In today’s post, I’d like to share with you some very real temptations that can occur to folks who are attempting to meet organically outside of the traditional religious system. This is a temptation that I am experiencing right now in my current season of life, and I’d like to share my temptation with you today in the hope that my experience can be helpful to you and your relationships. Before I do that, however, I need to give you some background information about me.
Several years ago, I left the institutional religious system. This was no small feat for me as it was a system I was heavily invested in. I had been religiously trained in college, and I had been employed as a clergy member. When I decided to leave this system, many people felt I had withdrawn or abandoned them personally. On a semi-regular basis, it would be common for me to hear something like this when I would encounter a former ‘church member’ in a store when I was out and about:
“Oh hey Jamal, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a while. We’ve missed you lately. It would be great to see you soon.”
Whenever I would hear something like that, I would chuckle inwardly. Normally, I would respond by saying something like this: “Oh thanks. I’ll pop in and see you guys sometime.” In my heart, however, I wanted to say something quite different. I usually wanted to say something like this:
“What? You’ve missed me? That’s strange. I would only see you once a week during ‘church’ service. We didn’t interact during that service because we were sitting in chairs listening to a person on a stage (sometimes me) preach at us, and you were looking at the back (or front) of my head. The good news is I haven’t moved. I still live in the same house, and I still have the same phone number, but I haven’t heard from you.”
Obviously, that probably wouldn’t have gone over too well, so I refrained from responding that way. In my perception, however, there were a couple of reasons why people would say they missed me even though we rarely interacted normally.
The first reason folks would say they missed me is because they actually did desire to know me better and interact with me more, they simply were interacting within the limited relational box that had been created for them by the religious system. Seeing me once a week gave them an illusion of connection, and that was better than nothing.
The second reason why others would say they missed me was because they were making a statement of disapproval regarding my decision to not attend the weekly service. Saying they ‘missed’ me was simply a more tactful way of accusing me of not being in right standing with God and the church. Relationally speaking, they really didn’t desire a greater connection with me, they simply felt the need to make me aware of my error.
Those of us who have left the traditional religious system can relate with these kinds of interactions. In the past, I have been on the giving and receiving end of these kinds of interactions. I have discovered, however, that it is quite easy for those of us who are a part of communities meeting outside of the religious system to carry this institutional mindset into church life. For those of us attempting to meet outside of the religious system, there are three major temptations that I’d like to address here.
Temptation #1- Substituting Group Meetings For Personal Relationships…
When groups meet together around the headship of Jesus Christ, and when believers have been liberated to freely express Christ, the weekly meetings can be glorious. Because these kinds of meetings are interactive, however, there can be a very real temptation to confuse this kind of interaction with true connectivity.
I have discovered that you can come to every group function and remain relationally distant and disconnected. When a group falls into this temptation, the meetings will become awkward and tense. The lack of personal intimacy and relational connectedness between the body parts will begin to be put on display when the whole body meets together for meetings and it will eventually become painfully obvious.
Sometimes it can be easier to attempt to relate to a whole group (or sub group) of people than it is to relate to others in personal relationship. This is especially true when relationships become strained, or if you normally struggle relating to people personally. Group meetings will never produce the shared life of Jesus Christ, rather, they simply will express a true shared life that is experienced in day to day relationships. Meetings and relationships are quite distinct from one another, and the temptation to substitute one for the other must be resisted.
Temptation #2 Projecting Your Own Relational Failure On Others…
I have discovered that we can fall into this temptation quite easily without us even being aware. The root of it is offense. Here is an example of a fictitious, dramatic, and slightly comical conversation between three people we’ll call Sally, Fred & Ted. I think this conversation should speak for itself without much commentary from me:
Sally: (looking a bit suspicious and annoyed) Hi Fred, it’s great to see you today.
Fred: (looking friendly and smiling) Hi Sally, it’s great to see you too.
Sally: Oh really? It must not be that great to see me since you never call or come around.
Fred: (feeling awkward and looking for an exit to the conversation) Ummm… gosh, sorry Sally. I’ve just been really busy. We should get together sometime and catch up.
Ted: (walking up after Fred escapes) Hi Sally. How are you?
Sally: I’m so sick of all the fake and relationally distant people in this church. This is NOT the New Testament community that I have read about in the scriptures.
Ted: Wow. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. What happened?
Sally: I’m concerned about Fred. He thinks he’s a part of this community, but he’s not. He’s really fake. He’s not interested in being a part of this community. He never calls or comes around. I think he’s into something really bad and he doesn’t want to be known.
Ted: I don’t know about that. Fred is our brother in Christ. I know him well. Sally, may I ask you an important question?
Sally: Sure, ask away.
Ted: Do you try to personally relate with Fred?
Sally: What do you mean?
Ted: Since you seem to want to relate to Fred, do you take the initiative to relate to Fred? Do you call him and check in on him? Do you send him encouraging texts and things you hear from the Lord? Do you seek to build him up in Christ?
Sally: No way.
Ted: Sally, why do you think it’s ok to hold Fred to a standard that you yourself don’t meet? Instead of putting the relational burden on Fred, why don’t you seek to serve him with Christ’s life regardless of what he does. Unless he personally closes the door to you, you are free to share Jesus Christ with him. Instead of looking to be served, you are free to serve. I do this with Fred all the time, and we have a very close relationship.
Sally: Gosh, would you look at the time, it’s getting late. Talk to you later Ted.
Temptation #3 Abstaining From Corporate Meetings…
It should go without saying that the church described in the New Testament met together regularly for meetings. Expressing Jesus Christ in corporate meetings with saints who have been liberated to express Him is of utmost importance.
There is a very real temptation, however, that regularly assualts us regarding meeting together corporately with other believers. I’m convinced there is a real spiritual enemy that we wrestle with that seeks to keep us from meeting together with other saints corporately. This is why the scripture explicitly speaks and encourages us to not forsake assembling together with others. If you are a part of a group that meets this way, don’t take it for granted. If the group you are a part of is struggling relationally, reacting to that by abstaining from coming to corporate meetings is not the way to go. You will miss Christ’s fuller expression from the other saints, and the church will be lacking your expression as well.
With that said, there may be times that you as an individual may need to take a break from attending the church’s corporate meetings due to circumstances that are not normal and need to be addressed. This should not be done lightly and is the ‘exception to the rule’, so to speak. There is more that could be said about this, but that is another article for another day.
I truly hope being aware of these very real temptations will help us keep relating to and loving one another as we seek to know and be known in the kingdom of God.