Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Getting over that wilderness feeling

In the last few posts here, we've been thinking about different aspects of that "wilderness feeling" we sometimes get when we've stepped away from institutional church and are seeking to follow Jesus as the very center of our walk.  Today I just want to share with you some quotes from other bloggers that have really helped me personally as I've sometimes struggled with "that wilderness feeling" myself.

Jeff McQuillan, in his post, "Tribe" at communitas collective,  points out that the need for community isn't just about Christ-followers.  He believes that it is a need inherent in all of mankind;
At heart, we are tribal, and we are looking for our tribe. We are looking for that place where we belong.
I agree with Jeff.  Because we are created by a God whose very being is wrapped up in community, whose character IS LOVE, as creatures in His image, it is also inherent in our character to love and be loved.  Even though mankind is "fallen," we still need and seek community - and the only way that longing will be fulfilled is to find our way back to community with our Creator and with His children whom He created for community with Him.  We are meant to be part of a "tribe" - a particular people living in a community and family whose Head and center is Jesus Christ.

In some ways, institutional church does provide a sense of community.  In fact, true community, centered in Christ, can be found in traditional churches, but so often the structures and systems that have been built around the church of Christ actually interfere with the community in which we are meant to live as God's family.  So many believers are seeking to be part of a local church community that has moved away from those structures and systems (well-meaning as those things are often meant to be), to seek out church that is Christ-indwelled.  And often, for a time, they find themselves with that "wilderness feeling" as they move out to seek to follow Jesus and be one with Him and His body.

Here are Jeff's encouraging words of hope, even as he still finds himself at that "wilderness place" in his journey:
And so I do not believe it should be the ultimate goal for people to exit organized Chrisitianity just to wander the wilderness alone forever. It’s where I am now, and it’s how I feel–and it aches–but I know one day I will once again find my tribe.
Erin, in her post "A Hole In My Heart," also at communitas collective,  talks about some of the ways "God has soothed my fears about lacking relationships in this new, unchurched place I now live."  These ways include, for Erin, the following:
  • meeting people from all over the world and building some true friendships through her blog
  • meeting new friends in her community in various ways: her children moved to public school, and there she met parents of other children; joining a relay team; and inviting her son's friends to hang out in their home to play video games, be fed, and feel accepted.
Moving out of the safe little community of their church was a shock for Erin at first, and she felt very alone; as she says, it left "a hole in my heart."  But as Erin opened herself to be led by God into the community around her, she began to see the real world out there as Jesus sees it, and to realize that walking with Christ leads to a new and more real community.  She writes:

Poverty, racial tension, gangs and lack of hope for the future are central parts of the lives of many of the children and teenagers in our community. I am not na├»ve; I know that as a white-middle-class family we have a wall to break down. I’ve already seen it and know what we face. But I can’t help but also know that a small positive contribution to the life of any one of these individuals could be the thing that sticks with them; that one day is a catalyst for change in their life.

I hate to say it, but for me, there is far more community out in the real world than there is inside a church. We live among with real, diverse, and human people; not cookie cutters of morality and belief.

I believe my role in life isn’t to spend time discussing the same things with the same like-minded people, or to serve a community that serves me back. I believe my role is to make whatever small contributions I can to whichever lives cross my path, one day at a time. I do believe I find God there among the suffering and the grief and the laughter and the insanity of a broad, deep, diverse and imperfect people.

And there no longer exists a hole in my heart.

Josh, in his blog post, "Church Life More Than a Meeting,"  also encourages us when we experience that "wilderness feeling."  He reminds us that the wilderness time can be a positive time of isolation, in which we experience heart-healing, we unlearn many things, and Christ reveals Himself within the believer in a very personal way.

He also reminds us what it is that we are truly longing for - that "tribe" that we were created to be a part of.  Josh writes:

It is truly a wonderful thing to experience life together in the Body of Christ not once, not twice, but seven days a week!

Church life, you see, is togetherness. It is sharing life together under the headship of Jesus Christ. It is not virtual or theoretical, it is practical, in-your-face community living.
Yes, you say, I know that.  But how do I get there?  Here's Josh's advice, and I think it is something we need to really focus on:
So no matter what difficulty I (or you) may be faced with, we have to take this before the Lord, travail before Him over it, and settle for nothing less than that the Lord might raise up a true expression of the church in our locality.
And for those who are still hanging onto systems and programs, Josh also has this to say:

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Shut down the meetings for a while and see how much time the saints still spend together. This will give you a pretty good idea of how much true church life is going on. If Christ is really our life and we are indeed being built together as His House then we won't be able to stay away from each other. This drawing together, this instinct for fellowship, is proof to the world that we are His, and it is proof of one other thing as well: The church is more than a meeting!

All these blog posts I've quoted have been helpful to me when I've had that "wilderness feeling."  But one post, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" by Bobby Auner, really has pulled it together for me, because in this post he centers on what we are really looking for - and how it will really come to pass:
I walked out on institutional christianity for one main reason. I wanted a deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus Christ.

I continued reading scripture and praying. I also began to study books and scripture to see if I could find the missing pieces. What I found was that the church gatherings I had been a part of were nothing like the picture of the 1st Century church in the New Testament.

So what is it I am looking for? If I am not complete with the status quo of the Christian masses and I am also not satisfied with a simple/house church gathering that looks more like the New Testament Church, what more is there? Where do I go from here? Starbucks? The golf course?

I am convinced that what I am looking for will not be found in an institutional church and many simple/house churches are only focused on the proper form and pattern of church to bring out desired effects. What we are looking for is people who are feasting on Christ and living by His life in the Spirit. When we have that the forms and patterns will follow.

As Paul wrote letters to the Churches he had planted he did not give them special instructions on how to "do church". We do not have a prescriptive blueprint for what a gathering of saints should look like. What we have is a constant effort to keep everyone focused on Christ. It is this Christ-centered living that results in the church we have described for us in the NT. I'm afraid that when we put forms and patterns first we have the cart before the horse. Worse, we have abandoned Christ for our own schemes.

What draws me is Christ and his depths and riches are unfathomable for me but together we can plummet into His depths. First we must give up all our efforts to build the right church and seek oneness with the Spirit within. He will build His Church as we are One with Him. May we consume and be consumed by our risen Lord and seek daily the bread that comes down from heaven. Then and only then will we be satisfied.

What do you think?  Are you still suffering from that "wilderness feeling"?  Is it time to move beyond it?  How does that happen?  By a "form" of church we design?  Or by constantly focusing on Christ-centered life?  Read that last paragraph again!

(And if you haven't yet listened to the "Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew" podcast with Frank Viola yet, I urge you to do so today.  If you find listening difficult, email me at and I'll send you the notes I took when I listened to it!)


Jonathan said...

Hi, I found your post encouraging.

I've been realizing lately it is not my job to figure out and build Christ's Church. He's doing that despite all of our misguided efforts.

I'm also recognizing the Jesus spoke way more (50 x more?) about the kingdom than He did about church. So I may need to refocus my desires some. If I learn to focus on living under the reign of God, maybe I can rest in His plans for myself and my world around me. Maybe I can let Him worry about building His church.

Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

Thanks, Jonathan.

I know that we only find the word "church" twice in the gospels, but are you sure that means the Kingdom is more important? In his recent Epic Jesus talk (linked to in this post), Frank Viola says the following:

We cannot separate the King from His kingdom. Wherever Jesus is, that's where the Kingdom is.

But we also make a mistake if we separate the Kingdom from the ekklesia.

Jesus talked a lot about the ekklesia - on almost every page of the gospels. Even though the word "church" is only mentioned twice in the gospels, that little group of 12 men and a few women living as a community with Jesus Christ, with Him as the Head ... you are seeing the embryonic expression of the ekklesia. And that is the community of the King, the new society that Jesus was constituting while He was on this earth. And all those references to the salt of the earth, to the vine and branches, etc : He's talking about the ekklesia.

To separate the church from the Kingdom is to separate light from visibility.

Anytime a group of people are enthroning Jesus Christ as their head, King, Lord - there in the midst of that people is the Kingdom of God. And you will have peace, righteousness and joy among them.

In Jesus Christ, God's future has broken into time. We as Christians live in the presence of the future. The Kingdom is already but not yet. "My kingdom is not [of] this world." The Greek is actually "My kingdom is not FROM this world." And it is certainly FOR this world. "Thy Kingdom come... on earth as it is in heaven."

SOOO... It really does come down to living indwelled by Christ and as you say, resting in His plans ... just walking with Him and repeating what He says (as He repeated what Father said to Him) and doing with Him what we see Him doing already. (Lots more about that in the Epic Jesus talk, as well!)

Jonathan said...

Yes Norma, I agree. I agree there is a lot of overlap between Christ's church and Christ's kingdom. I think where I'm at I get very confused by how the word church gets used. And I'm tired of trying to figure out how to best do church or best be church. So for now I'm resting in the idea that it's not my job to figure out and plan.
However living under the reign of God seems very clear to me (yet a daily challenge to maintain focus). And I pray that as I follow my Lords lead he will provide all that I need, including fellowship or a tribe of some sort.
God bless!