In my opinion, I happen to attend a pretty fantastic church. It was founded on the premise that the purpose of Christendom is to love one another and help one another; the mission of the organization is to bring Christ’s love to the inner cities of the world. There are two locations now — the original location is called the Mission and there is a feeding program for the community, a men’s and women’s home (with plans for a family home) to shelter those who need it and who need to get back on their feet, and a strong prison ministry (where they’ve gotten access to Tehachapi, one of the most notorious facilities in the country). They are also ministering in a number of high schools in our area. All those things make my heart sing.
So, with all that good, you are probably wondering why the title of this post includes the word ‘problem’.
I went to evening service last night. Another fabulous thing about this particular church is that they are able to offer multiple services each week. Our senior pastor said that they do so in order that everyone has the opportunity to come to church; if there is only one service at 11am on Sunday morning and if I have to work, I can’t ever make it. At the location closest to me, there’s 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 6pm on Sundays, a Wednesday evening, activities on Fridays, men’s and women’s Bible study during the week, and I think a Saturday morning service as well.
The message was great, as was the time of worship. While I don’t know how the video turned out, if you follow me on social media I did a Facebook live recording of the worship time.
The associate pastor preached and he keeps his messages short because he prefers to leave more time for prayer at the end. This is a time for those who want to accept Christ as their savior, who are interested in joining the church itself, and those who want prayer for deliverance from issues or infirmities. I’ve had some physical issues (the price of getting younger I suppose :shock:) and wanted to go up for a lil prayer.
And that was the problem.
Well, not the whole thing, but a big part. Lemme explain.
Every person has spiritual gifts. Everybody. Even if you aren’t a Christ follower, you have spiritual gifts. You might be very discerning, or compassionate, or have a servant’s heart, or be a great administrator. There’s a bunch, but that’s not the point of this missive. The ways in which we express our faith and commune with our God is also a personal spiritual gift. A colleague of mine, as part of her doctoral dissertation, developed a book called ‘What is your God language’. I was very interested because coming up, I always felt my faith walk was inadequate because I didn’t speak in tongues. I struggled with the whole tongues thing because I’d seen too much nonsense around it. After moving to California, we joined a local church and there was an older man who had this gift. When he spoke in tongues, it was like hearing the voice of God. It wasn’t pretense, it wasn’t made up, it wasn’t a bunch of noise. It was under that church’s leadership that I learned more about tongues — specifically, that when God touches someone in this way, there is always someone who is equally touched to interpret what was said. I won’t go any deeper into it here as there are many better experts out there to discuss it. But the bottom line is, I truly came to understand and believe that speaking in tongues was real because of that gentleman and my experiences in that church.
Fast forward to last night.
I was up for prayer about my physical issues; I am actually quite healthy, but like all of us, I experience some aches and pains along the way. A couple of them caused me to take a month off from going to the gym. I have my hypochondriac moments as well and because of some serious health illnesses experienced by close family members, I worry that I too have some of those things (can you spell cancer? Yeah, I have two close relatives dealing with that madness right now). The woman who came to me to pray (another side note — there is a vibrant prayer ministry as well and there are leaders who stand at the front and pray with those who want it. This is a pretty large church and as such, the pastors are not able to pray for everyone on their own) asked me if I’d been baptized in the Holy Spirit. As a Christ follower, my answer was ‘yes’. She then asked me if I spoke in tongues. I said ‘no’.
I am not gifted in that area, yet that does not mean I am a lesser Christ follower. My gifts are elsewhere. But I digress slightly.
She proceeded to try to get me to speak in tongues.
Therein lies the problem.
Don’t get me wrong — she prayed a wonderful and heartfelt prayer about my situation. I felt great about that. But the pressure I felt about speaking in tongues was real. It got to the point that she directed me to do it at home, to just ‘loose my tongue’ so whatever non-English words or sounds would come, that I should practice.
That’s not it.
The problem is when someone prescribes what our individual experience with Christ should be. Unfortunately, there are whole churches out there where the leaders do that.
Not to diminish her experience or to lift mine up higher than it should be, but I would almost wager some cash monies that I could teach rings around her. How would it be if I walked up to her and insisted that she go home and study more so she could stand up in front of a class and teach, that all she needed to do was ‘loose her brain’ so whatever knowledge came would be expressed?
A problem in the modern Christian church is one that has been there forever: not recognizing fully that we are each individuals who were made in God’s image. There are things you can do that I can’t. There are things that I can do that you can’t. There are probably things that we can both do, but one of us does it better. That’s the beauty of community! We are here to shore one another up. If it weren’t so, there wouldn’t be scripture to the point — 1 Corinthians 12 covers a specific set of spiritual gifts but start reading at verse 12. It’s there that you’ll find what I’m getting at. No part of a body — the eye, the ear, the tongue, the baby toe — is more or less important to the other, just as no gift is more or less important.
Check out verses 7-11 as well: speaking in tongues is just. one. gift.
And it’s no more or less important than the others.
It’s when folks do things like this lady did that people leave church. Who wants to be made to feel like they are ‘less than’?
I get it.
However, I encourage those who’ve had their feelings hurt in this way to not give up. It’s not the church, it’s the people. And not all people are as wonky about stuff as others are.
Think of it this way: when we go to the gym and don’t do a particular exercise like someone else, it becomes easy to quit if the trainer makes fun of us or puts us on blast in front of everyone for our error. But if we make a mistake and one person gives us poor advice about it, chances are we won’t quit.
Especially if it’s something we really want.
The weird response of this one lady won’t stop me from being a part of what I find to be a great congregation.
The bottom line is about our individual spiritual experience and the ways in which we must be vigilant to focus on Christ first. Fellowship and being taught is important. Doing so in an environment that is nurturing is great, but no environment is always nuturing. There are issues everywhere.
Find your space with the fewest issues for you and your journey. And press on from there toward your high calling.