Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Do you remember that song by the Clash? It wasn't one of their best songs, but not bad.

Anyway, this is the question we have been faced with concerning the little church plant we have been involved with, heavily, for two years. I previously wrote a post sort of exposing some of our reasons and struggles, but I don't want to be unfair about anything or broadcast things too much before a decision is made. So, I deleted it.

Let me paint the picture for you so that you can sort of understand our dilemma. It will contain some of our history, as a family, and some history about Coram Deo church.

About us... my wife and I have been married for almost 9 years. When we first married, I moved her back to Massachusetts with me (she is from Oregon), and we lived in my parents' basement while I finished up my Masters degree (boy... what was I thinking?). Anyway, I was a brand new Christian -we're talking months old- so I had pretty much no clue about anything. I was 23 years old, was still living with my parents, was finishing up school, and had just become a step-father and husband. I knew we needed a church, but it proved difficult to find one. My wife was going through a spiritual downward spiral, partly because of the shock of the move and partly because I was a crappy husband, an immature jerk, and didn't know what I was doing at all. She was having a hard time handling it, especially the loneliness. Looking for churches often made her just feel more lonely. Out where we lived, there weren't a zillion in town to choose from, and most of the ones in the area were a little weird and charismatic.

Three years later, we moved back to Oregon, to the town where my wife is from. By this time I was "Reformed" or "Calvinistic" in my understanding of salvation. Coupling that with my overall immaturity, I became pretty hostile and intolerate to churches in the area, since pretty much all of them were "flaming Arminian," as I would have said. We had a hard time finding and settling on churches. My wife was still in a spiritual funk, probably because I was a wacko zealot and also because I was still a crappy husband (particularly in one area), even though I didn't know it. I wanted a church that taught Reformed doctrine. I even checked out a local Presbyterian church. I was just thrilled to be in a place that was sort of "like-minded," even though it felt very, umm... "conservative?" My wife couldn't handle it -a different world, and to be honest, I had the blinders on and was foolishly only looking for that one thing.

One day we were at Applebees and overheard some folks talking about Christ and grace, etc. I went up and introduced myself to them. To make a long story short, we ended up Bible-studying with them off and on for a few years, still mostly not going to church and church-hopping when we would go at all. We all seemed to want a "Reformed" church that was not dry and dull and dusty. Enter the church in a nearby city which we came to hear of, talk to, and which endeavored to plant a church, called "Coram Deo" in our town, with us, as a result.

My wife really went along for the ride with me, and we were both excited about the prospect. We worked hard, along with the other folks, making sure Sunday worship happened every week. Over time, though, things became a little monotonous, I admit, but we were still hopeful. My wife became pregnant and added a third child to our family. One thing that we began to notice, over time, was that the church was really not growing. That is ok -we don't have to be about numbers- but we felt as though we were not being able to fellowship and grow with other people. My wife, to be honest, also felt a bit starved by most of the teaching. I basically felt the same way, but I pressed on, with the same blinders on, do-or-die, to make this thing work. I worked and sought to encourage and influence whenever possible.

Eventually, the leadership of the planting church focused in on a wonderful man in Coram Deo to be our first local "elder" or "pastor." He was, and still is, a qualified elder, for sure. This marked something significant. For the first time in the church's short life, we were gaining a sense of direction and identity. We hadn't had that for about a year and a half, and finally we were establishing something. This actually resulted in some unfortunate things. Although we were finally moving in a direction, it was this direction, coupled maybe with a sense of stagnation over the first almost two years, that I think really scared some people off. Many of them, like us, had been waiting so long for some movement and a vision for who we are and what we are doing here, but when it finally started to materialize, it was showing itself to be different from what we wanted and waited for.

And with all of this, there were some things going on that began to really bother me...

On one occasion, a women in our church was going through a very painful ordeal with her husband. She had been struggling, and people new it. Granted, I think she had complained about the church before, which I think might have given her a negative reputation with some of the elders. Nevertheless, she came that Sunday seeking God, and coming to church to have God set before her and lifted up and expounded to her soul. What did she get? Well, it wasn't really a sermon at all, that week. It was lightning-fast recap of about a dozen points from the week's sermon before, and then basically two "missionaries" (not exactly, though, but you get the idea) got up and talked to us about what has been going on with them in South Africa. This woman, frustrated, just got up and left. I was concerned, especially because we had all become friends over these few years, so I followed her out.

She told me, simply put, "I came here needing God, not just information and helpful tips, and I consistently don't get God when I come here." (my paraphrase) My heart broke, but I knew what she meant. The thing that really, really bothered me was that when I shared this with some of the leadership of our church/the planting church, both of them sort of blew it off and said to "take it with a grain of salt." It bothered me because 1) I basically agreed with her, and 2) its like nobody would take any responsibility and acknowledge that she might have had a valid point. Maybe we AREN'T giving people God, not really unfolding Him before their souls. Maybe we are caught up in bare doctrine or how to avoid conflict in the home (which is not all that inspiring if your husband is leaving you).

Anyway, things like that really bugged me, and as I said I had some concerns about the new leadership, even though this man had become a dear brother to me. He knew my zeal for the church, too, and sought to include me on the plans. Other people had concerns, too, apparently, because of the original group of people from the first year (or even the founding families), we are almost the only ones left. The church is probably smaller now than it was when the door first opened. There are some stragglers, but they might come once a month.

More specifically, one of the concerns I think people had about the identity, vision, and personality of the church, which I still share, is that the new leadership has been involved in a sort of parachurch "family ministry" for a few years and that this would basically be translated into what the church is. Even the other folks who are now joining in on the leadership come from the same basic background. This might sound nice, but the concern has been that the church will move forwards as a) something NOT primarily focused on Christ, and b) a fellowship which completely lacks diversity and basically only caters to conservative Christian homeschool families. It doesn't matter if we say we welcome people. If we don't actually know how to, then that is the real problem. If people who aren't like us maybe come and visit once and then never return (like some people we have invited), then maybe we should ask why? Is it for stupid things? Is it because they hate the Gospel (and they heard it)? One of the things we never wanted was a church that made you feel like you needed a "dental plan" to really belong to (a metaphor I borrowed from the pastor of the planting church).

Even though I don't think the current leadership wants that, I think gravity will inevitably keep pulling us back there. I think the current leadership just comes from a certain background or emphasis and just naturally gravitates to certain things, not realizing some of the implications -maybe because many of the people they know and hang out with are from that same basic background and have the same view of things, too. I don't know. That is speculation. But I don't want to blame it all on the current leadership. The church already had that basic feel from a while back. And yes, no church is perfect. Coupled with these concerns, a main issue has been the personal toll on my wife and I surrounding a deficit in what we believe are some important areas.

To boil it all down, we are really tired. Our views have changed along the way, and we have become hungry. Having a "Reformed Church" isn't necessarily where it is at. And being "friendly" means little when people are so disconnected. Mormons are friendly. A receptionist at a large institution is friendly. We have come to hope that this church would be a church where Jesus Christ is really the main thing, to be lifted up to people over and over and propounded to our souls. We have come to hope that this church would be a beacon to people of all kinds of this community, no matter where they are in life and no matter what situation they find themselves in. We have come to really desire fellowship with people, especially friends we feel we can relate to. In other words, sorry to say, we have sort of come to hope that this church would become things that it basically isn't, and which we aren't overly optimistic it will become.

But you know, it still might. But the problem is that we need these things, I believe, sooner rather than later. We have been too long without them. I need to think of my wife, who has been without a fellowship to really connect with and grow in for ostensibly 9 years, and stop keeping those blinders on and pushing forward for something that is going in a different direction. This may sound "consumeristic" and maybe selfish, but I can't put this church above the needs of my wife. Yes, I am the primary one to minister to her, but the church has a place, too. I'm tired of hearing that excuse. Same for our children... yes, parents are to be the primary disciplers of their children, but what if the parents are so immature that they have no clue how or that they are even supposed to? Or, what if they know they should, but they are so starved that they have no fuel to do it?

We want to be a part of a fellowship that is intent on drawing people closer to Christ, and focuses everything on Him. Children's church? If that helps parents know the Lord better so that they can disciple their kids more during the week, then so be it. Why are the events the church holds mainly gathering all the homeschool families the leadership knows? Hasn't anybody noticed that? Where are all the single parents and divorcees? We want to be a part of a church where all of these people can be a part of the body in Jesus Christ, not excluded by cultural barriers and ministry focuses that are too narrow. We want to minister to the new believer and help them grow strong in Jesus. We want to grow in grace with other couples our own age. Maybe... maybe we are too idealistic, ourselves.... Anyway, we are tired... Pray for us.

Anyway, this is an explanation of some of our frustration. Thank you for listening. We may be so wrong it isn't even funny about some of our assessments. The problem is that, as I have stressed, I don't think we have the energy to wait and see anymore.

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