This is one of those times when I’m struggling with how to present a message. In the past, I’ve been pretty good at being able to ‘detach’ and take an academic approach to my Faith-themed posts. This one is a little more difficult. It is more personal. Also, there are folks out there, possibly reading this, who I am still good friends with, who may disagree with my interpretations of certain states of being, my observations, or my approach. To those people, I truly mean no disrespect, and I apologize in advance.
This past year has brought a good deal of change to us. After thirteen years, we decided to leave the church we’d called home behind in favor of one that is more geographically and demographically in-line with our current situation. It was not something we decided to do on a whim. We were not angry with anybody or anything. We still had several friends (and also many acquaintances) who had the will of the Lord foremost in their hearts. We were as involved in ministry and leadership as proximity and travel allowed. We felt ‘plugged in’. The only negative I can even pinpoint was a certain level of frustration in watching, despite the best efforts of many, a culture of relative indifference towards the youth programs, and new ideas/approaches in general. When I say relative indifference, I mean broadly speaking, the congregation as a whole would pay great lip-service to the fact that youth was important, but when it got right down to it, most were too old to be personally committed to something that did not directly affect them. There were other passions, for sure – good things, Godly things. However, within a non-profit of limited resources, choices must be made.
It could be argued that as someone who is directly affected by a youth program (being that my kids are now the appropriate age), I should have been one to step up and take charge of such an endeavor. However, there are a couple of problems with that. First, I’m not gifted with youth, and I don’t feel led to stretch myself in that direction. Secondly, I believe (I’m sure many disagree) that in order for a child in their early teens to truly reach out and be comfortable in a setting such as a youth group, they need to be able to do so when mom and dad aren’t around. They need other trusted adults to be spiritual councilors and coaches for them. They need to hear the truth from multiple sources. Lastly, culture is such a difficult thing to change. Many who study business organizations will tell you that it’s the most difficult thing to change. It certainly seemed to be the case at our church. I spent seven years in charge of the computer/electronics team, which also placed me on the church council. I saw how decisions were made, what was prioritized, and how the same conversations could occur over and over. I spent the first four years trying to enhance productivity within the office and outreach to the rest of the world through technology. We had a few minimal successes, but for the most part, I would say that I was largely unsuccessful in changing the culture within the office to be more forward-thinking with regards to the use of technology. If I (with a good team behind me) couldn’t change the mindset of four staff members, what chance did I have of changing the culture of the entire congregation with regards to youth prioritization? Perhaps my faith was too small. Perhaps my observational and analytic mind could not get past the tried and true “history repeats itself” mantra. Whatever the case, I did not feel confident that I would succeed where so many other more qualified individuals had tried and failed, especially given the reasons listed above.
Speaking of history repeating itself, the irony of the entire situation is that I’d previously observed others with Jr. High-aged children leave the church for “greener pastures”, and I always wondered why they didn’t just stay and make the situation better instead of “running off”. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I probably even looked down on them a little bit for leaving. They should serve in the areas that we’re deficient in! I’d think. If they’re not serving, they must be those bystanders – those members who just want to be served and not to serve. Never mind that several of them did serve as elders, deacons and volunteers in other areas.
All of which brings me to the most recent struggle. Our current church is studying “I am a Church Member” by Thom S. Rainer. To be fair, I’ve only read a couple of chapters. The overall goal of the book seems noble enough: to stress the importance of a committed, serving, contributing membership to the local church as well as the global, universal body of Christ. However, the oversimplification of the “two types of members” described in the introduction of the book has made it almost impossible for me to appreciate the benefits of the greater message. Essentially, two buddies are having breakfast together, when one turns to the other and sadly announces “we’re leaving the church”, followed by a list of reasons such that essentially boil down to “it’s not meeting our needs”. The two are painted as caricatures that the author uses to make the point: There are two types of members in today’s church, the Country Club member and the Church member. One belongs to the church to be served, one to serve. One leaves the church when things don’t go the way he thinks they should, one continues to serve because it’s what we’re called to do.
Was I a country club member? Did I leave because my family wasn’t served in the way I thought they should be? What is a valid reason to leave a local church? Unrepentant sin within the leadership/membership/congregation only? Is continuing to bang your head against a brick wall faithful or foolish? Those who adhere to Rainer’s strict characterizations might tell me that the bricks and mortar will shatter if be His will. Ah! There it is. Deciphering His will has never quite been an exact science, has it?
At this point, the most I can do is have enough faith to believe what the Holy Spirit is telling me.
After describing some of my current struggles to my wife the other night, the conversation went a little like this:
Her: “Do you think this is where we’re supposed to be?”
Me (without hesitation): “Yes. Yes, I do.”