THAT WILDERNESS FEELING
Like many folks who have moved away from traditional/legacy/institutional church, I too freely admit to going through a rather long "wilderness" experience.
So many of my former "church family" just don't understand, and feel uncomfortable around me. In many cases, it has turned out that we really didn't have much real relationship outside the church services and programs. Also, because the last church I attended ended up closing due to many difficulties, there are folks who are hurt and just don't want to hang out with former fellow church members. And of course I have had my own emotional issues which have caused me to
kind of cocoon.
For quite a while I have been part of a different "form" of church family, that is, a street outreach ministry. (You can also read about it in the "pages" listed at the top of this blog). In the beginning, although it was less formal than traditional church, it still had many elements of "church life" with which I was familiar, like fairly frequent gatherings (Sunday morning breakfast gathering plus up to 4 or 5 morning coffee gatherings each week). The Sunday morning breakfast gathering very often included a fair amount of prayer, teaching, and discussion.
But over the past year or so, we've dropped the weekday coffee times (much to my disappointment), and the Sunday morning breakfast has mainly been breakfast and providing clothing and such. The "street pastor" has taken over the majority of the "prayer and counseling." Now he and his family are
taking an extended break, and the ministry is "on hold." Even the website, which I have been heavily involved with, I have been told to put "on hold." A friend and I still go out and visit with the street family, but we are asked not to call it part of the street ministry.
As you'll know from a post I wrote recently, this has all left me feeling very alone and even more "in the wilderness" than previously. But I am beginning to understand that I have probably been hanging
on to the old traditional ways more than I have realized. I am thinking now that Father is actually doing me a favour by weaning me away from these things I've hung onto, these familiar ways of "doing church" - which I know do get in the way of "being church." I am grateful for Father showing me this.
I am also grateful for posts that other wilderness travelers have written. It is good to know that I am not alone. There are other brothers and sisters out there who have had their sense of community shattered, who have lost friends and lost their comfortable and familiar social life, and are feeling unchurched and alone.
They too have discovered that so much of institutional Christianity has little to do with the church as the New Testament describes it, and little to do with true community and family centered in the love
of Jesus. Even though institutional church offers us a certain sort of parameters and structure, in which we have assigned roles and program-type "opportunities," they too have realized how constraining so many of those things are, how antithetical they are to the freedom in Christ which we are promised in scripture.
But like me, they too do not believe that we are meant to wander alone forever. And many of them are learning, as they find themselves so alone, to truly listen to the voice of the Spirit, to reach out - often in sheer desperation - to the God who has called us to truly be His children and family, to walk together in relationship with Him and with each other through the love and life of Jesus.
In the next few posts, I will talk about some of the aspects of this wilderness time, and what I - and others - believe Father has in mind for us as we walk this journey. One thing is certain - the
wilderness is not meant to be forever :-) Our wonderful loving Father has glorious things planned for all His children. But I'm thinking that sometimes we ourselves choose to stay in the wilderness far longer than we need to. (More on that next time).
If you'd like to read what some others have shared about this topic, I highly recommend the following posts that have been helpful and encouraging to me.
"A Hole in my Heart" posted by Erin at communitas collective
"Tribe" and "Imagining the Possibilities" posted by Jeff McQuilkin, also at communitas collective