I was angry, furious. Livid. Enraged. Vexed. Ill-tempered. So full of rage toward the "others" that nothing I did would quiet the storm within. I talked to others. I prayed, read scripture, and gave it time to heal. Not one thing would calm the fury that coursed through my veins. If feelings could be bubbling in a pot, mine was boiling over. What a great example I was as a pastor's wife. As a mom. I could not control the fire, even though I so badly wanted to have control.
My story above reminds me of the anger of one of my former college students and a religion major to boot. "You don't need to go to church to be a Christian," she told me on more than one occasion. She railed against the idea of the church. She had an "I can't see past church negatives chip" on her shoulder. This student had been a great lover of the church until she had several classes with an extremist religion professor who believed the church and Bible were misogynistic. Nothing I said changed the student's mind.
It is through our implicit biases that we view our world. Implicit bias is when we have attitudes or associate stereotypes with people, groups, or entities without our knowledge. Our experiences, stories from others, good/bad press, and good/bad feelings affect our perceptions. Take COVID. Whew. This word alone conjures implicit bias in us all. How about the word "politicians" -- probably better not to stay on that word too long. The problem is when our knowledge comes from the world, and we are all alone in our thinking, we are doomed to go down the wrong path.
We must allow God's truths to inform our hearts, mind, and soul. Everyone has implicit biases, and we must be vigilant that they do not overtake our faith and the truth in God's word.
Christian fellowship, the second of the 6 Spiritual Habits, is critical to a deep and abiding relationship with God. And, whether you like it or not, the church is the primary vehicle for creating Christian fellowship and deep-abiding friendships. We need each other. Suppose you are disappointed with the church, whether through personal experiences or perceptions based on media and others' thoughts; you need to step outside of that disappointment and take a moment to see the bigger picture. Also, if you have had bad experiences, keep reading, as I give some helpful tips at the end of the blog.
One way to see the bigger picture would be to ask yourself: how is staying away from Christians and the church working for you? Or how are friendships not based on Christian mutualities and intermittent church attendance working? Are you deeply fulfilled? Do you have people who are genuinely there for you and know you can count on and, more importantly, trust? My guess is not.
Some of you may be thinking, well, of course, you will say we need Christian fellowship, and the church is an essential means of support; you are a pastor's wife. You do not know me. Anyone in the church who knows me well enough understands I do not care what my husband thinks. He is not God. When he started pushing the 6 Spiritual Habits, I thought, you have only said these 4.2 million times. Give it a rest already. And finally, one day, I told him, "Dude, it is boring to hear you say the same thing repeatedly."
The irony is, now, here I am. The last of my reels on the 6 Spiritual Habits will go out on Instagram and Facebook this week, and I am doing a blog series on them, and many of my social media posts refer back to the 6 Spiritual Habits. That is what I get for telling him he was boring and slowly killing me. However, there is no way around these habits. And, if you know these habits and live them out reasonably well, the problem is you are still human and will need reminding.
We need the larger church community and Christian friends because we are not meant to live in isolation or do our faith alone. COVID should have taught everyone that. Moreover, scriptures make it clear in numerous verses, such as:
1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (NIV).
Galatians 6:2, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ." (NIV)
Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day approaching." (NIV)
Acts 2:46-47, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
While we may not be completely compatible with everyone in the church, we need the larger church community because we need a diverse group of people who all love the Lord and are doing their best to serve Him. A community pushes us out of our comfort zones and teaches us to be more open-minded. Community helps us keep self-absorption at bay. Community provides opportunities for everyone to learn about and use their spiritual gifts. Moving from the larger church community to a more intimate Christian fellowship, it provides a network that: loves, is supportive in difficult times, prays and ministers to individuals, kicks us in our rear ends when we need it, does not expect something in return, rejoices in our successes, and weeps when we weep. And, when we make mistakes, we are forgiven. And it is only in and through Christ that deep, abiding, life-transforming friendships and community occur.
Take a look back on all the friendships in your life. Some were horrible, some so-so, and some were amazing. Now, look deeper at the root causes of these friendships becoming terrible, so-so, and amazing. The Bible is clear: "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." 1 Cor. 15:33 (NIV)
Every person I have discussed this with says the same thing I do: excellent relationships occur between people with the same dedicated heart for God. You can be a Christian and not have a faithful heart to God, which shows in your friendships.
Now, if you have had bad church experiences and bad Christian friendship experiences and are a wee bit suspicious about going back into the church or seeking Christian friendships, I understand. The church has burned me and what I thought were Christian friends. We cannot let one or more bad experiences keep us from a deep and abiding walk with Christ. Set your feelings and experiences aside for peace, joy, and hope. Also, no church is perfect. No Christian is perfect. Always, always keep that in mind. Perfection does not exist; you need to look for healthy. So, what is healthy? See below.
Here are some things to consider when trying to find a healthy church:
Pray and ask God to guide you as you seek a church home. Ask Him to clarify which church is the correct fit for you.
Ask friends who go to church regularly what they recommend.
Try out different churches.
Is the word of God preached? Are you challenged by the messages? Or are the messages full of fluff about health, wealth, and prosperity?
Do they have small bible study classes, women's or men's groups, mission opportunities, and so forth? (You aren't going to an entertainment park, but is it a place to connect with others, grow with God, and live out spiritual habits?)
Are they open about their finances and how tithing income is handled? Do they undergo yearly audits?
Give each church more than one visit unless red flags arise or your gut immediately says this is not where I need to be. (If you feel this way in every church, your issues may be causing problems and not the churches.)
As you visit each church, ask yourself the following questions?
Are the people friendly and inviting?
Do the pastor and other church staff seem approachable and down to earth? Over the times you visit, do they share their struggles and challenges?
Is there a spirit of grace and forgiveness, or is the atmosphere judgmental and hypercritical? Do you like the music, the pastor's preaching style, childcare (if needed), etc....?
A healthy church is balanced, and the staff and people are down to earth. It is a place where they can agree to disagree. The leadership is trusted, the church thrives, and the members care for one another. Thriving does not mean "large" or "mega." Thriving means they are progressing toward their goals; there is an atmosphere of happiness and excitement. If you walk into a church and everyone is miserable or angry -- RUN.
Here are some things to consider when seeking true Christian friends:
Does the person consistently display the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?"
What do they spend most of their time talking about? How often does this person talk about God, church, and their faith?
Does the person do their best to live out the 6 Spiritual Habits: Daily devotionals, Christian community, sabbath holiness, tithing, missions, and witness?
If they are married, do they have a robust and God-filled marriage?
If they have kids, how do they raise them? Is there discipline, are they raised to love Christ? Do the kids seem deeply loved?
Remember, no one is perfect; however, if you are fully committed to following God, you will feel a kinship with people who have the same commitment to God as you.