Thoughts on the American Church / part 3

church blog series

In conclusion to last week’s discussion on the American church, here are Lizzy’s closing thoughts on the subject…

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Great thoughts, Courtney! I like your words, “I’ve never encountered the church he’s describing.” I wish I could agree absolutely, but I don’t think I can. Daniel was kind enough to give us an updated blog post which you readers see here, shortened for the purpose of NOTW’s post. One idea I resonated with from his original, however, is the phrasing that the church “lost” him. Every TCK can come up with a list of the American church’s grievances that rub him or her the wrong way. Churchgoing in the US is just gruelingly hard for us. It presents each of us uprooted, adjusting teens with a unique set of challenges. In fact I believe Satan is often the one presenting those challenges, trying to drive us away from the American church–a body that creates an environment so unlike any we’ve known and yet is crucial to us fulfilling our individual callings in America.

Daniel’s post made me stop and think how the church has lost me. Rich white people? Materialism? Inwardly focused? Oh yes! I don’t want to believe those things of the entire church but I most obviously do! I don’t blame monocultural churches–diversity requires a lot of creativity, and giving, courage. And I can know that though there are most definitely great numbers of rich white families who are the best lovers of and walkers with God and I’ll still hate the image of Christian wealth. Heck, I could get rich, go to church, and still feel uncomfortable with other wealthy whites. Let my hypocrisy be revealed, that Satan’s victories in my heart be exposed!

I moved to the States two and a half years ago, to a good sized town that locals might call a city. The town is operating off of a big church planting revival period about ten years ago, and rich fruit has been born. I tried out churches for the first six months, quickly realizing there would be nothing quite like the loving international fellowship I’d left in East Asia, that met in a dirty shopping mall and represented over 160 countries. I was also astounded and a little disappointed by how long my list of criteria was for choosing a church. When my family decided to settle in one fellowship I went with them, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. When discussing spiritual subjects with my art teacher at school, I couldn’t honestly recommend him to attend my church, since what he felt would bring him back to the faith– a church of deeply sincere people, contemporary but art-filled music, diversity and a casual, accepting atmosphere–was what I was still looking for.

I ended up attending college in the same town two years later. I’ve spread my wings a bit. I now go to services at a large building half an hour from me, that does a great job of engaging believers of all ages and backgrounds in the Word. Really though, I just go for the college Bible study that meets early. I’m not so hot on the service that follows it. There you have my story; I’m going on two and a half years.

I’ll now pull on some tendencies to sin that I’ve encountered, and I think all of us do. (If you think of more, please respond to this post below!):

1. Giving in to generalizations about Americans that we have applied to form generalizations about the church.

2. Letting our high (or at least culturally-tailored, specific) expectations make us picky about churches.

3. Letting our misery in transition hinder our action in participating in the American church system.

4. Claiming our cultural upbringing as an excuse to give up on churches in our passport country.

To all you TCKs out there, I challenge you to ask yourself, “where has the church lost me?” Then, PRAY ABOUT IT. The church in America has major, MAJOR issues, but make sure you offer the things you see before the Lord so you are not tempted to judge and think falsely. I applaud our Slovak MK’s open, wise words here when he repeats throughout his post, “I am confused about_________in the church.”

Daniel: It takes time. Don’t give up on this flawed church. I believe that all those verses in the Bible that instruct Christians to meet together are yet embodied in the church system in America, and it’s therefore our responsibility to keep trying to participate in it, to engage in spiritual warfare there because the over-equipped, materially attractive sanctuary with the comfortable seats and stage lighting system is still the hotly contested ground, the spiritual battlefield.

Thoughts on the American Church / part 2

church blog series

Continuing with our discussion on the American church, here are some thoughts from Daniel. You can read his original blog post that inspired this series here.

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“I am culturally and theologically confused by the American Evangelical Church, specifically as it relates to the mega church scene.

To a foreigner like me, the worship time looks like a concert in what is meant to be a house of the living God. (In the mind of this European TCK, concerts and cathedrals don’t mix.) It seems to be more about attention than worship. In addition, it was far outside of my comfort zone. I worship God silently and stoically. They worship God loudly. I was willing to learn the songs, but in my mind, many of them did not hold much significance to me, and there are so many of them.

To me, the materialism of America is repulsive. To see it within the church is heartbreaking. To see that clothing, books, paraphernalia, CDs, food, and drinks can be sold so readily in some of the mega churches I have been to seems very convenient to be sure, but not unlike the Temple about which Jesus said “My House shall be called a House of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.”

It is difficult for me to see such little ethnic diversity within the church. Granted, America is made up of mostly white Europeans of mixed ethnicities, but the churches I grew up in were almost as ethnically diverse as the United Nations. There is nothing wrong with the monoculture in churches in America, but I miss the diversity of my childhood.

The churches I have attended since I moved to America a few years ago seem like they do not really care about missions very much. It is not in the preaching, and aside from some people going to Central America for a few weeks every summer, there seems to be very little mention of the Great Commission and discipleship, especially in the context of the nations. To a person who spent his childhood as the son of missionaries overseas, this is frustrating.

Sometimes I see people in church worshipping God, and again in the parking lot getting into their Mercedes and BMWs. Seeing wealthy people in church looks like a paradox, and not a nice one. There are so many verses in Scripture that I could use to support this view, but then I remember other passages, like when Jesus said “Judge not, lest you be judged.” and “First tend to the plank in your own eye, so that you may see clearly to tend to the speck in your brother’s eye.” Every man sins, but to judge him is to sin like him.

I am confused about the politics within the church. It seems in many places, to be a Christian is to be a Republican, and I do not understand this. I had thought that America was meant to be a separation between the Church and the State, which is how countries work in Europe. But some Christians are outspoken about agreeing with a certain political party. To a TCK who does not have a definite political identity to begin with, and who can empathize with many aspects of both Democratic and Republican values, it merely serves to make me feel more like a foreigner than I already do.

There is much about the church in America, specifically as it relates to the mega church scene that confuses and frustrates me about the church, and in some significant instances it feels very alien and alienating. I have struggled to find my place within American Christianity. It is a tiring process into which I have poured sweat and tears, and sometimes I feel like giving up and just leaving. And while this may seem drastic, there are some key steps that I have had to go through in order to make this a plausible solution. 1) I have seen God as a Deity who is separate and above the church. While he dearly loves his Church, how they act and what they say about him do not necessarily represent the truth of his character. 2) My reliance for a relationship with God stems from his Word, not the Church. When you rely on a human institution to reach and commune the Divine, you shall be sorely disappointed, for only the Divine can be relied upon to be able to reach and commune with the Divine. 3) I realize that I need community of some sort. This could be people at a church, college group, Bible study, or friends who can encourage you and keep you accountable. But a community of believers is very important for spiritual growth.

I have not left God, and by his grace, I never will. I think about ceasing to attend church almost every Sunday.”

 

Thoughts on the American Church / part 1

church blog series

A few weeks ago, I saw this link pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. It was a link to a blog post written by a fellow MK, Daniel, about his experience with the American church. I could tell it was a topic he was really passionate about and his words made me think about my own experience with the church over the past few years. I’ve never considered how being a TCK could change your view or experience with church so this week I want to spend some time reflecting on that.

Along with my own thoughts, I asked Daniel to share some more about his experience and I also asked Lizzy to share her thoughts as well. Both Lizzy and I read Daniel’s post before writing our own so if we reference his points negatively or positively, it is not in critique but simply because our thoughts were propelled by his. I hope this series makes you think about your own experience…feel free to share your story with us!

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When we first moved back, I was so excited for us to find our new church. Our church in Italy was wonderful but there weren’t any other teenagers and the sermons were completely in Italian which, though expected, made it difficult to grow. The church we ended up joining in Austin was great for my two final years of high school. I really liked the teaching and the people were so nice. I struggled with feeling at home in youth group though – it never felt like a community to me. If my few friends weren’t there, I’d feel so lost and awkward. And that feeling never went away, even after two years. However, there were so many great things too. One of my favorite memories was planning the spring retreat my senior year with four other friends. The church I’m now going to in college is similar and I’ve absolutely loved it so far.

This is why I was a little surprised when reading Daniel’s blog post – I’ve never encountered the church he’s describing. I think some of his points are quite accurate, but others not so much. I remember I used to sometimes struggle with some of the things he mentioned (specifically the worship) until my pastor said something along the lines of this: “It’s not about you. It’s not about what kind of music you like or how loud it is. A lot of people tune out when they hear a song they don’t know which is wrong for two reasons, 1) it’s about God, not you and 2) it could be perfect for someone else.”

Ever since I heard that, I’ve thought about church differently. Not to say that you shouldn’t have any standards of preferences when choosing a church, but it’s not so much about us. People are messy, so churches are messy but we are called to live in consistent community with other believers.