The Thirst For Community (#493)
Jesus offered his followers a place among the community that the Father, Son and Spirit have shared for all eternity, and then a home among brothers and sisters that offers friendship, compassion and care. Why do our religious leaders continue to assert that this promise can be fulfilled through accountability, conformity and membership programs? A recent article on the Christianity Today website proclaims how essential "church membership" is, never distinguishing between the difference of becoming a member of an institution and living as a part of the body of Christ taking shape in the world. Our attempts to build community through obligation only results in co-dependency, which is why when people begin to be disillusioned by it encounter pain and rejection designed to scare them back in. Finding our way out of that pain into gratefully disillusionment is a process, that though often difficult, yields incredible fruit.
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Talking about the standards a pastor’s family has to live up to, there’s a cartoon that has a dog that is being let out of the house into the backyard by a pastor’s wife with the caption, ‘Now remember, you’re the pastor’s dog.’
I’ve had a couple of $100/hour friends in the past, and one of them said something that has stuck with me, that his job, is to put himself out of a job! I’ve had periods of counseling sessions that ended that because of the fiduciary nature of the relationship, and the lack of authentic relationship, there wasn’t a longing to stay in forever. In fact, they weren’t meant to be lifetime arrangements. When, through the help of the counselor, I worked through whatever I needed to work through, or on the other hand, when the counseling proved ineffective, the relationship was over.
Unfortunately, I’ve had what I thought were ‘true’ friendships, which I thought were going to be lifetime in nature, end in much the same way the counseling sessions did. As I became more in tune with and led by the Spirit, the temporal nature of the friendships became intolerable, for the other parties involved. The differences in the way we saw and approached life were irreconcilable. The American dream, which they were chasing, and aspects of which they were attaining, held no interest for me. And the God journey I was on, to them, was simply a putting on airs when necessary.
Most of the relationships I currently have that fulfill me are virtual in nature. I would like to have more ‘in the flesh’ relationships of this kind, but I know it is in God’s time, and He is still working out the rough edges that no longer serve a purpose, even putting in a few that do.
Ron — I have been having an ongoing conversation with a dear friend regarding “growing old together” (i.e true, lifelong relationships you refer to above). He and I both long for a group of guys to “grow old with.” I often picture it as the group of retired men who drink coffee at a local Hardee’s every morning, because that is what my heart longs for. However, he and I both agree that the model given by Jesus, his disciples, Paul, Timothy, and others is something very different. The model is “as you are going” (Mat 28) make disciples. How many times did Paul say to a group of believers that he longed to be with them and loved them dearly? It is in all of his letters. Jesus was constantly picking up and moving from town to town.
My point is this: The longer I am on this journey, the more I realize that I no longer find myself needing or using others as you described above. My relationship with Father is fulfilling all of those needs for me. The beauty of this is that now I get to simply enjoy the gift of these people in my life. Some are discipling me. Others are in need of things I have walked through in my story. Some are just fun to be with. When I do not need or expect anything from them, I find no need to try and work make the relationship permanent. They flow in and out of my life.
I don’t think Father wants us “comfortable” like the old guys at the coffee shop. I fear that this is when the story turns inward, instead of reaching out to those he wants to love through us. I pray that He gives you some local friendships that will delight your heart, and a local community to be there to hold you up when things are rough.
Thank you for your thoughtful response Brian. And no better role model than Jesus, for sure. He had the Twelve disciples around Him, but they weren’t all fully committed to Him, one even betrayed Him, and He says ‘A servant is no greater than his master.’ Thanks for bringing that perspective to the table.
I had a long-time friend tell me that he counted on me to pursue a certain vocation so I could ‘help him out’. so to speak. When I chose a different path, he expressed his disappointment, not only with me, but others within our circle who also didn’t pursue vocations he thought suitable to his needs. And no wonder now years later, the circle is broken.
I tried to make the friendship continue to work, tried to convince him God had me on a different path (he also claimed to be a Christian), but he didn’t see that my way worked for me. I even gave him a copy of ‘Finding Church’ and asked him and his wife, let’s discuss, even if you disagree, which was met with silence. I finally quit reaching out.
I found the same as you, Wayne, with church membership. Many who were not members were, in some cases, more active and devoted than some members. Also, some who didn’t join were very mature in their faith and often had philosophical or doctrinal reasons for not joining. But they were the type of individuals that you would have loved to have as members serving in key positions, but because of the setup of the institution that members were only able to occupy certain positions, that precluded these very capable, thoughtful, mature believers from serving.
I am at the beginning of the journey. In my situation rather guilting me into coming back, the church doesn’t seem to know or care that I am gone.
I can totally relate to what Brian said about as you go. Since starting on this journey I have been amazed at the opportunities God has given me to love others.
My main struggle is that on this new journey there are no rules. I am loved by God and he wants me to share that love with others. Still unpacking this no rules idea.
I found the same thing. The music guy is still a close friend and I help him out at Christmas and Easter with visuals to back the choir pieces. When I would show up to deliver discs or discuss what he was looking for, often times congregation members I’ve known for years would say things like “hey!, we’ve missed you / where have you been / how are you doing”, etc. But other than that, not one phone call or visit. At first this ticked me off and I felt like saying – “I haven’t gone anywhere. I still have the same address, same phone number and email. If you miss me, then why not call? Why wait until I just happen to be here to express your concern.” You get the idea.
Ultimately I had to accept that my reaction was the bigger problem and perhaps just a sanctimonious justification for why I’d stopped going. I had to let that go and accept that we all have our own lives to live and just because God is leading me one direction doesn’t mean everyone else should follow my example.
Funny thing – my wife is on staff and still attends regularly. Unfortunately, I think she caught the brunt of the questions and concerns about my absence. That I regret.
I do enjoy the freedom to love and be a part of all kinds of people in my life, not just those that all follow some particular creed.
As for rules – can’t help you there except to say that it takes time to determine which are the man-made rules that deserve getting kicked to the curb and which principals you see as important in how you love and interact with others.
Well brilliant and spot on again. I feel your pain Ron. I have stopped looking and am now relying on the Father to put them in my path. I had the “church institutionalised disaster” the church of no love.
They thought they were different and ended up being worse than normal! Unfortunately those who I supported on the way out of whom also put me in have abandoned me and are still living the accountability thing but in a worldly way. They have more to learn as we all do I guess. Now I have also let go/ been pushed away I see the truth that this relationship was also a lie and worked on being used and having to conform to their way or the highway and me putting the effort in. Same old patterns.
I am just glad to be free now! Still learning and trying to trust my instinct, to know it is Him guiding me. The last pod where Wayne said about the antichrist being the institutions that ignore the importance of The Holy Spirit and His personal individual guidance really struck the mark. I felt it inside. The ones that block Him and replace Him with themselves as the guide instead of encouraging the natural spiritual relationship to develop and your own gifts.
Thanks for your response Aunt M. You described my situation spot on.
Its nice to know I am not alone. Its ironic that the people I thought would be by my side forever, aren’t. And although I have seen the truth of this relationship for years, it still took a lot of time for me to finally let go and have no further contact. Down the road I may feel differently, time and circumstances do change and I will keep the door open if I see there is a chance for reconciliation.
After listening to this podcast its on my heart to offer up the place where church found me. So if you live in or near Oklahoma City Oklahoma feel free to contact me to connect with others on this journey. We are a small band of people on this journey some are 15 years out some are one week.
Here is the website http://www.tbcconversations.org
Here is the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Transformed-By-Christ-Ministries/224836180412?ref=bookmarks
Here is the group Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/264662813026/
Here is my email email@example.com
Every now and again, you will make the comment that you expect your listening audience to ‘outgrow’ the God Journey and move on. And yet, some of us have stuck around for years.
This podcast was one of the reasons I continue to listen.
You scratched that itch we all share for community. You are right, all people long for connection and community – believer or not. And you rightly said, obligation does not community make.
But it was your description about community, belonging, the work of the Spirit that captivated my heart. Hearing you talk about His love for us, our love for each other, the transforming work of the Spirit caused me to mutter, yes, yes. I could see for a brief second the Church Christ is building.
The bride is so much bigger than our local meeting places. Thank you for painting a picture that lets me peer in to the beauty of his love.
You read a letter here from your Lifestream site that was written by Pamela. I checked the site and could not find it but perhaps I did not scroll down far enough. Just curious if you knew which blog date that was. No worries if not. Her testimony resonates with mine.
Sorry, Nancy, it was not on the blog. The letter was from a posting she did on the “Lifestream Journeys” list, which is an email list for people sharing the life of the journey. You can sign up to be on it if you want. Look for “online community” at Lifestream.
I’m almost a year into exploring this “new thing” God is doing in my life…. and my biggest struggle in the need for community is my children. They are age 9 and 11…. Navigating these waters is scary enough but with children I honestly feel overwhelmed and alone. Anyone else walk this journey with younger children?
Angela, you might find this podcast i did with my daughter a real encouragement. http://thegodjourney.com/2013/09/06/free-range-children/. There are so many ways God provides community for our children as we just include them as part of the family and keep our eyes open for the opportunities God has for them. I hope it helps… There are others called Kids Unplugged I and II and some more in the archives!