Crazy Church: The Afterward
I've been blogging lately about my personal church-history. It's been helpful for me to do this, in that it's caused me to refocus on the essential things. Reader-comments have been especially rewarding in this regard.
What prompted all this was an attempt to deal with this business of being out-of-step with my church. I've been using that rather innocuous phrase, out-of-step, because I wanted to avoid over-stating the problem. It's not a breach, a conflict, a going-of-separate-ways. Nothing like that. It's simply not being in-step, and I've been wondering why it's bothered me so much.
And the reason is that from the time I first started coming here, I've been delighted. In my three-plus years at this church I've learned to expect good things from the leadership. I've been greatly enriched by every program that's come along, every retreat, seminar, or weekend conference. So I think this being out-of-step, as I call it, is simply an unpleasant reminder, however faint, of the much more serious unpleasantness of my previous church-experience.
But I should hasten to add that there is really no comparison. And in the past few days, especially after thinking about and writing about the old bad church days, I've come to realize that I've got nothing to worry about here. Maybe I've been brought back to the basics--I'll call it, trusting God.
Here's how I see it: I started my Christian walk with a vividly personal experience of the reality of God. Seeking to understand what I had experienced, I drifted from there into a very programmed and traditional church that overlay a thick and ornate liturgical wet-blanket on the personal and relational aspect of faith. The personal and experiential was deemed insignificant. All that mattered was the proper dispensing of the means of grace by a called and ordained minister of the Lord, in accordance with the Scriptures as interpreted by Martin Luther. Say no more.
Well, I suppose I could have thrown up my hands, after leaving that church, and decided to be my own pastor, my own congregation, dismiss churches as bastions of hypocrisy, and settled on a private exploration of Scripture, as one of my good friends seems to have done. In other words, I might have opted for the private as opposed to the corporate. In my fear of mishandled church-authority I might have dismissed all such authority and become a lone-Ranger Christian, as they say.
But I was never inclined in that direction. The Vineyard has been an answer to our prayers, because it has provided a corporate setting for the shared aspect of worship, while respecting and encouraging a rich personal devotional life. In other words, the two ends of the spectrum, the personal and the corporate, are kept in balance. Now, there are other things that drew me to the Vineyard, doctrinal issues, even style issues, but there is a sense here that the personal abiding in Christ, the devotional practices of the believer, strengthens and enhances the corporate aspects of worship and service, of body-life, while body-life in return nourishes and informs the personal. Does any of this make sense to you?
What has been worrying me of late is the programmed boosterism, the purpose-driven rah-rah stuff. The PDL program applies it own over-sold template for personal devotions to all individual believers and small-groups in the church, and in this way it reminds me of my old church, where the personal was submitted not so much to the Scriptures (which is proper) but to the liturgy, which was idolized as the true shape of the experience of God.
The moral of the story is: programs, I don't like 'em. I guess I'm just not a lock-step sort of guy. But you know what, I'm realizing its okay to be a little out-of-step. Not so terrible. The thing is to continue to pursue a personal devotional life that enriches each and every day, to continue to pursue relationships within the body of Christ, and to serve the church in whatever way that God leads. But it's not a crisis, just a learning experience. I'm out-of-step, but so what? I'm not out of the parade!