We have started to attend a new church recently called Radiant Fellowship. There are many reasons why we chose to switch churches after many years of attending a different one. We did not decide to leave because of a fight or a strong dislike for anyone. Although unfortunately, that did happen just before we switched churches. It was UGLY and probably one of the worst experiences of our life! It also taught us a lot of things we never would have learned if that bad experience had not happened.
I guess that is how life works sometimes.
We didn't think that our old church was evil. We LOVED the Church there! By Church, I mean with a capital C, as in the "people" (like Jesus meant when He was talking about Church) not as in corporation or denomination.
We just were journeying in different ways than the place we were at. The much smaller church we first became a part of almost twenty years ago, had slowly become a "Mega-Church" with this huge affluent "leadership structure" and the belief system we embraced long ago, had become a pretty powerful religion gaining a lot of influence in politics and throughout America. If that's what you enjoy, that is fine, but we knew it was not where our heart was at.
Mostly, we realized that the denominational things we had always viewed as "truth", were really not what we had to believe to be in a relationship with Jesus... There were always things we did not completely agree with. But since the word Free was in the title of the church, we always thought we had the "freedom" to believe and search these things for ourselves.
One small example would be that we were always taught that the man was to be the "Spiritual Leader" in the family because of the way that certain scriptures were interpreted. But the truth is that for our marriage, I have found that in maters of faith, *I* have actually been the "spiritual leader" most of the time for my husband and I. It just has always been this way because of who God made me to be and who God made my husband to be. This was one among many little things that had always caused me guilt and the feeling that we just weren't "doing it right". That there was something was wrong with me or that my husband, needed to "step up to the plate" more.
This didn't help him much either.
Now, here's the thing. In "church life", when you have ideas that are outside the "common way of thinking", that tends to threaten other people who do not have the same ideas that you do. Many people have taken a lot of time to hash out those ideas and really don't want them messed with after trying so hard to "get it right."
It might even make them lash out at you when you want to share those ideas or don't agree with their way of doing things. They may look at you as not being a good "team player" or being "rebellious". It may even result in people ganging up and getting a "Leader" in your church to be sure to put you in your place and not allow you to spread your so-called "heresy".
But this new church seemed to WANT and WELCOME people who have differing thoughts and ideas. There didn't seem to be this whole emphasis on spiritual hierarchy that I've seen throughout my years in church. They welcomed diversity and gave people the freedom to share these thoughts openly that were differing from the norm. Not so that you could get everyone else to believe the way you do, but so that you could be accepted and valued as an EQUAL spiritual member of a body (family) of fellow believers in Jesus Christ and feel that what you had to share may be of some worth and encouragement to others and NOT "dangerous ideas" about God that need to be silenced. Just how big is your God if you feel you have to protect people from other ideas?
I know, I know, there are verses in the New Testament indicating that "leaders" are supposed to "protect the flock from wolves".
I'll tackle THAT one in another blog! LOL
Just remember, one man's wolf is another man's shepherd. When there are 38,000 Christian denominations in the world, are you really sure you know which one is the "wolf" teaching?? Good luck with that one! I'll stick with the GOOD SHEPHERD thank you.
It also is a church that tries not to make "church" this completely separate thing from real life. People will say, "If I stepped in a church, lightening would strike!!" This is an idea that came about because church sets itself up as this "holy experience for saintly people who want to be perfect", when really, it's a gathering of a family with the best Father EVER, that is supposed to love each other NO MATTER WHAT.
The goal at this new church is very strongly to make the average Joe feel comfortable and to reach out and offer love and friendship to ANY ONE. If that means that they might play a clip during the message from SNL to make a point, so be it! I guess they figure there are plenty of churches out there that are worried of "offending" the "good Christians", that they didn't need to be another one of "those churches".
There were A LOT of changes for us with this new church.
The funny thing is, that for most of my adult life as a relational follower of Christ... "change" is what I have always been taught to sing about, pray for, and to strive for! I thought that change was supposed to be about doing things better and being better and more self disciplined. When actually, change for me, was about Jesus calling me to REALLY try to live loved and to love people right where they're at! To simply love them with Jesus' kind of love, because we were created to love!
I had always been under another assumption that it was actually my job to make others think as I do about spiritual matters.
I don't really feel that is my job any more.
I know that there is absolutely no perfect church group any where. I certainly am not that naive.
"If you find the perfect church, LEAVE IT, cause YOU will ruin it!"
I have yet to find out if I will be truly accepted and appreciated when my thoughts are differing from the "norm" with a whole new group of people whom I don't really know yet and they don't know me.
We also have all this baggage now that comes with us from the pain we experienced at the last church. I think one of the things that shocked us the most was how certain people whom we had been friends with for years and years, no longer contacted us at all. Not all of them mind you, but many. You really find out who your TRUE friends are when you leave a church! So how do you open yourself up to new friendships in a church when after all that time, some friendships were ONLY based on where your parked your butt every Sunday?? It's like trying to believe in love again after a terrible divorce. But I've heard it CAN be done. We shall see.
Of course there will also be things I don't agree with at ANY church. My husband and I will never feel we need to get YOU to go to our church! I am not about recruiting people to come join my "club". One of the worst things to me is "friendship evangelism". That doesn't mean we would never invite someone to visit our church. It's just that the idea of being a person's friend JUST so you can get them to come to your church or believe in God the exact way you do is abhorrent to me now.
But I actually used to do this often!
We do NOT believe we need to give all our "giving" money (AKA Tithe) to a church nor do we believe we should be required to give a certain percent of our income. Our giving is between us and Jesus and it is very satisfying to be able to help people first hand. If giving isn't causing you joy, you're probably doing it wrong or your joy is placed in the wrong things!
(I have bible verses to back all this stuff up by the way! LOL)
We don't feel we are obligated to help out in every ministry idea that is shot out there. Our world completely changed when we had a son with a disability. For many years we tried to do ministries AND deal with his issues! The first time my son had a seizure, my husband was... serving at church. I couldn't get a hold of him as I was rushing to the Hospital in an ambulance with our son! (This was BEFORE we had a cell phone) It's a good thing my folks weren't at church that day!! I thought I was "such a good Christian" because I didn't complain about that! My husband and I lived in obligation and got caught up in guilt of not contributing enough. The earning of status and self worth through volunteering can be a dangerous route. It really can cause damage when you don't check your motives!
We don't believe you have to "show up" every time the doors are opened and that if you don't go to church every week your life will fall apart and you will "grow away from Jesus". I remember when a friend was in the process of getting a divorce and another friend sort of indicated to me that, "they haven't gone to church in a long time and they aren't a part of a small group fellowship anymore". That did it for me! Going to church is NOT divorce protection or some sort of magic guarantee that your life will be perfect. I know a lot of really wonderful and God Loving people who just, don't go to church!
I guess Jesus comes to THEIR house. Go figure!
We don't go to church because we "HAVE TO" or because it makes us more "spiritual" or closer to God. This is NOT to say that I don't do things to try to make my relationship with God more meaningful. I do! Yes, for ME, attending a church is one of those many ways I find fulfillment in that relationship.
We go to church because we LIKE TO, we like the people and we feel God there in the midst of our little dysfunctional bunch!
Unfortunately though, GUILT and FEAR of your life going down the crapper or going to Hell works MUCH BETTER for a lot of people and so that is what the church has used for all kinds of motivations and manipulations throughout the many years since Jesus walked the earth.
So if you think all these things I spoke of are what makes you a Jesus Lover... then I guess in your eyes we're not Christians.
We'll just have to live with that.
Many people who love Jesus have and do.
The bottom line is, we're really crappy church goers and the old place is probably THRILLED to be rid of us! LOL
So, the point of all this, is that my HOPE is in Jesus Christ and not in ANY group of people or system of beliefs. This is something I forget far too often. I will continue to trust in Him and that He indeed is the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Even in the midst of... CHANGE.
"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose."
"and we KNOW that in ALL THINGS God works for the GOOD of those who love Him, and have been called according to His purpose."
"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."