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Confused About Churches

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.


Thank you for your e-mail. I must say, it does sound like you are in a difficult situation. I will try to give the best advice I can, but there's only so much I an do "long distance."

>Gary,

I will try to make this as short as possible. I am 29 years old and a mess. I received the lord in 1993 and have been to many churches since then. I am married and have a 3 year old son and I am struggling to get my life on track. I love the lord but have displeased him many times.<

We all have displeased the Lord many times, myself included. So don't beat yourself up too much here.

> I started out going to Calvary Chapel in Tucson AZ. I attended for about 2 years when I realized that I really didn't have a relationships with any of the members, although my wife and I tried.<  

Sometimes a person just doesn't "click" with the members of his church. I've been going, on and off, to the same church for years. I know quite a few people, but I'm really close to anyone. But in my case, it is probably just me as I am very quiet in person. I am getting a little closer to some of the guys now that I've been attending the men's group for a few months. And I have found that is the best way to get to know people, in small group Bible study.

> I also learned of news that my wife's mother was having marital problems and brought it to the pastor of Calvary, the church we were attending at the time. Her husband was a deacon by the way. She wanted to get some help for her failing marriage and was told basically that there was nothing that he could do.<

This is inexcusable for pastor. Part of the job description is to do marital counseling. If he doesn't feel qualified to do it himself, he should at least have someone ready he can refer couples to.

>Feeling troubled by this my wife and I moved to another smaller church where we quickly made friends and really began to feel we were fitting in. We talked with the pastor regularly about questions we had on the bible and he was glad to answer and take time to explain. One day we expressed our desire to work with the youth that we believed the lord put on our hearts. He was quick to appoint us as the youth ministry leaders. Here is where the problems started.

At that time we were still learning, and not fully committed to the lord. We were happy at first about the big step and felt it would be good. A couple the closer it got to our first class the more I began to feel uneasy about the whole thing. God pointed me to passages in the bible about what type of person he wants to use as leaders. We did not fit those qualifications. I felt strong in my heart that God was telling us we were not ready to take on this important challenge.

The next day I brought it to the attention of the pastor and he flipped his lid. He ("yelled") at us, and expressed his disappointment, and felt it was right to say I was an un-Godly man. I took offense to this statement because I thought we were doing the responsible thing. Well you could only imagine the bitterness that followed. From that point on I was very confused. <

Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to get people to volunteer in a church. It shouldn't be this way, but it is. The pastor was probably feeling hard-pressed about getting someone to work with the youth, thought he had the problem solved, and then it fell through. That does not excuse his yelling at you, but just so you understand his frustration.

As for the Bible's qualifications for leaders, this should have been addressed by the pastor when you first offered to volunteer. But again, maybe he was so desperate to find someone he simply grabbed the first person who stepped forward without worrying about their qualifications.

It would have been best if you expressed your doubts when you first had them rather than waiting till the last minute to express them. But that said, what the pastor should have done is had a serious conversation about what you felt your deficiencies were and how you could be supported so you could still do it.

Bottom line is, the situation does seem like it was handled poorly on both sides.

> This was the first of many back slides for us. Some time went by and we were feeling convicted to get back to church but had no idea were to attend. My wife had attended a Christian school and said that there was a teacher she had that really made an impact on her life. So we gave him a call and explained our situation. He was a great source of inspiration and helped us on our feet once again. We decided to attend his church, Harvest Church Of God. And again we felt we found a home.

I had a hard time accepting allot of the doctrine that was being taught.. tongues, healing and faith was all new to us. But we were willing to accept this because we really wanted to get our lives on track. The church really helped us out of a bind also. At the time we had a business that was given to us from a member of the last church we attended (the one where the pastor yelled at us). It was a failing business but we didn't know that at the time we got it. And by the way we should have known something was up when the guy who gave it to us up and left state. We were short on wisdom. Anyway this new church helped us out financially, and helped save us from losing our house. I guess what it all boils down to is I felt obligated to them after that, so I was willing to accept their beliefs (wrong I know). But I really tried to search these things out.<

I can understand your sense of obligation. But when a church helps someone out, it should be with no stings attached. As for the doctrinal struggles, this demonstrates that a person should check out a church's doctrine up front before getting involved in it. The next time you look for a new church, be sure to ask for a confession of faith, or at least to talk to the pastor or one of the elders about the doctrines of the church. And then take time researching them and searching your conscience before getting involved.

>I should also mention that I had ruptured a disk in my back and went to my wife teacher friend and had him pray for healing. To my surprise it worked and my back felt great and the pain went away. So I had started to feel strongly about the power of prayer and healing, as you could imagine. <

It could have been a miraculous healing, or it could have been related to the emotional aspects of back pain. I know that emotions can cause back pain as I was able to overcome six years of crippling back pain by looking at the "mind/ body connection" of back pain by reading Dr. John Sarno's books on the subject.

>But something still wasn't sitting right with me. So again we stopped going to church. We had talked to my wife's teacher friend about the once save always saved belief he had and the church obviously believed in. This was hard to accept because I had read where it talks about people who proclaimed Christ, were still thrown into the fiery lake. <

"Once saved, always saved" is a poor way to express the belief in eternal security, which I believe in. It does teach that there can be false professions of Christ. But for someone who has genuinely professed Christ the doctrine is a source of great comfort. It tells us that even if we "mess up" God will not forsake us. See the articles listed on the following page for further details: Calvinism: Eternal Security.

>That hit me hard and lead me to believe that you can accept Christ and still go to hell. It was more than just accepting him as lord and Saviour. It took hard work to follow him. Well we really didn't get much of a response other than to just have FAITH. That was their big thing at this church.<

It sounds like a "word/ faith" church. And yes, the "just have faith" advice can be a meaningless platitude for someone who is struggling.

> We really want to have a close relationship with Christ but I am confused on where I can get spiritual guidance here on earth when all the examples I have seen have been either... "Well there is nothing I can do" or "losing their temper" or "no explanation, Just have faith"  I really have a desire to learn the word of God and live it in my life. I just sometimes need some support her on earth from godly men. Is this wrong?<

No it is not wrong. We are supposed to look to other Christians for encouragement in our Christian walk.

I love your web page and I love your translation of scripture. It seems to bring things to life. I trust your opinion and any help would be appreciated. I don't want to be led astray!

Thank you in advance.
Brian
2/27/01<

I sounds like your main problem is finding a church where there are godly men and women, where you "fit in," and which you agree with doctrinal. These are there very important factors to look for in a church, but it is difficult to find.

The church I am attending has the first and third, but as I said, I really don't fit in that well. So I have considered looking for another church. But I am afraid that I would not find another one that meets even two of them!

I don't mean to discourage you. There are a lot of good churches out there, with good Christians in them. But there are also a lot of church's with hypocrites in them, even pastors, with bad doctrine, or that any given person would not fit in at. Finding all three in a church can be difficult.

The place to start would be with the doctrine. I would suggest doing some serious study to decide exactly where you stand doctrinally. Issues like tongues, healing, "word-faith" teachings, eternal security, are all important. And you need to make a decision on them. I discuss all of these and many other important doctrines on my site. And my Scripture Workbook would also help in this regard.

Once you start making decisions on your doctrinal views, this will narrow down what churches you can attend. If you find you disagree with tongue speaking, then that would eliminate all Pentecostal/ charismatic type of churches. If you find you agree with eternal security, then that would eliminate all churches that don't, etc.

With this information, again, when you check out a church, you could simply find out its basic doctrines and know right away if it is a "possible." This would cut down some of the wasted time in attending a church you eventually would not want to stay at.

As for the relationship issues, again, the best way to get to know people is in a small group Bible study. So I would suggest making sure the church has a vibrant home study program before getting invoked with it, and then getting involved in a small group study right away. After a few weeks of attending such a group, you should know if you will fit in or not.

As for hypocrites, yes they are there. But remember, no one is perfect, not even the pastor. So don't expect anyone to be. You need to make allowances for others just as you want them to do for you.

Of course, there are certain standards that need to be kept. And if someone, especially the pastor, commits a clear sin and notching is done about it, then that is problem.

And finally, remember that no matter how screw-up Christians seem to be at times, that has no bearing on God. And it shouldn't; cause you to loose your faith. The Bible does teach us that we are all sinners, even as Christians. So sin or simply dumb behavior in Christians is actually a verification of the Bible's teaching on human depravity.

Also don't give up on the idea of offering your time to help with a ministry at a church. Just be sure to discuss with the pastor any doubts you have about your qualifications up front. And be sure, anyone who is involved in Christian ministry feels inadequate at times me included.

Lastly, a good resource for checking on a church's before even attending is Frank Meed's book Handbook of Denominations in the US. It gives the basic beliefs of a wide variety of denominations, along with the denomination's history and statistics (like number of members and congregations). It is available from Books-A-Million .

For a follow-up to this exchange, see Confused About Churches: Response.

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