How the Church fails the hurting

Two blogs have recently dealt with personal pains and how the church responded, Bob's and Brandon's. Because it is so personal, I feel a little weird trodding on this ground. I hope I don't offend. If I do, please shoot some spitballs at me.

The alienation and lack of support they felt while in their deepest time of need was due to the structure of the church. I know I use that excuse for everything, but it is because we have designed the church in such a way to avoid all of the things that might make our faith "dirty" or genuine.

For starters, Bob and Brandon were both pastors. That means they had to be perfect. All that really means is they had to wear a mask all of the time. If you think your current minister is perfect, then I hope you enjoy seeing his mask. None of us are perfect. None us should claim to be perfect. But if we're Christians it means we are going to strive to be perfect like Christ. No more accepting sin or saying "God hasn't convict me on that one, so I don't have to change." We're in a struggle against our former selves. Sin is destructive. We now understand that. But when the destruction happens, the church should be damage control. They should be there to help in whatever way possible. Why doesn't that happen?

James Rutz, founder of Open Church Ministries, wrote in his book The open church: How to bring back the exciting life of the first century church some comments that I will try to weave into this discussion:

"If you've ever felt lonely and unimportant in church, there's a good reason: "You are alone and unimportant."

"Bear in mind that the only time your church can truly function as one body is when they're all together, and that's during the Sunday a.m. meeting."

"We commonly say we're 'participating' in a worship service when actually we're mostly just watching...Particpants actually effect the outcome. Spectators don't."

"How did the primitive church ever make it without Sunday school?...or music committees?...or high school ski conferences?...or divorce recovery workshops? Answer: community worship met all their needs. Today's worshipless worship meetings, however, leave a vacuum. So to compensate, we create a smorgasbord of time-gobbling activities, each of which is designed to meet a specific felt need, to make up for the absence of something a full-orbed, open service could likely do."

"Rather than relying on programs designed to fill holes or meet isolated needs, go for an integrated menu of high-stakes activities that directly transform hearts and pound the gates of Hell into splinters."

"Though it was a model church in many ways, nothing much ever happened inside me. Their punctual 'worship' services were actually a warmhearted lecture series, plus songs and offering. Almost never was I allowed to particiate, except as the 387th voice in the singing.
If I'd never shown up, my absence would have been like a missing spoonful of sand from the Arabian desert. Without me, not one syllable would have changed-and that's about how significant I felt. Fact is, that's how significant I was. So I drifted away. Likewise, if your own church is typical, there's no opportunity for people to share their grief or joy or even the deepest needs of their short lives. They may die without anyone in church knowing the burning hopes and fears in their hearts-simply because the pastoral staff always has the spotlight."

"The one hour in the week when your Christian brothers and sisters all get together to interact is the one hour when they're prohibited from obeying the scriptural commands about interaction, like: Provoke one another unto good works, confess your sins to one another, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another, bear one another's burdens, encourage one another and build each other up, respect those who work hard among you, warn those who are idle...encourage the timid, and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

I'm left with frustration at my current church setting and a longing for the house church, now churches, in Lansing. I'm frustrated that I have to create small groups, and give away another night of the week, in order to have a glimpse of the Kingdom of God manifesting itself here in Antwerp. I'm frustrated that I prayed my whole life to be in a church like the one in Lansing, a church focused on only the will of God. When things finally reached a flowering point, we left. I'm frustrated that I don't have brothers and sisters locally who know my desires, my failures, or my longings. I'm frustrated that I don't know anyone, besides family, locally that are there for my prayer needs and to help me through the thoughts of my head (Unlike you, they have to listen to me all the time). I'm frustrated and burnt out.

All of the proposed solutions in my head for the church that I'm currently attending are just band-aids. Band-aids that will never heal the wound they are covering. Planting another house church is very tempting. But I'm not there yet. I don't want to do something because it's Regan's desire but because it is God's. But in the meanwhile I will remain frustrated that none of my relationships with brothers and sisters manifest the elements of Christian relationships (see the list in the final James Rutz quote). If something bad would happen in my life, I would be all alone. It hurts my heart that most Christians in America probably feel the same way.

Because of our unhealthy church setting, we are left with only one perceived option to live out the faith. We must individualize it. We must come to the conclusion that it is only between God and me. We must not share our failings with anyone else because they aren't part of the solution.

If we do believe that our faith must be lived in community, in most settings we're forced to create or join a group of friends outside of the Sunday church service. What role does the Sunday service play then? It's just a pep talk, a motivational speech. It is unable to provide or even allow the fellowship, encouragement, and accountability that should happen at church between brothers and sisters. I would choose a church with fellowship, encouragement, and accountability over sermons and good music any day of the week because the former are foundations to the Christian life while the latter are not. I would even propose that we can have a healthy Christian life without sermons and good music. Not that we have to go without them, but we must realize their proper place in the Christian life.

Back to the topic at hand, our brothers who went through tough times and were alienated by the church were just two out of millions of victims of the unhealthy church system we have in place. The system forced them to take their struggles outside of the church, either to the pits of individualism or to some group that wasn't their church. Either option is not healthy. The church needs to be a place of healing, a place of belonging. Right now, it is a place we need to escape from in order to be healed or belong. It is not what God intended it to be. It needs to be the place that even unbelievers view as a place to go to with their problems, not just believers. We have a long way to go, and I don't know if it can happen with the current prominent church structure.

I must give a disclaimer. A lot of people ignore the discussion because they don't want to worry about church structure. I understand their feelings. A discussion of church structure is meaningless unless it comes at the end of a discussion on how to be more loving. If we realize we need to be more loving as Christians and also realize that the structure of the church is a hindrance to expressing God's love for humanity, then we need to form the structure in such a way that it does not hinder, but actually stimulates, people to live out their loving faith. We need to make the church a place that is geared for those who want to share their lives and be held accountable to the life of Christ rather than to those who want an individualized faith. The former can't have the Christian life without a healthy church while the latter can have what they want without the church. Why is our church designed for the latter?

Watch out for the potholes.