I received a letter from a young woman whom I have known for many years, who was concerned because it appears that her church may be considering leaving the United Methodist denomination. It bothered her that the church she had called “home” for all of her life was becoming more closed in their theology and their welcoming of others. Below is the response I sent her, with much prayer and meditation:
First of all, let me say that I am sad that you are having to go through this. I am grateful that right now at the church where I am serving we have a congregation that is open to receiving people in love, regardless of how they are questioning.
When I read the statements you listed from the pastor, it sounds to me as if he is taking world events as a personal attack. Although it is couched in terms of what “the world” is doing “to us good church people”, I wonder if he is afraid that the position of power and authority that we (the Church) had in the 20th century has eroded, and he will never have the same respect and clout that he as a pastor once had.
I could be off-base with that, but I find that usually the problem that people first present isn’t really the issue they are really concerned about. In our culture today it’s okay (and often encouraged) to be angry, but not to be afraid. I think he’s more afraid than angry, but fear is seen as weakness and anger is seen as righteous. Therefore, the voices get louder and louder, but the underlying issue is never addressed.
Should I be afraid that the Church is losing its influence on society? Depends upon what you mean.
– That we cannot force our laws and ways and beliefs upon others? No, we were never called to force our ways upon anybody. Jesus never forced His way upon anyone. He simply invited them, and let them choose. (The calling of the disciples, the calling of the rich young ruler, the calling to the scribes and Pharisees)
– That we are losing members and Christianity is becoming a minority? Again, that’s not the issue. It is better to have a small number of committed people than a large number of people who only give lip service.
– That the world is not being changed by our presence? THAT is what worries me! We are called to help the world to fall in love with Jesus, and that only happens when people feel that they are safe enough to risk loving!
The Church should be the safest place in the world, where people feel comfortable to come and ask the questions they can’t ask anywhere else. I find it interesting that Jesus was asked over 300 questions, and only answered 3 of them directly. He Himself asked over 180 questions!
I trust the Holy Spirit to lead people when they start asking questions. The more I try to insert my beliefs upon somebody else, the less likely it is that they will listen to the Spirit. Jesus has given me a calling, and it is to guide people to trust God with their doubts and fears, not to hammer my beliefs into them.
For your situation, I trust the Holy Spirit to work with your spirit. I encourage you to go with wisdom, courage and humility. Humility, so that you can present God’s grace under pressure; courage, to speak your heart clearly and articulately; and wisdom, to know that at this moment you may be only planting seeds, but they will someday grow under God’s guidance.
Your pastor may be afraid, and so coming with humility helps alleviate that threat. I trust that he is still listening for God’s Spirit, so speaking with courage can allow God to speak to him in a new way. And it might take some wisdom to recognize that, even if this meeting doesn’t go well, nothing given to God is ever wasted!
I pray for you and your husband, to let God refine you during this time. God is not done yet – and I believe that Jesus will use these struggles to bring more broken people to Him.