Reframe your Relationship with Church
This article explores how to reframe your relationship with Church.
I write from the perspective of someone who was a member of a denomination for around 48 years, found my relationship with Church was failing, became “unchurched” for a period, despised organised religion and ultimately found a congregation where I could live reasonably authentically.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.Eph 5:25-27 (NIV)
Let’s focus on the second element of this. Christ loves the Church. As followers of Jesus, we should also love the Church – his body.
Unfortunately, if you find you have fallen out of love with church, as I did, then it’s a long hard road back, to be honest.
Regardless of how you feel, however, this is from the Master himself and perhaps if you can reframe your relationship with Church, you can recover your lost joy in fellowship in community.
Over the last 5 years, I have gradually journeyed my way back to a relationship with Church. Here’s what I have learned.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.Jn 13:34-35 (NIV)
Scot McNight in his book, A Fellowship of Differents, speaks of churches that seek to promote “do’s” by enforcing “don’ts” on their memberships.
I grew up a very conservative Christian. I have detailed some of those experiences elsewhere here. Suffice to say that some churches define their “righteousness” by adherence to a set of mores that have little to do with scripture and a lot to do with control, personal preference and traditions.
Rather than reliance on the word of God, the control structures within many churches end up being based on traditions, a sort of “that’s the way it has always been”. Then it becomes almost heretical to question those traditions. Ultimately, you have strange rules that are seen as biblical, but no one seems to be able to point precisely to the biblical source of the rule.
These are important things to question as we strive to operate authentically in a church environment. To reframe our relationship with church, we often need to have difficult conversations.
At the heart of why I fell out of a relationship with my Church environment were many issues. Doctrinal disagreement was one reason. Ultimately, it was the inability to question openly, to dispute authentically around the traditions and beliefs. Unfortunately, for me there has also been a question of personal humilty.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Php 2:3 (ESV)
If I count others better than myself, then I will approach any conversation between us with an open mind ready to hear rather than to speak.
I think that in trying to find how to reframe our relationship with church we struggle with our own lack of humility. Simply put, we need to get out of the way of the Spirit. Let the Spirit work and admonish the body.
Disagreements over how things should be done require all parties to stop, take time and pray.
Matt 18 provides a framework for a discussion. It requires a slowly escalating method for dialogue, but its predicate is humility. Is this a dispute that absolutely must be resolved? If it is, then, here’s a process for doing so.
Understanding and Applying the Framework
So, in the terms of Matt 18, if we are in dispute over an important matter with a fellow believer, we have a framework to follow. We must go to this person who we feel in a wrong position with and seek first to understand (to listen) and then to be understood (heard).
It is vital that we seek a resolution on important matters of faith and approach. We want to spend eternity with our fellow believers in the kingdom of God. It is not good that we remain in disagreement.
If your disagreement is about your freedom in Christ, then surely, you want your fellow believer to share your freedom. Not that you wish them to rebel against their own conscience before God, but that you greatly desire them to have a new and beautiful freedom.
First, work out what matters, what is important in humility. Then work productively with one another in a spirit of humility on finding agreement.
But it may be that your fellow believer is simply not willing to be considerate of your freedom and is obstinate in demanding that you abandon your freedom and comply with their wishes. You must heal this sharp division between you.
“Sin” in the terms of Matt 18 means being in a wrong position with each other. Dwelling in unity by its nature means acknowledging another’s freedom. The underpinning issue here is often one where we can’t accept another’s freedom and this issue must be resolved.
If, even with a perspective of mutual humility, there is no persuading either of you, there is really no option but that you expand your discussion. This is wise. If you can’t find common ground for agreement, then there must be something you both are missing and it needs the assistance of others to listen and offer counsel.
In all of this, humility and teachability must be key on all sides. A failed discussion of this nature is realistically a failure of mutual respect, humility and teachability.
Reframing our Relationship with Church
So that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.Eph 5:27 (ESV)
Churches are often made up of a bunch of rugged individuals. Because of this, it is inevitable that church will not be uniform in nature.
In concept of course, looking at it from a distance, Christ’s body of believers is a body made to worship God and is a witness to the saving power of John 3:16. It is beautiful, and Jesus desires his bride very much.
There are many people who whilst absolutely committed to serving God have a very different view from others about what that service means.
But that is actually the very beauty of a church. A group of people gathered together to worship God in all their disparate ways.
Disparate Worship is Beautiful
On any given Sunday at my church, I see people who dance, unashamedly demonstrative in their love to God. I see people bowed down, with tears as they submit to the will of Him who saved them. There are those who sit quietly with head bowed in prayer. There are all sorts of beautiful expressions of worship.
Combined, this is the expressive, beautiful bride of Christ.
Our worship of course, should come from the fullness of our hearts. If we sing, it must be because our hearts are bursting with joy and a desire to praise our God, His Son and Holy Spirit. When we pray it must be because we want, desire, MUST speak with our God. If someone speaks, it must be because the Spirit has moved him or her to speak of the glory of God and to testify of their experience of it.
We must worship with a full heart in earnest desire of our God.
John Piper, in “Desiring God” writes of dutiful worship in this way. He tells a story of bringing home flowers for his wife. Delighted, she says “thank you so much Johnny, they are beautiful”. The husband in the story responds, “Think nothing of it, wife. It is my duty!”
If you think this is a good response, you aren’t married.
Do you truly think that God takes pleasure in dutiful worship? Dutiful service? Or does he seek our spontaneous, authentic worship?
Actively pursuing an authentic, passionate form of worship can only please Him.
Actively Seeking the Will of God
As believers, our first priority is to seek diligently the will of God in prayer. Having done so, we must be open to the urgings of the Spirit. Our relationship with Church as the expression of God’s will is predicated on our being open to the will of God.
I suggest that many of us become very dulled to the voice of God. Our communion with Him is often fairly unidirectional and not from God to us. God speaks to us in His word but only if we read with an open mind and a ready heart. We must have a conversational relationship with Him.
I recommend Dallas Willard’s “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God“.
Trust the Purpose
Trust the process. God enlightens us and guides us through a process.
Many things that I think today took many years to learn and many life experiences to guide me through. It’s a process and it takes time. Allow it to do so.
Listen to the spiritual conversations you have, allow God’s word to ferment in your mind and be willing to listen when God speaks through others. Have faith that He will guide you.
Reframe your Relationship with Church
Church must be that one place where we put aside social stuff and instead experience joy together in our shared devotion. In this, we can reframe our relationship with Church.
The Monday Morning Test is simple. Are you still humming the songs you took joy in presenting to God on Sunday the following Monday morning? (ref Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity?) Do you find yourself wanting to speak to others about a particular testimony of God working in someone’s life that you discussed on Sunday? Are you wanting to get together with your brothers and sisters to engage in worship once more?
In short, is your life together in the Body of Christ an ongoing, authentic relationship with each other and with God?
If you can answer in the affirmative, then perhaps you have reframed your relationship with the Body of Christ.