First Church of the Ambivalent

Ambivalent: that’s my new word now when I consider the local church.

• having mixed feelings or contradictory feelings about something or someone

It’s amazing that several times a week I find that I am not alone in these feelings. Many people just don’t know what to think about the church anymore.

Just today I ran into someone from a previous church. She had left the church a few months prior to my own departure amid some stressful personal struggles and the desire to attend a church that she felt met the needs of her children more completely.

She said that in the weeks following this decision, she began to find out what her “supposed” church community was all about. Her choice to leave the church was met with mixed reviews, with some people being downright offended. People from her small group that called her on a regular basis stopped calling. People she would call suddenly were too busy to get together. And, in the midst of her personal needs, when she really needed some of these “tried and true” friends, they were nowhere to be found. While she had served this church and loved the people there for years, she felt a mixed bag of sadness and rage at the way she was now being treated.

This lady told me today that it has been in the midst of her crisis that she has discovered what it truly means to be supported and loved by those that genuinely care for her. With some reservation and dismay, she told me that she has found that love and support more consistently from those outside the walls of the church. Many times she has felt like saying a big “F-You” to the church, but has found a safe place to attend, that is allowing her to heal and be restored physically, spiritually and emotionally.

It was truly wonderful seeing this person again today. We shared our stories and I left feeling encouraged by the encounter. It seemed that here was another soul that felt that her life began to be more meaningful when she stopped expecting the church to meet her every need. Yet most pastors are trying to create a place where the needs of people are met. The way I now view this is that most pastors are trying to create a place where people develop an unhealthy dependence on the body of Christ to meet their needs. I don’t believe pastors always knowingly are doing this nor do I think they mean genuine harm with their actions.

Lately as I have thought about going back to church, I am trying to figure out the big question, “Why?”

I just get the feeling that many church people, both consciously and subconsciously, are trying to figure this thing out. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I am inspired by the desire of the human spirit to connect with something greater than themselves. It is equally encouraging to know that this connection we seek doesn’t require a pastor, worship leader, small group leader, or Sunday School teacher. We are all quite capable of connecting to our Creator on our own. Or maybe it is our Creator that is quite capable of connecting with us in the manner with which he sees fit. Not in a way that is cajoled, manufactured or manipulated in any way, shape or form.

I describe my spiritual development now as “organic”. It is a more natural process that flows from my everyday experiences and seems less tied to where others want me or expect me to be. This doesn’t mean I live a life of isolation or possess a lack of accountability. Quite the contrary. But my life, unsurrounded and unencumbered by the weekly or multi-weekly church experience is based in a sense of reality and normalcy that I haven’t heretofore experienced. Overall, it seems healthier.

I just think we should all stop going to church, at least for awhile… well I already have, so maybe this is more directed at those of you that still are going. More and more I have come to believe that real life, real connections, and the real journey we are looking for is awaiting us outside of the church.

13 thoughts on “First Church of the Ambivalent”

  1. I don’t think the problem is pastors/church people trying to meet our needs, it’s their frantic attempt to keep up with our WANTS…just like the world. Actually, the world creates artificial needs (“felt needs”) through marketing and sales, and the church winds up trying to meet <>those<> instead of real needs (such as the unconditional love and acceptance that your lady friend, and I, found lacking once we left the church).Meeting real needs is hard. That whole love your neighbor/love your enemy thing—whew! what a <>bur-den<>!. So maybe we can just turn people on to Jesus by meeting their wants instead. But after awhile, as all of us here have discovered, we find those real needs not being met. Once we wake up from all the warm fuzzies, the ego-stroking (or soul-bashing), and the senses titillated and find that we’re still naked, cold, and alone, without love and without real growth, we take our bruised, broken, and weary spirits and search elsewhere. And often what we find is a world full of warmth, color, and people who love us for who we are instead of what we represent or what we’re trying to “sell.” Yet churches keep trying to “sell” us what we don’t need (and have finally realized we don’t want): a form of religion robbed of its power. A cheap “spiritualized” imitation of a circus/mall/movie theatre. When I can get these “wants” met at my local entertainment complex or shopping mall, why would I settle for an inferior (usually copy-cat) version? My needs, and perhaps more importantly, the needs of the truly needy are still unmet, and the church isn’t answering the call.All Churches who operate this way should have a new slogan:“Our Church…more of what you want, less of what you need!”

  2. <>We are all quite capable of connecting to our Creator on our own. <>Coming from the Protestant tradition as we both do, that’s supposed to be the point of our religion — and yet, it isn’t, not in practice. We instead need books, CDs, clergy, and specially appointed buildings to practice our religion when we shouldn’t at all. I’ve kind of stopped going to church again recently, over the past few weeks. I’d rather spend the energy I spend going to the service, sitting through a sermon where I spend half the time mentally disagreeing with the pastor, and then chatting with people for a scant 15 minutes afterward (I like the chatting best) doing something else — like, spending an entire hour and fifteen minutes spending real time with people and having conversations or goofing off or whatever. That was the case for me this weekend, and I don’t regret the choice.

  3. Of course, if all your readers stopped going to church, then they’d stop being Stupid Church People, wouldn’t they? It would be more like Stupid Unchurched People (‘sup?)Joking aside, the last few years of my life have been a journey in trying to learn what real realationships are with real people who want to be in my life, not because they feel like they should (which is what the church often fosters) but because they want to.The flip side of that is not being able to trust people as easily as I think I used to. When I left different churches and found out how superficial the relationships truly were (I actually found it odd that church relationships seemed more superficial than work ones…I’m still friends with many former co-workers, and not hardly with any former church-goers, to whom I would have said at the time I was much closer), I realized I didn’t know what it was to trust that someone wanted a realationship with me just because of who I was.Even now, I find myself asking and questioning why someone would want to be friends with me. What do they want? What are they getting out of it? What is the thing that ties us together that would render the friendship meaningless and “old” were it to disappear (like going to the same church). I think churches foster a strange kind of intimacy that isn’t real, maybe. Or maybe it’s based on the wrong things from the get-go.All in all, I really truly have felt the best in my life not belonging to any kind of church. I still can’t ever imagine wanting to go back to one. I almost felt like my real life began when I walked away from church at the end of 2002.

  4. <>most pastors are trying to create a place where people develop an unhealthy dependence on the body of Christ to meet their needs.<>Like McDonalds or the tobacco companies, building in elements of addiction help develop job security for those who receive their paycheck from the church.

  5. I think all of these strange feelings, awkward relationships, and disingenuine friendships stem from the church’s unhealthy and unbiblical focus on evangilism. We’ve all been pimping Jesus for so long that we don’t know how to have a genuine relationship; we’re always trying to close the deal! Oh, your having personal problems, have I told you about Jesus? No kidding, you just got a raise, that’s great, let me tell you about Jesus. You just got a new cat, great, name him Jesus! People (especially people outside of church) don’t want to be bombarded with Jesus. They need to warm up to the idea. We spend so much time selling our lord because we feel like “conversions” some how count in heaven. Here’s another jewel for your crown! Or, is it the other end of the spectrum, we fear if we don’t make quota that we won’t get in to get the crown? Regardless, it turns people off.

  6. Nun, I love your slogan! 😉 I fear that I am becoming disillusioned with my evangelical roots, or maybe I should be rejoicing. I go into it in greater detail on my blog. I’m at a crossroads in my spiritual journey, do I walk away from the church I’m in because I think they’re focused solely on getting a decision for Jesus instead of making a disciple of Christ? Or do I stay where I am, toss aside the theological differences I have with most of the pastors and look for a way to dig deeper and hope that will satisfy me?

  7. One of the most important things I discovered as a Benedictine monk was the crux of a meaningful existence is dependent upon on how we chose to relate…to ourselves, to our God, to others, and to temporal objects. While my fellow monks did a great job at respecting the earth, outsiders, and Church traditions, they routinely struggled with the most basic of brother to brother relationships. An axiom of our reality is that it is easier to destroy than to create. Our time on earth is far too short to waste it on judging or controlling others. The only things we can truly control in our lives are the choices we make in response to the events of the world around us. We can choose to build or destroy. A thoughtless or selfish word, or action, can destroy – in seconds – something that took a lifetime to create. Choose wisely.

  8. Can I just say that I’m so glad I’m not the only person who feels this way? Seriously, thanks for all of this. I could blab on and on. Share my own story, but I won’t. I’ll just say that I relate to your friend in a way that both breaks my heart and empowers me. Stupid Church People, indeed.

  9. I have just stumbled into your space. And found the honesty very refreshing! I am absolutely disillusioned with the way we “sell jesus” for the increased offering/numerical count or personal popularity. The moment of greatest relief is when we discover that God is not owned by a church. And that God is mostly present outside the church structures. My joy is knowing that God does not need the Church in order to love me.

  10. I guess you hear me say this all the time, but I don’t think we should all give up on going to church or being a part of a church. As Ninjanun alluded to, the problem in churches is found in how we respond and interact with each other. I try to keep a balance of Christian and non-Christian friends but if I don’t find the Christian relationships to be filled with love, respect, and forgiveness, I challenge those people to include those things in their lives. If they don’t change, I don’t go to them for those real needs to be fulfilled. But I don not give up on God’s institution just because it is packed with messed up people like myself. I believe that we are part of the problem or the solution. And I don’t believe in giving up on the very thing God designed for the benefit of his followers and the rest of the earth (His Church).

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