Wednesday, December 02, 2009

LONERS AND LEAVERS

In my own personal and ministry journey, I think I've stumbled across at least two things that are broken in the church in general. I don't think they are the answer to this post, but I do think they are part of the problem. I see them in my own student ministry and in the adult populous too. I think they are actually American cultural norms that have subtly seeped into the ethos of our church community that will not be broken over night, but must be challenged nonetheless.

They are the tendency among people to be (1) loners and (2) leavers.

LONERS:

Loners may come every weekend and might even call a space their "home church", but they aren't connected to anyone. They come in, sit down, sing, listen, and when it's over.. they quietly walk out. They don't know anyone really. They usually don't serve, they might give in the offering, but they are shielded from any real emotional investment with people.

In our high school program, some avoid connection by going to "main service" where they can hide in the crowd of adults who they won't have to speak to. Some come to our program but they remain unconnected. They sit at the same table with others or will be a mere feet from 6 kids who go to their school, and they won't talk. Or they'll come in, hide behind the screen of a cell phone and the ear buds of an ipod and then leave. They are loners and there are some every weekend.

Loners can be found in any crowd, large or small, and it's not just a personality thing either. The tendency to skim in life and keep shallow, easy to manage, low level investments is at epidemic levels in our culture. We don't talk things through with friends, we pay others to listen. We value the "I can do it" role model and don't feel the need to connect deeply. Add to that the mixed danger and blessing of the internet/social networking and the need to actually be "physically present" anywhere is coming into question. Meetings can be held via satellite, friendships can be maintained over the internet, and we have exchanged doing life together with 140 character update that give us the false sense of proximity to one another.

I think we have a Loner Epidemic in the church and in our culture.


On the other hand, we also have (or should I say had) the LEAVERS:

Leavers stay for a while and then bounce. Maybe it's because they've been burned before and out of fear, they leave. But leaving is constant. I'm not talking about those who move away or even those who God calls elsewhere, I'm just talking about the massive tendency to give up.

Real community, true community can not be fabricated or fast tracked. It takes time and hard work. No marriage escapes the storms of life: they either learn to weather them and are stronger for it, or they get destroyed by pressure and collapse in the waves of trials. The same is true of the church. Many won't stick around for hard times. If someone says something they don't like from the stage, they turn in a nasty e-mail and then leave. If they feel something is wrong, they find 4 or 5 others who "feel the same", then huddle together, call it a consensus, and leave.

We have all heard that, "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence". But I say, "the grass is greener where you water and fertilize it." I know most of my blog readers are not farmers and like me (if they buy their fertilizer at all) get the stuff that comes in nice, sterile bags you can dispense without touching. But in case we forgot, fertilizer is essentially crap. When you stop fertilizing life with crap, you end up with a false facade of health. In southern California, where water is scarce and a nice lawn is a lot of year round hard work, many will settle for the nice, low maintenance, "green" fake stuff instead. This true in church too, we settle for fake stuff or leave if the real stuff takes too much work. True healthy community cannot be found if you don't hang around in the midst of and through some (ie: a lot of) crap. And while we're at it, let's be honest: we all have lots of crap to contribute to the pile.

When God calls us to a community, we can't truly experience what God has for us in it unless we stick around. But we don't do that much these days. Many just leave cuz they can. Investment is low, options are high, and the desire to avoid conflict outweighs the desire for crap filled fertile soil. So they go to the next church in hopes for greener pastures or until the crap gets deep, and then the cycle repeats.


I think it's time to call it. I don't think we honor God as Loners and Leavers. I think we must refuse to settle for something this shallow and this insignificant. God has way more for us than this. God was way more for me than this. I'm trying to be an investor and a owner of my own faith and community. But it is not easy, and some days, it feels like swimming against a cultural tide.

3 comments:

Trent Andreas 4:15 PM  

Hey brian, I, for one am staying. there is no way i would leave. encounter is my second family. almost everytime im there i hear myself think "yeah, this is home." people dont know what they are missing out on. thank you.

brian c. berry 4:34 PM  

thanks trent. you da man. thanks for all you do in Encounter. I'm proud of you and excited to see the man you are becoming.

Ed Noble 9:42 PM  

This is some good thinking & a good way to say it. Maybe this could evolve into a message?

Charis humin!
Ed

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Husband. Dad. Jesus Follower. Friend. Learner. Athlete. Soccer coach. Reader. Builder. Dreamer. Pastor. Communicator. Knucklehead.

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