Posted by: minnow | June 14, 2008

Bleeding Out

In my last post I confessed that I was taking a vacation from Building-Based Christianity. At this point the easy way out for me would be to find all the reasons I can to justify leaving (in other words, point my finger at the problems I see within the Church) and be glad I got out. Such as attitude, however, is decidedly not Christ-like. In truth, my hard heart toward the Church is responsible for my need to take a break. But, if I am truly going to be a follower of Christ I need to find a way to soften my heart toward His bride.

Back in the day–thirty years ago when I was a mere college student–I saw a thought provoking original play called Masques. The masks the characters in the play wore were elaborate, bejeweled, and on sticks. Being on sticks they made other activity rather difficult. The masks themselves were beautiful so no matter what was underneath one could only see a shimmering, perfectly put together, veneer. I believe much of the Church has become like the characters in that play. For a variety of reasons we have put masks on–beautiful, shimmering, heavy, masks.

One problem with wearing masks is that the pain or confusion behind the mask is never seen.  Unseen, it is also unresolved.  Another problem with masks is that we get accustom to seeing them on others.  In fact we get so used to them that we forget we are seeing them and start to think what we see in others is real.  The trouble is the weight of our own mask does not allow us to ignore or forget it.  Yet because we think what we see in others is real we are even more determined to keep our mask firmly set lest they see we do not measure up.  This self focus causes us to be even less aware of the masks others are wearing.  When the stress and strain and weight of life causes those masks to slip a little, we hardly notice.  Our lack of concern, when shown a glimpse of the person behind the mask, causes a redoubling of their efforts to hold their mask in place.  After all, isn’t it obvious, “they don’t want anything to do with us if we don’t measure up to the standard of the mask.”  Ouch.

The standard of the mask does not apply to everyone within the Church.  But, in my experience it does fit the majority of people in the majority of fellowships.  I do not know how we came to adopt this standard or why we seem bent on maintaining it.  The fact of it however, explains for me a few other problems the Church faces.  For example, the wounded are not usually the ones who reach out to the hurting.  Thus we wait in our pews for help to arrive but the medics cannot see where our wounds are because our masks are in the way.  We do not dare to cry out for help since the last time we tried that we drew fire from the enemy instead.  In the end, our wounds go untreated making us even less likely to reach out to others. 

I am afraid that unless we find a way to rid the Church of the standard of the mask the Church is in danger of bleeding out.  When the wounded within the Church no longer have the energy to hold their masks in place they do not just drop their masks, they leave the building.  Some find other fellowships but most simply quit looking for the Church to be a safe place, a healing place, a place to let go of their masks.

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Responses

  1. I don’t even know where to start to comment. but here I go anyway, I feel I have to try……when I use “the church” I am including building-based and non-building-based….I really just mean The Church – the body of Chrsit – the believers.

    I know what you’re feeling I really do….. but I also have some questions to ask you and myself.

    What do we expect the church to be for us that it is not fulfilling whatever we want? Why exactly are we hurting? Are we ourselves just being self-focused and therefore part of the problem? What is the real problem really? Why are we hurt? can the church really solve our ‘issue’ or are we looking for the wrong thing to fill/fix us? what exactly IS the role/purpose of the church then!??!

    I just have to beleive that sometimes the best way to heal the wounds we have and to heal our hurting…. is not to reach out to church “leadership” looking for help – but to reach out to somebody that is just barely clinging to the church like we are. I have to believe that our relationship to the church is a LOT like a marriage. in marriage and relationship between Jesus/Church/Us….the only way to truly get closer to the church is to get closer to God. Getting closer to Him, automatically by default gets you closer to the church…..the only way it doesn’t is if we deliberately push away.

    That’s all I have for now – but there’s a start of my many questions on my heart.

  2. Hi minnowspeak. Do you spend any time over at Michael Spencer’s blog at http://jesusshaped.wordpress.com/ ? He was very involved in “building based” churches, but right now, he is not attending a church in a building for reasons that surfaced after his wife announced she was becoming a Catholic. He writes well and you may find some comfort in knowing that there are a lot of us out here trying to drop the masks and trying to live the way Jesus wants us to live, whether we are a member of a building-based church or not.

    Joanie D.

  3. Randi–
    I sure appreciate your willingness to pursue this issue with me. I like working with questions, too. (I better I’ve got boat loads).
    Perhaps the fellowship you go to is a-typical and doesn’t look much or at all like the picture of Building-Based Christianity I have painted when I talk about problems facing the Church. Maybe what I see as problems don’t impact you or aren’t “problems” from your point of view. Or, maybe you have already gotten (with regard to your ability to grace-fully function within the Building) to the place I hope I am heading.
    I do make a distinction between the Church meaning Building-Based Christianity and the Church meaning the people. I usually try to use the terms Building-Based Christianity or fellowship and the Body or the people to make that distinction. I think without the distinction between organization and people addressing the problems facing the Church becomes much more difficult.
    I’m not sure this is what you were implying but I do understand that the Church is supposed to be the people or in other words we (Christians) are supposed to be the Church. However, we most often used that term to talk about our places of worship, as in “where do you go to Church?” so the term Church kind of muddies our ability to communicate well. I’ll try to remember when you use the term you are being inclusive but I will still try to draw a distinction when I write–okay?
    It’s great to say, “Jesus is the answer” and “God is the only one who can solve our problems” but the reality is God works through the Body to minister to a broken and lost world. And, He uses one part of the Body to minister to other parts of the Body. We are called to be His ambassadors. And, we are instructed to “Go!” witness, make disciples, heal, etc. In fact scripture is full of instruction as to how we should relate to one another both inside and outside the Building. So, as far as your questions about the purpose of the Church go, I think in part we are supposed to point the way to the Answer and in part we are to example Christ’s heart toward the Father, one another, and even our enemies. My fear is–we are not really functioning the way we are supposed to function.
    I think the Church outside of the United States, both as organization and as people, looks considerably different from the Church inside the United States. Outside, at least in lesser developed countries, the Church more closely resembles what we see in Acts. I bring this point up because many of my “issues” stem from the ways in which the Church no longer looks or acts like its origin.
    You asked, “What is the real problem really? Why are we hurt?” The short answer to that question is–Sin. We are hurting because of Sin. And, we are dysfunctional because of Sin. Our sins are basically symptoms of our Sin. I see Sin as turning away from God and repentance as turning back toward Him. All the rest, for me, are symptoms. Anyway, you don’t have to agree with my definition. The answer “that sin is the real problem” still holds true (big or little S). But, that leaves me with more questions not fewer. What do we do about Sin? How do we get to repentance and/or encourage others to get to that point? What part does/should the Body or our fellowships have in the process? And more importantly–how successful are we in the role we have?
    Well, this is long enough to be a whole other post. I hope it’s not overwhelming. I await your answers to the questions you asked but didn’t answer yet, or to the ones I asked. Blessings on your day.

  4. Hey Joanie–
    Good to hear from you. You’ve been on my mind for a couple days now. Sorry I didn’t just drop you a quick e-mail. I’ve never been to Jesusshaped but I’ll check it out. thank you for the referal. Hope summer is treating you kindly.

  5. Hey again!
    I understand what you’re saying and will just have to believe you when you say that the church in America looks so much different than out – because I’ve never ever seen a church outside of America. I have no doubt that the church in America isn’t what it’s supposed to be; but I believe the church is the church no matter how you put it. The church are followers of Christ – and I know God lead me to the church arround me for a reason.

    My doubt is that the right thing for believers to do is to walk away from it. To throw our hands in the air and say, “that’s IT you Bible based church that God lead me to —- you’re never going to change – you are not even worth the risk of loving you again and leaving myself open to hurt”

    People who walk away from where God lead them because the people are imperfect….who leave because they don’t feel fulfilled or valued remind me of people who give up on their marriage. We are called to put ourselves second not first, right?

    All the scripture I know about relationships says to take it to God and to trust that HE will change others. All the scripture says to look past the wrong in others, including congregations, and to focus on Christ – to be the example of the change we want to see. I Cor 1:10, Phil 2:1-2, JOhn 13:35. We have to worry about fixing ourselves and worry about loving on others not vice versa.

    The body of Christ – the church – are simply followers of Christ right? Including people who go to building-based fellowships. How we get along with those people – as well as people not in building-based fellowships is supposed to be our testimony for the world. Above all else how we love others above ourself is the greatest testimony for Jesus isn’t it? what does it say to the world when believers of Christ desert each other and can’t even get along with each other?

    When I ask, “‘what do we expect the church to be for us that it is not fulfilling”

    To be direct, what I mean is specifically, is your real issue with the church what they haven’t done for YOU or what they haven’t done for others?

    When I ask, “Why exactly are we hurting? Are we ourselves just being self-focused and therefore part of the problem?”

    I mean — why have they hurt you so bad? Why are you upset with the building-based church you went to/go to?

    When I ask, “can the church really solve our ‘issue’ or are we looking for the wrong thing to fill/fix us?”

    what I mean is — are we asking the church to fill an area that only the spirit and Jesus Himself and fill and fix?

    I am not trying to be at all judgemental or even harsh at all —- these are just questions I have asked ME that I want to ask you too!

    The building-based church I go is as sin-filled as the next. I’ve been hurt as bad as the rest but a wise mentor told me that it’s not my job to focus on the bad in anybody or anything – it’s my job to encourage out the good and offer grace and mercy to all.

    Building-based church is only one part of my spiritual journey and quite frankly, I am still trying to find my place in it and it’s place in me — but I know this – I won’t give up on it. I will continue to go and reach out to others I see hurting there. It’s worth the risk of the pain I might feel. Jesus IS enough for me and He does always fill me up again to be able to love and give when it doesn’t seem possible.

    so basically — my question is, is your issue with your church about you? explain more to me what your real issue is and how you believe it can be “fixed”?? OR it’s not about YOU at all? what exactly is it about? You can’t do what you want to do out of the building based church…IN the building based church?

    phewww and a reminder again — this is not me preaching – this is me talking to myself as well as you.

    thanks again for such a thought-provoking post 🙂

  6. You said, “We are called to put ourselves second not first, right?” I understand where you get this idea. It’s actually a common assumption fed by scripture like Philippians 2:3. But, while some scriptures do talk about preferring one another, the Bible actually tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, meaning in the same way or like we want to be loved. Verse 4 in Philippians 2 further clarifies the first few verses by talking about not being concerned with our own interests ONLY. I have found it pretty impossible to love from an empty bucket. I might be able to make it look right on the outside (for a little while anyway) but on the inside I usually end up sowing seeds of bitterness. Your mentor sounds very wise and I think we can all benefit from practicing that kind of advice, especially when we are in the trenches working with people who are coming from places of darkness and deep woundedness.
    You asked, “is your real issue with the church what they haven’t done for YOU or what they haven’t done for others?” Neither and both. When we look across the various denominations in America those sitting in the pews together are, for the most part, very similar to one another. In other words, to be blunt, Church attendance in any one particular building cuts along racial and economic lines. We are not simply like minded (all lovers of Jesus) we are alike in color and dress. Remember, I am not talking 100% I am say the vast majority. I have a problem with this because who we are and the values we hold put a face on the Jesus we embrace. When that face is never challenged by the cultural and economic differences of others we are in danger of living out prejudices we don’t even know we have. For example, where does the prosperity gospel come from? Certainly not the Bible. (I did a series of posts a while back on tithing and another one on women in ministry so I won’t go into those topics here but they touch on some other “issues” I have with Building-based Christianity).
    It took me a long time–twenty plus years and nine different fellowships (I wasn’t church hopping we actually moved most of those times) to realize that my discontent was not fellowship specific. I am actually frustrated with the way contemporary Christians do Church–the values we promote, the ways we use our resources, our attitudes toward “the lost” (including all the denominations/traditions that don’t include our own). It bugs me that a committee can be formed and have to limit its numbers when it comes to picking out the color of the new carpet in the foyer but when some one asks what we should do about the homeless man who goes through our dumpsters on Monday morning looking for the food we’ve thrown out the question is tabled until the next meeting. I am angry that my fellowship wants $50 per person more each month so that it can put in a new parking lot and keep our ministry rolling but for the same $50 dollars I could feed, house, and educate five African children every month through an organization like Bread for the World. For me there is something wrong with this picture. I hear Jesus’ words toward the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers” and wonder what He would be saying to the Church today.
    You asked, “are we asking the church to fill an area that only the spirit and Jesus Himself can fill and fix?” This question makes me see that I have not been as clear in making my distinctions between the Building and the people as I thought I was being. My frustrations are truly with those in control who I lump in with the Building because they are directing traffic so to speak. They are responsible for casting vision for ministry. They are the decision makers; they hold the money pouch. Granted, depending on the fellowship this may be one person or a dozen plus. Some fellowships even give all their “members” a vote on certain decisions. For me, the control center is the organization/building and the rest are the people.
    Now to your real question–certainly we make the mistake of wanting other people to fix our problems and heal our hurts. And God not man is able to provide all that we need. Yet, how does God choose to work? And, are we, His Body, willing to be used? What need does God put in our path every week that you and I simply walk past? Are we looking for an assignment from God for the day or simply going about our business from one Sunday to the next? Perhaps this is part of the point you are making as well but I also ask is any of this being preached? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a “give and it will be given to you” sermon but never once has an answer for the when and how been included. Jesus somehow miraculously manifests a pot of gold on your door step (if you give the one you already have to the Church). And if He doesn’t, well then something must be wrong with your prayer life or maybe you’re harboring some un-confessed sin or… Yes, I’m being sarcastic yet I’m also being quite honest. I have been part of the inner circle on more than one occasion and my husband and I have always been active participants (part of the 20% who do 80% of the work). The inner circle and the 20% who manage to avoid a self-righteous attitude toward the remaining 80% on the inside and the 100% on the outside are truly few and far between. When some of that attitude spills out onto the 20% we too feel hurts but those aren’t really the kind I was talking about. The hurt I am talking about are things we hide or worse that when shared earn us the label loser, hurt like kids who get caught up in drugs, run away, get STDs, parent babies outside of marriage or relationships that are broken or abusive, alcoholism, pornography addictions, eating disorders. This is not a picture of the world; it is a picture of the inside of our buildings only few are really dealing with the messes mostly because we think we are the only ones who are hiding. The 20% should be training medics but instead we seem to be telling people to straighten up their masks. My fear is that the Building is too concerned with keeping the status quo (maintaining job security and polishing the Sunday morning show) to even consider the thought that we might in truth be whitewashing tombs.
    Okay–I’ve said my piece. But, I have a few questions. I would like to hear your views on these and on what you‘ve already brought up. What should the function of the Building be? How much time and what portion of our resources should go to maintaining the Building? What does it mean to make disciples and how should we do that? How should the Church minister to its wounded? Or is that even our responsibility? What is the correct way to address the problems we see with how the Church functions so that we can all honestly come to agreement? This is way long so I’ll stop. I hope I’ve been a little clearer regarding what my Building issues are. Please know this I am not giving up. I am taking a break. I need to work on my own heart issues–talking with you is actually helping–so that when (not if) I return I can be a healthy, positive, and productive part of the Body.

  7. Oh wow Minnow that was awesome. You are obviously a LOT more educated & experienced than I am…. and right now I have no reply — but I am so thankful for God bringing you into my life right now!

    I have never heard anybody talk the way you do — which I believe is always a great thing. I absolutely believe that totally devoted followers are the minority and I absolutely believe that being christlike is radical and not just going with the flow of the masses.

    I can’t wait to ‘talk’ more. You have my email so maybe we can talk that way — it’s getting kind of confusing like this haha. But I will come back and reply soon.

    Best wishes, and good stuff!! 🙂


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