Saturday, February 25, 2006

Don't Take the Shortcut

I have to confess that sometimes I get discouraged when I read posts that imply that the emerging conversation is just navel gazing. They usually go on to say that we need to hear from people who are actually doing something.

These posts suggest that many people in the conversation are simply critical and dissatisfied, implying that they have no intention of moving forward. Their message is that if you aren't ready to reconstruct, then just be quiet.

In a sense, I agree with them. I do want to read about how people are attempting to do church in ways that are different than we've known. Reading about how individuals are learning to live authentic missional lives inspires and encourages me.

However, I don't agree that everyone who isn't involved in a ministry should just be quiet. We need to allow people the space and time they need during the deconstruction/reconstruction process.

Detoxing from cultural Christianity is a very necessary process. Robbymac says in his article Detoxing from Church:
There is also another human tendency that wants to rush people from point A of the detox to point B as quickly as possible, so we can all "get on with the job/ministry".

When I read the kind of posts I've described, I feel that rush to move on. I have struggled against that rush from within also, but that drive to "do something" is beginning to dissipate. For me personally, it was necessary for that to die and for me to unlearn the leadership I had known.

When we left our former church, my husband very wisely declared that we would not be involved in any ministry for at least a year. During that time there have been quite a few possibilities come up. There was the temptation to start something.

One of the first temptations was to start some type of home meeting so that we would still have fellowship. We immediately nixed this idea because most likely it would have created conflict.

We had connections with a person who expressed interest in planting a Vineyard church in our town. I think that our community is ripe for a church plant, and a Vineyard would probably do well here. However, we are also glad we didn't throw our efforts into moving that forward.

In the midst of all this, we are detoxing. The main thing I struggled with was learning to redefine my purpose and identity apart from ministry. This quote from Jason Zahariades' article also entitled Detoxing from Church describes what I was recovering from:

"I need purpose for my life. So I go to my local church, hoping to find a leader with a vision big enough to inspire me. Then I sacrifice my time, energy, and money to become involved in the leader’s vision so I can build something big for God with him.

Now strip all of that away. Imagine what you would have left after you remove from your life everything connected with the organizational church. I mean everything. I’ve discovered the hard way that living most of my adult life in cultural Christianity has formed my entire identity as a Christian. And when everything in my life connected with the church is gone, including sixteen years of professional ministry, I’m confronted with the true raw status my personal faith."

This is where I found myself, absolutely naked. Overnight, I went from overcommitted and overinvolved to doing nothing. I went suddenly from respected and needed to shunned and avoided. From an abundance of relationships, I'm left with a few that I could count on one hand.

I know it sounds like we must have done something scandalous, but the truth is this was the result of deciding to leave. We were ready to set down our position, but nothing can prepare you for what it feels like to be disreputed among the people you have ministered to for years.

When you finally stand there completely naked, it is tempting to try to grab something to cover yourself with, to find some ministry to get involved in, some purpose to validate your worth.

We can now look back on each opportunity to start something and know that it would have been premature and the wrong thing for us to be doing. It is so important not to shortcut the detoxing process. If you haven't had the opportunity to read both of these articles, I highly recommend them.

While some people might point to us and say we're not doing anything, I finally understand how important this time has been. If we didn't submit to the process of unlearning what we have known and built prematurely, we would have had frustrating and potentially disasterous results.

My journey may not live up to what others expect, but that's okay. It's my journey, and I plan to continue sharing about it. I am not doing. I am becoming. This is most important for now--that I become what God intends me to be.


Bob said...


I've been casually following your journey for a bit. I have to admit I didn't suffer the spiritual abuse you did. But I was having lunch with an ex-pastor of mine yesterday. The church is going through a crisis--flat or falling attendance and income, infighting, loss of vision. That's the time when the blood starts to flow. Unfortunately most of it is his blood...

He's gradually being forced out and as we discussed what his future held he stated that he just feels like he has a responsibility to the people there. If he leaves, he'll lose that contact.

It was interesting that he said that to me because I had just been telling him about the lives I had still been in contact with (his being one of them) yet I hadn't been to the church in 20 months. He didn't have to be a part of the church to be a part of lives.

I don't think he ever thought of that before--and I could tell by the look on his face that he thought it was encouraging and terrifying at the same time.

I guess I say all that to say this: God assembles lives around us. We just have to recognize that He doesn't always work in the context of a "ministry". You are on the right road--just realize that you haven't chosen it, it was chosen for you.

Lily said...

Thank you so much Grace. You encourage me. You said it so well, and I so see myself in this post.

I'm just trying to avoid jumping into something for the sake of "doing" something"...and I keep asking God to be clear with what He wants me to do when that time comes.

It is hard because people have such a difficult time believing I am still a Christian if I am not attending/serving/ministering...but I love the opportunities God has given me during this time to have relationships and love on people that my former "religious" self would have prohibited me from.

Thanks Grace for being such an encouraging voice.

Pam Hogeweide said...

I wrote about this same thing many months ago when I had my own blog and wasn't a blog hog on other people's blogs. I titled my post, "Stripped".

Just yesterday I was reflecting on a bare limbed tree, branches stripped of leaves by the wind and cold of the season. Because the tree was emptied of her leafy garments I could see clearly the form of her limbs, her structure, the knotty lines of her many arms. She looked so vulnerable. (the tree I looked at was a girl, I don't know why I say this, but it seems rightly so) The wind blew but you would not know it looking at her, for there were no leaves to dance in the breeze. She just stood there, tall and proud as ever, her roots deep in the earth, the promise of spring hovering over her like the morning sunrise.

I felt a comfort looking at that naked tree. Her spring is coming, and so is mine.

Being stripped this past year of ministry has been one of the best gifts God has ever given me. When he said, "Unplug from every ministry you are in" I did not know it was an invitation to deeper intimacy with him. I did not realize how addicted I was to religious service, how wired my identity was in my gifting and ministry. I grieved to discover that I was living a church centered life rather than a Christ centered life.

Like you Grace, I have experienced a kind of rejection from those who I thought were genuine friends, but were not; the relationships were like illusions, once the mirror of church activity was taken away the relationships vanished. This was very confusing for me. I remember one woman who came up to me and said she had heard that I was not in ministry anymore. I said "Yes, this is true." She then wanted to know when I was coming back because she needed more people for her ministry team. Now at one time this conversation would have appealed to my spiritual pride, a request for Moi to be on her team...but in that moment I realized I had become like a cog in a machine. When I indicated I did not know when I would be back in circulation the conversation abruptly ended with the directive, "Call me when you're ready to come back. I need more people." We haven't talked since.

I think the ministry over relationship mentality has got to go. I have been a dedicated believer involved with church at all kinds of levels for twenty plus years. I have seen woman who are prone to being overdoers become core people in a church because they will do whatever they are asked to do. Just last night I had a conversation with a seasoned woman leader who had told her pastor, "I don't have time to do life because all my time goes into church."

I like the way Bob put it: God assembles lives around us. We just have to recognize that He doesn't always work in the context of a "ministry".

Hey Lily, are you talking about me when you say, "I love the opportunities God has given me during this time to have relationships and love on people that my former "religious" self would have prohibited me from."? :-)
(I'll see ya at the pub on Thurs!)

You are writing some killer blog stuff Grace. And I agree about not being quiet. Last year a missional pastor in my neighborhood ranted to me about how annoyed he was with people who do nothing but talk and confront and complain. He cooled off when I pointed out that Jesus confronted the Pharisees and that sometimes talking through things helps to affect change.

And that's what I think blogs like this one are doing, helping to affect change. You Go Girl!

Nancy A said...

Hello Grace

This is a good post.

There is a kind of culture shock that comes from letting go of a culture, even in the religious sense. This culture shock is one of those "perfect" places to be because it doesn't "have" anything. It's all possibilities, becomings, openings. If we can offer up the "shock" part as a type of suffering we hold in the Light, then we can experience the whole thing as holy.

If anyone questioned why a person just stopped doing things as you did, to my mind the answer would be: "I didn't stop doing anything. I've just stopped moving and talking. Now I'm sitting still and listening. Whatever G*d has to say to me is right now more important than what I have to say to G*d."

Kind of like Mary vs Martha.

Sometimes I think the whole scurrying church culture has to do with our fears of really facing G*d, really listening, really acting on what we hear. As long as we keep up the noise and activity, we can convince ourselves that we are doing it -- when maybe we're avoiding it.

Faith and belief are very different. The opposite of belief is doubt, whereas the opposite of faith is something closer to fear. You are living by faith now, maybe with some beliefs too, but open ones, listening ones. This is a good place to be. I think you should stay there as long as you can.

In time, way will open.

Kelly said...

that last quote from jason zarahadias was really, really good. i have often wondered the same, but in an overseas missions context. i struggle with my faith being wrapped up in American Christianity, stripping down to what?

it's good to take a hiatus from ministry although some may resent you for it. i think it's always good to strip away the layers of what you have always known to be true and reexamine those precepts.

God is always larger than our perspective, always there ready to lead you into new insights, deeper waters. this post has led me to some interesting thoughts.

Bruce said...

Thanks for putting into words the thoughts I've had. When I step out of ministry, people just don't understand. We'll always have our critics, our judges, but the only critic/judge that matters in our lives is God Himself. He knows exactly where we need to be, not anyone else.

Thanks again for your blog. I always look forward to reading your thoughts as you journey onward.


grace said...

You are right. I would have never chosen this. I hope things turn out well for your ex-pastor.

Sometimes when I run into people I haven't seen for awhile, they look so surprised that I still seem normal. Makes me wonder what the rumors are.

Thanks Pam,
The loss of relationships was harder on me than the actual abuse, although it was a result of the abuse. I was certain there was more depth to my relationships. It became evident that most relationships were mediated through my role and attendance at the club.

Hi nancy,
I love what you wrote, especially about stopping the busyness long enough to listen. It is very easy to substitute activity for true obedience.

It's so true that God is bigger than our perspective. I have to continually remind myself that the picture is bigger than what I am focused on.

Thanks bruce,
It's almost nice to read your comments. Onward and upward.

Anonymous said...

Hi Grace, don’t mean to make this so long but perhaps this excerpt from George Warnock’s article “Setting Goals” would be helpful to you. You are one of the many who are stepping out of the organized church for a purpose. God is restless for the hearts of his people with a single eye to Him. Be, being, becoming and no longer doing. The rest of the article can be found here.

“O how God Most High must lament over His people today as He did over that first generation of redeemed Israelites, "THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS!" And how He longs for that people who will take everything that they have ever received from God, yes everything: their doctrines, their fellowships, their churches--large or small; their gifts and ministries; their plans and schemes for enlargement; their programs for world evangelism and world outreach; and lay them all like Isaac on the Altar of Burnt Offering, on one of the mountains that God would show them.

But God hasn't shown me any such mountain, I hear someone say. Nor will He do so, until you walk with God from altar to altar... until you fervently desire to do God's will... until you learn His way and earnestly desire to walk in His way... until the will of God becomes to you your highest prize and your daily bread... and until you are prepared to recognize that as the heavens are high above the earth, so are God's ways higher than your ways, and God's thoughts higher than your thoughts. Perhaps we will not find too much conflict in our own hearts or with others, as we talk about "goals" and "unceasing progression"... as long as this means bigger and bigger... and more and more of God's blessing and enlargement. But when God begins to reveal that the enlarging of our goals may well mean the forsaking and laying down of what we have already attained to, there could be cause for a little wonderment in our own hearts and in the eyes of those about us. And we will discover that in measure as we are walking with God, in like measure shall we become as strangers and foreigners in the eyes of those who see an end in gift and ministry and the blessing of God.

You mean God told me to start this big church and get involved in this extensive outreach, and now I am supposed to drop it all? You mean God called me into the ministry, and now asks me to lay it down and go to work in a factory or sawmill, or get involved in some monotonous routine job on an assembly line? God called me to higher things than that. You mean God called the apostle Paul to the high and holy calling of apostleship to the Gentiles, and then shut him up in prison to waste away his days in a prison cell”?

Also of value is this website with numerous articles to bless you.

grace said...

"Thanks bruce,
It's almost nice to read your comments."

Always! It's always nice to read your comments!

I loved what you wrote. I will have more time to explore the links this weekend.
Setting down the things that look successful and following this path of insignificance has been an amazing lesson for me.
Thanks for sharing what you did here.