Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The stages of grief

Eric Carpenter posted yesterday that he is in a period of mourning for the church. I get what he is going through because like Eric, I and many others like us are experiencing the same thing. I thought it might be helpful for Eric and others to post the stages of grief when you are mourning the church, a list compiled through extensive research and minutes of random thoughts on my part.

1. Shame

Many people, when they first run across something in the Bible that seems completely incompatible with their church practice, feel a sense of shame, as if they are looking at something online that is inappropriate. Asking the wrong questions can get you in trouble, so at first it is easier to just skip those parts and move on to something easier to deal with. You can't help being a bit troubled by what you saw and it probably continues to eat at you.

2. Confusion

As you read a little more, confusion sets in. How can all of these things we do in the church not only not be in the Bible but seemingly the exact opposite of what is there? The local church with all of its traditions and comfortable patterns is the centerpiece of the Christian life, I must be misreading what the Bible is saying. The feeling is akin to vertigo, like the floor under your feet has started shifting and everything you thought you understood is shaking.

3. Awakening

At some point the realization sets in. This is not just me or a sign of being rebellious. There really is something drastically off-kilter in how we express the church. At this stage you often find yourself not only realizing that the things that initially bothered you are unfortunately the right impulse but that there are many, many other places where we have strayed far from Scripture.

4. Anger

This stage is the one a lot of us get stuck in. I admit to having been here a long time and still find myself slipping back into it. Some of it is cathartic. We need to vent and a certain amount of this is healthy. What isn't healthy is staying here too long. Being upset and angry at the system is not going to do much to change anything or advance the Kingdom. So please (speaking mostly to myself!), go ahead and get it out of your system but then move forward!

5. Resignation

After the initial wave of anger gets over, you will often find yourself resigned. The church is broken and not many people seem to care. You are resigned to being on the outside looking in, seen as an anti-authority outcast or just a weirdo by most people still in the institutional church. Many of your friends and family might get angry with you. The weight of almost two thousand years of church tradition seems insurmountable.

6. Sadness

Resignation and sadness often overlap. People who have walked this path don't hate the church even though we get accused of that all the time. We love the church and we love the people. We are just grieved by how far it has strayed. We read of the joy and love shared by the early church in the midst of persecution and wonder what happened, why we don't have that same joy when we have every comfort and advantage. The church could and should be so much more!

7. Resolve

Hopefully soon after the resigned/sad stage you will find yourself resolved. Resolved that no matter what we will follow Christ, even when we find ourselves outside of the mainstream (or if you are like me especially when we are outside of the mainstream!). Resolved that we will seek others to cooperate with and be in community with fellow believers. Resolved that we will let nothing, not tradition, not denomination, no doctrine, stand in the way of the mission

8. Enthusiasm

I hope we all get to this stage, a stage where we press forward and get excited about what God is doing apart from the traditions of man. Jesus will build His church! The elect will come to Christ! We get to be part of this by the grace of God! Where the traditional church is engaged in the mission of God and we can all work together, I say amen! Where the traditional church wants to stay on the sidelines and squabble over less important issues or compete for money and members, we will fill in the gap! After all it is His work we are doing and not our own!

The Holy Spirit is pulling the curtain back and showing us what is pulling the levers of institutionalism. Many Christians are refusing to feed the beast and seeking to follow God outside of the rigid traditions that cripple mission, cooperation and community. It is a jarring transition but a necessary one. As long as we are moving forward we are moving in the right direction, even when moving forward means going back to the first century. It is OK to be confused, sad, even angry at times as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus. When we look to Him we can never go astray.

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