Thursday, September 19, 2013

Goin' Back to Church?

by Dina Sleiman

Last week was "National Back to Church Sunday." It got me thinking. What does back to church mean to you? How does it feel deep inside when you hear those words: back to church? Most of us know those people who claim to love God, to even have accepted Jesus as their savior, but who want nothing to do with church. Heck, maybe you are one of those people. Maybe the idea of church fills you with latent pain. Maybe with anxiety. Maybe you picture walking in the door and being judged. Maybe bitterness wells up inside of you as you recall all the hypocrites you've dealt with at church. Maybe you just want to lay low and avoid the drama.

And little wonder. The church is full of wounded, messed-up people. 

People not so different from you and me.

But the church is also the expression on earth of the body of Christ. And it is through that body that we can experience the fullness of Christ. The church helps us grow in maturity, in the word, and in relationship with God. The church gives us a place to minister and be ministered to. It joins us together with a group believers so that we can increase our impact in outreach to others. And it gives us a place where we can worship in a group and experience God in different ways than we do when we are alone.

So how do we find a good church? Not a perfect church of course, because that doesn't exist. But a relatively healthy church where we can grow and thrive. Here are my top tips.

1) Find a church that exudes love and acceptance
2) Find a church that focuses on Biblical teaching
3) Find a church with a culture that fits you

A culture? Aren't we talking about church? Didn't I already define the "culture" in the word "Biblical?" Actually, no. Not at all. Much of what legalistic churches try to promote as scriptural requirements for worship are really more about culture and personality than holiness. The truth is, healthy Bible-based churches come in all shapes and sizes.

There are big churches, small churches, contemporary churches, traditional churches, casual churches, and fancy churches. There are simple, cozy churches and flashy, high-tech churches. There are biker churches and cowboy churches. Messianic and Mennonite churches. And don't even get me started on music. Church music comes in about every style. Chants, hymns, gospel, country, pop, and heavy-metal, just to name a few.

These days the under forty crowd often has difficulty fitting in at a fundamentalist church that is stuck in the 1960s. But they might really enjoy a casual, seeker-friendly church with an emphasis on the arts and social justice. Or they might be drawn to the seemingly complete opposite, a high liturgical church that focuses on the wonder, mystery, and awe of encountering the divine. 

My guess is, if you don't like church, you just haven't met the right one.

Maybe you think that I'm being rather glib about this whole issue. After all, there are only two churches within a half-hour drive of your house, and you wouldn't be caught dead in either of them (well, okay, maybe dead, but that's the only way.)

Try some youth group style bonding games
 if you're brave
Here's a thought. Start a small gathering of believers in your home. Despite the lovely picture above, the Bible never says a church has to meet in a building with a steeple. There are no requirements that they feature a trained worship band or a prepared sermon. Try the early church method. Have a meal and some fellowship (i.e. hang out and have fun). Allow time for sharing and prayer. Et voila. Church. And considering the fact that the "sabbath" was actually Saturday, I don't even think you necessarily have to meet on Sunday.

Church is us. It's you and me together. It's simple really. We encourage and uplift each other. We support one another in this Christian walk. And when you think of it that way, I think you'll be happy to go "Back to Church." 

My new novel coming out later this fall, Dance from Deep Within, examines the issues of church cultures, wounded believers, and what sort of Christianity is relevant to change our world today. Keep an eye out for it. 

In the meantime, here's an awesome and highly entertaining video to illustrate what I'm talking about.




Describe your dream church? What sort of culture would best fit you? Does your current church fit you? If not, do you have a different reason for staying there?


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Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. Her debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing, won an honorable mention in the 2012 Selah Awards. Her latest novel, Love in Three-Quarter Time, was the launch title for the Zondervan First imprint. Look for her newest release, Dance from Deep Within, in November. Dina is also a part-time acquistions editor for WhiteFire Publishing, and she is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

12 comments:

  1. This is really wonderful, Dina. I have a lot of pain in this area. I can't say more than that, but any prayers are appreciated. :)

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  2. so well said. A church home is so difficult to find because we want it to be a perfect shelter in and and that's asking too much.
    But like all families we are going to find imperfection and as you said - hurting people with big wounds. We need to go looking for Jesus and not looking for people to be Him. if He didn't use imperfection to show love and grace to us, we'd all be in serious trouble!

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  3. I will keep you in my prayers, Suzie. And in many ways I think our behind the scenes Inky sisterhood is like a church. I share the same things with all of you that I share with my small group at church, and I feel the same sort of support as well.

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  4. Deb, I think it really helps when we go to church with an attitude of wanting to minister. This can be challenging in a church that is new to us, but we can also bless people with a warm handshake or a smile, and if they don't reciprocate, we can assume they are hurting and pray for them rather than taking offense.

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  5. Hmmm... good question.
    I fell into the ditch on the other side of the road for a long time - my entire relationship with God was based on what I did in, for, and through the church. Growing the church, building the church, increasing the church, became a kind of "godly idolatry" and a works-oriented relationship with God and other people that wasn't healthy.
    These days we're having family fellowship once a week, taking time to gather together as a family (young adult children make that interesting) to look into the Word, pray for one another, and talk about where we're "at" spiritually. And yes, I agree, my relationships with the Inkies, and with other Christian writers, serves as "church," too.
    In reality, we ARE the church... every believer is a member of His body, and wherever two or more gather together in His name, He is there with us.

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  6. Cool post, Dina. Love your criteria.

    According to statistics I've seen in Church growth & planting studies, the teaching is essential, but some non-spiritual things are important to most of the Americans who responded to the surveys, too:

    1) sufficient parking
    2) sufficient/clean/updated bathrooms
    3) nursery care (I believe nursery workers are the unsung heroes of Sunday morning worship)

    And people are most comfortable when a church is not 100% full. They like personal space.

    Kinda interesting.

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  7. Cool post, Dina. Love your criteria.

    According to statistics I've seen in Church growth & planting studies, the teaching is essential, but some non-spiritual things are important to most of the Americans who responded to the surveys, too:

    1) sufficient parking
    2) sufficient/clean/updated bathrooms
    3) nursery care (I believe nursery workers are the unsung heroes of Sunday morning worship)

    And people are most comfortable when a church is not 100% full. They like personal space.

    Kinda interesting.

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  8. Niki, that sounds like a nice approach to church, especially after you have all been so worn out on ministry. If your family keeps growing the way it has been, you'll have a pretty big congregation in no time. LOL.

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  9. Those are interesting points, Susie. That is so true about the nursery. I know that a lot of people with small children avoid church. But even in that area there are many different church cultures. Mine has the children in during worship, and we tolerate a lot of noise during that time. If the child is actually being destructive or running up on the stage the children's workers intervene in a helpful sort of spirit.

    Some people prefer to keep there children with them and some really enjoy a nursery. So I like that we have a middle ground.

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  10. I really like this post, Dina. And although I don't want to criticize the church building, I will say that I can concentrate on the Message better when my butt isn't sleeping from hard oak pews.

    I also don't believe preachers need to shout the Message to us, although some people like that aspect of it.

    When we were small and my mom didn't drive, we used to go to whatever Protestant church was within walking distance. But once Mom got her licence, she seemed to become a church-hopper - that is to say, a person who goes to different church buildings every week(s) as if trying them out. She was searching for something and has apparently found it since she's attended the same church for a dozen years now. I'm glad she's settled.

    One of my favorite church sites is a bunch of wooden benches beneath the pines on the Rafter 6 Ranch outside of Calgary, Alberta. The owners have built an actual church building on the ranch now, but I believe they still use the ancient space beneath the trees in the summer. It's been there forever and I've felt peace and love every time I step into the cool shade at the base of the Rockies where the sound of the crashing white water of the Kananaskis River rises from the canyon below and birds twitter and chirp above me.

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  11. Visiting around and finding the right church can be hard, Anita. Almost as hard as those pews. LOL.

    The church on the ranch sounds wonderful.

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  12. Anita, that place on the ranch sounds like a perfect worship setting.

    Dina, I agree 100% that we are a sisterhood. I don't know how Gina found us all, but I'm so thankful she did.

    Niki, you family fellowship sounds like an ideal place for healing.

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