Conflicted Feelings About Church.

Conflicted Feelings About Church.

How Then Shall We Live?

By Joseph Ellis

Just a couple years ago I could not have imagined being a person who does not belong to a church. It’s amazing how a series of events can transpire to where all of a sudden you’re in a situation you never thought (in a million years) you would find yourself in. Yet that’s exactly what happened to my family and I when we no longer found ourselves a part of a church. The specifics, for this post, really aren’t important. What is important, is what we have learned by not going to church, and I’ll go over several of them today.

To begin with, I was amazed at how unfulfilling it had been. My wife and I had been involved in church most of our lives, and I think if anyone had asked of us at any time, we would have said being involved in church was very fulfilling. However, after we found ourselves on the outside looking in, it was amazing how little of it we had actually enjoyed. Instead of having felt good, we realized that we were burned out, and unsure if we really believed in what we were spending our time doing. We had been a part of numerous programs, and while we could look back at moments where we felt our lives had been changed, or been a part of others’ lives being changed, it seemed like those moments were few and far between with a lot of busy in between. It left us wondering: Had we just been wasting time?

We were also surprised at how few actual relationships we had. To their credit, there are a few people who have remained our friends to this very day, but there were many more who we haven’t heard from since. This is not to disparage the people who knew us, but it spoke to the reality that church had been much more about programs, growth, and marketing, than relationships. We had spent a lot of time with other people, but at the end of the day we really didn’t know them, and they didn’t know us – at least not in a way that would allow a relationship to exist without the social structure we had called church.

Since then we have been moving on with life; and we know we would like to be in a church again some day, but for different reasons. It will be because we enjoy the people there, and believe what their about rather than what their doctrinal statements are; and while we had both grown up in Evangelical/Pentecostal churches, we can’t see ourselves in those traditions again. So we will probably end up in a traditional church when that day actually comes.

Will it come? I believe so. We have realized there are good aspects as well: support and love for a member who is sick or going through difficulty, encouragement through life, and counsel. There are other aspects important to us as well, but it needs to be about community. Endless programs for every wish, desire, or need? We’ll pass, thank you.

About Joseph

I live in Heber City, Utah with my wife and family. View all posts by Joseph

4 Comments to Conflicted Feelings About Church.

  1. Hey Joseph,

    I really appreciate your blog on this… I don’t know many within or outside a church after having been in one for so long who don’t have the same thoughts or feelings as yours. Me too! While I appreciate all the programs and opportunities a church has to offer, burnout is a reality, for clergy and laity alike. How many activities can we participate in until it becomes rote a flavorless? This is why I have moved to a home church model… I still serve as a staff pastor of a congregation, but rather than focus on growing that body in a box, we’ve decided to plant small cell-churches out of homes and Starbucks and wherever people want to meet. The focus is on growing together in Christ and less on growing the church. And, compassion oriented ministry is also factored in, whereby we seek to address matters of injustice and hurt in our own neighborhoods and places of occupation. Our aim is to become invasive within all areas of life with the grace and compassion and love of God, growing the Kingdom over and above the individual established box-church. We still believed there’s a purpose for the congregational setting, but it cannot be the entirety of Christianity.

  2. Hi Patrick, thanks for the comment!

    I really appreciate your thoughtfulness towards this topic. Too many of us in the pastor role get caught up in the daily grind, salary concerns, and moments of spiritual euphoria, and don’t take the time to think about such things. I’m glad to hear your approach to the problem and hope it is a satisfying endeavor. I think community involvement (especially matters of justice) are the legitimate actions of the church.

    For me, this journey of thought has coincided with another thought: Christian unity; and I really haven’t come to any conclusions on the matter. On the one hand, I know starting a church, or being a part of a church plant, is out. I’ve become a firm believer that too many congregations exist already. On the other hand, I’ve had a deep draw to the traditions of our Christian heritage. It is here that most of my thoughts have resided. Whether that means going the Orthodox rout like Jason Lamoreaux, or a mainline Protestant church, I’m not sure. But it has me asking the question: what would it look like for the church to unify; and how can I be a part of that?

    My main goal in starting a blog was to start a dialogue, I’m tired of just thinking about these things on my own. So thank you for your insights.

  3. Amen!

    As for social justice… It’s interesting how the Church–denominations aside–can at times become imbalanced with one or two tasks of ministry, while others are neglected. I’m an Assembly of God pastor and recently the AG realized the imbalance in perspective. Our three fold mission had been centered around evangelism, worship, and discipleship… And, while social justice has always been intrinsic to the AG, the denomination never elevated it appropriately for fear that the AG would be influenced by the negative liberal components of the social gospel, thus missing the eternal aspects of the gospel. But, at our last General Council we voted to add a fourth mission to the core of who we are and that is compassion based ministry. We are seeking a balance between being of the Kingdom in eternity and bringing the Kingdom now in the immanent.

    As for church planting, I do disagree with you though I understand your starting place. Statistically, the Church is in decline in the U.S. And older congregations are often times too ineffective having built within them a particular culture. Once a ship starts sailing full-steam, it’s hard to turn it around toward effectiveness. It’s not impossible, but generally speaking, the older a church gets, the less impact it will tend to have on a community and decay can set in. New churches retain freshness and innovation in connecting with un-churched and de-churched people.

    As for joining a more liturgical church, I am of mixed opinion here. On one hand, I’ve stepped into countless protestant churches, and there’s a definite lack our aesthetics, and in their services, things are rote, but without a deeper more significant context. It sometimes seems that we’ve gotten ourselves into a rut. The liturgical churches seem to have a quality that is very attractive, and I do incorporate as much of these emblematic components as I can in our services. And there is often a sense of unity that I admire amongst the believers in these traditions, but how much is for traditions sake alone? I’ve also talked with Jason about the orthodox tradition. I find it fascinating how he made that transition. He began as a youth at an AG church where I ended up serving on staff later. He’s even made suggestions that I should consider returning to the “the mother church” or however he phrased it–I cannot recall. Having spoken a little with Dr. Frank Macchia @ Vanguard U on how Pentecostalism and the Orthodox traditions share many similarities, I have grown very appreciative of the Orthodox church, but I am still not in full agreement theologically; although, if I were to transition to a more liturgy-based setting, the Orthodox church is a possible route I’d take.

    Ultimately, and this is my advice to you in your journey: find the church where your theology meshes well with others. That’s a key component to keeping unity.

    Anyways, I like your blog and will gladly pop in to see what’s new and engage in the journey’s discussion. Blessings.


  4. Thanks Patrick – I can tell you’re a good pastor.

    I agree with your statements for the most part. Remembering our days as biblical studies students together I can understand his attraction to Orthodoxy; and while I too disagree with some of their beliefs and positions, I find that less of an important issue for me these days.

    As for tradition for tradition’s sake, I often find the liturgy through the ages more thought out and profound than many sermons I hear today. More importantly, I appreciate that the service leads to the Eucharist, and isn’t primarily about a pastor or sermon.

    On another note: I am very glad to hear about the social justice change recently made by the A/G. I will be very interested to see what form this ultimately takes.

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