Your last statement so beautifully summed up what I know to be true and long to be a part of.I too desire to live out New Testement Christianity and definetly see the relevance of a local graceful community to enable this end. I don't know why it is so difficult to find both but I am too stubborn, too broken and too visionary to settle for one or the other.So how do you find these covenant relationships that are BOTH healthy and local? For most of my life I have been part of church bodies that are local but not entirely healthy in structure or belief. More recently,I have connected with many people that are healthy and/or growing in grace, but are simply too far away for the highly effective nature of close community. What does one do in this case?Perhaps my expectations are too high? Perhaps my creativity too low?
December 18, 2008 8:46 PM
First of all - thank you so much for opening up and being transparent. I will do my very best not to violate your trust...you are safe here. Safe. That is a wonderful concept and an even better feeling.
As to your questions, my first thought is that you be very secure in who you are in Christ. We all bring our quirks and imperfections to the local church, but it is best, overall, that we don't show up with yawning caverns in our soul because we have not yet understood that we are accepted in the Beloved.
So you show up, knowing that no group of people will ever meet your needs or your expectations, nor will they ever love you like God does. Look for a local church whose fundamental doctrines line up with what you believe - mainly that you agree on what I call "the essentials" - and whose worship cracks open your heart, where the Word is preached uncompromisingly, yet with grace, and whose children's/teen/college ministry has leaders who DO NOT give you a check in your spirit. (Very important, no??)
Look for hospitality. I'll grant you - it is hard as heck to find. And it won't be expressed perfectly. But you want to sense a general openness in the hearts of the people.
When you find the above - - you commit. Pure and simple.
You join hands and hearts and you go the distance, come hell or high water, and both will come. ACK! Church life is hard. It just is. Just like being married is sometimes maddening, and raising children can break your heart - but the rewards, however few and far between they might be, make every sacrifice worth it...so it is in the family of God. Don't expect it to be any different than your own family...full of skeletons in various closets, occasional conflict, boredom, or chaos. But OH HOW YOU HAVE COME TO LOVE THESE PEOPLE!
Show up ready to adapt. There is an Old Testament principle - - when the children of Israel encountered "the stranger in their midst" they were to love them, YES. But they were not to adapt themselves to the "stranger", the stranger was to adapt to the people. And so it is when settling into a new church home. "When in Rome, do as those Romans do". You probably won't be able to change a thing - so don't show up with an agenda. Accept these folks as they are, and find out, over time, how they do things.
Expect to offend and be offended, to forgive and be forgiven. Expect to be loved and cared for. Expect the word preached to challenge your sensibilities, and know that you will never get a full sense of a man's ministry until you are a year or more sitting under it. So if a message or two or five are preached that do not sit right with you, don't panic.
Maybe that pastor is "swinging a pendulum", using hyperbole, or generally hitting something hard to make the point. When a "hard right" or a "hard left" is preached...the outcome and result is rarely that radical - the outcome usually ends up being a gentle curve in the proper direction for the people as a whole - so do not worry. Sometimes if a pastor isn't on fire, no one listens. So let him blaze away, and rejoice over the idea that you are not getting watered down stuff.
Look for mothers in Zion - a healthy church will have a few. It takes time to find them, but they are waiting for you, I promise!
This is a start, and I hope and pray it helps you on your journey to finding a healthy local church. You are necessary to the body of Christ, dear one!!! We need your gifts and your love.