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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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The Truth About Being a Socially Awkward Christian September 24, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, confession, Danny Jones, extroverted, introverted, life, socially awkward, The Church.
37 comments

I get  a lot of compliments about the title of this blog. Most people think it’s cute at worst, funny at best, and the people who know me think it fits me well. I’m glad that people enjoy it, but honestly being a socially awkward person, much less a socially awkward Christian, in today’s culture is anything but cute or funny. Let me set up a little bit of what being this way is like. I can think of no better scenario than this past Sunday night.

Recently, my church started a new young adults ministry led by my friend, B.J. This ministry has two services a week; one for the young adults in Picayune on Mondays, another for the young adults living about an hour north in the college town of Hattiesburg on Sundays. This past Sunday, a small group of the “leaders” from the Picayune campus traveled with B.J. to Hattiesburg to both help set up as well as get connected with some of the students at that campus. I know the people that traveled there, but not that well except for B.J., who was driving the 15-passenger van with his wife riding shotgun. I sat in the very back, without saying one word the entire drive, at one point even causing B.J. to say “Brandon, you sure are quiet back there.” I really didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled and nodded. The fact is trying to say something witty that turns out to not be so witty in front of the people I was with was absolutely terrifying.

We finally got to our destination and started setting up for the service. This went well enough for me, I can make small talk at times when everyone is working on an equal task. The big problems began when people started showing up. I knew some of them, but again not that well, and the majority I did not know at all. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to introduce themselves, but for introverted people, I think it’s only slightly better than chemotherapy. I see new people and I lock up. I can’t make eye contact, my palms become sweaty, I become cottonmouth with no amount of liquid able to wet my dry throat. Thank God for my Blackberry. I start scrolling up and down, looking at nothing in particular, but at least the appearance of me texting someone will convince these people that I’m not a loser, and maybe even sway them from trying to talk to me. It doesn’t work though, some guy does try to make small talk, asking how I’ve been. I say good, and ask the same of him, he says good as well, and then just stands there, obviously waiting for one of us to say something that could start an actual conversation. If meeting someone new is like chemotherapy, this is like being tortured by shoving bamboo sticks under my fingernails. Eventually, I just look back to the safety of my smartphone and he walks away.

After a awhile, I talk myself up reminding myself that I’m a leader and am not supposed to be afraid of people. I see a group of people standing in a circle and laughing, I decide to try and go enter the conversation. The circle doesn’t open to let me in, so I stand on the outside looking in, as if I’m the only kid on the fieldtrip to Disneyland that forgot to get my parents to sign the permission slip and have to stay at school. Somebody then forgets what movie a certain line he’s referencing is found in, and I know it so I speak up. My answer is correct and he says, “That’s it!” and continues with his conversation, once again leaving me on the outside of the circle. I thank God when it’s time for the service to start. On the ride home, I’m more involved with the conversation, thanks to a lucky joke I made that was actually funny. Then I start to overdo it because of my excitement of being involved and try to think of more funny stories or witty statements, but I’m not that funny or that witty so I start to use other people’s stories or jokes and claim them as my own, but unfortunately, they only work for the people who actually own the rights to them. The agony only ends when I’m back in my truck, graciously alone.

They say the Christian life isn’t meant to be done alone. We need community to survive. I believe this is true. But, for people like me, the thing that’s supposed to keep you alive causes you so much pain and anxiety. It’s like drinking water that tastes and smells like gasoline. You know you need it to live, but drinking it can be vomit-inducing. I get jealous of people that others naturally gravitate toward. My friend, Danny, is like this. People naturally like him; and he’s just naturally good with people. I watch him when he’s dealing with the people in our church and I’m amazed. He might as well be wearing a cape and a big “S” on his chest. It’s unbelieveable to me. How is he that comfortable with people? How are people that attracted to him and others like him? It’s strange. We have even discussed the dichotomy of how people react to him and to me. He can make a certain joke and people will think it’s hilarious. I could make the same exact joke and people will think I’m just creepy. It all goes back to the fact that I’m socially awkward and he’s not. I’m introverted, and he’s extroverted. These are just common personality types. Being one way is not better than the other way, it’s just the way we’re built. Sometimes, though, being introverted can feel less like a personality type and more like a disorder or a condition. This is magnified in the Church, which is an extroverted culture. Introverts have a much harder time with it than people think they do. We often get the label of “weird” because they think we don’t like people, which is not the case. Introverts like people just as much as anyone. It’s just that we want to be liked and to be seen as “cool” so bad that we have a hard time socializing. People will say that’s shallow and that we should just be ourselves, but they don’t understand that we are.

One of the things I have noticed about social media networks like Facebook and Twitter is that introverts don’t exist on them. I don’t know what it is but introverts thrive online. I realized on Sunday night, that I would have a much easier time talking to these people through a screen than I do face-to-face. Through this blog and through my Twitter, I feel closer to my online “community” of people that I have never met than I do to some of my peers in my own church. I am not saying this is right or even healthy, I’m just saying this is what being socially awkward is like. It’s a prison. It’s not cute and it’s not funny. It’s lonely. It’s painful.

Where do we introverts, we socially awkward, fit within our Christian communities? Social awkwardness is not sin. Let me make that clear. I don’t think the problem is within us, though I do think that there are some things about our personalities that we need to overcome. However, there are also some things that extroverts, or people who are not socially awkward need to understand. Namely, we are not weird. We are not creepy. We are just nervous. We like you, and we want you to like us. We have wisdom to offer, if you will just allow us to say it when we finally work up the courage to say it. Be patient with us and continue to reach out to us, though understand that sometimes we will need more space than you might.

To others who are socially awkward like me I want to say this: God has given us callings and dreams, too. We can lead just as well as extroverts, God did not limit us to be followers. We can be pastors, teachers, prophets, artists, entertainers, worship leaders, and anything God has called us to be. We can do “all things through Christ who gives us strength” just like people who aren’t socially awkward can. We can overcome the aspects of our personalities that would hold us back. We can overcome the fear that often paralyzes us. I think we can even have an advantage over our extroverted brothers and sisters. The way we are forces us to rely solely on Jesus. We aren’t tempted to use our personalities nearly as often as extroverts do. When we find the courage to do what God has called us to do, we can have the confidence that we are not working at all in our own power, but in the strength of the One who loves us unconditionally, as we are. Our strength and hope is found in the One who at the sound of His Name, every knee will bow, socially awkward or not. Never forget this.

Gideon: “My clan is the weakest…I am the least.”

God: “But, I will be with you.”

Judges 6:15-16

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