Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Problem with the Church Is ...

Last month, I posed the question, "What concerns or frustrates you most about today’s Christian church?" Several of my friends offered a response to this question. Here's mine:

The problem that most concerns me about today's American church is our lack of community. We don't support each other. We don't have authentic, transparent relationships with one another. We don't ask each other for help.

I think this stems from American individualism. Individualism is a good thing, of course, but it can quickly move into the mentality of self-sufficiency--and the expectation everyone should be completely self-reliant.

I heard this heartbreaking story recently: Some years ago, a friend who is a professional chef had been feeding a homeless man who was mentally ill. The man started following her everywhere, and she continued to feed him and extend friendship to him. A leader from her church found out about this and told her she needed to stop doing this immediately, or she'd never get rid of the homeless man. She was shocked: Here she was using her talents in the way the Holy Spirit had moved her, and a church leader was telling her to stop. She found this sentiment of "the Lord helps those who help themselves" was shared by many of her church leaders. She ended up leaving that church.

I hear this echoed by singles who feel they are overlooked in their churches. In many churches, programs are largely focused on families with children. I sense a lack of empathy for the loneliness and isolation singles can experience. The solutions offered by the church often are the over-simplified "let Jesus be your comfort" or pesky match-making where there's little concern for compatibility ("You should meet my co-worker's brother's roommate--I think he might be a Christian!")

I continuously hear Christian women talk about loneliness and pain, and express sadness there's no one to share their feelings with. First problem is, there are those who'd condemn them for not reaching out--because "they don't make the effort, it's their own fault." Second problem is, there are those who'd condemn them for not completely depending on God--since they’ve expressed their need human comfort, "they surely must not trust God." Thus, we keep quiet about our hurts and loneliness because we’re afraid we’ll be judged for expressing these feelings. It is a vicious circle.

To be extremely blunt:

It is a cop-out when we blame people for their hurt and doubts. It is a cop-out to analyze someone’s feelings and say, "They're just young and rebellious; they'll grow up," or "It's a decision they have to make for themselves," or "God will reveal himself to them."

When we make excuses for our own inaction, this is sin--often selfishness and arrogance. Who are any of us to judge whether someone else needs our help? When we are told to love one another, this doesn't mean "love only the emotionally healthy who are self-reliant" or "love only Christians who are just like you."

As the body of Christ, we are responsible for the other members of the body. And we will be called into account for our inaction. It's true each person must choose whether to follow Christ. While I can’t make this choice for another person, I am responsible for sharing Jesus’ story. I do believe I'm going to be harshly judged by God on Judgment Day--and I expect every Christ-follower will be, too. I believe God will show me many people's lives, and how I added to the trail of hurts and rejection that made those people turn away from him. It makes me sick to my stomach because I know there are people I need to call right now. And I haven't done so because the conversations will be painful and the relationships difficult.

Getting to know people is hard. I find it almost impossible to let anyone see me vulnerable and real. But it is possible, and it is required of us. God most often reveals himself through human conversations and interactions. God help us to never become so comfortable as individuals that we're unwilling to do the uncomfortable work of building community.

To ponder:
1) What are some obstacles to building community?

2) What are some obstacles that churches face? Are these different than the obstacles to building friendships at work or in our neighborhoods?

3) Where is it easiest for you to make friends (ie. work, church, neighborhood, through your kids' activities, at the gym)? Do you think it is more difficult or easier to have authentic friendships at church?

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