A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Five Ways I Can Change My Experience of Church

I can be a contrary person sometimes.  I first noticed this about myself years ago when I was experiencing a time of deep pain and grief.  The more people tried to convince me everything was okay, the more negative I became.  If someone gave me a platitude trying to make my loss sound smaller then I needed to explain how wrong the platitude was and how really rotten things were for me.  People would mention surely things were getting better since several months had passed and I had to explain why really things were worse in some ways.  I’m not naturally an extremely negative person (I don’t think so anyway), but the more people tried to make me look on the bright side, the less I felt like my pain was being heard and respected.  

It is similar with the conversation in the blogosphere regarding problems with and the decline of the church.  The more people try to say everything is okay with the church the less I feel those who are discontented with the church, those who have left the church, or those outside of the church are being heard.  For every thoughtful blog about what the church might do differently there is a blog about why people should quit complaining.  If one reads the comments following either type of blog, one has the joy of reading multiple comments about the complainers being selfish, not trying hard enough, not having priorities straight, being consumeristic, and so on.  Little makes this malcontent feel less heard than such comments.  Therefore, I feel it necessary to keep complaining hoping eventually a few more folks will listen.  

Yet, I try to be open minded.  I try to consider I might be wrong.  I try to sincerely contemplate the possibility I am simply complaining too much and not trying hard enough.  

It makes my head hurt.  

But then I get help from two sources.  The first is the huge response to Rachel Held Evan's article "Why Millennials are leaving the church."  The responses were mixed but there were many which were positive. The second is Clint Schnekloth's 5 Signs You Are Part of a Healthy Church which looks at the positive side of church with a sense of humor and without first making nasty comments about us complainers.  There was perhaps a bit of a side swipe at us during the intro, but having a sense of humor about oneself is enough of a bonus to help me over look this.  It is helpful to know others are expressing similar complaints to my own and it is helpful to hear from someone who has a more positive outlook without feeling slapped down.

Thusly fortified, I will sally forth to consider what I can do to change my own attitude about church.  So, here is my own list of 5:
Five Ways I Can Change My Experience of Church
  1. Participate in giving opportunities.  My congregation has opportunities to give to food pantries, school kits, and the like.  This may not be the hands on, active, fierce fight for social justice for which I am looking.  But, it is something and it is something I can do.  I can make it my habit not to walk into church without something in my hand for the food pantry or whatever.  Unfortunately this combines something with which I am struggling (church) with something I detest (shopping) but so be it.
  2. Incorporate meditation into lulls in worship or times when I am just not connecting with the service.  I have explored a few meditation techniques and I may as well put them to use.  Let’s face it, we all have times when worship is just not working.  Rather than write a grocery list in my head or plan dinner (all food related because I am usually hungry during worship) perhaps I can do some meditation which is good for body, mind, and soul.
  3. Look for Children’s Time ideas or other ideas to engage children in worship and then volunteer to lead them.  One of my big struggles with worship is how much my children dislike it and how much I can’t blame them.  Worship is not child friendly.  There are a lot of words, not directed at them, and a lot of sitting.  Following along with the service and the songs requires reading which eliminates small children and makes it challenging for all but fairly advanced readers.  (Oh crumb, I just realized I managed to sneak in some complaining.  Sorry.)  Maybe I can come up with ways to be part of the solution.
  4. Make a decision about worship attendance.  My family needs to sit down and decide how often, when and where we are going to attend worship and then just do it.  I know many of you are thinking “What is the dilemma? Attend your home church every Sunday.”  Well, I am not sure this is the best decision for us and if it is we are not currently all on the same page.  We need to get on the same page, find ways to make the children okay with it, and eliminate the Sunday morning whining. 
  5. ... ummm.... uhhh.... You fill in this one.  If Pastor Schnekloth can have a list of five which is really six, I can have a list of five which is really four.  But, seriously, I want your ideas.  What are ways you make worship more meaningful for yourself and your family?  How can we make worship less torturous for children?  If you do not attend church, are there other things you do to connect with your spiritual side?  Are there things which you could or would do in church to make it more meaningful if the church was receptive?  Help me out here.  Even with a relatively positive attitude at the moment, this is still a struggle for me.  

And please, please, don’t just tell me to try harder or get my priorities straight.


Laurie said...

I agree the best way to stay on track doing things you don't really like is to block out all thoughts that it might be optional. If I allow myself to think that my 5:30AM swim might be rained out, it makes it really hard to get going when I realize the forecasts were wrong.

When I went to a church similar to yours, I overcame the boring service by busying myself helping. I ushered, I read, I prepared the post

Laurie said...

Sorry for the interruption. Waiting rooms never take as long when you are trying to accomplish something. As I was saying, I tried to busy myself with helping. This placed my focus on my fellow congregation members instead of my frustrations with the service. I went to church to be there for them in case they ever needed me. I also wanted to do what I could to make the service more pleasant for them. I found this very rewarding, and I would have kept attending, but congregation member numero uno has no patience with rambling meaningless speaches except his own.

We now go to a church with a much more rewarding service, and I am building relationships with members of that (large) congregation.

Another thing that helps me is that I know that I need to go to church services fairly regularly. It has been my personal experience that, when I don't, I become increasingly separated from God. This in turn has had real, tangible, negative impact on my life. I won't give detail. I'm forgiven, and I'm not going back, and I'm not looking back.