Tuesday, August 30, 2011

simple church.

 {photo via Julie Digs Design}

A few weeks ago, when I had a mini-meltdown and publicly confessed my tendency to overcommit, my father sent me an email. In it were the words of a church mission statement, a church my brother is blessed enough to attend while he lives in Nashville. The words reminded me, yet again, of just what I've been doing wrong.


We believe church often gets way too complicated. It is easy to get bogged down doing lots of really good things, only to find that we are burned out, overcommitted, and resenting the things we once loved. For this reason, we are committed to keeping things really simple. 

 If it won’t help us accomplish our mission, we won’t do it. It doesn’t mean it is wrong, it just means it’s not for us. We meet together on Sunday, gather in homes on Wednesdays, and serve our community during the week, so that we can spend the rest of our time being good spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

After all, if we spend all of our time with our church family, how can we share Jesus with those that don’t know Him?

Over the past several months, I've been thinking a lot about church, about what it looks like and how we've messed it up. I've spent time in prayer, time in frustration, time in tears analyzing just what it is I love about the body... and just what it is I don't.

And despite the time and thought I've devoted to the subject, I haven't been able to reach very many concrete conclusions. Instead, every Sunday, I roll out of bed at the same time and drive to that brick building with the cross out front, hoping that God will bless me, will reward my minuscule efforts. That truth will ultimately be found in the continual rising and going, that church — though it is imperfect — will one day surprise me.

In the meantime, though, as I struggle and muddle through the routine, I also wonder if I've maybe made church into something it was never meant to be. In my quest to be a devoted servant and a loving child of the King, I've drowned myself in church commitments. Together, my husband and I are so involved at church, that it has become — for me — a burden just to go. And I can't help but wonder if maybe we're doing something wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were sharing stories, catching up after months spent apart. And she told me that for her, church has become this quiet and peaceful place, a place where she could bow her head and worship and sigh and breathe deep and let out her frustrations and praises in the comfort of a sacred place.

My heart broke a little, because inside, I wondered: Could that ever be me?

Each week, my friend makes a choice. She chooses not to sign up for Bible class teaching or nursery watching. She smiles and greets the people around her, but she knows: The time she spends in the walls of that building is meant for her and God. It's not for anybody else.

In my desire to be selfless and grace-giving, I've made church about everybody else.

And I think — as is the case so often, these days — that my intentions were good. I moved back to this town wanting to make a difference, wanting to jump right in to ministry and to purpose. I'm glad I did, grateful for the months I was able to teach young middle school girls who are now graduating high school.

But as I've grown, and my friendships and commitments outside church have grown, I'm beginning to understand that maybe, ministry can exist outside the walls of a church building. That church isn't just Sunday and Wednesday. That worship isn't just singing in a pew.

It's stepping outside of ourselves. It's gathering in homes and meeting for yogurt. It's sending cards and reaching out and making friends. It's reading books and studying recipes and pouring over Scripture.

There are so many things I don't want to be.

I don't want to be a pew-warmer.

I don't want to be a two-day-a-week believer.

I don't want to be so worn out by Christ's body that I can't be His hands and His feet when it really, truly counts.

So I'm taking a step back.

I want to love the church as Christ loves the church.

And for me, in this moment, that might mean saying no to some things. It might mean sitting quietly in the back row. It might mean journaling in the middle of communion or turning down requests to teach and to serve.

It doesn't mean my love for Christ has grown weak. It doesn't make me selfish or unkind.

Instead, it just means I'm refocusing. That maybe, for a while, church becomes less about volunteering and socializing and more about quietly meeting with the Father.

It becomes simple.

And I wonder, if really, that's what it was meant to be all along.


monster cakes said...

Proud of you. : ) I've been praying you'd find a peace within the crazy storm that is our busy lives. I've missed talking to you, but I knew you were busy, so know that someone is thinking of you and praying for you! xo

Brittany said...

Annie, you always seem to write about what I'm feeling. I love that our beliefs may be different and we go to different churches in different parts of the country, but we've arrived at the same conclusion. Religion, and thus church, is best in its simplest form. It is just about God, and about how I can be closer to him and all that is good. Such a great post--thanks.

Days Careen said...

Recently, I've been reading the diaries of a girl called 'Etty Hillesum', in a nutshell she was a Jew who lived in Nazi occupied Amsterdam and was then taken to a concentration camp. I have been spouting on about her a lot because her words are simply beautiful but something she said really reminded me of what you say in this about wanting your time with God/ the church to be simple;

'There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath, then he must be dug out again.

I imagine that there are people who pray with their eyes turned heavenward. They seek Good outside themselves. And there are those who bow their head and bury it in their hands. I think that these seek God inside.'

A lovely, honest post, I think life gets in the way too much sometimes.

Betsy said...

Annie, this is a truly beautiful post. And I think you hit the nail on the head.

When I think about the early church it seems so much simpler to me: gather together in homes, worship and study, share a meal.

Be community for one another.

I want this, too.

jenna said...

Sigh... Amen, Annie. A hundred times, amen. :)

chet said...

I cannot wait for you to visit Ethos. I think you'll love it.
I cannot wait for you to visit in general. I think you'll love it.

Brunella Z. said...

Finally someone who understands me.
I have often felt alone because of my religious and spiritual choices, especially since I left the Catholic church and when I divorced. I lost a lot of friends, many have fallen away. God has filled our lives with visions and possibilities. He has never measured the distance between us and him
Unfortunately the language prevents me from expressing myself to the best of my ability but I am confident in that one spirit, even if physically distant, unites us.
Grazie mille Annie.
Con affetto

Sabrina said...

I thought it was interesting in the mission statement (which was really unique) when it talked about "resenting the things we once loved." I have found in my life that in those cases the trouble is not always the thing, whatever it may be. The trouble was with myself. We have to be mindful that we take our human nature to task just as much as we take church, or life, or schedules etc. Nothing will ever seem right or as it should be if I am not right and as I should be...and that is a humongous human struggle.....at least it is my struggle.

Cherry Tree Lane said...

this is brilliant.