Next to death of a loved one or a divorce, fewer things are more emotionally and psychologically challenging than changing a “church” association. Often when people begin to question their church experience and consider “leaving,” they feel alone, misunderstood, accused, disoriented, and perhaps even crazy or thinking they are losing their mind. They often feel unloved and unsupported. In this first session of an eleven-part series called the Church Refugee Sanity Guide, I introduce the topic and provide a frame of reference for understanding that you are not alone.
I often get asked: “Where should I go to church?” It is the wrong question to ask. Lurking in it are likely inappropriate and unrecognized presuppositions and motives. We need to ask a “who” question, not a what and where question. The correct answer to that question will be found in understanding God-assigned relationships. Relational reality in God-assignments is where you will find your “church,” no other way.
There is a brand of Christianity that is always talking about the cross and the importance of dying to self. At best it is an imbalanced over-emphasis–a half-truth–and at worst, flat-out error. It promotes sin-conscious introspection, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, self-hatred, unworthiness, spiritual paralysis, and legalism. It promotes spiritual pride in a reverse sort of way—you are esteemed for how worthless you feel about yourself and how “humble” you have become in appearance to others who control access to power in the specific church culture.
According to sociologist, Josh Packard, in his scrupulously researched book, Church Refugees, there are currently 65,000,000 individuals in the USA who are “done” with church, 30.5 MM of those, retaining their “faith,” the balance having no “faith affiliation.”
I have been a Charismatic believer immersed in charismatic church culture beliefs, value systems, leadership modalities, and worship expressions for forty years. For thirty-five of those years I was a worship leader and “pastor” in a variety of charismatic constructs. Our train has jumped the track, there are fatalities all around, and prominent charismatic leaders seem to want to keep tooting the whistle and playing engineer. The carnage must stop.
I am often asked: When is it appropriate to challenge or confront my church leadership? There is a full spectrum of opinions about the definition and expression of leadership in the church. There is also a broad spectrum of opinion on if, when, and how to confront church leadership. Jesus is our example in this matter, whether we like His example or not. Take my little “Leadership Legitimacy” survey and discover what Jesus would have you do.
The expression of pastoral ministry in the church can tend to aggregate at extremes in the Body of Christ. On the one hand you can have pastors who are oppressed by domineering and controlling board members and elders, whose mission in life seems to be to be to break pastors down and keep them in poverty. On the other hand, you can have pastors who think themselves as demi-gods at the top of a pyramid hierarchy who think people are little more than resources given by God to them to fulfill carnal ambition rooted in insecurity and thinly veiled as “corporate vision.” In Part One here, by my friend, Nick Vasiliades, explains why fundamental values and ideas in most western churches of how pastors are expected to function are the underlying reasons for so many misconceptions and malpractice of one of the necessary, precious, and legitimate gifts of the resurrected and ascended Lord to His church. Is it possible to be a supernaturally gifted “carer of souls” and avoid reactionary expressions? Yes, but not as long as we cling to biblically baseless definitions, values, and expressions of pastoral ministry.
Recently, I had the privilege of spending an hour and a half in the manifest presence of God. What made the experience so unique is all the things that many of those reading this have been conditioned to believe are necessary for such a thing to occur in a meeting (a good crowd, prolonged praise and worship, sermon/ministry of the “word,” prayer, altar call, heart wrenching repentance, whatever, were all absent. How can that be possible?
Building a culture of honor is a much bandied-about phrase these days in many non-denominational and “apostolic and prophetic” groups. On the one hand, you have our civic culture of rabid individualism and egalitarianism. It’s in the ditch of disregard and disdain for any concept of honor or respect. In the opposite ditch is a reactionary response to this cultural slide: honor that is non-relational, coerced, demanded, and required because of ungodly measures of rank and status. Both ditches are at work in the body of Christ, and both are wrong. The issue is not the legitimacy of honor. The problem is the values and ideals of what constitutes honor in a kingdom context, and why, how, and to whom it is due.