Sunday, July 11, 2010

uncomfortable thoughts about "church people"

OK, this may be just a time to vent. If so, feel free to move on. But I promised to write, and right now this is on my mind. I've been a "church person" for 25 years. I've been in ministry for 22. I have loved most of the churches and ministries I've been a part of. I have known many wonderful people, developed beautiful friendships, been taught and loved and encouraged and challenged.

But right now, I'm struggling with church and church people. Leaving my last ministry has been extremely hard, even over a year later. I know it's impossible to be objective, but I still feel like I was wronged by some people that I loved and trusted. It was hard watching people I really respected and admired make some choices that looked very poor.

I have seen a couple people that I considered good friends turn their backs on me, refusing to communicate at all--phone, email,'s hard, not knowing why people don't want to be friends anymore.

What prompted some of this was thinking about different people in my life; especially some who have been incredibly supportive and helpful over the past year, or even longer. What was interesting was realizing that many of them are not "church people," or even Christians.

There is K; a good friend who doesn't consider himself very religious--although he is becoming more and more spiritual in his thoughts and actions. He has helped me out financially and emotionally over and over for many years. He has supported me and put up with me and loved me unconditionally.

My friend N, who is not a Christian, and who I rarely see these days, but continues to follow me on facebook, and always has words of encouragement.

My relatives C and L; not church people, but the kindest, most giving people you could know. The always give and encourage and serve.

And several of those who have been there for me, who are Christians, are not necessarily ones I have been in church with. They come from other backgrounds and traditions--but have truly lived out the Kingdom in our relationship.

These are people I have close, open relationships with--regardless of church connection. So what does all this mean? for me, I realize that church is not where I am finding my spiritual support these days. Now, part of that is because I speak in different churches on Sundays; so I'm not at the church where we belong a lot. And it's hard because we live 45 minutes away. I would like to be in a church that is closer, but our kids are really invested there, and it has been great for them.

Now, I do have many wonderful Christian friends who continue to love and support and encourage--especially J, M, A, K, D, E, T....and others.

But it struck me that the spiritual support in my life is mostly outside of a church community. I have mixed feelings about that. I have some thoughts, but want to spend some time with them before writing more.

I am always curious about feedback--who is supporting and encouraging you? Is it happening in church? out of church? both?

I'm off to umpire a baseball game, which is usually a very spiritual experience for me!


Anonymous said...

Something I've learned over the years is that a lot of "church people," especially ones in full time ministry, have difficulty maintaining connections with people who are not right in front of them. I'm not saying this is right--or wrong--but when I left a ministry I was dedicated to for many years, even though I went to the same large-ish church as the people who mentored me, there was still a huge disconnect. But: the phone/email/FB goes both ways. Also, relationships are is consuming... just because someone doesn't do a specific thing you may have in mind does not mean that they aren't thinking of or praying for you or loving you. And one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned is that you may never get an apology from someone, even if they wronged you terribly. They may feel no remorse at all. We have to forgive anyway and move on. Let God deal with their hearts.

I know it can be hard. I'm perhaps an offender in terms of communication, etc. but well, let's just say life has been bigger than me the past six months and very few people have gotten my time (not to mention I spent most of it in another state!)


Randy Haynes said...

Todd you spoke to me. After going through a very difficult separation and divorce, church "leaders" decided it was time for me to go. I refused to leave which prompted a called church meeting. The church stood up and said, "No." The disgruntled "leadership" along with their followers left. Now I pastor a remnant. The remnant always supported me when the others did not. The elementary school where I work is very supportive and nonjudgmental. I too have found better support outside of the church. Perhaps that is why Jesus called his group from outside of the synagogue!

Rev. April said...

all i can say, todd, is that now i have been out of church for over 2 years and i can't really imagine going back (as a congregant/volunteer) -- because i am so dedicated to my neighbors and neighborhood and friends i've developed outside of church--- who come from so many diff backgrounds... if i went back to church and got caught in all of that again, i wouldn't have time to be a good neighbor.
i dont think jesus would disapprove of that :)

i'm looking forward to getting together - let's try to do it soon.

Michelle N said...

I have served in a large church for 11 years. I know a LOT of people. But I don't really have close friends there. And truthfully I never really have. I am committed to the work I do...I am committed to the people I serve. But I have yet to find commitment from the people around me. While we are together - all is right. The moment a class ends or a service opportunity changes...they are gone. Sad but true.

It is one thing I wish the "church" was better at...accountability of people not just spiritually...but in connection to others.

Todd said...

AKM--if you are who I think you are--you are not one I was thinking of...I have always appreciated your friendship; even when we don't talk a lot; I know you are there for me. Let's catch up soon.

Randy--thanks. I had an idea of what you'd been through; but not the extent. Glad you are hanging in there.

Thanks April and Michelle!

Todd said...

OK, I wrote out my thoughts about this, then got kicked offline and lost it all. really frustrating. I will now save after each word.

I think one of the struggles is building authentic community as an organization. community happens best organically, naturally.

I have four friends that I watch GMU basketball with. We have known each other for years, love and support one another, feel totally comfortable together. That's real community.

The few churches that I've seen succeed started with a commitment to selflessness and serving. It's so hard to build these things into an existing community.

Even those churches struggled when they got bigger. I am a big fan of smaller when it comes to church/community. (Take a look at Dave Browning's Deliberate Simplicity; great book)

My friend Joey (whom I haven't kept up with well--need to connect) was working on a model of bringing Jesus and the Kingdom into existing communities--families; neighborhoods, businesses, etc.--rather than building communities and inviting people--giving them one more group/thing that cuts into their time.

I'm a big fan of small--small communities, small groups, etc.

Talked to a good friend who stopped going to church recently. Bottom line--they loved it when they knew most of the people--when the church was 200 people, there was a real family feel. Now that there are 800 people, they feel lost, not as connected. I understand.

I would prefer to start a community rather than join one--with people who are like-minded, want the same things.

Ideally, I'd love to find a non-church job and have the freedom to start something new--a community that I didn't have to depend on for income.

OK, got to run to another baseball game. thank for the feedback!

Mo Johnson said...

Todd, hang in there. There's got to be enough people in this area interested in forming the kind of community you (and I and others) want to form. Because there is nothing like it that I've seen so far in either Prince William or Stafford counties. There's got to be room for it.