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The Church Already Around You


#1

Let’s turn to chapter 3. I tell my own story here of the awakening in my heart through religious ways of exploring the church in hopes of help you see that awakening in your own story. Those institutional methods fell short, I soon discovered that “I had been living int he church most of my life without recognizing her because I was so busy trying to create a version of my own.” Let’s find out how you may have missed her too and how she is already taking shape around you.

Can you look back at even unhealthy congregational environments you might have been in and find that you had real relationships with people that reflected the Lord’s glory? What traits in a relationship stimulate your desire to follow Jesus, and what traits in a relationship turn out to distract you?


#2

Every place I found myself in over the last 20 years, was mixed with corporate garden and the wild flower relationships that find themselves growing in that corporate garden.

There is a story that dates back to the late 90’s. I was working on a dairy farm in the Calgary (Alberta) area. My shift schedule only allowed one free Sunday a month. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t “go to church” every Sunday. In hindsight, it was the beginning of something beautiful. This lasted almost 4 years. But in the midst of my time on the dairy farm, I connected with a “parachurch” family (in a youth mentorship program) of youth workers and young teens . The man responsible for organizing the mentorship program, worked around my schedule and the events were planned on my days off. My one-on-one time with my “little sister” was flexible as well.

I still felt “obligated” to belong to a building and program at the time, I just couldn’t commit to anything they had to offer because of my schedule, and I couldn’t get involved and didn’t find much of relationships there because of my lack of commitment and attendance.

Those 4 years were awkward for me. I had a family to connect with, but I still felt chained to the need for something on a Sunday morning. I wouldn’t be free of that obligation for another ten years.

One thing I have noticed about gardening: Wild flowers still grow within the walls of the manicured garden…but they usually get weeded out if they’re found.

Ruby from Calmar, Alberta


#3

I am realizing that I always gravitated to the wildflowers because they felt the most authentic to me. The manicured hedges made me feel like I had a lot more work to do and there was “a standard of excellence” that I had not yet achieved. I’m grateful for those wildflowers because they gave me the inkling that there was more than I was experiencing and had experienced.

The traits I was attracted to that stimulated my desire to follow Jesus were:

  • Authenticity
  • Transparency
  • Healthy boundaries/self-love
  • Gracious hospitality to join them in their imperfect but welcoming lives
  • Humble vs. pious spirit
  • Learners (didn’t have it all figured out)

The traits that tend to distract me:

  • Elitism (you’ll understand when you are a leader or you get to ____ level)
  • Focus on the “dead man” rather than the alive man in Christ (so disempowering)
  • False humility that is actually an upside down pride
  • Perfectionism (work my way into more favor)
  • I’ve got this Christianity thing figured out

Heather
Parlier, CA


#4

Wow I love your lists my friend! Very enlightening.


#5

And your self assessment seems pretty accurate to me… you do gravitate toward the wild.


#6

Authenticity draws me in…messy life, real (it’s the wild garden versus English garden in The Shack)

What repels me is: lists, steps, hoops, “if you do a…b…c…then… x, y,z”, “you cannot hear God for yourself”…


#7

To me, the manicured hedges almost acted as a barrier to true relationship. I have always longed for authenticity. In the early years there were folks who didn’t quite conform to the requirements of the organization. Some of them offered me friendship, but I was too busy pleasing the leadership and lapping up their praise, enjoying being in the inner circle :frowning:
Since leaving, I have met some who are like wildflowers. Some are in an institution, and some are not. But this phase still feels lonely.


#8

There are folks who just being around them encourages me towards God. They are:
Honest and sincere
They don’t always act. They wait.
Sometimes they do act.
They tell me where they see Jesus in different circumstances.
They are not judgemental.
They sometimes say hard things.

Characteristics that do not encourage

Recrimination
Exclusivity


#9

Acceptance and inclusion are traits in a relationship which stimulate my desire to follow Jesus. Also, encouragement and support. Traits in a relationship that turn out to distract me are lack of integrity/truthfulness, emphasis on doing instead of being, and a ‘what you can do for me’ mentality.


#10

The one trait in “church” relationships that encouraged me most to follow Jesus, were those who encouraged me to verbalize my thoughts and then listened without judgement or condemnation. I was a very shy child who was easily intimidated. I did not have a safe place to ask questions about what I was hearing at “church” in my own family and was not sure if anyone at “church” was safe. I may have been diagnosed “autistic” in today’s world. I did find a few friends over the years that I was able to connect with in that way, who probably kept me from giving up on God completely.


#11

So agree with this. However, I will say that in IC, saying “hard things” is a done often but with an eye on controlling behavior or getting a certain outcome.

Saying hard things out of true authentic love is so life-giving, even if it pricks your heart a bit. Reminds of the proverb about the wounds of a friend being better than the kisses of an enemy.

Heather
Parlier, CA


#12

Yes…that is what I have felt too. I think God’s creation of nature points to order and structure, but within that there is wild freedom. I have never seen a manicured hedge that wasn’t man-created. Meadows, prairies and mountain tops have that wild beauty that our souls gravitate towards. It all works together symbiotically, but it’s organic and natural.

This hurts my heart because I know it’s true. I have experienced it, have done it to a degree, and on my way out, felt like I got a good realistic look at it and it made me so sad for all caught up in that.

I’m so sorry to hear that you are feeling lonely. That’s a really empty place to be in many times. Will be praying for you that He would fill those lonely gaps and brings others along to who can be tangible representation of that mutual wildness. It feels so amazing to walk this road with others.

Heather
Parlier, CA


#13

I like real friendships. They kind where you like someone because of them, not who they’re connected to or what they have. I have sat in church for over 20 years and it’s always about the system. You know not to share deep sins in small groups because others would be very uncomfortable. There is a level of struggle that is acceptable and you don’t go deeper than that. I would ask myself where would I bring someone off the street to hear about Jesus. I knew that I could’t bring them to my church because they “wouldn’t fit in.” Where are we supposed to take the lost and downtrodden? I know I fall short and yet I would look around me and it seemed like the answer was just do the system better.
I really need to understand who God is and what his character is.


#14

The best IC families I’ve been in have risen in my mind as the “best” because of the people and heartfelt interaction we had. The problem is that those moments are too fleeting or do not sustain. The institution has too many needs… most are practical and legitimate needs, but that effort in sustaining the institution often can suck away from growing together in relationship. Even small groups had stumbling blocks… the sharing of life was often shoved to the end because we had to “get through the program”… whatever the program/workbook needed. And there always had to be a program or else people might start thinking leadership isn’t doing their job.
I’ve also begun to see that much of church is canned tradition that we follow… a routine set down by our fore-bearers as the way to do church. I’ve heard many a great (and not so great) sermons, but as a teacher I know that you just don’t deliver information to your students, you must have them put the learning into action. IC has too huge of an ephasis on sitting once per week and hearing a message, and that’s it.
Also, I’ve experienced great (and not so great) times of worship… but I think IC limits the church in our expression of worship. Singing of songs can be great… but why is it often the only expression? Are there people sitting in pews yearning to worship God through writing or drawing or painting or movement or making something with their hands. A congregation (of 2 or 3, or 300, or 2000) is made up of all these Christ followers… where is the reflection of this? Where is the personality? Where is the vibrancy? The church is the people and should reflect the people, but instead we have people who have learned to conform and reflect the personality of their institution.
My two cents.
Rylie in Parlier, CA


#15

In the last church my family and I were in, and it happened to be the church my wife grew up in all her life, we had relationships and were part of a Sunday School class of people who were hungry and searching and doing lots of reading and searching not only in the Bible, but with other books and authors as well. I felt we were truly trying to add to our faith goodness, brotherly kindness, and love, and trying to learn how to practice and live out what we were studying and discussing. As we continued, the leaders in the church (pastors and congregational leaders and those on visionary committees began to be threatened by our hunger and our willingness to ask the hard questions saying that we had some kind of agenda to change the church and get rid of the leaders in place at the time. This was not true, but the programs and IC that they were building based on their vision and interpretations was in their minds being threatened as we asked questions.
I remember sessions and sessions of discussion and collecting data and remodeling structures in order to determine what direction God was trying to take our church and the leaders would form committees to tally the data and try to discern direction from the majority vote. This became frustrating to me and I felt like any way that I may have heard from God got lost in committees and interpreted in such a way that lined up with their plans and programs or got lost between the cracks if it didn’t fit in somehow. When I began to ask questions, it was taken as threatening and so the safe place we thought we had to search, ask questions, grow, and change became “us and them” instead of “we together.” Can anyone relate to this?
Now, my wife and I are in another church where we don’t really know anyone very well and are finding it hard to risk getting to know people or to recognize that they may have something to offer us because of the pain and damage from our earlier experience.
My wife and I are in a book discussion group that started in our former church which continues to be a safe place to grow and stretch our faith and is a place to ask questions and discuss what we believe and why.
I want to learn to love and care and not let differences divide but instead learn to live out and model what I believe. It means giving up the need to be right or understood and to unconditionally love others as Jesus is teaching me. We want our faith to grow so we can love better not prove to others that we have it all figured out. I need to stop being threatened by others who think differently than me and be able to love them where they are at in their journey. Easier said than done.


#16

Oh my goodness. I could have written your words for myself as well. A safe place. This is what I have been looking for. After leaving our church after a horrible situation, my faith shattered to the point where all I knew was Jesus died on the cross. I didn’t know where to go from there. Thankfully there was a pastor who was leaving the country but who was able to point me towards other books to help me unsnarl some horrible theology. He and his wife were so gracious to me and would answer my panicked emails even after they made their home in another country. Today I can still email. So many times I would wish that they were nearby. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t ask. They are safe people. I also know that they are theologically safe. They understood my distress as they didn’t hold to the particular theology that our old church was plunging into either. I think it’s hard to find safe believers. They are afraid to ask questions and not have all the answers. As if not having answers takes away from God somehow. One of the most difficult things for me has been being ok with not having answers yet knowing that God hasn’t left me. Still working through this. My IC background is “there is only way to read the Bible, we are the only ones who interpret it correctly, anything different than us is heresy, let me tell you what the Bible says.” Your brain is trapped from the beginning.
I haven’t had a revolution in my life of people that feel the way I do or wrestled with their faith like I have. I’m in the very beginning stages of whatever God is doing. I do think that part of being an adult and really knowing who God is involves taking steps towards God and letting go of whatever safety railing your holding onto. God is the same yesterday and today but He is a God of variety. Just look at creation. I’m pretty much throwing myself on God to do what He is going to do. “Giving up the need to be right!” Imagine Christians letting this be the mode of operation. There is a quote from the above pastor who has helped me that has stuck with me. "It’s not about being right, but about rightly living with those around you."
When we went to a different church I found myself unable to jump in and do the small group thing. Mainly because the subject matter and format was just not helpful. Lame to be exact. I am ok with that. Perhaps these groups are helping these women. I know enough at this point that they are not for me. Normally I would feel panicked and say hey just push through, you have to DO something. I think we need less doing and more waiting for when God asks us to do something. I tear ahead thinking I’m doing what God wants and he’s in the dust in the back.


#18

This is so good, Gadiela. And so true for me. My default has been to “add in more stuff” or “do more programs” to draw closer to Him only to become frustrated by the craziness of how thin that spreads us.

Learning how to operate out of rest and confidence in being who I am and not having to prove my devotion has been revolutionary!

Heather
Parlier, CA


#19

That is a profound statement. What a loss when we have silenced so many gifts and voices to be guided by one (or a few) voice.

We have been taught we are substandard. How can children of the king be substandard…and yet we have believed the lie…and the biggest lie of all: We can’t hear God for ourselves.


#20

…and how empty we still feel after we do, do, do…


#21

I like what you have said here Heather. Even right this moment I was struggling in my heart over what you mention here. Your thoughts have encouraged me. Thank you for the reminder.

Johanna
Federal Way Washington