Communion that is causing the difficulties. Is it your own sin? Is it a skittishness about identifying with the Church among whom you are worshiping? Are you beating yourself down over past sins? Is it some combination of the three?
I’ve had to learn, there are some things I’ll never understand about God, the Bible, and Christians.
Welcome to the club.
I’m now challenging myself to mature my faith in an imperfect situation. I am loving God in the confusion. Going to church is not about getting what I want or hearing what I agree with. God uses committed, honest people to make church what it needs to be: a haven of healing and hope.
We do it imperfectly, but we are the ones with a chance to get it somewhat right. That means I attend church.
I’m glad you are attending. And I am glad you realize that it is not about getting what you want or hearing what you agree with. Jesus was always afflicting the comfortable: He almost NEVER told people what they wanted to hear, and He was ALMOST ALWAYS frustrating even His inner circle.
That, perhaps, was one of the biggest problems with the Pharisees: they wanted Jesus to identify with them. They wanted Him to take THEIR side on divorce, THEIR side on taxes, THEIR side on handwashing, THEIR side on fasting. They wanted Jesus in their image.
As long as we insist on having God on our own terms, we’re playing the same game that the Pharisees played. We may not be wearing the same clothes, the issues may be different today, but the dynamics are nothing new under the sun.