A Frustration

It happened again. I got frustrated at church. Now, this might come off as the beginning of yet another complaint about today’s church, or my church, or the historical church. Which, I guess it is. But it’s not really exactly the same sort of complaint that I think is common. See, my frustration came from the fact that I totally and utterly agreed with the sermon. I think he was spot on and, as always, extremely insightful.

Essentially, the sermon was about the Gospel. What is it? What is it really? Is it some nice religious sentiments? Is it a set of beliefs? Is it a package of legalist behavior that mark us off as holy people? No. Those aren’t it, he said. It’s the Kingdom of God, it’s a holistic new reality of existence in which we have been called to be a new kind of people in this world.

Or, at least, that’s how I’m summing it up now, which may be more based on similar kinds of sermons and messages I’ve heard, not least of all from John Wesley, and more recently on my reading list, Christoph Blumhardt.

Something started stewing in me, however, not long after I left. I tried to put it into words when Amy and I were in the car. “I heard that same thing when I was younger, and I believed that’s what the pastors were really wanting people to be like. I believed them. I sought to become a person like that. They lied. They don’t want those kinds of people. Those kinds of people cause problems and pastors don’t know what to do with them. If those sorts of people aren’t on staff, the staff don’t want them around.”

Now that’s an awful thing to say. I know. You don’t have to tell me.

So, I’ll try to sort out the emotional response of yesterday and put it into the more reflective thoughts of today, which has, I’ll say it again, nothing to do with the specific service I was at and a lot more to do with my broader ministry experience, which can be summed up as a highly theologically and spiritually educated layperson.

I’m not ordained, after all. So, I exist in that netherworld between the clergy who teach and lead, and the laity who follow and receive. Nether meaning ‘no’ in most cases.

Before this sounds like a complainy post, again, it’s not. It’s a sketch, an attempt to get at what was a very surprising emotional response yesterday. Back when I was a more active Pentecostal it was the sort of response that would have prompted prayers in tongues, but ever since Wheaton I’ve been pushed, by God, I think to find words for realities which there aren’t yet words.

He said, I think, that I was to try to say that which I didn’t know how to say. And I felt like, for me, that tongues wasn’t the way he was pushing me to worship him anymore because he was calling me to find those clear words. But that’s a whole other topic.

Anyhow, my thoughts have been swirling about the last couple of days and while I don’t have clarity I do have some sort of theme that maybe is getting at what I’m is crying out from deep within.

I’m trying to follow my own advice here, you see, my advice about not looking to blame others or expect others to be following the cry of the Spirit in our own hearts. We’re given a burden because it’s our burden, not something to provoke us to judging others or dismissing others or thinking those others “just don’t get it.” Because likely they do get it in the ways they’re being called to get it, which isn’t necessarily how we’re getting it. Got it?

Anyhow, this has become a whole post full of prefaces and hasn’t yet gotten to what I want to write about. It has only introduced the problem. But now it’s long so I’m going to have to save some thoughts for another post.

I’ll end this one with a bit of a lead in to the next one.

What I’m realizing is that my frustration comes out of the realization that while sermons like that are exhorting people to be a certain kind of people, the whole structure of the church is set up for people to be constrained from really being that kind of people.

It’s calling people to run fifty yards on a twenty foot leash.

Calling people to be embrace a holistic Kingdom of God in their lives is all well and good, but those sorts of people take up the calling with a prophetic response, and in doing this become unsuitable, oftentimes, to fit into the programmatic structure of the majority of our churches.

I would say this is a big reason why people leave the church, especially as adults, but I’m wondering if this is also a big factor to why formerly passionate high schoolers leave the church in droves, as well, once they reach college.

We exhort to a renewed lifestyle, but don’t give space for a person to take up the maturity we are calling them to exhibit. Instead, churches function best, in their current model, with people who are caught in between the two worlds, with the constant guilt of not living up to who they feel they should be a big factor in providing clergy power.

People feel they should do, and be, more, but aren’t given space or aren’t willing (or both) to take up the mantle of their maturity. In their guilt, they are willing to follow the lead of tradition or programs or other guides to tell them how they might do, just enough, to ward off that guilt for another week.

That’s where my thinking is going, but I know I’m going to have to spend some more time sketching out my thoughts and see if maybe I find something more than a complaint in it.

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