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Retreating from the Church December 13, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, cynicism, introverted, prayer, socially awkward, The Church.
8 comments

Last month, I wrote a blog about a prayer experiment I was attempting where I would have a concentrated hour of prayer for 30 days straight.  The goal was simply to improve my prayer life, an area in my walk with God that I felt was lacking. While I felt that goal was accomplished (not without a fight, I’ll have a detailed recap of the prayer experiment up some time before the New Year), one surprising place that I felt God led me during it was away from the Church.

I have been growing frustrated with the Church for a few years now, as many young Christians have. But, I never stopped attending church services simply because Christians are not supposed to miss church services. As my pastor is fond of saying, “You should never miss church, because you could miss your miracle.” I used to agree with this statement wholeheartedly, after all the Bible does say, ” And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).  Just a few months ago, both the Christian and secular media made a big deal out of author Anne Rice’s statement that she was leaving the Church, but not Jesus. Most Christian leaders disagreed with Anne’s decision because, as Andy Stanley (I think) said, “You can’t love Jesus without loving his bride.” While I believe the words of the writer of Hebrews, and I tend to agree with Andy’s view, I couldn’t help but sympathize with Anne. I was becoming less and less patient with people in my church who disagreed with me on theology and liturgy (how church services should be structured). Not only that, I also felt a bit of conviction on what I felt was a seed of arrogance growing in me. While this was a problem that I needed to deal with that was totally my own fault, I felt that some people in my church were just stoking the fire, so to speak. I would get to church excited and leave angry and bitter. I had no idea what to do, because I felt like I needed to get away, but my pastor’s words would ring in the back of my mind. Thankfully God led me to a blog series Ed Cyzewski was doing on surviving church burnout (click on the link to his blog, “In a Mirror Dimly,” on the right; Ed consistently knocks it out of the park). I felt like God gave me permission to skip church for a few weeks in order to get refreshed and refocused on Him through these words from Ed:

No Christian I know wants to step away from the church. This is not something done with glee and joyIf you’re committed to processing your church or ministry burn out in a healthy way, then the next important step is to seek out a period of rest. That means stepping away from ministry and possibly even a traditional church service for a period of time.

Those words gave me the encouragement I needed to do what I felt I had to do. Ed is right about no Christian wanting to step away from the Church. This was not something I was looking forward to. We are created to want to be in the Church and to assemble and worship with other Christians. But, for the sake of my own spirituality this was something I had to do.

The first bit of relief I got was when I realized that I didn’t have to force myself out of bed to take a shower on Sunday. After that bit of purely physical indulgence, is when I felt like the Holy Spirit truly was ministering to me. After I got up, I put on some worship music and just dove into the Word. I ended up fellowshiping with God through a lectio divina type of Bible study, followed by a time of worship and prayer. When I looked at the clock I realized I had been in God’s prescence for almost two hours, about as much time as the service at my church usually lasts. The difference being, I felt so refreshed and relaxed that I felt like I had just gotten out of a hot tub. 

I ran into some opposition, of course, particularly from my mother. My parents are very traditional Southern Baptists, and mom has never liked me going to a less traditional non-denominational church in the first place, so choosing to skip church altogether was completely lost on her. I might as well have told her I was now an atheist. This opposition from the previous generation of Christians is just something the next generation will have to get used to. As Gabe Lyons describes in his book, The Next Christians, Christians aged 16-29 are about to change the way church is done, but our parents and grandparents won’t understand or like it. I viewed this instance with my mom as just a glimpse of the things to come. The key is learning how to handle this with grace and honor to those who have gone before us.

Yesterday marked the third and last Sunday service I plan on missing during this “retreat.”  I feel refreshed, refocused, and am looking forward to rejoining my church in worshiping God together. I know that the things I disagree with about my church haven’t changed, and some things will continue to frustrate me. But, through taking a few weeks away from them, and letting God work in and minister to me personally has given me enough strength to where I feel I’m ready to handle the frustrations that churchlife and Christian community can sometimes bring, at least until the next retreat.

How do you feel about skipping church to get closer to God?

Have you ever felt like leaving the Church, like Anne Rice?

What are some suggestions you would give to someone feeling burned out by the Church or their Christian communities?

What are the things you most like about Christian community? What are the things you like least?

 

(It would be wrong of me to not mention how Adam S. McHugh’s book Introverts in the Church, has also inspired me through this time. Adam taught me that it is perfectly normal for an introvert to need more times of solitude than extroverts do, and churches usually are extroverted in nature. If you are a Christian and an introvert, or a pastor of any personality type, Adam’s book is  must read.)

 

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