Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Break From Church, Part 2: Spiritual Community

The "spiritual community" section turned into mostly stuff about community, but in my initial attempt to write this out, I was also trying to incorporate things like sermons and worship and such. But most of what I have to say about that is covered in the first bulleted section. The second section is tougher for me to figure out, because it's the one most Christians ultimately go to in explaining why I *should* go to church. It's actually the one that makes it hardest for me to go.

One of the things that I realized recently was that church has had very little positive impact on my life. (Not a lot of negative impact either, but probably more than the positive.)

  • None of my personal spiritual revelations have been inspired by a church sermon.
  • I have had MAYBE a handful of positive corporate worship experiences. Maybe. (Though most of the others are neutral, rather than negative.)
  • I begin to feel the negative effect when I go too long without spending personal time with God. I have never felt that when I go a while without attending church.
And the arguments for community? Well...
  • I have so many people I would consider good friends, but I have not formed a single real, lasting friendship with anyone I ever went to church with.
  • My greatest spiritual mentors are people I didn't go to church with.
  • Church was home to most of the loneliest moments of my life.
  • I have felt true community many times. These times have all been outside of a church group.
  • Nearly every time I have been vulnerable and opened up to someone in a church setting, I have left feeling not encouraged, but misunderstood. (I will say, though, I seldom felt judged. "Misunderstood" is exactly the right word. My church experiences were never malicious, just... unsatisfying.)
I just don't fit. This is not just the problem of the church. I don't fit in much of the rest of the world either. But church is the one place where, apparently, it is absolutely necessary that I push myself into not just participation, but *joyous* participation ("If you don't love being with church and with God's people, something is wrong with you"). It is yet one more situation where I feel completely out of place.
I cannot choose my classmates, my coworkers, or my neighbors. With any of these communities, it's a gamble whether or not I will connect with them, whether I will feel warm towards them or pleasant-but-distant. I cannot hand-pick the people who fill these communities. I must work with what I am given.

Surely, with all the other forced communities I face every day, I should at least be allowed to select the community that is helping me grow spiritually. Surely my support system should be something I can hand-pick to help me grow. Surely I will encounter enough difficult people I can learn from in my other social interactions that I can afford to be exclusive about who sees me in my most vulnerable spiritual moments.

So often when I chat online with any of my close Christian friends, I have encouraging, challenging, spiritually stimulating discussions and leave with a passion and desire to connect with God.

So often when I go to church, I am bombarded with social interactions I do not have the energy for, sit through worship and a sermon I am not challenged by, and leave early with a desperate need to recuperate from an experience that did not enrich me in any way.


  1. I think it is possible someone is going to say something about how it's not all about you being enriched but you having the opportunity to enrich others. I just wanna address that before it happens and say that you have definitely enriched my spiritual walk and we don't go to "church" together. Just wanted to throw that out there. I feel many if not all of the same things you have posted so far and I just want to add that not only do I personally feel more enriched by encounters with other believers that occur outside of traditional church... But most of the situations where I have had a chance to REALLY disciple others in an effective way has occurred outside of traditional church.

    I have recently realized though that it is important for me to meet with a community of believers on a scheduled time rather than just letting it happen naturally like I thought I could. I realized that unfortunately my conversations don't lead there often enough and I end up starving for spiritual community. The "scheduled meetings" I am a part of don't look or feel anything like a church service and don't meet in a building and is full of people I also see outside of that scheduled time... Unlike church. I haven't been part of a traditional church where I see the members on a regular basis and they are truly PART of my life. Don't get me wrong... I have had WONDERFUL memories of people I know from traditional church. But most of those memories are from the few and far between times I met up with them outside of a church event.

    1. Haha, actually, the whole thing about reaching out to other people is part of tomorrow's post. :) So you and I are on the same page of thinking there. And thank you... You have definitely enriched my spiritual life as well.

      I do understand the idea of it not happening naturally all that often. I think for me it fades in and out. If I'm doing well with my personal life with God, I get eager to share that with my friends. If I'm getting lazy, I don't. Although none of that for me is solved by going to church - if I'm being lazy in my walk with God, that causes greater depression, social anxiety, and impatience with those around me. I'm sure there's a way to enhance my sense of spiritual community when I'm having issues like that, but I don't think church provides that for me. So far I find that the best thing for me is to simply be in frequent contact with those I find spiritually enriching - enough that they can start to sense if I'm losing my way in my walk. That kind of thing. But I don't know. I play it by ear sometimes.

      Incidentally, we should totally have more spiritual discussions. :)