Trust Needed

We live in a time when it seems very difficult to trust anyone. Over the years, trust has been eroded in some key institutions in our lives. People have lost trust in government officials and elected leaders. As we have recently become very aware, there is limited if no trust in our law enforcement and judicial systems. The trust which people used to have in the Church and religious leaders has broken down. Our neighborhoods are no longer considered safe, so we do not even have trust in our neighbors and this is not only in large cities but also small, rural communities. Trust is a very precious commodity which appears to have become extremely rare.

One reason that this is a major issue for society is that trust is at the foundation of relationships. No relationship can survive if trust is not present. Interaction between individuals at any level requires some amount of trust. If this does not exist, then exchanges will be only on the surface and not have any depth or true meaning. Once trust is destroyed, it takes twice as much work to re-establish it, and may not even occur.

The Church has a lot of trust building to do. The distrust began with the revelations of sexual abuse occurring too often at the hands of faith leaders. However, long before that, the Church had failed to live out God’s love to everyone. For individuals who grew up realizing they were part of an unnamed group now known as LGBTQ, they were shunned by the Church, told to repent their sinful ways, and excluded from active participation in the practices and fellowship of faith. If a person was of a different ethnicity than the majority within the congregation, they were often distrusted and marginalized at best. Asking questions was seen as a lack of faith. Instead of being a safe haven for all people, a place to grow and explore faith, and a demonstration of God’s love for ALL people, the Church became judgmental, ostracizing, and a place of abuse. The Church broke the trust of numerous people and only represented pain.

It is time within our society to openly acknowledge our active role in planting seeds of distrust. The Church has the opportunity to be a leader here. Through its own acknowledgment of actions and words leading to people no longer trusting the Church and its leadership, the Church can show the first step in trying to rebuild the trust. Some individual congregations are doing that and shifts are starting to slowly begin at a greater level. This is going to take time and require a much greater effort. Some will never reclaim a trust in the Church but others can be given an opportunity to share their heart and begin healing. Then if the Church becomes a light and example to the world (as it was created to be) we may see changes happen in other institutions and among groups of people.

We need trust because we need relationships and relationships are only possible if there is trust. Let us take the first step in building trust.

Christian Robots

My mother introduced me to the church when I was very young. I do not recall a time in my life when I was not connected with the church, except it was a much looser connection while in college. Since most of my life I have been part of one denomination, I know the liturgy of worship, the way the church runs itself, and the correct responses and timing. There is comfort in the familiarity of being a member of a church most of your life. There is also a pitfall which comes with being an active member most of your life. The pitfall is that you can easily become a robotic church participant.

The condition which I am labeling as “robotic church participant” comes from having such a familiarity that little to no thought is put into the actions and words which the person uses during worship. This also extends to going through the church year without thought to the meaning of the festivals and special days throughout the year. The person just goes through the motions of being a participant but does not have a spiritual feeling while doing so.

An example of a robotic church participant is when someone says the words of the Lord’s Prayer during worship but does not consider what is being said. The words are so memorized that there is not much thought required and the person just goes along with the audible flow of the other participants in worship. A person can easily do this because saying the Lord’s Prayer is so common and extends beyond denominational lines. This becomes very obvious if you happen to be worshiping with a congregation that changes a few words in the prayer, i.e., “debts and debtors” versus “trespasses and trespass.”

You may be asking yourself, “Why is this so important.” I think this is important because it seems to me that God intended the church to be about relationships. These relationships include between God and each individual, as well as, between the individuals in the church body. Relationships require thoughts, communications, and feelings. If a person is just going through the motions, then it is much more about completing a task versus enhancing a relationship.

If you are a person who has grown up in the church like I have, I caution you to not fall into the pitfall of being a robotic church participant. Engage yourself fully in worship, service, and the relationships which are a part of being a member of the church. Experience the spiritual emotions of what you say, the actions you take, and the commitments you make. I am sure that God prefers a fully engaged person rather than a spiritual robot. If God only wanted robots, God would not have given us free thought and free will.

Lack of Relationships

I am now in the midst of a blog post series attempting to name Why Church No Longer Works. In addition to the introduction to the series, I have stated that one reason is the church has a Lack of Authenticity. Today I share my second observation which is the church has a Lack of Relationships.

Some of you may want to disagree with my observation by stating that you witness all types of relationships in the church. Your arguments might include that everyone at your church is friendly with each other and know each other on a first name basis. Another argument might be that the pastor knows every person and makes a strong point in meeting new individuals who may be visiting or new to the neighborhood. You may even state that you have been at the church a long time and watched some young adults as they have grown up, maybe even be able to tell about when the children were baptized. All these arguments, and more that I am sure you can make, certainly appear to show that there are relationships in the church. I would even agree with this point but would argue that these are only surface relationships.

What I mean by surface relationships are those type of relationships where one can state easily observable characteristics, traits, or highlights about another person but there is not a deeper knowledge. We experience these types of relationships with our co-workers, employees of a business which we frequent, or maybe even some of our neighbors. What these relationships lack is anything beyond the basic facts of a person’s life. There exists no understanding of what the individual’s hopes and fears might be. You are unable to name what struggles the person has overcome or may even still be experiencing. An ability to articulate why a person believes what she/he believes does not exist. No depth in the relationship is found.

I am sure that some of you reading this post could state to me the names of one or two individuals with who you have more than a surface relationship. However, I am confident to say that this is the exception and not the norm regarding relationships in the church. Connected to my earlier post dealing with authenticity in the church, a majority of relationships within the church are not authentic.

Why is a lack of relationships important?

In my study of the Bible and the stories about Jesus, I am convinced that it is all about relationships. We hear stories of the relationship between God and God’s creation, especially humans. There are stories about the relationships between humans, both family and strangers. Jesus spends a great deal of time discussing relationships and demonstrating how to be in relationship with others. Even our theological concept of the Trinity as interpreted from Scripture is about relationship. This indicates to me that relationships are a central theme in the Christian belief system. So relationships should be very important to the church.

If relationships are so important in our faith, the lack of them leaves us with something hollow. When we do not take the time to go beyond the surface in someone’s life, we communicate that the individual is not that important to us. Having a feeling that I am not important to others can encourage me to leave that setting in search of a place where I do feel I am important in another person’s, or group of people’s lives.

As I have read articles about what brings value to a person’s life, I have often come across statements which show a strong desire of individuals to feel like they belong. A desire exists to feel connected and meaningful in the lives of others. We were created with an inward drive to be in relationship. Humans will search long and hard to find some way to feed this drive. The drive requires more than just a sense of being known on the surface.

When the church does not offer a place for and strong encouragement to develop authentic, deep relationships, people will walk out and search elsewhere. My observation as I read through the Book of Acts and the letters found in the Bible is that these were the type of relationships which existed among the followers of Christ at the beginning. The gatherings were small and intimate. There was a sense of knowing the deep desires within the hearts of the people. A meeting of the needs of all people was emphasized, including the need to belong through relationships.

In order to correct this situation, the church is going to have to work on some important goals:

  • Create a place where trust can be established and protected
  • Remove the judgment from our structure, our sermons, our liturgies, and our statements
  • Encourage and develop times for relationships to be established, grow, and sustained
  • Practice grace above any and all rules, polity, and traditions
  • Follow the example of Jesus, the Christ

Jesus was all about relationships, maybe it is time that the church learns from Jesus and does likewise.

Why Does Church No Longer Work – A Series

I spent some time this week pondering some of the topics which I will discuss in upcoming blog posts. Some weeks determining what I will write about is more time-consuming than actually writing. As I sat with my thoughts, I stumbled upon a question that has haunted me for a great length of time. The question (which I am using as a series title) is “Why does church no longer work?”

The question assumes that the practices of churches these days are no longer working. I am sure there exist individuals who would disagree with that idea completely. For me, watching the struggles of maintaining a level of involvement in the church over twenty-two years of ordained ministry is evidence enough that something is not working. The way in which we attempt to be the church seems to have lost their effectiveness. Even the large, multi-campus churches are noticing equal numbers of people going out the door as they have coming in the door. All this makes me comfortable in saying that “church” is no longer working for a large majority of people in our communities.

I have decided that this challenge requires more than one blog post, so I will be doing a series of blog posts. I admit that I will not be able to exhaustively cover this topic. I also admit that I cannot come close to identifying all the complex issues which lead to my question. At present, I have identified four issues that I plan to discuss in this series:

  1. The church lacks authenticity.
  2. The church lacks relationships.
  3. The church lacks today’s language.
  4. The church lacks action.

Each of these issues will be explained and addressed in the coming days. I hope that you will join me in exploring these issues. I also would benefit from hearing your responses to my posts and any other issues you may name in response to my initial question.

Learning Opportunities

Two recent events has caused me to reflect upon the importance of learning from individuals who are members of faith communities which are different from my own. Unfortunately, both events share the common thread of hatred and misunderstanding.

The first event occurred almost eight thousand miles away in Christchurch, New Zealand. I am referring to the deadly shootings which took place at two mosques over a week ago. We may never understand what led the man to carry out such an act of hatred. What we do know is that lives were forever changed on that day as we have seen it happen in so many other situations. We also know that one piece of motivation for the shooter was the faith which individuals in those mosques practice.

The second event occurred on my Facebook page. Facebook is good at reminding us about various posts, events, and relationships which have shown up on our timeline. This week Facebook reminded me that on March 26, 2017, I joined others at the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids to show support for my Muslim friends and those throughout our nation. There was fear in their lives due to the announcement of possible deportation of certain individuals who had immigrated from other countries. Words of hatred were being spoken throughout our nation because of fear. We gathered on that day to hear from speakers from a variety of faith traditions. We then encircled the Mother Mosque and sang together to show our solidarity in support of those who practice the faith of Islam.

Until moving to Cedar Rapids, I had little understanding regarding the Islamic faith. I had always been open to learning about other Christian faith communities. However, I had never really had an opportunity to meet and have discussion with a Muslim. After moving to Cedar Rapids, I became part of a congregation which was open to learning and understanding people who were different from themselves. The pastor had met and heard one of the Imams from one of two mosques in our community. She invited him to come and speak on two Sundays to our adult class. I was amazed how much I learned. Then after becoming a member of the staff at the church, I had an opportunity to work alongside the Imam and some of his youth. We began a relationship which was enriching for myself and for the youth whom I was leading. We shared in a variety of service projects and enjoyed some educational opportunities.

These thoughts came rushing back into my mind over the last weeks due to the two events which I mentioned earlier. This has reminded me how important it is for us to take advantage of every learning opportunity we may be given with regard to understanding different faith traditions. Whether that learning takes place within our own faith tradition or when we learn from other faith traditions. This is vitally important because fear comes from the unknown and fear can lead us to do acts of hatred on different levels. By learning from one another, the unknown is taken away along with misinformation. We come to see each other as humans and not as “them.” When fear is replaced by knowledge and relationship, our behaviors show our unity and not our separation.