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Retreating from the Church December 13, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, cynicism, introverted, prayer, socially awkward, The Church.
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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 Problem of Prayer: An Experiment November 9, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Bible, books, Christianity, confession, Greg Boyd, hearing God, life, Peter Lord, Philip Yancey, prayer.
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2 comments

 

Prayer is one of those things that is fundamental to following Christ. Most Christians would agree that prayer, along with Bible reading and going to church, is one of the most essential things to living a successful Christian life. The interesting thing is that while it is considered essential, not many people actually do it that often (the same could be said for the other two), and even when people do pray, they often don’t think they are very good at it. I’m one of the latter. Now, I might pray a line or two throughout the day when something enters my mind that I know I need to pray for. Also, I meet with a small group to pray for about an hour each week before my church’s young adults service, and I actually surprise myself at how well I pray out loud. My problem is sitting down and having focused, intentional, personal prayer time with God. I have no problems spending a lot of time reading the Bible, but when it comes to really pouring my heart out to God in a time of  concentrated personal worship, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication, I feel that I lack. This really bothers me because I believe that prayer changes circumstances, people (the person praying most of all), events, at sometimes can even change God’s mind and will cause Him to act in a way that He would not of acted if no prayer was prayed otherwise. With this view of the power of prayer,  not only is prayer a privilege and a right but also a great responsibility. Therefore, there is no excuse for me to not pray.

I have had knowledge of this problem of prayer in my life for awhile now, so I was excited when the young adults ministry at my church started a three week series on the topic of prayer. The more we studied about it the more I realized that I needed to make a change. I started re-reading two books that have influenced my views of prayer the most, Hearing God by Peter Lord and God of the Possible by Greg Boyd, and picked up  Philip Yancey’s Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?  These books and the series at church have helped motivate me greatly, and I feel that God is leading me to try the experiment that I’m about to share with you. Some people may think that this is too small but I think it’s a good way to jump-start my prayer life.

The experiment is this: for the next thirty days I’m going to spend at least one hour in concentrated prayer everyday. Through these thirty days I’m going to try different techniques, formulas, and models. Sometimes I will follow the formula I learned in seventh grade called the ACTS model (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Other times I will open the Bible and pray the through the Scriptures, mostly the Psalms, but this will not be a time of Bible study. I will also pray the prayers in books such as The Book of Common Prayer. I’ll try these multiple methods to try and determine which I find to be the most helpful for me to maintain a consistent time with God. Some time over the next 30 days I will also try to take a 3 day personal prayer retreat where I leave to go stay somewhere and leave all forms of technology behind and spend all 3 days in prayer, fasting, and Bible study. I will attempt to blog about my experiences as much as possible. Hopefully, this experiment will enhance both my prayer life and yours as well. I challenge you to try this experiment yourself and we can dialogue about what we’re going through together here on the blog.

UPDATE: As soon as I posted this blog, Greg Boyd also posted one on the same subject. I strongly recommend it. http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/my-car-crash-and-the-open-view/

Are there any prayer models like the ACTS model that you know of that you can share with me?

What are some books that have helped your prayer life?

Will you be trying the prayer experiment with me?

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