I’m going to put the whole authority/leadership bit to rest in another post that should grab some interest.  In the meantime, I think a bit of an update is necessary.  It is in fact very much linked to my spiritual travelings.


I’ve started going back to the Methodist church in part, or at least just the Sunday school.  I don’t see myself going to a regular church service gladly.  I do see myself teaching again, but my techniques will be different and so will the content.  I have a better picture of where God is headed and I’m just opening up the possibility for other people. I’m going to try to be a bit less agenda-driven.  Or less purpose driven.  Only God really and truly knows what the outcome and purpose a person has in his/her life and our job is to be open to that leading and to equip ourselves and others wherever that takes us.


Arwyn and the boys still go to Saddleback East and I’m okay with it.  I actually better understand now why she had to make a move.  She was withering on the vine without any real relationships at the Methodist church.  And the Saddleback East Church has some programs that support the forming of deeper relationships.


Read that again: the part about it having programs that attempt to promote relationships.  Am I the only one that finds this odd?  That forming relationships has to be part of a church’s programming?  When did relationships become a line on the budget?  Did the early Christians have to have small group outreaches and programming to promote relationships?


Arwyn and I have talked about this fairly extensively. 


Yes, shocking isn’t it?  And she really does like talking about these things and has a bit of a heart for such conversations like we’ve sort of had around here.  She’s not terribly interested in the whole theology of a relational ministry, but just likes the idea of what could be described as a “real” Christian relationship.  And yet she’s not too keen to really get out from under the institution. 


We had another small group thing yesterday, and our small group is smaller.  It’s us and then another couple who have a boat load of kids.  Like 8 or so with 3 of them under the age of 10.  They are supposedly typical (Two teenagers have mild/moderate disabilities) but they are a lot more clingy/needy than my two boys.  We were at a large park with stuff to do for the kids, but they always wanted attention.  I’ve seen this from a lot of kids and I’m going to be observing to answer the question: how do you teach young kids to play independently?  Our boys can do it, except for the occasional argument where adult intervention is needed.  We watch them closely, but we’re not hovering. 


Anyway, that made adult interaction more complicated although we did manage to have a pretty decent time.  I think the kids all had fun.  This other couple is open to a lot of the things I’ve mentioned here, and have their own interesting background which includes a history of pain and rejection from church people.  I’m not sure these are people we would socialize with without the church program and without the whole disability label, but I’m willing to see where it goes.  Heaven knows I have much to learn.


It just sort of hit me that I’m not terribly skilled when it comes to relating on any level deeper than the surface.  I can talk and engage, but there’s always a part that never fully commits.  That has been true in my marriage more than anywhere else.  I think God is taking the long and scenic route into some newer place where I might actually learn about real relationship and truly being invested in other people.  The institutional church has been an exceedingly poor teacher of how to have meaningful and genuine relationships.  It seems to embrace hypocrisy as some sort of birthright!  Yes, yes, I know it is made up of flawed people etc.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.   But the problem is everyone shows up in their Sunday best and rarely allows their real Monday-Saturday selves or brings the M-S problems with them.  Especially the pastors.  They never seem to bring their burdens to the altar publicly.


Hebrews 10:25 talks about meeting together to encourage and lift one another up,  but that stimulation we are enjoined to participate in rarely comes out.  Sometimes it does happen accidentally.


Jesus did not come to start a new religion.  He came so that we could have a relationship with God through His atoning sacrifice.  And that’s just something that can not be “programmed” in to a service in a typical worship center. 


To be honest, I have been more than a little deficient in the relationship arena on many levels.  While sex is very important to me, it can’t be just the sole focus of everything I think of as relationship.  It is the manifestation of several dysfunctions, including a major one that has roots in the spiritual realm.  Actually they all do, if I think about it. So basically I’m sort of starting over and working from scratch in all my relationships.  Since Arwyn and I have recognized and talked about where we are, spiritually speaking, it is a much less contentious thing for both of us.  She doesn’t resent me for not going to her church, and I don’t resent her for leaving our old one.  The fact that her and I have had some deeper conversations about these things has made us not being together for 90 or so minutes on a Sunday morning less of an issue.  God basically used Arwyn’s actions as a catalyst to open my eyes as to where I really was.


God is not so much calling us out of institutional churches as much as calling us into a relationship with Him.  The fact is, the institutional church happens to put up obstacles and road blocks to that relationship.  The clergy-laity divisions, the controlling nature of the organization, the lack of equipping, and the burden of financially nursing along an administrative and professional staff while supplying all the needs that maintaining a large physical plant entail all get in the way of a relationship with God.


I remember Christian Husband writing about Christian unity.  He basically said he had a hard-on for Christian unity and then went on to outline what it might take to get something resembling unity amongst the family of Jesus Christ.   And now I know that unity will never come as long as each institution insists on defending its own turf.  It’s like calling for unity amongst fast food chains.  The Catholics are like McDonald’s where you get almost the same thing no matter where you go.  Then you have some Burger King-like congregations where you can customize your order.  Or Wendy’s or Arby’s, each with it’s own brand and innovations.  Each has an interest in stealing the clients of the other.  Universally, they can all agree that more people should eat fast food.  They may all join forces to oppose negative advertising and legislation concerning the health of their foods even while devising ways to fool consumers into thinking that fast food can be part of a healthy diet.  But they will not agree on what should be on the menu or how it should be prepared or served except in the most generic sense when they adopt one another’s most successful hooks.  Look how many places now offer a kid’s meal with a toy!  Or how many have a drive through window!  This is not an angle towards unity, this is pure competition!


And so it is within a community where there are several church groups fighting over the same consumers.  The CGM churches employed superior research and marketing and are now getting more people than the older franchises. 


As long as each of you wears your franchise’s colors to the gathering, it isn’t unity and it never will be.  I’m telling you to quit the fast food altogether and join with others and share the food you have!  You will be eating healthier and you will leave the table more satisfied.  I don’t know of too many people who have forged many meaningful relationships at the drive through window.  But when 2 or 3 sit around the family table you actually have all you need there and more.  You serve each other instead of relying on paid staff to cook your fries and burgers.  It may take a bit longer, but the experience helps forge real and more functional relationships and somehow you might not mind as much if you can’t leave at a certain time.  You won’t need ushers, an organist, and people to direct traffic in the parking lot, nursery workers, custodians, landscapers, exterminators, sound system people and lighting people.


Church does not have to be what about half of you who are believers have already dropped out of.  There’s another way that is truer to scripture and much less burdensome and threatening.







4 Responses to Relationship

  1. aphron says:

    You and I sound similar in that we tend to have superficial relationships. I tend to have my shields up at all times. Of my many failings, that is the one I want to improve upon. It tends to limit my relationship with God. It tends to decrease my level of being passionate.

    Having that relationship is very important. Hopefully, Arwyn and you will use it to rebuild bridges.

  2. […] Digger Jones discusses the debate he’s been having with his wife about the importance of “relational programing” inside their churches. Here’s a telling section from his writing: It just sort of hit me that I’m not terribly skilled when it comes to relating on any level deeper than the surface. I can talk and engage, but there’s always a part that never fully commits. That has been true in my marriage more than anywhere else. I think God is taking the long and scenic route into some newer place where I might actually learn about real relationship and truly being invested in other people. The institutional church has been an exceedingly poor teacher of how to have meaningful and genuine relationships. […]

  3. Desmond Jones says:

    Digger, you touch on some really good stuff here. Jesus’ priestly prayer from John 17 rings in my ears – “Father, may they all be one as You are in me and I am in you; may they also be in us, so that the world may know You sent me.

    One of the catch-phrases we use in our community is, ‘Christian community is right relationships of brotherly love’. How we love each other (really love each other, not just treat each other nice) is deeply of-the-essence of the Christian life.

    Unfortunately, the culture we live in is profoundly shallow (pun intended), and it takes a lot of, I don’t know – faith?, to really put ourselves out there for the kind of deeply committed relationships that really ought to mark the Christian life (and, as you so aptly point out, Christian marriages probably most of all).

    You are right – when we’re operating out of a marketing/’franchise’ paradigm, we’re really missing the point. We really need to learn how to put our lives on the table with and for each other. But not many of us have even the first clue of how to go about actually doing that.

  4. diggerjones says:

    It might be a gross over-generalization, but I tend to find this to be common among Methodists, especiallly, Aphron. The “method” during a service is fairly rigid but the spiritual disciplines that marked the earliest of the societies has mostly disappeared. Once it bcame a denomination with bishops and pastors, the society/community part vanished.

    I remember you writing about your community experience, Desmond, and suspect it is closer to what the first century Christians were doing than most 21st century churches. We learn about relating and relationships by doing it and by seeing how others do it. If all you experience and see are 2-D relationships, it is difficult to learn how to move beyond that.


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