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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.)

 

The Nature of Revival September 11, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Bible, charisma, Christianity, cynicism, Holy Spirit, Revival, spiritual gifts, The Church.
9 comments

The video above is from a “revival” happening in Mobile, Alabama. I had the chance to attend this revival, which is now being held in the Mobile Convention Center, last night.

I am no stranger to revivals. I was raised Southern Baptist and actually got saved at a Baptist “revival” in my hometown of Picayune, Mississippi when I was ten.

A few years later, some friends and I decided to put on some Christian dramas in our school as a part of The Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That day is now often referred to as the “Pearl River Central Revival” because of so many students getting saved, and confessing and repenting of their sins. This day was even covered by Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,997088,00.html

That article came to the attention of Richard Crisco, who was the youth pastor at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. Crisco then contacted the school and requested me and a friend of mine to come speak at their Branded By Fire Youth Conference. We were unaware that Brownsville was claiming to be in a massive revival for the past several years. This revival was different from the Baptist revivals I was used to. In Baptist churches, a revival is something that happens annually for about one week out of the year. This revival had been lasting for years and was accompanied by alleged miraculous healings, all-night prayer meetings and worships services, and people being “slain in the Spirit.”

After my experience at Brownsville, I did feel as though God led me to leave the Baptist denomination and start attending more Charismatic, though non-denominational, churches. I tell you this to let you know, I’m very aware of the nature of revival in these types of churches. What I saw in Mobile was a typical Charismatic/Assembly of God/Pentecostal type of “revival.” God is definitely moving there, though I don’t know if what it is, is an actual “revival.”

I’m beginning to think we throw the word “revival” around a bit too liberally. God does wonderful things at what churches call “revivals.” I absolutely believe that God was working in Mobile last night. Just like I absolutely believe that God was working in Brownsville. Just like I believe that God works in the countless Baptist revivals. I just don’t believe that any of those are true revival.

When we say that we want revival, what we usually mean is that we want God to move strongly in our communities, cities, states, nation, and world. What usually happens at these “revival” services is that God moves strongly in those services. But, everything pretty much seems the same outside of the church walls. Sure, there have been reports of the occasional drug addict coming into a service, stating that he felt compelled to come in, and then being set free, and that’s awesome, but true revival, to me, seems like it would require entire crackhouses compelled to come to the services. Or better yet, the entire service moving to the crackhouse. If revival breaks out in a crackhouse, brothel, or a strip club (requiring those places to close, of course), then no one will be able to question the legitimacy of it, as some people do to the Mobile “revival.” When those things start happening, then maybe revival will actually go from breaking out in the crackhouse to the White House.

I’m not ready to say that what’s happening in Mobile is a revival. I think true revival is much bigger than that. I got pretty much what I expected I was going to get in Mobile. I think that true revival will actually be beyond what Baptists, Charismatics, and every other denomination or non-denomination expects.

I do expect true revival to happen, however, and there’s no question in my mind about it. Because the best thing I saw in Mobile was some of the kids from my youth group in awe of what God was doing and excited about God doing even bigger things. I believe true revival will happen because the Bible tells us exactly how it will happen, and those kids are following what the Bible says about it. They, along with several other Christians all over the world, are following out this verse:

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

-2 Chronicles 7:14

That verse carries the formula for revival. I have hope that verse is being carried out in the lives of the kids I saw worshipping God last night. Therefore, I have hope that true revival will happen.

SIN-icism May 13, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, cynicism, sin, The Church.
1 comment so far

A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future. —Sydney J. Harris

 Serving at the Journey Youth Community is easily one of the highlights of my week. Every Wednesday, I look forward to hanging out, worshipping, and seeking God with the teenagers and other adult leaders. But, last night my patience grew thin as the service went on. I was becoming so upset that I actually tweeted, “The only thing I hate more than Charismatic Christianity right now is non-Charismatic Christianity.” As I thought about it later that night, I had trouble pinning down what actually bothered me in the service. We really didn’t do anything hokey or anything like TV Charismatics do. In fact, it was probably one of the best services we’ve had in awhile. So why was I so upset?

I think the Lord answered me in one word: “cynicism.” I’ve become more and more cynical when it comes to my faith. Don’t get me wrong, I think a certain level of cynicism can be healthy. Often times, we become cynical when we are honest about ourselves, our friends, and our churches. When that happens, cynicism can be a catalyst for change. However, I think there comes a time when we just become cynical to be cynical. We no longer believe change can actually happen so everytime we go to church we just make snide remarks on Facebook and Twitter that are meant to placate our egos rather than get people thinking about change. I think this is when cynicism goes from being healthy and honest to just being sin. Healthy cynicism is based on the hope that things can change, while sinful cynicism believes that change is completely hopeless.

I think I’m at a crossroads when it comes to my cynicism and I think I know where both paths lead. There are two people I follow on Twitter that have taken different cynicism paths. One goes by the name of @hollywoodpastor and the other goes by the name of @prodigaljohn. I met @hollywoodpastor on a couple of occasions. He was a really nice guy who loved (and still does love) Jesus. He seemed really happy, but he wasn’t afraid to call out the Church if need be. However, through some bad events his cynicism grew. Now he comes off as angry more than anything, and most of his tweets call for Christians to leave the Church. He believes there is no hope for the Body of Christ as it is. It’s sad. What’s sadder is that I can really see where he’s coming from sometimes. I just don’t think calling for Christians to abandon the Church is wise. For all of its warts, I think the Church still has hope. I think change can still happen. I don’t think angrily calling for it’s destruction is healthy cynicism.

On the other path, however, is @prodigaljohn. @prodigaljohn wrote a book and has a blog called Stuff Christians Like. It’s a satirical, and yes cynical, look at the silly things people in the Church do. The difference between @prodigaljohn and @hollywoodpastor is that @prodigaljohn’s call to the Church is one to look at itself and laugh, rather than leave. Changes absolutely need to be made. But, it’s better to point them out and laugh at them rather than point them out and flip them off.

My cynicism had overtaken me, is  what I learned last night. Even when we had a good night, I couldn’t notice it because I was so caught up in being cynical. That’s not healthy, hopeful, or helpful cynicism. It was just plain sinful.

Are you overly cynical at times?

What are some examples of healthy cynicism? What are some examples of unhealthy cynicism?

Do you think being cynical can be sinful?

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