Thursday, November 15, 2018

How do we know when we are being "CHURCHY?" & how can we stop?

By THIS all will know you are MY disciples...
    Being  CHURCHY smothers friendship, does not promote love, and hinders the work of the Gospel. 
   That is why we must make every effort not to be "Churchy" Christians.
   When we are, we hurt people.
   We drive people away.
   And sometimes, we drive them away from more than just ourselves or our church fellowships....
CHURCHY Christianity, produces a paradigm I call "Churchianity."
What does CHURCHIANITY look like? I'll share a  personal experience as an example.
   I had plans one evening to attend a regularly scheduled Bible Study at a local assembly. The pastors and I had known and respected one another for many years.
   Because the pastors of this church are much more than acquaintances to me, I call them friends. But I am forced to use the term loosely, because the reality is, they fall just shy of being true friends. 
   The reason is CHURCHIANITY. 
   I can love them and support them [and their ministry] in many ways, but cannot include them in my inner circle of true friends, because I fully appreciate their limitations in relating to people in the capacity of true friendship--which requires functional equality, transparent honesty [while maintaining healthy boundaries], and genuine respect.
   These are good people. They are not dysfunctional in the traditional sense--they are truly lovely in most respects. But they are dysfunctional in the religious sense.
   You see, the shield of their "pastorship" stands on full alert against the equality and intimacy that true friendship demands. 
   Do not misunderstand. I do not encourage disrespect of callings and positions of leadership, we should love and honor leaders who exhibit good examples of Christian living. And even CHURCHY Christians generally have admirable traits as well. What I am addressing in this post, is hiding behind titles, positions,  religiousity, and CHURCHIANITY, which things become more important than relationships
   I have observed that many [basically good-hearted] Christians are unable to lower the shields of their "position" or CHURCHINESS--ever. And it does damage in the lives of God's people.
   Sadly, many seminaries teach future pastors and Christian leaders, that the position of the couple in my story is the correct posture for pastors and their wives to take--but I disagree. 
   The family relationship that connects every member of the Body of Christ  cannot flourish in a hierarchical, military-like, chain-of-command, structure that overwhelmingly produces CHURCHY and JUDGEMENTAL Christians, who fail to relate fully to those who may need their love and friendship but are instead rebuked, even rejected, when they make choices that may not be wrong but fall outside the paradigm of CHURCHIANITY.
   While appreciating this couple's many gifts and strengths--and their sincere passion for the Gospel--I understand that they embrace the paradigm of hierarchical Christianity which comes with filters that cloud discernment and prevents true empathy and bonding in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
   Back to my story:
   Since I had communicated with the pastor's wife about my plans to attend that evening, and she was expecting to see me, I felt it only right to let her know I would not be coming.
   The reason? Earlier that afternoon, I  had learned that a dear friend [of almost twenty years] had passed away. The knowledge had come in an unexpected and rather shocking fashion. He ran a local Christian outreach, and I had gone to visit him at his ministry location only to find that he had died and no one had told me. It was a misunderstanding concerning my contact information. They thought it was incorrect and had discarded it as obsolete. 
   My friend and I had not been in regular communication for some years. Life had taken our ministries in different directions. But our strong bond of friendship had been forged through working closely together during my street ministry years and beyond. 
   Neither of us like to chat on the phone, and he did not do social media, so there had been little communication between us aside from occasional reunions. But he had been a beloved friend, a part of the landscape of my life for twenty years. And now that landscape had been unexpectedly and dramatically changed...and I was heartbroken at the look of it, at the loss of my friend, brother, ally, and mentor.
   Since I was expected to be at the Bible study that evening (I was not teaching it), I texted the pastor's wife and told her that I would not be there after all, that a dear friend had died, I had been very weepy all afternoon, and I simply did not feel like interacting with people or going anywhere that evening, not even to church.
   The "CHURCHY" response I received to that text,  flabbergasted me. 
   And to be completely honest, it totally ticked me off. 
   I had obviously shared my bad news with the wrong person, but more importantly (I'm sharing this the way it went down--the way I felt at the time), I felt I had shared it on the wrong day.
   In her texted response, I was told they were sorry for my loss (so far so good), then I was rebuked for skipping church and condescendingly told they would pray for my "strength."
   Wow. How does being rebuked for not attending someone's 501c3 group meeting that night translate into love one another, bear one another's burdens, and weep with those who weep?
   What would have been wrong with saying, "We're so sorry to hear. We love you and understand. Would you like some company later? We can stop by for a bit after church?" I would  have appreciated their understanding and their offer (though I would have declined as I really did want to be alone that evening).
   What I did not understand and did not appreciate, was being told that church was the "best place to be" that night [despite my wishes to the contrary] but they would "pray" for my "strength."
   THIS, is an example of what CHURCHIANITY looks like and what to do if being a CHURCHY Christian is your goal.
   Please understand, that I never, EVER, turn down prayer. I appreciate and solicit all prayers on my behalf. And I generally believe gathering together with other believers is [or should be] one of the greatest places on earth to be. But I'm old enough to remember the days when people who called themselves your friends CAME TO YOU in times of sorrow, instead of expecting you to come to them. And they certainly did not rebuke you for preferring to be in your own home during an evening of private grief because your news had the bad taste of inconveniently arriving on a day their 501c3 organization had a regularly scheduled meeting planned (I thank God for local churches, but almost all local fellowships are 501c3 organizations where the ekklesia meets. It is the Christians themselves (not the 501c3 faith-based non-profits) who are the CHURCH--the ekklesia).
   Sadness over the loss of a friend does not generally make one weak
   I did not feel the need [nor did I ask] for anyone to pray for my strength. At the time, I felt the statement about praying for my strength was connected to my choice to stay home instead of attend their meeting.  I still feel that way.
   But I felt my grief was normal, appropriate, and even healthy. What was wrong with wanting to mourn my friend's passing in the solitude and privacy of my own home instead of at a church meeting?
   Right or wrong, I felt both remarks [praying for my strength and the rebuke for not coming to church that night], were condescending, "CHURCHY," and lacked empathy. And in the emotional weepy state I was, it impacted me in a much more dramatic and painful way than it would have had my sorrow not been freely flowing from my eyes and down my cheeks all that afternoon.
   Being sorrowful because someone we love has died, is not a "weakness." It is completely natural, and I did not need prayer for strength. What I would have loved and appreciated, would have been a positive message that my sadness was understood and that I had friends who  loved me without placing inappropriate "church guilt" on me for not attending their meeting.
   I realized that I was emotional and worried that I might have been over-reacting to what I felt was a CHURCHY response. I knew this Christian did not intend her message to hurt. But her religious response, containing a thinly-veiled criticism and condemnation had injected a sense of injustice and even anger into my grief that did not belong there. I did not feel that was doing anything wrong, but they obviously did, and now I had to deal with that judgement (and I wasn't dealing with it too well at the time, I didn't think). 
   I did not feel I was being a bad Christian, but they obviously did. I did not feel I owed anyone any explanation at all as to why I did not attend their meeting that night--except as a courtesy, because I had made special plans to be there, and had told them to expect me.
   I was offended. I admit it.
  I discerned the rebuke and condescension and felt they were passive-aggressive "CHURCHY" remarks, intended to set me straight in a way that would hopefully not make the person making the remarks appear or sound uncaring.
   But that's exactly the way they looked and sounded to me.    
   Now, I know that the person who made these remarks generally means well and probably spoke without thinking how her remarks would sound or how they might be taken by someone who had just admitted to her that they were in an emotional "weepy" state. But "CHURCHY" attitudes [from this person] had come out more than once over the years. We have communicated together about this, but to no avail as of the time of this writing. Everything is swept under the rug and remains unresolved. 
   How much of this can any relationship bear?
   I write this, in hopes that light can be shed on the the problem of "CHURCHY CHURCHIANITY." It is widespread. This is not the only example I can give--others are even worse (they involve different sets of people). My hope and prayer is that God's people will see CHURCHIANITY for the shallow and hurtful, lose-lose, fraud that it is... and change it. 
   Yes, this interaction affected me in a personal and hurtful way. Did it cause me to write them off and vow never to visit their church again? No. Did it cause me to question and doubt their good intentions and faith? No. We are all works in progress. Did it cause me to question God's love for me? Of course not. 
   But I have spoken with many people who testify that has not been the case for them.  
   CHURCHY Christians do not intend to drive people away from fellowship with other Christians or even away from God, but they sometimes do!
   Loving each other is not rocket science, and religiousity has no place in relationships.
   People of God, it is time to throw out CHURCHIANITY. It is time to repent of the times we may have been "CHURCHY" Christians ourselves [if we are truthful, we can admit that, at some point, we all have been], but through the help of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we can change it when it appears in our own lives. We can stop it in its tracks.

Have you experienced hurtful and disappointing CHURCHY CHURCHIANITY? How did you deal with it? Share your story in the comment section below.