This is Church?


I have some pretty strong feelings on the topic but when I go to write about it, for whatever reason, my thoughts tangle together like an uncooperative ball of yarn, and I begin to second guess my own ideas and beliefs. Is it because I haven’t yet come to a conclusion that allows for all of my experiences with the church, both in and out of it, to make sense? Is it because I still cling to the idea that the church, whatever else it may be, is holy and above reproach, above questioning? Is it because I have more questions than answers and to follow any one line long enough inevitably leaves me more confused and embittered than I was to begin with?

I’ve got to resolve this ongoing issue. I have got to be able to work my way to the root of whatever is going on so that I can be at peace. I need to be at whole relationship with God, whether it is again or for the first time.

Traditional church, for me, is the place that you go and pretend that everything is okay, where you share only pieces of who you are. I’ve been doing this inside of the church for many years. As a young teen a minister came to our house and he and I sat and talked for awhile. This, to me, felt like a big deal. Our minister wasn’t the ‘roll his sleeves up and get dirty’ type, the kind to hang with the kids. My mom and step-dad invited him over and so that he and I had could have some time to talk alone. I can’t remember, really, what we talked about, but it was something about how parents make mistakes and it’s important to forgive. My family kept going to church every weekend and pretending everything was fine. I watched my mom pretend that everything was just fine, that her family was just fine, thank you very much, every week for years, for one reason or another.

I always assumed that my own screwed up history so early on must have set a pattern in place. I assumed that I kept feeling like I was experiencing that same demand to pretend that everything was fine in other churches and with other Christians because I was subconsciously searching for it, for validation of that first instance as a child. I became adept at presenting to the church exactly what it wanted to see, and little else, and blamed the ensuing lack of fulfillment on my own inability to move beyond my past.

The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, and a bit braver, and as I’ve entered into real relationships with real people who are Christian, I’ve realized that a lot of people feel this way about church. I have a friend who wrestles very seriously with whether or not to let her church family know that she occasionally has a glass of wine. There’s another who worries about what impact her platonic relationships with the opposite sex will have on her standing within the church. I have a friend who struggles to accept a theological precept of the church but is fearful to talk about it with anyone.

Is this the church where I am supposed to feel safe to confess my sins, to share my struggles?

When I was in rehab, I lived on top of a mountain with an average of 50 other women all fighting their way back to sobriety. All of the staff, right up to the Director, were graduates of the center; survivors of drug addiction and eating disorders, former prostitutes and past jail inmates. Everyone knew who everyone was on that mountain, and who everyone used to be. Everyone knew that none of us were perfect and that everyone was on the same journey to becoming whole, to becoming like Christ.

I’ve never felt so safe in my life. There were guidelines to growth there, clear cut and understood by everyone. The rules were universally applied to all of the women at the center, no one was favored above the rest. If conflicts arose, and they inevitably did, the pattern of Matt 18:15-17 was strictly adhered to; first you go to your sister to confront her on your own. If your sister doesn’t listen to you on your own, then bring a friend or two to help out, and, if the conflict still can’t be resolved, you go to the authority. This was such a serious rule that if you skipped steps one and two and went straight to the authority, you were not heard.

The healthier women took care of the sicker women and everyone worked together to make the things run smoothly. Everyone started out in housekeeping and no one, not even the staff, was considered better than the next. If sin was known of, it was confronted. If character was lacking, it was addressed. Becoming a better person, a whole person, was not a hopeful prayer, it was a daily expectation and active aspiration. We all worked on becoming more like Christ every day, and we all did it together. I felt compelled, while I was there, to share my confessions of sin, in hopes of victory, to share my struggles in search of answers.

Not once, in 10 months, did I ever seem them turn away, or fail to lead, someone who was struggling.

That felt like church.

I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what the church is supposed to look like or feel like, really. Maybe it’s a question of nature vs. nuture, is it the church’s fault or society’s? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all of the questions yet.

But I do know one thing.

I’m not going to pretend anymore.

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11 thoughts on “This is Church?

  1. Amen! I’m done with pretending too. God made me who I am and remade me in Christ when I became a believer. If He loves and accepts me no matter where I am in life then I’m ok. As a former people pleaser finding my worth in Christ has set me free from wearing masks and being fake. Loved your post. Thanks for visiting my place.

  2. Hi Seana,
    I was raised catholic and went to church every Sunday. Today, I do not agree with their stand on many issues and have often been made to feel like a failure or sinner because I was unable to be successful in marriage. I turned away from the catholic religion a long time ago and have researched many others. I like the Hindu or Buddhist philosophy’s and have visited the Unitarian church. When I need to confess or ask for help I go direct to God and skip the middleman. I try to help others and much as I can and avoid judging or belittling anyone. I hope I am following the right path, only time will tell.

  3. Hi John… thanks for reading and for leaving your thoughts! I agree with you, I’m in a period of skipping church entirely and going straight to God… still, a part of me misses the fellowship of a church body and the comfort of that community. It must be I’ve still got blinders on because in actuality, it’s rarely a very comforting place. I can’t help but think that God had something different in mind when He said “Church”.

    1. I’ve distanced myself from organized religion, yet you have compelled me to write my thoughts here. After years of being in the Catholic church, watching people look down there noses or over their glasses, feeling like you better move or be trampled when you left the church or risk getting mowed down in the parking lot during the frenzied exit, I finally decided to look for something else. I was sick of the rhetorical masses and the meaningless words. After some research I visited the Universal Unitarian Church in Middlebury. I was very surprised when I entered. They had me sign in and put a nametag on. People were friendly and introduced themselves. The mass was meaningful and educational; it had purpose. They stopped in the middle of mass to say that somebody, let’s say Michelle had just moved into a new apartment and needed a few things. They listed them and asked people to check their attics, garages and storage areas to help out. The money we contributed went to community causes. The music and singing was phenomenal! People really wanted to be part of it! I was suspicious, I wondered if it was always like that? I went back several times and it was and sometimes better! I think I should visit again.

      1. It’s interesting… after years of being in an evangelical church, I started attending mass just to get a break from all of the emotionalism and theatrics. I didn’t go much or often, but I do find mass soothing and a welcome relief from all the jumping and down at evangelical churches.

        I think, in the end, I want a church where people are real. I want to go to church where there isn’t so much pretending and posturing and make believe… otherwise, why go? I have friends lots of places, I don’t need to sit through an hour or three hours of make believe to have them…

        The church I was attending most recently certainly had *some* of those types of people… but not enough to sway the balance…

        let me know if you visit again and how it goes.. 🙂

  4. Hi Seana,
    I agree that God had something different in mind when he said “church.” I believe that the American church as a whole doesn’t grasp the concept of what church is supposed to be. I was on a roller derby team for a year and a half and often felt like my teammates embraced the concepts of Christ of loving and caring for one another more than some of the church goers I’ve known all my life. Have you read any of Donald Miller’s writings? I’ve read two of his books and find that I see things the same way he does. I’ve read “Blue Like Jazz,” and “A million miles in a thousand years.”

    1. I love Donald Miller! I’ve read both of the books you mentioned, as well as his book “Searching For God Knows What”. That one, (Searching For…), was my favorite… it’s one of my favorite books of all time, actually. He totally inspired me to find community instead of tradition and “church” the way it’s found today. Have you read Rob Bell? he has a great book called “Jesus Wants To Save The Christians”… it’s awesome stuff!

      1. Donald Miller has really opened my eyes to ways I was taught through “traditional’ church.I had another friend who said she really liked Searching for God Knows what…so I’ll definately have to read that one. I will have to check out Rob Bell, too. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. I have finally had a minute this week to sit and catch up on your blogs and I am glad I did. You are such an encourgement with your transparency and honesty! You encourage me!

    1. Goodness, thank you! You’re sort of one of my favorite inspirations, so being able to encourage you is kind of awesome! 😀 By the way, if you have any use for it, you’re welcome to use all of/pieces of this blog for marketing, testimonial, etc. purposes… Hope all is well!

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