It’s been several years now since I’ve been involved with a church.
After moving to my current town, I attended a sizeable (by the town’s standards) charismatic fellowship, but found it was too enthralled with a variety of fads, and had an unfortunate, close relationship with teachings and practices originating in the Toronto “Blessing”.
Following that I went to the other extreme and was involved in a traditional denominational church, that was sadly steeped in Calvinism. After a year or so I chose to leave them to prevent the increasing conflict that would have continued had I stayed.
In a small country town, there aren’t many options.
While I, and my faith, survived despite the limited fellowship opportunities – clearly my current situation shows that neither thrived.
Now, with my determination to seek God to turn things around, the church/fellowship issue has become the next thing I need to address. But how?
At the moment I’m following up two options. One local and one in Canberra.
The local fellowship is very small, but conveniently close to home. The Canberra group is quite large but too far away for frequent personal involvement – but even infrequent would be an improvement on nothing.
If both groups show potential, there should be no reason to choose one above the other. Both are affiliated with the same Pentecostal denomination, and I could combine ongoing involvement with the local people, and occasional visits to those in Canberra. If possible that could become a best of two worlds scenario. From experience and observation, having no or little contact beyond an individual group of Christians can lead to an unfruitful insularity.
But all of that depends on a few factors.
Are they in thrall to fads and non-scriptural practices and ideas? Do they look more to “anointed” men instead of to God? Following the latest celebrity preacher, prophet, or claimed miracle worker, without judging the fruit of their ministries?
Are their beliefs and teachings mostly in line with scripture? If not are they so rigidly fixed upon their doctrines that they refuse the possibility of learning something different should the Lord try to correct them?
And how committed will they be to the members of their congregation. Will they be quick to abandon and shun them should a member leave their group, instead of maintaining ongoing contact?
Sadly EVERY past experience I’ve had has leaned more to the shunning than any ongoing contact, even when I’ve personally tried to keep in contact, it has always been one way and unreciprocated.
There are a several things I consider to be essentials.
- Word based – having God’s word, scripture at the heart of their beliefs
- Spirit filled -recognising the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work in the individual and the congregation through His sanctifying work, and the operation of His gifts.
- Faith based – not doubters, waverers or excuse makers.
- Love based – genuinely caring for people, not just seeing them as seat fillers, increasing the size of their congregation. That also includes maintaining an interest and demonstrating genuine concern for the well-being of anyone who might choose to leave them.
- Have a foundation of prayer, including frequent corporate prayer meetings that are more than a token event.
- With committed members interested in more than only attending Sunday services.
- Genuine recognition of each members role in ministry – in other words, not restricted to a one-man-band, or an elevation of “clergy” above “laity”.
Do I expect too much?
From past experience … probably yes.
But I also want to challenge myself to be more accepting and patient, willing to listen. To trust my discernment. To not dismiss everything just because some things may be wrong. To allow others the room to grow and learn, as I know I need to grow and learn.
And I need to maintain a strength of conviction, to take a stand when necessary, but to do so with love and not impatience and without giving any impression of hostility, recognising that I also need to fulfil those expectations I’ve listed above.