Friday, December 28, 2012

What I learned in Church: Part II, College Para-church student group

When I was 24 years old, in March 1999, I reached the bottom of my downward spiral and prayed to God for help and a new beginning.

I found a church that was pretty big in size, with a preacher that spoke in a strong Scottish accent (bonus!), but there was simply no way that I was going to realistically connect with anyone at the church in a meaningful way.

Before I had left for college, my father had told me to look up a group called The Navigators, which was a ministry group that he had found while in the military. On my college campus, there were a dozen such ministry groups and some were pretty popular and had large gatherings of students. The Navigators were only a couple dozen college students, but I found them to be genuine and down to earth. Exactly what I needed as a new follower of Christ.

The leader of the group met with me once or twice a week for one-on-one discipleship lessons which were invaluable and have stuck with me to this very day. With him, I was building a firm foundation from which I would never waiver.

I have to admit, that my life was still somewhat compartmentalized with this group. They were not my closest friends, and though I had turned my life over to Jesus, turning it over to other people - even those who clearly loved Jesus - was something that I was not quite ready to do wholly and completely.

My early years as a Christian were very much spent in solitude - reading the Bible, study materials, prayer, journaling, etc. Communion and fellowship were not a priority for me at that point, something that would have also probably done me a world of good at that point.

What I learned from this college Para-church ministry:

1. There are actually genuine, down-to-earth Bible believing Christians in existence. And they are really nice, and very welcoming.

2. You can "go to church" every single week, but if you are not building real relationships with real people then you are missing out on the big picture.

3. These relationships aren't always found within the four walls of "the church" and they don't always happen between 11 am and noon on a Sunday morning.

4. To this day, I've always felt bad that I wasn't a better friend to these people during this time. But as a new Christian, there was only so much that I could tackle at the time. And giving of myself wholly and completely to these people was not in the cards.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What I learned in Church: Part I, The Small Traditional Church

I grew up in a small traditional church in Southgate, MI. It was an American Baptist church with about 80 people in attendance each week. (80 is actually the national average by the way.)

My parents went to this church. And my Grandparents went to this church. I suspect that this was probably the case for most of the attenders at this church. We sang hymns while a choir sang and an organist and a pianist played along. The preacher was down-to-earth and low-key, and 30 years later, he is still preaching there today. I attended this church for my entire childhood, until I was 17 years old, and my family moved away from the area.

This church specialized in tradition and family. There were numerous potlucks, musicals, and other social functions which served to strengthen the familial bond of the church family. Evangelism was not a strong priority and moving forward with the "times" was also not a priority.

Looking back, I can appreciate this church now more than I may have back then. Nothing much ever changes at that church. But in some ways, that can be a good thing.

Growing up in that church, my family was about as involved as we could be. This was a good thing sometimes, but other times it was not a good thing. My friends at church were not my friends at school, and my friends at school were not my friends in my neighborhood, and my friends at church were not my friends in my neighborhood. So my life as a child and as a teenager was very compartmentalized:


Ironically, it was my friends in my neighborhood who bore the most influence over me and to this day, they are my closest friends in life. There was never any crossover between these three worlds of mine and I'm convinced that that was never a good thing. Some crossover might have done me some good.

So what did I learn from this church?

1. I learned that your church family is exactly that - a family. You can take the good with the bad. This was a wonderful support group for our family, but as a teen I began to see the hypocrisy in some people at church and it rubbed me the wrong way.

2. While my father had some close relationships with other men who were Godly men, my family really didn't connect with other full-fledged families at the church, and I didn't really connect with any of my peers at the church. These men were great to have around our home (as friends of my father), but I would have been better off if my parents had become closer to other families that would have had a greater impact on me than just a bunch of single guys.

3. A simple church has a lot less problems. Things are easier. They are slower. Budgets are much smaller. Worship is simpler and therefore easier to pull off. And people don't tend to come and go through the front door like it is a revolving door.

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to Beta by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro