Life in the Church : Living the Sacrament of Grace

{By Lisha Epperson}

 

We have just enough religion to make us hate one another but not enough to make us love one another. – Jonathan Swift

 

This isn’t a post where I’ll shame the church I met Jesus in. And it won’t be a post where I call out the imperfections of a single church in comparison to another. It will be a post where I admit my part in watching churches go sour. I wish it weren’t true but I’ve watched the church go south.

 

I’ve watched leadership manipulate members for selfish purposes. I’ve watched leadership bend the truth. I wonder now about the role I played in that. Because I was as an enabler. By saying nothing, going along with the program to keep the peace, I sanctioned the mistreatment of congregants. Under the guise of respect for authority I gave my nod of agreement, a non-verbal acquiescence to misconduct.

 

All of this went on for years…until it changed me. Small churches are notorious for big time family drama. Familiarity breeds contempt. And our close family like relationships bred all the “crazy uncle drama” you can imagine. When family members were turned against each other or people were shunned for not going along with the program… I still watched from the sidelines. I even took part in shaming when I felt obligated to disclose someone else’s sin. I was never so free with sharing my own.

 

That’s when I knew something was wrong…my behavior had begun to change. I’d become a judgmental Jesus freak. And all judgment equals no love. Powerful chains of command gave marching orders…often without a word. Having been so endeared to such dynamic and highly influential pastors…we were conditioned to keep quiet.

 

doors from flickr jimmybrown

 

I’ve been part of a cult. Or at least a gathering with cultish tendencies. One that started out innocently enough…were it not for people. People like you and me. The hard-core believers. The people-pleasers.  Those who believe the natural order of life is hierarchy.  Some want to be as close to the top as possible. Believing a brush with authority affirms their value.  They work hard to get in with in crowd. But I’ve learned people, most people, just want a spot in the line. The hoop jumping and ladder climbing required to play this game is exhausting.

 

At a church meeting a person in authority declared “this church is not a democracy”. That should have been my cue to head for the hills. Because the church should be. Pastors shouldn’t be dictators. They should defer to Jesus, the word of God.

 

In as much as church is the ideal setting for believers to walk out His word it’s also a Petrie dish of problems. It’s not easy to live the Bible with people. To practice forgiveness, to die to self over and over again.

 

Much of my dissatisfaction grew from unrealistic expectations – placed on the church and its leaders. I didn’t expect human behavior in the church. On a spiritual tip, I looked for nirvana. Wisdom tells me I won’t find it in a church. It’s only found in my relationship with Christ. The perfection, from Him, and by grace I’ll tag along.

 

Any church I attend now enjoys the pleasure of my hard-fought wisdom.  I no longer hold a church or its headship in such high esteem. I see the church as a gaggle of messed up people – all doing the best they can. I think I allow them to be people. Its easier that way, on all of us. This isn’t the turning of a blind eye to blatant misconduct but an ease of my hand on the reigns of expectation. The extension of uncommon grace to my fellow church goers is my offering.

 

I grew spiritually. I learned to let God be God.  I gained a powerful sense of discernment.  I learned to pray. By being part of churches where just about everything was wrong…I developed a profound sense for what was right. And I learned to love, the pitfalls and mess ups, the breakthroughs and break ups. The miracles. I learned to love, perhaps the greatest lesson of all.

 

(photo credit: flickr cc/ jimmybrown)

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lishaHi! I’m Lisha Epperson, a hopeful romantic, lover of Jesus and most things antique. A wife and mother of 5, I’m hooked on books and all things ballet. I work out a life of faith with fear, trembling, and a whole lot of grace in New York City. I blog about it all at http://www.lishaepperson.com. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

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15 Comments on “Life in the Church : Living the Sacrament of Grace

  1. Powerful post, friend. It is so hard and such a fine line finding that place of worship, fellowship and learning that doesn’t cross the boundaries of listing to self instead of listing to Jesus. And how quickly a church can move from the sacred to the sinful. You said it perfectly-churches are made up of people, and we’re poor examples. Well said, lady. Well said.

    • You’re right about that line Marcy – a little too easy to move between sacred and sinful. When I realized I’d crossed that line my spirit said NO!. Thank God for discernment. Thank God for grace.

  2. Pingback: Life in the Church : Living the Sacrament of Grace {a guest post for Outside the City Gate}

  3. That “hard-fought wisdom” and not holding others in “such high esteem”? So much yes and amen, right there, Lisha. Otherwise people are made to BE a messiah for us and we know how this turns out. Jesus operates despite of us, but we can not perfectly be Him or place others in such positions where we need them more than Jesus. We all need the Grace of God to focus on the One unifying factor, which allows Jesus to be magnified, which in turn brings Him closer, which in turn, allows Him to shine THROUGH us.

    • And it isn’t that I don’t expect excellence or for people to operate in love and truth. I do. But when they don’t…well, there’s grace. And a whole lot of prayer. Oh how we need it. Looking forward to spending time in the canyon with our unifying factor Tammy!

  4. Great insights born of experience. That seems to be how all of us learn our best and most painful lessons! Being married to a pastor has taught me that he is frail. Fortunately, he didn’t pretend to god in his leadership style…but tried to point others to Him instead.

    GOD places our leader there for a reason. it is just so easy for us (and them) to ruin their purposes. We are so like Israel and want something to touch and see. We don’t want GOD, we want golden calves or kings to see and lead us in ways they aren’t meant to.

    This insight is so true! This is what our churches are full of. Our natural propensity since the Fall is toward brokenness. Understanding this helps us give more grace to each other and pray more for each other! Thanks for your good words Lisha!

    “I see the church as a gaggle of messed up people…I learned to let GOD be GOD.”

    • You nailed it Martha! I think it’s human to look for a savior you can touch and see. But we can’t make the mistake of elevating people above God. The human factor in headship is crucial. We should honor those in authority by remembering their humanity. Bless you for the role you play in your husbands life and calling. Always a joy to connect with you.

    • this is the stuff you learn. the stuff you see once you get to the other side…but ohhh…getting there. Call it wisdom, discernment or just plain old common sense but we all benefit when we free our leaders from the expectation of perfection.

    • Well said my sister! I also had this experience and for many years I too “was as an enabler. By saying nothing, going along with the program to keep the peace.” What started out as something good; became a toxic environment, in which I was an active part off. I thank God for His forgiveness, mercy, healing and grace. My experiences have given me discernment. Most of all I’ve learned compassion and careful to treat others as I would want to be treated.

      • I’m grateful for your response. For many years I struggled with blaming others when in reality I needed to take a look at my own actions and how they contributed to the environment. Yes, indeed, thankful for his forgiveness and the lessons learned. I love you Tanya, so much.

  5. “This isn’t the turning of a blind eye to blatant misconduct but an ease of my hand on the reigns of expectation. The extension of uncommon grace to my fellow church goers is my offering.”

    Excellent. Beautiful.
    And beautifully written Lisha.

  6. Oh that quote…. So so true…It is amazing how a group of Jesus lovers can find themselves in the strangle hold of judgement… Power… and eventually spiritual arrogance. I too was a part of a group whose heart was to let God be God…Jesus as the head of His Church… but we are all flawed humans… And sometimes we can forget that… We can think “we are different… we are special” … and there “cult like ” thinking starts…God in His mercy let us be tossed out… Kicked to the curb… This was family … Lifetime friends…. Oh the lessons learned… The stripping that needed to happen in me… And yes… When everything was stripped …. I could see what was missing in all my “rightness” … Love…and really can we ever be right with out love… I don’t think so!!! You might like a book called “Finding Church” by Wayne Jacobsen

    • Thanks for the suggestion Ro! What blows my mind away is that God doesn’t hold back His love when we mess up. In the middle of all that drama He still made a way for lives to be transformed. In the middle of all the mistakes People were slaved, healed, delivered. What grace!

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