Shhh…

(Warning: Trigger alert for those who have experienced abuse or emotional trauma in a church setting.)

______

Shhh. You can’t say that!

What? Why not?*

It’s not positive. It doesn’t look good. People will think . . . Well, you just can’t put that stuff out there. At least not on Facebook.

But this is how I feel right now.

Yeah, I know. But it’s still not appropriate to spread that stuff around. People will think… Well, it just doesn’t seem right for a Christian to use that language.

What language? Words like ‘sad,’ ‘angry,’ ‘frustrated,’ and ‘disappointed’ are me right now.

Yeah. But maybe you could lift the tone a little . . .

You mean pretend?

Hmmm . . . No, well not . . . not rrreally. it’s just a little “attitude shift.” Be a little more upbeat, positive, happy.

Sounds like pretending to me.

No, it’s not . . . Well, maybe just a little. But it’s for a good cause. I mean, you don’t want everyone to catch your negativity. It is contagious, you know. People need to see that you’re victorious over your negative feelings. You need to be an example, a shining light of God’s joy, love and peace in difficult circumstances.

But I’m not happy right now. I’m churning up inside. I don’t have anything I feel that I can give right now.

Looking at the big picture, that’s not really important. Give your doubts to God. What people need to see is that you’re trusting God, that you believe God is in control.

church-lonelinessBut I don’t feel like anyone’s in control right now. I’m aching inside and I’m so mad at those stupid people. I warned them! When they stood up and said ‘We must do this,’ and ‘It’s part of God’s grand plan,’ I said, ‘How can God have such a nutty plan that requires us to check our brains at the door and blindly say ‘Yes’ to what one group of men has told us we should do?’

I know it looks complicated right now, but you’ll see one day as you look back on this time of testing that it was all for the best.

Really? The best for who? People are . . . hurting. I’m hurting. I’m afraid. I don’t feel like I have it in me to go back there.** My Facebook friends may be feeling the same way I am and they might need my understanding. They need to know they’re not the only ones who feel like this. But the truth is . . . The truth is we’re all grieving what could have been. We’re grieving what we could have accomplished, given the chance. We thought we would be heard and understood. . . . but it seems like we’ve been wasting our time. And now all we have is an empty feeling. Loss. Hurt. Grief. I’d like to think honesty would go a long way right now towards our collective healing and recovery. I just need to be real right now.

But people will think . . .

Think what? That I’m like them? That I’m human and have emotions? Flaws? Fears?

People will think you’re not a good example of a Christian.

That’s so shallow! Seriously? They can <insert your choice of expletive-laden phrase here> Let them think whatever they want to.

(And, just like that I had one less Facebook friend.)

_____

*Based on actual conversations. **Image from the pen of the talented David Hayward a.k.a. Naked Pastor www.nakedpastor.com. If you are suffering from or have experienced spiritual abuse, there is a community that can support and encourage you in your path towards healing at www.thelastingsupper.com

What Your Church (Probably) Doesn’t Want You to Know about Giving

It’s the giving season.giving

If you haven’t noticed, you soon will. As Christmas approaches, we will soon be bombarded from all sides by messages urging us to buy expensive gifts for our family and friends. Charities will use this time to raise money for their programs. If you live in the northern hemisphere, Autumn is upon you and many churches and organisations use this season to run pledge drives to underwrite their budgets for the following year (This works so well with back-to-school ‘Homecoming’ or seasonal ‘Thanksgiving’ themes).

Churches rely on gifts from their membership to sustain the many programs they run and to employ staff. Today it seems we must have some sort of structure and this requires finances to maintain.

I am in no way against supporting my local church. If I align myself to a congregation in my community and receive nurturing in that context, it’s only right for me to give to keep the church doors open and support-providing programs running.

What I cannot support, however, is the growing number of pastors, evangelists, and Christian churches and ministries who keep the subject of giving in front of their congregation, constantly reminding and reprimanding them with commands from the Old Testament in order to keep giving to the church/ministry, and promising them God’s blessing if they do so.

Following are four observations I have made about this from my own experience.

Giving to your Church is not the same as giving to your community.

In most cases, over 95% of your community does not have anything to do with your church. While the argument is often made that the church facilitates ‘the work of God’ in the community, statistics fail to support this.

Then there’s the question of what actually is ‘the work of God’? Is it running programs on Sunday to benefit the children of those who attend the church? Is it facilitating a seniors’ ministry on a weekday morning for the elderly church members and their friends? Is it putting on special events to draw in the community in an effort to ‘share the gospel’ with them in exchange for entertainment, food and/or fireworks?

Or is ‘the work of God’ that which Jesus time and time again exemplified in stories such as the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sheep and in such sayings such as found in Matthew 25:35-36–

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

It has been my experience that, whenever churches in the Evangelical tradition speak about ‘Giving,’ they are referring to giving your money to The Church to enable it to run its programs and pay its staff, or giving your time to be on any number of church ministry rosters—from music to making coffee; from cleaning the church to teaching Sunday School.

And, while this is often called ‘giving to the community,’ is more likely has absolutely  nothing to do with the wider community and everything to do with meeting budget and providing programs for the initiated ones.

Giving to your church is not a Biblical requirement.

I had a friend who visited a growing evangelical church in our area a few years ago and I asked him what he thought of it (he is Catholic). He said the service was uplifting, the people were friendly and the sermon was very helpful and practical. Then he shared how, as he entered the door, he saw tables set up and people sitting at either side of them filling in forms and exchanging money. When he asked about this, he was told it was for the purpose of tithing. On one side of the table sat the church elders who were questioning the church’s members about their income the previous week and then taking 10% as a tithe for the work of the church.

Like me, he found that very strange a practice.

But it is common—maybe not so blatantly, but still a popular notion in Christian circles that members are asked (required?) to give at least 10% (the ‘tithe’ is stated as 10% and ‘offerings’ are anything above that).

Others have written extensively about this practice on both sides of the debate. One of the most thorough treatments I have seen has been this one by L. Ray Smith.

In summary, the tithe is an Old Testament ‘tax’ on God’s people to pay for the upkeep of the temple and its priesthood. There are other tithes in Scripture as well—of produce, of stock, and a ‘poor tax.’ Some have estimated that, if we are to be ‘Biblical’ about tithing, we would be giving around 20% of our income, not just one-tenth.

That said, St Paul writes about those who ‘labour in the gospel’ (which we would understand to be those whose only job is full-time service in the Church) to be deserving of payment for their labour (1 Corinthians 9:14), yet he himself didn’t do this just in case people thought he was profiting from his preaching. How unlike many of today’s money-grabbing televangelists.

Giving to your Church is not a measure of faithfulness to Christ.

I am convinced that, many times, church ministries become the conscience-salve we use when we want to stay in a safe, protected environment. It’s the love of the familiar, for those who were raised within its doors. It’s easy because all you need to do is sign up and show up. We won’t be subject to constant swearing, the mentally ill, addicts and we won’t have to give our time to those who we may deem to be ‘unworthy.’ Apart from one morning a week and the occasional evening, we’re not really put out that much at all. And the added benefit is that we will been seen by all our fellow churchgoers to be faithful to Christ. (Should we choose not to be involved, we can still give our money and that will be enough to keep the pastor from calling us, maybe…)

I remember a funeral I attended once where a rather ordinary man in his 60s was being farewelled after a brief battle with cancer.* He wasn’t actively involved in his church, though he was respected by all who knew him. The funeral was simple—a few hymns, a eulogy from his eldest child, and a slide show. Then . . . then the testimonies started. “He regularly volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need.” “He showed up every Thursday at the homeless shelter to serve lunch.” “He visited the local school and helped kids with their reading.” “His neighbours could depend on him any time to help them out.” “His work colleagues were amazed by his positive attitude and caring words.” “He was a blood donor.” “He sponsored three children in Kenya.” “He volunteered with the State Emergency Service.”

What an inspiration! He followed the example of Jesus in giving over and over again and, in his giving, influenced more people than those who sacrificed every cent and every moment of their life to church ministries. His faithfulness to the calling of God in his life was evident inside and outside of the confines of his church circles.

Giving is a lifestyle choice.

Generosity is a choice we make every day when we plan our time, our spending and our priorities. We decide to be generous when we decide to smile and give our co-workers encouragement. We follow the example of Christ when we give to those in need without being asked, begged, or solicited by a door-knocker. We contribute to our community in meaningful ways—not simply as an armchair activist or opinionist. We know the truth of the saying attributed to Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and so we cheerfully dig deep, bring a plate, buy the next round, open our home, give our time and talents to our larger community, not just to those who think the same way we do.

In doing this, we truly show ourselves not only to be people of integrity and purpose, but people who love, following in the generous path of the One who loved humanity and showed it in the generous grace of giving.

_______

*Details have been altered so as not to identify the man or his family.

Silly Songs in the back of a Holden EH Station Wagon

“In – de – pen – dent Bi – ble Church . . .”

The staccato notes see-sawed as the girls in the far back of the family station wagon sang them in full 11-year-old voice.EHF

“Is the best church a – ny – where.”

Every morning my dad made the school run from our house around the outer suburbs of
Adelaide then straight down Regency Road to Beverley where Faith Christian School—‘the first independent Christian School in Adelaide’—had recently opened its doors. To make the monotonous hour-and-a-bit drive slightly more bearable, Juline (my sister) and Linda (her best friend) had written songs about anything and everything we passed every day.

“If you go you’ll like it so . . .”

Oh, yes. Did I mention my dad was the Principal?

We had moved to Australia at the invitation of a family who wanted to start an independent, fundamentalist, dispensationalist Christian Church. Dad had been teaching theology in the Philippines and felt the call of the Lord to Australia. When this opportunity arose, it was like an answer to prayer, a dream come true.

“You will never want to go.”

The Church began holding meetings in the Enfield (now Broadview) Masonic Hall on Regency Road, about a 10-minute drive from the city centre. Apart from the family previously mentioned and our family of four, there was a handful of regulars who met every Sunday morning for Sunday School and Worship, then Sunday evening for a more informal service.

  • Mr L. He escaped the Communist regime in Latvia by jumping ship and swimming to Sweden.
  • Miss B. We laughed every time she stood on her tip-toes and raised her hands while she sang (something that my parents frowned upon, being a Pentecostal thing, yet tolerated).
  • Mrs P and Ann. Mr. P had died a few years prior to our arrival and left Nancy with a little down syndrome girl, Ann.
  • Miss P and Miss A. Two spinster ladies who were mainstays in the Child Evangelism Fellowship in Adelaide. They lived together and did everything together. Today they could well be the subject of runours.
  • Lee. A single man who lived nearby who, like Mr L and Miss B, spent a lot of his time in the Psychiatric Hospital at Glenside. He was a regular counsellor at the CEF camps and, like the two old ladies, would spark a fair amount of gossip in today’s society.

What a mix-up of people!

Mr L played the accordion and sang occasionally but, besides that, our family and the Elias family did everything else in the Church from playing the out-of-tune piano to cleaning up the beer and wine bottles from the Saturday night party in the hall we rented.

“Like it so” wasn’t exactly the phrase I would use, but my sister and her bestie sang it like they believed it. Perhaps they truly felt like this was a place people could come together and feel at home . . . or perhaps it just rhymed nicely.

Regardless of how they felt at the time, the morning of the Church’s 2nd Anniversary service, Mr Elias showed up alone, handed dad a letter, and left. In the letter dad found out that this family was increasingly concerned about our involvement with CEF and other “Christian” groups in the city and believed that, because of our “compromise,” they must do the biblical thing and separate from us.

Mum and Dad were crushed. In a strange country, this family had been our only real friends. They had helped us settle in, adjust to the Aussie culture and way of life, and provided so much emotional support as we made this transition.

That night we hardly felt like celebrating. It was just us and the ‘misfits’ left in our cosy little church. But the show must go on and, in front of the 60-or-so folks who attended that evening, dad put on a brave face. We sang our hearts out. Mrs P’s brother came and played a couple of hymns on his ‘saw’ (which we recorded and used years later as ghost music for a drama). We exceeded all expectations as we (hypocrites?) praised God for the great things he had done.

A year later, the church changed its name and relocated. Most of the original crew disappeared except for Mrs P and Ann. Oddly enough, Faith Christian School didn’t last the year. It closed its doors and, in its place, Maranatha Christian School was born (which is now a campus of Sunrise Christian School in Sturt).

What an interesting chapter of life that was! Childhood innocence crossing the realities of friends stepping out of our lives. Start-ups with hopes and dreams, changing, re-imagining themselves, and growing—and shrinking–in unpredicted ways.

And, yet, while so much changed for us in those few years, I don’t remember my parents ever losing their focus or their enthusiasm for what they believed was God’s calling. Whether or not the path they took was the best path or not, I am not in a position to make that judgement. And although I’m certain I have forgotten many if the details (and, hopefully, the nastiest ones), I still remember nearly every song those girls sang in that overcrowded, yellow Holden EH wagon.