I was recently having lunch with a friend, and we were talking about our church. We were in a restaurant, and an older man at the table next to us leaned over and started an awkward conversation. He opened with, “I heard you talking about spiritual matters,” and I quickly tried to assess if he wanted to talk about God because he needed some encouragement, or if he just wanted to make a point. It was one of those where he started asking strange, pointless theological questions (like “What is God the Father’s name?” I admit I thought he was a JW trying to proselytize, so I answered, “Is the answer you’re looking for “Jehovah?”). I managed to try to get him to make a point, and he told us, “I just wanted to commend you for being spiritual girls and having faith.” Alright, cool, man. But honestly, it was like someone stopping me on the street and commending me for having brown hair. My faith is just that integral to who I am. My relationship with God is the heartbeat behind my day. It is my frame of reference for everything I do.
I say that in the hope that the following rant/ stream of consciousness will be understood as coming from someone who truly loves God and loves the Church. God is my foundation, and the Church is my home, my culture, and my family. Like every family, however, we have our issues.
There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately about how the church is losing members at a rapid rate (see some examples here, here, and here). The Barna Group published results from a 5 year project that stated up to six in ten young people who grew up in the church leave the church for an extended period (or permanently) by age 15. Much speculation has been thrown around about what is behind the mass exodus, particularly among people from my generation. It seems to fall into a few categories:
1. The church is seen as being a negative force in our society more than a positive one. They are anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-woman, and anti-science.
2. Young people feel that they are being forced to accept the church’s stance on political and social issues, or risk being outright rejected by the community.
3. After being raised in a church that separated the kids and teens from the main congregation with their own, personalized services that catered to their tastes and tried to be “relevant,” young people are bored by the “grown up” services, or feel that there is no longer a place for them.
4. Continuing on the theme of #3, nearly 50% of US adults are single (2012 census). After youth group and before the young, married with kids group, most churches don’t have a place for adult singles to find a home.
I have to admit that I have struggled with each of these points at one time or another. We’ve struggled over the course of our marriage about where we fit in our church community. It was made blaringly obvious that we did not fit in the conservative denomination in which I was raised after two years of our attempting to make it our church home. We’re just too damn liberal. Plus we like beer sometimes.
When Bryan’s sister came out of the closet, we experienced a lack of support from our church home. We were wrestling with what we believed/ their amazing relationship right in front of our faces. Instead of listening with compassion and authenticity, many (though it must be noted- not all) fellow church members recoiled in disgust at the very mention of the word “gay.” Any attempt at critical thinking or processing that resulted in conclusions that were not consistent with the “traditional” stance of the church was met with cries of “Deception!” and “Blasphemy!” I was told that God would remove his “hand of protection” from my life if we continued to love our sisters and support their relationship. It has been a year. God has not abandoned us.
I have struggled with depression several times as an adult. It is frightening, isolating, and dark. It is lonely. And it is thoroughly misunderstood. Friends, depression is a disease. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. And there is so much help available, but we have GOT to STOP stigmatizing depression. My senior pastor has depression and has bravely mentioned it from the pulpit multiple times. For that, I am so grateful. It is unbelievably frustrating to me, then, when other pastors and speakers at our church give examples of people in their sermons that are clearly struggling with depression, but fail to recognize it for what it is.
We recently heard a sermon series about guilt. There were two separate speakers who both mentioned people in their lives who told them that they knew they were forgiven by God for the bad things in their past, but they could not forgive themselves. The bad things they did came back to assault them time and time again, sometimes throughout the day, most often when they were trying to sleep. The speakers both told them to PRAY, to CLAIM GOD’S PROMISES, to ACCEPT THE BLOOD OF JESUS OVER YOUR SINS. They failed to recognize that their friends had done those things. They should have said, “Friend, if you have indeed prayed and you still have things haunting you, if you have irrational fears that you know are unlikely to come true, if you have thoughts of ending your life because you don’t think you are redeemable, if you are frightened that something terrible will happen to your family/ loved ones: I have significant reason to believe you are struggling with depression. I know where to help you find therapy. May I walk beside you through this journey? I can help you make the first phone call.”
One pastor passionately proclaimed in his sermon “You don’t need blogs! You don’t need alcohol! You don’t need sin! You don’t need medication! YOU NEED JESUS!” You know what? Sometimes you have Jesus, and you still need medication.
Bryan and I were a stereotypical Christian couple who got married right after graduating from our small, Christian college. If I hadn’t met him, if I had remained single, I think I would have a very hard time attending church right now. In fact, if we didn’t have small children, I would have trouble motivating myself to attend church. My kids love it, and I’m so thankful for that. Right now, they have a very clear place to fit in our church. I hope to help instill a faith in them that will be there to light their way, even when they are in my shoes, and don’t really know where they fit anymore.
That was all over the place, I’m aware. So many points to make, so little time. I want to keep exploring it further, and I will as the mood strikes and my small children line up their naps. I suppose my point is that I love my Church family. I love them so much. But we’re not always the best at understanding each other. There have been many times where we have been tempted to throw in the towel. If this is so hard, why are we still hanging around? Well, because the Church is our family. And you don’t leave your family.