When church leaves you dry

desert

   O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
   ~ PSALM 63:1-2

Sometimes church leaves me dry.

Not Jesus, mind you, but rather the way we’ve set up our gatherings.
Those weekly, regular times.

If we’re not diligent, they can become rote.

And in some tribes they can be so full of intellectualism and/or routine that they leave little room for the heart of community to thrive.

Address the head only,
and the blood doesn’t travel to all parts of you
that need the life it delivers.

But address the heart only,
and you’ll lack the truth base needed
for wise decisions and godly thinking.

Can’t we engage both head and heart when we gather?

When we don’t, we birth “if only’s”:

  • If only we’d sing fewer worn-out songs, we could concentrate more on the words we are singing
  • If only they’d let women have a voice of some sort, we’d all be more balanced in our spirituality
  • If only we could actually talk to each other during our weekly gatherings, we could build each other up much better
  • If only, if only, if only...

Sometimes “if only’s” are necessary to realign our body back to the shape Jesus wants it in.

But other times, no.

Because while we need to occasionally reevaluate the purpose and efficacy of activities in our assemblies, it’s still our my own heart that needs the most work.

And sometimes my very discontent with the assembly reveals that the clearest.

When the weekly gathering leaves me dry,
I need to drink deeper from Jesus in the spaces all around it.
He is there too.

Sharing with brothers and sisters before the assembly is a drink of edification, if I’m intentional about it. And talking afterwards—even praying together as opportunities allow—is another long sip.

I can grow in these white spaces that surround the gathering.

And it’s in those white spaces that my value as a woman can be exercised. I can listen to a burdened sister, or greet a visitor who wanders in, or play with a child who needs a distraction. I can let the Spirit flow through conversations. I can encourage and be encouraged by other believers in Jesus.

I can love and be loved in the white spaces too.

And then when those special times do occur with the assembled church (and they do!)—when the gathering touches both head and heart for the Lord—our worship together is even more meaningful because of the relationships we strengthened in the white spaces.

* * *

Do you ever struggle with the way your church “does church”? How do you handle it?

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21 comments:

Dianna said...

Thank you, Lisa, for this timely post...just thank you.

Love you!

ed cyzewski said...

Oh gosh Lisa, you've really hit on some great points here. I am soooo guilty of complaining about church. The thing God has been teaching my lately is to stop caring what other people think of me. I wonder whether I'm being judged for one thing or another, and it sure makes focusing on God tough! Alas, my background in fundamentalism has shown itself again!

Lisa notes... said...

Dianna,
You are welcome. I’m praying for my heart to find the positives when I don’t always see them as clearly as I see the negatives. I want more of a heart for Jesus. The heart OF Jesus. More of Him, less of me…

I’m so glad to hear your mom continues to improve. Praising God for his kind works!

Lisa notes... said...

Ed,
God is trying to teach me that same lesson too. It’s either a hard one to learn or else I am a slow learner. Probably both.

I so appreciate how your blog touches me on so many days about church issues. You often say exactly what I would like to, but I lack the words. Or the courage to speak it aloud so clearly. The blogosphere is definitely a place where we can gain encouragement to rethink how church can be “done” and to focus on God. Thanks for your part in that.

Nikole Hahn said...

Our church created a very unusual setting...we have round tables set up wtih table clothes and a coffee bar next door. We have a thing called "table talk" where we discuss together at our table the topic for a few minutes. The tables force interaction from even the most reticence among us. It creates intimacy and fellowship just by the setting.

Lisa notes... said...

Nikole,
You can’t imagine how much I love that idea.

I’ve been serendipitously reading a little about lectio divina after getting a taste of how it can happen among individuals even in a group setting. It would work so well at tables like you mention.

Yes, the setting itself can be so important. We had a ladies class a couple summers ago where we sat around tables facing towards each other instead of in rows facing a teacher, and the setting itself helped me feel more involved as a community, not just as a “class of students.”

Jill said...

Funny thing....I've listened to others complain about church ~ some of the same complaints you list ~ and yet, when changes are made....they still aren't happy. I've always thought that it was perhaps for exactly the reason you've stated. I pray that more of us will learn to grow ~ and serve ~ through those white spaces surrounding the gathering....it really does make all the difference.

Barbara H. said...

I try to remind myself, when I wish something was done differently at church, that there are 200+ other people there and we can't possibly do things the way they would please each one -- because there are bound to be a number of different preferences (maybe 200+?) about what should be done and how.

And when I have been discontent (and boy have I been!), I am often afterwards ashamed at just what you mentioned here, that I haven't focused on Him or looked for Him or sought to be used by Him in the "white spaces." Thanks for the reminder.

Lisa notes... said...

Yes, there definitely would be as many different opinions as there are people, for sure.

And because of that we each have to watch our tendencies to hold back growth and change because our natural tendency is to never change what we like best. Yet a healthy church is a church that is willing to do what best glorifies God, not what keeps the most people the happiest. It's a tricky thing--we definitely need the Spirit to guide us!

A Joyful Noise said...

The church I am now in was a matter of convenience. Their service was short and formal, with a fellowship time afterwards. There was still time for me to pick up my mother from her church.
I love many of the hymns, but some are nice words but not much spirituality. I recently visited 3 other churches trying to determine if I should find another church. I returned to "MY" church as I believe God wants me there. They do allow me to share some of my 'stories' during a Joy and Concerns time, as long as they are short and not too preachy.

Lisa notes... said...

A Joy and Concerns time sounds very beneficial. We do something like that in Sunday school but not with the church overall. It is sometimes hard trying to find the church we’re supposed to be in. Glad you were able to end up where you believe God wants you.

Glynn said...

Where I get dry with church is when the leaders decide it's time to "get relevant to the culture" and "attract seekers." That fact is, the purpose of the church is not to "attract seekers."

Good post, Lisa.

Lisa notes... said...

Interesting comment, Glynn. Perhaps the best way to draw people to Jesus and subsequently the church is to show them a church that loves each other out of their love for God. Love is always attractive and relevant in any culture.

Kristine said...

I'd never thought of gathering with the saints as "whitespace". Very good post. Gives me much to think about.

Mama Mpira said...

Oh yes, Lisa, it IS all about our attitude. About finding Jesus in the 'whitespace' outside of the Sunday morning gathering.
I'm presently trying to serve God in quite a dry, traditional setting, desperately trying to go with an attitude of praise and worship, finding crumbs of community over coffee afterwards, seeking to give... and this is a great reminder to rejoice in the 'small things', in the white spaces that 'surround the gathering'.

Lisa notes... said...

I can imagine how difficult that is for you. But I pray God will bless you as you offer him your worship wherever you are. I can tell by your attitude of “seeking to give” that you are a blessing to those you are there with. If I were a coffee-drinker, I’d love to sit down and share a cup with you in community. :-)

Karen Eck said...

Thank you! It's a beautiful thing to both acknowledge that there is something wrong in a situation or relationship and then to also trust God with the matter and commit to live the truth he is teaching us in a way that waters the thirsty places without causing a greater rift out of the desire to force others to agree. I love your approach in this situation. It truly wells up with the character of Christ.

Lisa notes... said...

Karen,
Well, I can’t say I’m always faithful in following this approach, but I do desire it. I want my heart to be satisfied with all the ways that God shows up, whether it’s where I expect him to be active or not.
Thanks for your encouraging words.

Bonnie Gray said...

The time I served as a missionary in Hong Kong really impacted the way I respond when I'm feeling dry from church service. When I was in HK, in a foreign culture, I couldn't connect with my heart (I was connecting with the way another culture worshipped) nor my head (it was as dry as a brick in my opinion LOL). But, I went because it was my tie to other believers. And you hit the nail on the head. My true "church" was during the week outside of Sunday with the people in the body of Christ. So, Sunday was more of an identification to be in one with believers, eventho I didn't get anything from it. I still am learning and wonder how Jesus did it! - gathering in the synagogues as He grew up already knowing EVERYTHING ! :)

Monica Sharman said...

To strike out that "our" and change it to "my"...I think that is key.

Rachel said...

Very true. Just because EVERY moment of Church isn't ideal doesn't mean that they're not valuable!

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