Funeral for a Church

As a military member, leaving a church has been a small part of my reality of orders and transition to a new location.  I never had to make the decision to leave a church without the military being the reason for moving on.  When having to make that decision on my own, I’ll be the first to admit that it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.  I prayed over the situation for nearly two years before I felt God releasing me to move to another location.

During that two years, I continued to serve and tithe.  I continued to join small groups and lead women’s ministry.  I also educated myself about differences in doctrine, about healthy churches, about how to leave in a graceful manner. I asked questions of my church leadership and I felt comfortable in presenting any of my concerns.  I created an excel spreadsheet phase of pros and cons of nearby churches.  Ultimately, I listened to the Lord…stayed when He told me to stay…moved on when He told me to move on.  

Emotionally, the decision felt like a horrible breakup; like a divorce of the worst kind. It felt like the death of a loved one; like I was planning a funeral.  

Let me be very clear–I’m not saying the church I left was bad.  It was very right for the people who remained.  What I am saying is this; God has released me from serving at that particular church.  My focus shifted to finding another church.  However, finding a new church home has been a challenge that I wasn’t anticipating during this stage of my life.  

There are many things to consider when looking at a church.  Is the leadership teaching from the Bible? Is there sound doctrine? What are the children and youth programs teaching?  What are the affiliations?  How is the leadership structure?  Are the finances available and transparent? 

Is it a healthy church?

According to Thom Rainer in “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” there are several ways to recognize if a church is not going to survive a season of illness and to recognize if they are unhealthy.  In other words, I’ve been able to use this as a gauge to check the health of churches that we’ve been visiting.  Usually it’s a slow erosion, which highlights that there is focus inwards on the church rather than the community, as well as a distinct focus on the past (and how the “good ole’ days” used to be).  When the church doesn’t have a clear purpose, becomes obsessed over the facility or individual preferences, or worse…when the budget moves away from ministry and is primarily focused on staff or facility, then there is a disconnect in what is occurring within the church walls.  As a new visitor, it’s nearly impossible to see if these things are occurring within a church without deliberately asking questions.

Rainer contends that only 10% of churches are truly healthy, while 40% are showing some symptoms of sickness, another 40% are very sick, and the last 10% are in the final process of dying.  I know that every church has some semblance of issues.  I recognize that churches are not perfect.  However, as a result of Rainer’s analysis, I’ve been praying for my family to find a church in the healthy 10%.  I’ve also been focusing on praying for the churches in the other 90% to have open eyes and ears to become the healthy 10%.  

Through the process of finding a new church, I realized that I’m not the first one to face the challenge of church transitions.  In the past, I searched for churches based on the style of praise music, the pastor’s speaking ability, or the programs available.  Those things were important to me at the time, but now I’ve got a different set of items I’m looking for.  Specifically, I am now analyzing churches for the breadth of teaching scripture, speech on Word and truth, the management of the budget, as well as the health of leadership of the church.  

Ephesians 4:11-16 has given me direction and hope that my family will find fellowship in a new healthy church!

Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

I acknowledge that leaving a church should be a hard decision. It truly was. In so many ways, this season of transition has allowed me to rely more fully on prayer and direction from God.  I know that the building up of the body of Christ will allow our family to grow roots in a new and healthy church.

~Emily

RAINER, T., 2017. AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH. [Place of publication not identified]: LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCE.

No Boundary Society

I went to a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery last week.  As you would expect, it was a somber experience filled with military honors and traditions.  When we were departing, we noticed two young people taking a “selfie” with a coffin in the background.

To say I was shocked was an understatement.

Is this where we are in society? We take selfies at funerals?  We videotape young children in fights? We try to be the 1st to post accidents on social media? Rather than becoming a first responder, we want to be the first reporter?

Have we lost all common sense or are we in a spiral where we’ve failed to teach others boundaries?

The Bible’s book of Judges illustrates the mess that humans can make when we lack boundaries.   “Everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:25. This was a time in Israel when there wasn’t a king who was able to set the structure for society to follow.  Thus, everyone starts making their own structure rather than turning to God for structure.

Essentially we start to see a scenario when man’s “anything-goes” attitude is used in place of God’s stand for what is acceptable and what is not. When we have unstructured thought and behavior, harm results.  Isaiah 5:20-21 warns of what comes to people and nations as a result of this attitude.  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.”

I understand that cultures change and evolve.  In most regards, there are positive advancements; women can vote, slavery was abolished, public school accessible to everyone, liberty granted to all (just as a few examples).

But a lack of boundaries in our nation has allowed cursing on network television, roadside signs of scantily clothed women, questionable music lyrics, ‘PG’ movies that would have been ‘R’ 20 years ago…and selfies at a funeral.

While the world seems to be going nuts, we are blessed to have the book of standards that creates boundaries; the Bible.

At any point that behavior seems questionable, we only need to go back to the Bible.

At any point that we feel boundaries lacking, we only need to go back to the Bible.

At any point we question authority, we only need to go back to the Bible.

I can’t control young selfie-takers; nor can I control what their parents teach them.  I can control myself and what I teach my own child.  I want the Godly boundaries in our life.  I need only go back to the Bible to define those.

~Emily

Society

Regret Reflections at a Funeral

This morning I will attend the funeral of a kind-spirited man that I served with in the military.  I didn’t know him well, but in the few times I worked with him I discovered that he was professional and genuinely nice.

I learned of his death on Facebook. To say I was shocked is an understatement.  The most shocking part?  He’s my age and died of “natural causes.”  That puts your own mortality into perspective when someone in your age bracket dies.

As a result of not knowing him well, I have only one regret about my interactions with him.

I don’t know if he was a Christian.

Lately, that’s one of the first things that comes to my mind when I hear of a tragic accident or death…were they a Christian?

Guess what?  My question is too late.  I should be asking the questions about a person’s belief in Christ prior to hearing about their demise.

This is the type of regret that lingers, even when I understand I can’t rewind time to ask the question.  This type of regret often motivates us into action.

In the New Testament, we see that Paul was a determined persecutor of Christians prior to his own conversion (Acts 9:1, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13).  After Paul becomes a Christ-follower, he has lingering regrets about his bloody actions against Christians (Acts 22:16).

In Ephesians 3:8, he titles himself “the least of all the saints” and in 1 Corinthians 15:9 he confesses he’s “the least of the apostles.”  He’s claimed those titles as a result of the guilt he has regarding his past violence against the church.

The reflections spurred by guilt, caused Paul to initiate mission campaigns to preach the Gospel of Christ.  He endured persecution himself but became a stronger advocate for Christ as a result of being driven into action based on his guilt.

What lesson is there to be learned through guilt?

To the degree that regret can be fixed, we should fix it.  Paul took his guilt and began sharing the Good News.  My regret over not knowing someone’s status with Christ should spur me towards sharing the Good News as well.

Don’t allow the reflections of guilt at a funeral be for nothing.

~Emily

Lest we regret-2 copy