Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga: All Is Stripped Away

As I've been blogging through this church shopping experience,  the song "The Heart of Worship" by Matt Redman has come to my mind, specifically, the line "all is stripped away, and I simply come"

We have so much extraneous stuff that goes along with church as we know it:
  • the sermon
  • the music
  • how to dress
  • the polite small talk
  • the offering(s)
  • the kids programs
  • the Sunday school classes
  • the small groups
  • the coffee hour
  • ____________________ (fill in the blank with whatever I've forgotten)
And I wonder how much we need.  How much of this is important?  What if it all was stripped away and we came simply to worship?  What would happen?  What would happen if a group of people showed up at a church some Sunday morning and nothing was planned:  no  music, no sermon, no childcare, no Sunday school classes.  What would you do?  What if people were invited to talk with each other, or pray together in groups of 2 or 3, or spend time alone with God?  What if someone could feel free to simply read her Bible for an hour without being expected to make small talk?  What if people could discuss topics or parts of the Bible that they'd been thinking about that week?  What if it felt more like a gathering of friends?

But wait, you say, that's what church potlucks are for; that's when we gather as friends.

And how often do those happen?  Maybe once per month?  Even a weekly meal together doesn't necessarily bring people together on a level that is desperately needed today.  We fill our moments with each other talking about our jobs or politics or television shows or movies or how busy we are (the busier we are, the more of a badge of honor it is) but how often do we get to know each other's hearts?

But wait, you say, that's what small groups are for; that's when we get to know each other.

Ok.  So we meet in a small group weekly or twice per month, and we do the icebreaker questions where we have to say what kind of animal we'd like to be or what we'd want to take with us if we were stranded on a desert island.  And then we get to the Bible Study, and it might be tentative discussion at first until people start becoming more comfortable with each other.  And, little by little, people begin to share thoughts and ideas and their lives.  This is a good thing.  I have been in numerous small groups and have found them to be valuable in making friends and learning about the Bible--often more so than a church service.  At the same time, though, there was also an invisible hesitation hanging around in the room, and maybe it was only mine, but it often seemed as though we would get stuck at a certain level of friendship.  There was some invisible barrier that kept us from having a truly intimate friendship with each other.  And, to be frank, I am not even sure what that should look like; it's just something that I sense:  we could go deeper, but we don't.

This is all very odd to met that I even long for this, because I don't like sharing and letting people get too close to me.  But at the same time, I have a deep sense that our typical surface relationships are not enough.  And in our large Sunday morning gatherings, we just do not have the time to really get to know each other.  Even if a church has a great "small group" program and we are encouraged to get into one, that is "extra" and not the focus.  It is seen as secondary to the Sunday morning gathering.  It's almost as if the way to build real, deep, and lasting relationships is hidden away.

How do you build deep friendships in church?  Do you ever long for more than is typical?  If you don't go to a typical church, what is it like for you?  Does your church emphasize relationships with each other?  What would it look like in your church to have all stripped away and come simply to worship?


Joy said...

I have found there is tension in small groups that practice the "empty chair." Leaving a chair open is practiced because the group is to remain welcoming to others and then be willing to split. A small group Bible study we are in practiced that, and did have the tension you speak of - especially during those times that we added to our group. We never split. One couple moved, another had to stop coming for time commitments and then yet another moved away - but somewhere along the line, we stopped feeling the need to look for others to join and simply abided in what was. We then reached the intimacy you long for in a group and have shared many of life's holy moments on deeply personal levels. Always only as deep as each person is willing to share, but all respect and understand one another's capacity for sharing. And our level of confidentiality is life-giving. We really get to share what we are thinking and struggling with. It's been 15+ years. Our one to two times a month gatherings are priorities. We are blessed. Don't lose hope.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have stepped outside the church system and fellowship with other sisters in Christ via Skype or phone. I agree that there is a level of caution when it comes to small groups and especially church. There is a cultural standard to keep up and if you don't then you aren't one of 'in' people at church. I've been reading the Bible on my own (finally) and there is so much depth and meaning that an hr sermon just can't grasp in words. I would be thrilled to hear more about your experience church shopping since I had been previously doing that. I also read your guest post for Alise Writes. It was lovely. Have you ever read Girl Meets God?

Kelly said...

Thanks, Broken. I have seen that problem of "in groups" in churches before. I remember one church I went to where the pastor would usually sit with the same group of people at all-church potlucks. At another church I went to, the pastor would sit with different people each time. I know which one I think cared more about *all* of the people in the church ;) That's great you are reading the bible on your own finally. Yes, there is a lot that a sermon cannot cover--writing a sermon can be a very hard thing. Some people will be disappointed or angry if X is left out or that X was included! Thanks for reading my post at Alise's place; it was fun to write! I did read Girl Meets God a few years ago and loved it.

Anonymous said...

I loved that book too. I almost took Hebrew at my local CC. I always enjoy finding other bloggers who can relate to me. Hopefully my blog isn't too strange for you. Feel free to comment on any of my posts.

Tia Dye said...

Very interesting points about 'what would you do'. I had a friend commenting something like this on one of my blog posts, and I think I will go back and share the link to this post of yours for him. Yesterday I posted about trust. Some ladies in our bible study organization came back from conference with a realization that our group of ladies shows up to study too 'put together'. In the time that they usually use for encouraging testimonies about coming to God and being a part of each other's lives, a few came forward and removed the 'put together' facade. They shared, with tears in their eyes, the true difficulties they had not revealed. THAT is what builds relationships. THAT is what opens the heart to be a part of another's life. That realization that it is ok to show the weakness. I had something in common with each of those three women that I would have never guessed.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

I've often thought that even though church is the place where we really should be able to be our most authentic selves, it's often the last place it happens (and I am just as guilty of that as anyone).