By nature humans are polarizing creatures. We want our way and we want our friends to want our way. Those who don’t want our way are evil and must be destroyed.
Have you ever wondered why churches split over the color of the carpet? (Okay, admittedly that’s rare, but it’s happened) Why do pastoral staff have such conflict? Why do people leave churches when they’re “not being fed” (code for “I don’t like it here anymore”)?
Because it’s easier that way. Nothing more.
The Easy Life
As “church people” we often choose the easy life. We choose to fellowship with people of like color, socioeconomic status and interests. How often do you go to a “white” church to find exactly zero minorities? Or “black” churches and see no white folk? Rich churches without poor people? Tattooed, shorts-wearing churches with nobody wearing suits?
Human nature dictates that we try as hard as we can to eliminate conflict, tension and drama anywhere we can. There are many places where we don’t have the freedom to eliminate any of that, but in the free market of churches, choices abound! What this means to American Christianity is that most people’s experience is very limited. They don’t meet or associate with people outside their affinity groups within their church world.
Sure, white people work with black people and vice versa, but they almost never share fried chicken together at church picnics. Because it’s just easier that way.
My wife and I have had the opportunity (privilege, really) to dip our toes in many different streams of Christianity throughout our lives. By “streams” I mean those affinity groups that separate. Wealth, color, theology, etc. It has been very rewarding, but it isn’t easy. It takes away comfort and makes you fight for a sense of belonging. But that’s really a good thing.
When you can’t be completely comfortable with those around you because they think, speak, act and pray differently than you, it forces you to be intentional about life. It forces you to befriend people you normally wouldn’t. It forces you to open yourself up to tension and the drama that other peoples’ lives bring. It forces you to love others.
Over the years my wife and I have changed “streams” for various reasons. Moves, conflict and the direct word of the Lord have forced us to move out of a lot of comfort into a place where we didn’t “belong.” And we have loved it.
Where The Lord Is
We have loved it because in each new place we find the Lord where we never would have expected. I have heard more times than I can count people brag about how great their church is and what God is doing through their church’s ministries. While that’s not a bad thing by itself, it is also true that most of those people have no idea what is going on outside of their church walls within their own Christian community. They don’t know what other churches are doing in their own neighborhood.
We have a tendency to act like the Lord is only doing things where we are. The Lord is, in fact, working where you are, but He isn’t only there.
Maybe it’s time for you to start asking the Lord where He is instead of asking Him to be where you are. Again, He’s where you are, but where is He that you haven’t seen Him before? What part of God’s nature are you missing because you are so comfortable within your current situation?
Tear Down Some Walls
There are entire denominations that can’t speak to one another because they can’t even speak the same language. Their seminaries teach with different history books, different jargon and different theology. I have often encountered people who think I am stupid because I haven’t read the same theological books they have. I don’t know anyone who has the time to read every single book on every single theological perspective out there, so how silly is it to put up walls because someone isn’t well versed in what you have read or believe?
We build these kinds of walls to keep out the people who would ruin our comfort. Like the great Edgar Allen Poe short story, The Masque of the Red Death, we will find that the walls of comfort we build often become the walls of our own casket. We have to tear down these walls, and that will take intentionality.
It might mean leaving your perfectly good church for no other reason than you because you want to experience more of God. It might mean asking your fellow church members to join in an outreach ministry put on by another church across town who is completely different than yours. Or it could mean asking another church of lower socioeconomic status for the privilege of scrubbing their toilets.
In America, we have a great need to make up for the lost time that the locusts have stolen from us because of the walls we have erected. It is time for us to dip our toes in different streams to see where we can find God. Will it be uncomfortable? Sure, but you will never regret searching for the Lord.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
What about you? What have you gained from chaining streams? Let us hear in the comments.