What’s your church story?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
'Church sign in Harlem' photo (c) 2007, jon rubin - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As you may have noticed, I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately. (See 15 Reasons I Left Church15 Reasons I Returned to The Church, and Better Conversations Between Churched and Un-Churched Christians.) On Friday, I featured Jessica Goudeu’s church story, and later this week, I’ll be sharing the story of a young woman whose church failed her as she struggled to process her brother’s addiction. 

Apparently, I’m not the only one thinking about church. Below are just a few conversations, stories, ideas, and tips that caught my eye recently. Each is a reminder of how important it is to listen to, and validate, one another’s church experiences—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the redeemed. 

Sarah Bessey with “In which I admit that I couldn’t be a Christian by myself

“Water in the desert came from cups fashioned by the hands of those that loved the Gospel. I found community. I found friends. I found family. I discovered that the hand of God was strong and firm, gentle and loving, in the hands, breath, and voices of the people of God. There are more of us that love God and love people, that leave the scent of grace wherever we walk, that forgive and serve without fanfare or book deals, that work for justice and mercy than I could have ever dreamed. They loved the unlovable, the marginalised, the hopeless, because of their great love for God. They believed the Jesus actually meant all that stuff he spoke while here on earth. They were on mission, they were peacemakers, they were everything I wanted to be when I grew up, you gorgeous people of God.”

Jessica Bowman with “The Five Stages of Grieving the Church” 

“No one understands God.  No one wants authentic, real life, messy, imperfect community.  It’s a lost cause.  I’m tired of dealing with people who don’t think critically about their beliefs.  I’m so tired of dealing with all of the theological parrots, just repeating what they’ve been told without studying it, examining it, praying it.  I’m done with these people."

Nadia Bolz-Weber with “Church and Crossfit and what they have in common

“Basically if I was working out at 24 hour fitness alone with an ipod I would not be getting into shape like I am now.  And if I were staying at home just reading about fitness alone on my sofa I would not be getting into shape like I am now. I would not be pushing myself and allowing someone else to teach me and encouraging someone to keep going and laughing the whole time.”

Maria Burnham with “Coming Out to My Bible Study

“And the discussion escalated into a storm of accusations, a line dividing us almost evenly down the middle, Bible verses flung like weapons, tempers flaring, and, of course, tears falling. I didn't know if I should yell back, if I should let my tears turn into the sobs they ached for, if I should storm out, or if I should bring some logic and practicality back into the argument. And the women asked me, 'Are you confessing? Is this a confession? Are you seeking repentance and solace in an attempt to overcome this sin?' I was thankful Jenny was not present to hear the attack, and I knew she would not understand that these women believed that they were coming from a loving place.”

Ed Cyzewski with “The One Thing That Matters About Belonging Church

“Seek community where there is life. Where God is present and free to move. Where people are encouraged to pursue God’s calling for their lives. Where a community moves as one toward God’s throne of grace. If you don’t feel the freedom of God’s life in a church, it will be hard to belong. It is God’s life that animates us and joins us together. We can find belonging through other means and activities, but it will never create the bonds God intended to create for his family.” 

[This post affected a major resolution I made about church last week. More on that later]]

Diana Butler Bass with “Resurrected Christianity

“Far too many churches are answering questions that few people are asking. This has left millions adrift, seeking answers to questions that religious institutions have largely failed to grasp. But this may be changing. Around the edges of organized religion, the exile Christians have heard the questions and are trying to reform, reimagine, and reformulate their churches and traditions. They are birthing a heart-centered Christianity that is both spiritual and religious. They meet in homes, at coffeehouses, in bars--even in some congregations. They are lay and clergy, wise elders and idealistic hipsters. Some teach in colleges and seminaries. They even hold denominational positions. Not a few have been elected as bishops. The questions are rising from the grassroots up--and, in some cases, the questions are reaching a transformational tipping point.”

Zack Hunt with “Taking a Sabbatical From Church" [be sure to check out all four-parts]

“What if instead of simply criticizing and condemning this phenomenon, we found a way to embrace it, reframing it in a way that could help both the individual as well as the church experience growth through this time away. I know that may sound counterproductive, but stepping away and taking a break is actually a very Biblical model. One which even Jesus himself followed.”

Richard Beck with “Freedom

“Worship at Freedom can look a bit, well, free. It's a small church with about 60 of us in attendance. There is a praise band. And during the worship it's not uncommon to have people swaying, dancing, or going up and down the aisles waving streamers. You can bring your tambourine. And pretty much everyone raises their hands with lots of 'Amen's!' and 'Praise the Lord's!' It's not Charismatic. It's just free and uninhibited. People just do what they want. And if you want to go up and down the aisle with a streamer, you go up and down the aisle with a streamer. Me? Where do I fit in? I'm not a hand raiser. I don't shout Amen. I may be the most inhibited person in attendance. But my heart soars when I'm there. The joy around me is infectious. More, I go to Freedom because the people there aren't like me. Most are poor. Many are emotionally and intellectually handicapped. Some are homeless. Many struggle with addictions of various sorts. But I love the way these people worship."

Naked Pastor with “Teaching Then And Now”, “Caution: Christians Falling,” “Fear of the Question,” and, well, his whole blog

Christian Piatt with “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church" and "Four More Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church"

“We Don’t Want to Be “Talked At” Any More: There’s a very strong case that can be made for the value of sermons. Jesus did it. There are times when someone in a position of expertise has something they need to share with a group, and the best way to do it is didactically. But what if people stop listening? I asked a friend of mine, who is a minister, if he was planning to attend an upcoming conference. He said no, not because the content was off-base, but because he said he couldn’t tolerate more passive learning environments where he sat back and was a receptacle for more information.”

Sharon Autenrieth with “The Problem with the Church is Me 

“Christians leave the church for a variety of reasons — doctrinal, structural, emotional and more. Those of us who stay are often so hurt by their leaving, or so threatened by what we think it says about those who stay, that we can't hear what they are telling us. We stop our ears, invalidate their experiences, and tell ourselves that everything is fine. I keep standing up and telling our church what a loving, supportive, inclusive community we are, when the reality is that I don't even exemplify those qualities myself.”

So what’s your church story? 

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