the weblog of Alan Knox

From the outside looking in

Posted by on Jan 15, 2009 in community, fellowship | 14 comments

A few weeks ago, while we were travelling during the Christmas break, our family “visited” a church. This was not just any “church”, but a former home church for us. This is a very traditional, institutional church. We still have many friends who are part of this church, and we were looking forward to catching up with them.

But, that’s the problem. From the outside looking in, we can now see how difficult it is to build and maintain relationships in this kind of structure.

Walking through the halls looking for our Bible study class (Sunday school), we ran into an old friend. He was happy to see us and hugged us both and showed us to our room. He said he wanted to talk to us more, but he had things to do. He hurried off to his responsibilities, and we didn’t see him again.

While we were waiting for the class to start, I heard a familiar voice in the hallway, and I stepped outside. One of my old friends was standing there talking. He smiled and hug me and told me how much he missed me. As I was about to start talking to him, he started backing down the hallway and said that he had somewhere he needed to be. I did not see him again either.

During the “worship service” there is a “fellowship time” where people are allowed to mingle, meet, and greet while the choir sings a verse of a hymn. During this time, one of Margaret’s old friends ran up to her. She was very excited to see us and hugged Margaret, then rushed back to her pew because the music had stopped. We sat down politely as we were supposed to do, and didn’t see our friend again.

Honestly, I don’t hold anything against our friends at all. Oh, we would have loved the opportunity to sit down with them and listen to what God was doing in their lives and share some of what God was doing in our lives. We would have loved the opportunity to be edified by them and to edify them in return.

But, that did not happen. Why? Because they were not given the opportunity. And, beyond not being given the opportunity, they do not realize that it is their responsibility. They are taught that it is their responsibility to be a part of that organization and to carry out their functions within the organization.

No, I don’t hold anything against our friends. But, I’m very sorry for their loss, not the loss of spending time with us – the loss of developing real relationships fueled by the presence of the Holy Spirit – relationships that will help them through difficult situations and crises of faith much more than “Sunday school positions” or “fellowship times”.


14 Comments

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  1. 1-15-2009

    Alan, the discouragement was palpable as I read this. It is a very valuable and needed insight into what is a blatant blight upon the way many churches are structured, yet seems to go largely unaddressed.

    Real community is an essential element of the Christian faith, and God has been showing me this more and more over the past 2 years that I have been part of a house church. I also believe that real community is an excellent witness to non-Christians and something that is greatly needed in the Western World.

    Thanks for reminding me that there are a lot of people our there that value community and fellowship so much.

  2. 1-15-2009

    This post gets across the message you have been hitting at better than just about any of the others I have read. Very powerful. I hope it is well received- and dealt with.

  3. 1-15-2009

    You have hot upon one of the hardest things to do in our society-maintain true friendship and community in light of the busyness of our day to day world.

    Church can become an obligation to fulfill instead of a time of prayer and joyous celebration within the body.

    I have always been saddened by the loss of closeness that happens when you move out of a church, a job, a neighborhood. People you were close to but no more. And especially saddened by my part in allowing that to happen.

  4. 1-15-2009

    Alan,

    Unfortunately, that is life in the institutional church jungle. People act like the community is really there. However, it is clearly evident that it is not.

    In most institutional churches I’ve been a part of, the people are told by leadership that real fellowship exists there. But, the fact that it doesn’t has always been a point of contention for me.

    The deception is obvious, except to those who are entrenched in it. Many people believe what they are told without ever taking a serious look for themselves. It’s just sad.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  5. 1-15-2009

    Alan, to me, here is the million $ question: How important is it that 1Cor 14:26 is put into practice. In addition, how important is community. In our fellowship, we have time to mingle and relate, since we have no programs Sunday schools etc.

    However, our leadership has not totally caught onto the need for a more participatory service. If they saw it as important they would do something to change it. We do have a testimony time, but I don’t think that is what Paul was talking about in 1Cor 14:26.

    I would love to discuss if it is even possible to have more participation in a congregational setting, and what do you think the balance is for small group dynamics vs congregational dynamics?

    Thanks. Once again great discussion!

  6. 1-15-2009

    How easy it is to be in a building full of Christians and not have any fellowship.

  7. 1-15-2009

    Cities are filling with lonely people brushing elbows, as are churches. All of the churches I personally have been a part of have been organizations whose main goal is to maintain and grow the organization. People are often too busy to really spend time with each other because they are doing their organizational duties to keep the wheels of the organization turning.

    The people in the organizations have little time to develop true friendships and community with each other. They have even less time to develop these things with those outside the church.

    I am finding great value in putting my time and energy into getting to know and develop relationships with people outside the church. These are people who for the most part would never step foot inside a church, so would never hear the Gospel “preached” there.

    There are probably a zillion Christians who would argue until they are blue in the face that inside a church is the proper place to preach the Gospel. I’d say it is ONE place to preach the Gospel, but probably not the best place.

    Last Sunday morning I had a most interesting experience while doing what I do every other Sunday morning with my church (there are seven of us). Maybe there is another church that does this, but I’ve never heard of one. It’s a short story and I’d be happy to post it somewhere for your “stories” series. Just tell me where to post it.

  8. 1-15-2009

    Andrew,

    I don’t think it was “discouragement” as much as have sympathy on my friends who haven’t experienced fellowship. Thanks for contiuing this discussion. You added several important points about community and fellowship.

    Strider,

    Thanks. It looks like several people are interested in discussing this topic.

    Andy,

    We have tried to keep organization and busy-ness from getting in the way of fellowship and community.

    Gary,

    Deception… that’s a hard word, but sometimes it feels like that.

    Jack,

    Several of people have told me that its possible to have community without participation in the meeting. I don’t understand how though.

    Arthur,

    Yes, it is.

    -Alan

  9. 1-15-2009

    Sam,

    Please email your story to me at aknox@sebts.edu

    Thanks!

    -Alan

  10. 1-15-2009

    Alan,

    I agree with Strider. Your words reveal your own heart,and so many issues which affect the family of God. I must admit they caused me to feel some old scars, and to be very thankful.

    The I.C has a very effective fire brigade,which you’ve illustrated, and about which Paul warned the Thessalonian church. After exhorting them to continue in mutual ministry, he told them,”Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. “(NIV).

    The IC effectively extinguishes the influences of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Most evangelical groups recognise (at least in print) that God,through His indwelling Holy Spirit is the fount from which all life and function of His people flows.

    The fire of God’s Spirit, like all fire (apart from wild-fire) must be fed with the right care, such as the Scriptural “one-anothers”).

    Paul understood that the Holy Spirit amongst God’s people could be nurtured to burn with life giving strength.

    Expediency has created ignorance which enables the cold, dank atmosphere of a damp, dark cellar, to prevail in most of, what has become the cult of Christianism.

    When God’s people are controlled by a leadership, or an understanding of “church” which causes them to be cold and lifeless (despite the initial responses) in the service of one another as the family of God,they ARE doing what Paul warned about, “quenching the Spirit.”

    What we traditionally call “church” today, is no more than a culture, as you have demonstrated.

    It is a culture in which an individual thinks he/she can choose to have sufficient “Christianity” to get him/her to heaven, a mere religious,dead form, in the atmosphere of which the graces of the indwelling Spirit simply cannot flourish.

    A far cry from what Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”(John 7:38-39)

  11. 1-15-2009

    Great object lesson to illustrate what you’ve been saying all along. How sad to live in that box…and not even realize what they are missing.

  12. 1-16-2009

    Aussie John,

    There is definitely a culture involved in the traditional, institutional church. I think there are some good things about that culture, but there are some unhealthy things as well.

    Kat,

    For a long time, I didn’t know what I was missing either. Now, I don’t want to go back.

    -Alan

  13. 1-17-2009

    Our experience back in the States the past 8 months has been very similar with what you write in this post. Trying to understand that this is the way it is with everyone being busy, we have hung around after services hoping to visit and maybe go out for lunch and get caught up over the past few years, only to find that when church is over everyone rushes out to their cars. On their way past us they ask when we are going back to Ecuador? We have the acceptable quick “short-version”, and then the “longer version” that takes a while to explain. We have yet to share the “longer version”. Most people seem content to hear the “short version” and then a quick good-bye.

  14. 1-17-2009

    Guy,

    Did you try to talk to anyone about the lack of relationships?

    -Alan