Archive for January, 2010

26
Jan
10

Break the Religious Boundary (“The Look”)

Religious boundaries are everywhere and they usually manifest from a place of fear and/or control. When something happens that shakes a religious paradigm, religion responds by seeking to control it. This often spills over into relationship. I pray that the following experience of mine will nudge you to risk a little in reputation, and reach out to brothers and sisters in Christ who may have gone through difficult transitions that caused them to step outside of your immediate circle of relationships.

Today in Mardel (a Christian bookstore ) I saw some old acquaintances I knew from our former church and I moved to greet them. The response I got is what I call “the look” and they turned and walked away. “The look” is something you will only experience if you have been though something similar to what my family and I have been. I can only describe it as a look of judgment mixed with surprise and fear. I am not really sure if that is the exact recipe since I don’t think I have ever given the look to anyone, but I certainly have been on the receiving end numerous times.

A little over a year ago I had a falling out in relationship with leadership at the church I was on staff at (which happened to be a large church), and when the emotional reactions started flying, I made a commitment to take the high road. To take that difficult, narrow path of turning the other cheek and not saying anything in response to what many perceived as attacks on my character. Though it was painful, I released judgment into the Lord’s hands and forgave, and attempted to forget…and hopefully learn something from the whole mess. I did not defend myself and learned not to try and tell my side of the story. The few times I did it always backfired the relationship so I remained silent in the midst of some sad and tough times for my family.

Now I experience “the look.” To help you relate to “the look,” I suppose it may be like someone who divorces and then encounters family members from the other side. Or someone who gets fired from a company and they see former co-workers at an industry event in town. In a nutshell “the look” says: “what are you doing here?” I have received it at ministry events around town, in other churches, at Christian concerts, etc.

The look has that sense that it’s a little odd to see me in a place like Mardel. It implies that because I left their church, I also may have left the Body of Christ so in fact why am I in a Christian book store? Like the four walls of the church I used to be in comprise the whole Kingdom. Maybe they think I am a backslider or that I lost my salvation. I only suggest this because once I got a comment (as opposed to the see-and-flee reaction), “are you still going to church?”

And there is an additional humorous (to me) result of this adjustment in relationship as well. People who used to religiously refer to me as “Pastor Mike” now abandon the honorific “Pastor” as if now that I am not on staff at that church I am now no longer a pastor. (Not that I ever wanted the moniker in the first place, it was a part of that particular church’s culture. I would joke that the pastoral was odd in that when you took the position, your name actually changed, like a doctor). Today I serve as a pastor on staff in what some may call a small church. Sometimes when I get “the look” I sense a judgment of demotion. That I must be down, and in a way, out. Over the past year I have respectfully turned down positions at churches that were very much larger than the one I left and also walked away from a corporation that promised an equity payout that would likely have equaled a huge sum in just a few years time. I did this through the leading of the Holy Spirit and now I serve at a church of roughly 250 believers. Our church follows all the Biblical mandates (e.g. care of widows and orphans, spread the Gospel, etc.). We feel fulfilled in relationship, are serving the community, and are growing in our walk with the Lord. Our prevailing posture is that we want to honor the Lord through our involvement in the church. I am there because God led my family and I there. Rather than a demotion, I sense it is more like a promotion.

In closing, I encourage any of you who know people who have had a separation in relationship or a separation from a group or church, to reach out. They may have made the decision to move on, or maybe that decision was made for them. But let that person know that you validate them as people, and as Christ followers, rather than in your silence, communicating judgment. A comment, note, card or email that says “hi, I have been thinking of you.” This may be an important ministry of yours. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Break the religious boundary and act as a true member of the Body of Christ by “lov[ing] your neighbor as yourself.”

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