How does someone who has a genuine faith and relationship with Jesus, yet cannot relate or understand the contemporary church model & practices find his or her true practice of a relationship with God? When your contemporaries are happily (and genuinely) engaging in the prescribed acts of worship, teaching, prayer and community in their understood and modern forms, the misfit is forced to question why those practices aren’t working for himself. Does he have a mis-formed understanding of Biblical doctrine? Should he boldly challenge these prescriptions? When is it that the threshold between ‘being contentious’ and ‘progressive learning’ has been breached?
In my own journey, I have spent the 13 years which I’ve followed Jesus realising this – and it becoming more and more vivid with each passing year that the way that God has made me – and more specifically the ways I am able to relate to Him – do not even remotely land within our modern boundaries or methods.
Who decided that the best way to worship God corporately was to stand together at the specified intervals of our ‘church service’ and sing along to modern hymns while a band plays them up front? Was it ever actually thought about? Or did we just settle into that specific practice?
The more Christians I meet – and those of other religions for that matter – the more I’m convinced that today’s modern “one-size-fits-all” approach leaves many silently and cautiously standing at the sidelines wondering why they don’t want to participate. Sure– one of our conventions, thankfully, is to welcome them with loving acceptance to join us, but that’s like inviting a soccer enthusiast to a baseball game– it’s nice to be invited but I still don’t like baseball.
So how can we – The Misfits – find that elusive lifestyle and community that we need? This question begs a precedence, or actually two of them:
- As followers of Jesus, we would do well to experience the belonging to a community – preferably one in which our personal practices of relating to God are not just permitted, but shared and corporately cherished.
- As followers of Jesus, we would do well to discover more about the unique individuals God has made us and the unique ways in which we were created to relate to Him. In other words– there isn’t a best way for all of us, but there are best ways for each of us.
So that’s a bit of a milestone– we know that community is good, and that we each need to break out of the mould and discover how we, personally, were created to relate with God.
This brings me to another realisation. I have spent the majority of my Christian life kicking against the pricks of modern church conventions. This has had many different effects – not the least of which are:
- Serious doubt over the genuine-ness of my personal faith
- Iterative spiritual depression
- An overall destabilisation of my own faith
Should we just go anyway?
There comes a point, it seems, that our own faith must not be judged against others’. Is it possible to practice our own ways of relating with God from within the current model without general disruption? I suppose that depends on each individual method itself, and how it manifests. But if one of us misfits were to choose to ‘forget our differences’ and attempt to practice our own ways within a ‘foreign’ model we could inherently lack one thing – coherence of faith.
The ‘coherence of faith’ problem
I don’t want to place too much value on how much someone else may accept my own quirky faith & practices, but on the other hand, being a part of the contemporary church along with its’ practices affords the primary benefit of affirmation and support:
When two people happen to ‘connect’ in worship through the same methods, that commonality bolsters the platform upon which a unity in relationship can exist. And that effect is increased exponentially when upwards of 2,000 people, in some cases, experience this together. Like-mindedness is a powerful thing. You know what I mean – it’s that “Oh, look– we do things the same way, let’s be friends” type of thing.
The next question bring us upon a case of validity. We see a lot of significant examples in the Bible where like-mindedness and community go hand-in-hand and are highlighted in significance. But what is this like-mindedness based upon? Like-mindedness is generally a great thing to find, but there are also pitfalls to be found in it. For instance– one I want to highlight here can be seen in the following example: Some kid just got Grand Theft Auto for his Playstation, and thinks it would be really cool to use a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot some real store clerks. He invites his friend over, talks him through the plan, and is pleased to find that both he and his friend share a like-mindedness. Okay, that’s a bit gruesome, but you get the idea. In a nutshell– like-mindedness is good, as long as the subject is right / true / correct / etc.
In a church setting, the same type of thing is possible, particularly when the like-mindedness is shared not just between two friends, but an entire congregation. In situations where a lot of people are involved, you’d better be sure that the thing you’re being like-minded about is actually true. I suspect that when it’s not, what we call ‘cults’ are born.
This horse is very nearly dead, but there’s one more important point when we examine the other side of the coin. What happens when a large group of people with a common interest don’t examine what they’re being like-minded about and end up being like-minded about something completely erroneous? It’s a terrible situation to be in the middle of. When everyone believes one thing and you realise you believe entirely another, it can become pretty difficult to speak up about it. The likelihood of your plea being heard is pretty slim to say the least– let alone you even getting the courage to speak up in the first place. It all becomes a big self-perpetuating problem as the light at the end of the tunnel grows more and more faint.
The incredible importance of spiritual self-discovery
Reasons like the one mentioned above are why I stress the importance of self-discovery – independent from external affirmation or any communal support. In other words, if you don’t know the ways God has created you to relate to Him, then don’t go assuming that someone else’s way should work equally well for yourself as it does for them. And equally, it’s not a great idea to trust others to tell you what those ways are for yourself, unless of course that person is a very close friend who knows you inside and out, and probably best as well to have a mutual understanding of God together.
I’ve not found a universal answer to this paradox or how to cope with it. The past 13 years of my Christian life have been spent dealing with this issue of ‘how I’m supposed to relate with God’.
I had some sort of personal relationship with Him, and yet it didn’t look anything like anyone else’s. Naturally, as a new Christian, this greatly worried me. About 10 years into my faith, I realised the possibility that maybe I wasn’t actually the one who was doing it wrong, but rather that perhaps there isn’t one universal way which is supposed to work for everyone. And now that I believe that there are many ways to relate with God, and that those ways vary from individual to individual, it makes me very concerned that our current model only supports one of these many ways, and that as far as most of us know, we’re all supposed to fit into this model.
After all I had learned about the diversity of God, I suddenly found it difficult to believe I was simply erring at one point or another. I was 99% convinced of the genuine nature of my own relationship with God, and I was confident He had led me to where I had arrived up to this point.
But if there’s a confession to be heard, it’s the fact that no matter how sure I was at any given point that my relationship with God was genuine, there was always this pressure coming from the continuation of accepted practices.
I’ve been taught – by God and against my natural will – to love the church. Though I seldom feel it or agree with its practises, the simple fact that these are God’s children I’m dealing with drives me to love. I’m writing this out of a desire to help anyone who is struggling through the same situation by offering a bit of my own personal experience, and by relating some of the ways I’ve learned to cope with such a situation. Some of these thoughts are practical ideas from my practical mind, but the best are the things God has taught me. I believe that at least some of the concepts will be useful to people who can relate to these struggles.
I’m not going to get very much into the idea of making changes to the church-model in order to better accommodate misfits like me, but instead I’ll focus on ways to help you cope through highlighting methods alternative to the norm which may better facilitate your own growth in God. I also want to focus on the importance of detatching the value of your own relationship with God from your experience of others’. This leads me into our foundation…
Foundations of self-discovery
The first thing to say is that I’m operating based on a few key assumptions:
- God has created us each to be very different – even in how we relate to Him individually. He has done this purposefully, I think, because He prefers diversity.
- The current set of methods by which our contemporary church ‘makeup’ relates to God in worship, prayer, discipleship, evangelism, teaching, etc. only represents a narrow sliver of the range of diversity for which God has created us.
- This ‘narrow’ method of doing church has significant impacts upon both those who do ‘fit’, and upon those who don’t.
These assumptions beg some sort of explanation:
From experience, I know that the Western model of church I’m talking about is NOT solely comprised of the entirety of Western Christendom. For instance, there are Christians in the West, who, because of this model’s lack of relevance to them, choose simply to not attend or become involved. I know that this number exists at least in a small amount, but I suspect that it’s much more than we know.
It is a difficult argument to say that we are not a diverse creation, so I won’t waste my time defending that notion.
- A narrow sliver of diversity
This is simply taken from my own experience. I’ve seen how God typically chooses to work with me. Whether it falls into the category of visions, prayer, prophecy, walking in the Spirit, inspiration and even art– I simply don’t experience these types of interactions with God in a way you might call ‘common’. When you’re a misfit, you get to know other misfits, and learn that you are not alone, but rather a tiny segment of Christendom. In fact, I believe that the vast majority (if not ALL) of Christians wish they had some sort of church community which they felt they could ‘relate to’ a little more closely. The Misfits are not a tiny segment of Christendom – we are all Misfits, because we have ALL been created very differently.
- A tiny drop creates a big ripple
I would encourage you to not be ignorant to the fact that not all Christians attend church. But it obviously doesn’t mean they don’t have a relationship with God, but rather it points to a deeper issue of why. I think it’s worth throwing a few potential reasons out for good measure:
- no transport
- no friends
- church people do ‘weird things’
- I’m into heavy metal music, but apparently God’s not
- I’m living with my girlfriend and child, and I don’t want to be judged
- I’d rather relate to God on my own
- I enjoy doing drugs and don’t want to be judged
- I’m an alcoholic and don’t want to be judged
- I’m a smoker and don’t want to be judged
- There’s no good art / music / video / teaching in my local church
- my life revolves around my career and church ‘people’ don’t understand that
- people at church are too ‘spiritual’ for me
Wow– it’s starting to look like ‘being everything to everyone’ is a difficult thing to do. People have issues. The church has issues. When we put the two together, guess what? There are issues. But the point is – and I exaggerate intentionally – that one, massive church in the City Centre cannot be all things to all people. One team of church leaders cannot create a group for people who have dedicated their lives to their love for God and Heavy metal music. They cannot dedicate a time in the Sunday morning service for prophetic painting time, and they cannot serve every single person exactly what they need. This is not Burger King.
So what gives?
Well, this is where I desperately want to go into a rant about exactly what changes the church must undergo, but I said I wouldn’t, because I’m not writing this for the church institution, I’m writing this for the person who doesn’t go at all.
I have tried to change the church, and there are different circumstances for everyone. But from what I’ve seen, people who have tried that have given up. Instead of trying to teach an old dog new tricks, they have raised a new puppy. People all over the world are starting little groups which, effectively, are replacing the role of the contemporary church gathering. These tiny little niche groups are serving people well.
I’m not going to try and define it. Call it what you want. Even better, don’t call it anything. As far as I’m concerned, anything that grows both out of a need and a love for God is good. It was all started by Calvary Chapel. No, wait, it wasn’t. It must have been TBN or someone else. Nope. It wasn’t. It just grew up out of the ground all on it’s own. An organic, living, progressive not-very-connected network of microcosms. The ones I’ve either visited or been a part of have been incredible. If you’re a person who, for any reason, can’t stomach contemporary church, find one of these little microcosms. Even better, think of how you want to share your faith with others. Maybe write a little list of things you’d like to see in a small group. Then call up some friends you think may be interested and do it. It’s easy.