Disclaimer: I am not referring in this post to people who need to cut ties with a theologically unsound church because of serious toxic culture and people issues; nor to those who are temporarily in the short-term process of searching for a church home. I recognize there are legitimate concerns and reasons to change churches or to resonate more strongly with one or another, something that varies from person to person. I have concerns, however, with the gypsy mentality that just never sets down relational roots anywhere and that is what I am talking about here. So read carefully, and if it doesn’t apply to your situation, it must be for someone else, so please no hate mail or wounded defensiveness. I am NOT trying to personally attack anyone!
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
A recent blog post from Proverbs 31 Ministries made me start thinking again about something that has been on my mind for a while, and especially the last few months because I’ve noticed what to me is an odd trend for Christians, at least in my circles. It kind of bothers me, quite frankly because the aversion to hanging out with imperfect people seems like a tool of the enemy to divide and disconnect the Christian witness of believers even further as we look at an increasingly hostile world and a growing number of signs that Jesus mentioned in His description of end times. (This is not my main point so if you want to discuss/debate end times theology, please choose another time and place!)
In the process of describing the importance of weekly fellowship with other believers, P31 blogger Arlene Pellicane mentions several typical reasons why people stop going to church services. Accusations of hypocrisy, past hurts, “I can do it myself,” or the modern pandemic of over-busyness. I have heard all of them before so she is right in her partial list of excuses. However, I have heard variations on a theme the last few months from several people who by all appearances are established members of a local fellowship, but suddenly start bailing or avoiding services for petty personal preferences.
Furthermore, I have noticed the last ten years or so, more and more people are doing the church gypsy thing on a more or less permanent basis. They go wherever their fancy takes them — or not, for any given service. Or they go somewhere for a few months or years and then just up and move on with no better excuse than “It’s just time for a change.” No mention of GOD is calling them to something new, which would be a legitimate reason. Just “I’m bored and need a change of scenery.” Or worse, “I’ve learned everything that this pastor has to say. I need new material,” or “The new worship/youth leader just isn’t my cup of tea. He/she isn’t meeting my needs/expectations.” Or “I’ll only come when so and so is teaching/leading worship.”
What concerns me is the common theme that they are putting all the responsibility on the ministry leaders for carrying the weight of the whole worship experience and faith growth all by themselves without acknowledging that the quality of their relationship with GOD is a participatory activity. No relationship can survive long when one person expects to be passively entertained, nurtured and served by another without any reciprocal effort to maintain their end of the relationship. Of course, serving should never be about what you’re going to get out of it, but when one person is doing all the giving while the other only takes and feels entitled to it, that is a patently toxically unhealthy relationship! It doesn’t work in human relationships and it won’t work with GOD and His church either!!
It is worrisome in a time when Christians need to be pulling together more than ever that the trend is more and more toward an impersonal disconnect, even in the local church. It almost feels like there’s this determined bent to avoid relationships at all. Maybe because the world tells us busy is the way to be, or maybe because of the isolation brought on by modern technology; or maybe because we are all imperfect people who undoubtedly have the capacity to hurt each other, intentionally or unintentionally.
Whatever the reason, avoiding gathering together robs believers of their God-designed spiritual and emotional support network to walk with each other through whatever spiritual, physical, financial, relational/emotional and practical trials life throws at us. It shortchanges people their opportunities to serve one another the way Christ served His church. If I bail as soon as something isn’t exactly to my liking or which stretches my limitations or vision and fail to consider that I may be in the wrong or that I may learn something from an unexpected person or circumstance, I may be missing an opportunity to let GOD grow me outside my comfort zone and come out better and stronger in faith for it.
Having found a Biblically-sound church, with a heart of true worship and fellowship, and invested time in becoming established and building relationships there, it is beyond petty to start distancing oneself because of personalities or seasons that pass in the night; or because I am experiencing a temporary spiritual low and blaming it on the leaders instead of looking to strengthen myself in the Word. I will not find any permanent answer or solution by running around looking for someone else to meet my emotional/spiritual void instead of investing myself in growing right where I am. It’s like they say, “The problem with running away to ‘find myself’ is that wherever I go, there I am.”
Worship and ministry leaders can come and go. One may resonate more strongly than another with different people. But just as in any relationship, I have to take responsibility for my own worship and faith experience and carry my own weight or I am in danger of falling into a personality cult mentality instead of keeping my focus on GOD. If the quality of my faith depends wholly on the person up front giving me all my favorite feelies all the time, my focus is in the wrong place! If I avoid “gathering” because of unmet stylistic personal preferences, I am putting too much responsibility for my relationship with God and His church in the hands of fallible human beings who will never be able to meet all my needs anyway. It’s not their job to carry all the relational weight on both sides and if that is what I expect, I will surely live in a perpetual state of disappointment and unhealthy relationships. If the eyes of my heart are fixed on communing with my GOD and being a conduit of His grace and mercy to others, I can have sweet worship and fellowship no matter what’s happening or not happening on stage!
If this convicts you or causes your defensive hackles to start rising, please talk to GOD about it. Be open to the leading of His Holy Spirit and listen for His still small whisper of course correction. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in particular so if this speaks to you in some way, it may be that you and GOD have some issues to work out one on one. And if GOD actually IS calling you to a new ministry or season of life, by all means, always go with what GOD says…just make sure it is Him speaking and not your own wounded ego or pride or unrealistic expectations.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous for the LORD your GOD will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
I am not ashamed for I know in Whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12