Both pastors have warmly but with blank, not-recognizing-me faces, said hello when I walk through the church doors, One of these pastors politely refused my girlfriends requests for holding a benefit at the church to raise money to help us in our time of need, stating, "There are plenty of financial resources at the church (benevolent fund) if they need help", however she never contacted me (other then visiting once in the hospital) to see if our family had any needs - physical, financial, spiritual or otherwise.
Four weeks after the accident, my first Sunday back to church, our Senior Pastor shook my hand after the church service with a cheerful, "Hello! How are you this morning?" Too busy to know that I cried the whole service (happy tears as I thanked God for his provisions but tears nonetheless). Too busy thinking about shaking the hands of the crowd behind me to really want to know how I was. He doesn't know his sheep. **In his defense, he is a WONDERFUL man.....he speaks God's word and he is always energetic and cheerful.**
I can make up excuses for the church that otherwise feeds me so well.
My daughter, Breanna and I have different last names. It gets confusing. Hmm.....but her picture and her last name is in the church directory right next to my picture with my last name. Does the church ever use the directory to learn names and faces? Sounds like a helpful activity.
The church has grown so large that it must be very difficult, even near impossible, to know everyone. I can't imagine trying to shepherd a flock of thousands. But isn't that why we employ a fleet of pastors?
I'm better with faces but horrible with names....I need to give these two associate pastors grace for not recognizing me as the mother of the miracle-that-she-is-alive-daughter whom they prayed with. But did they really care to KNOW me? To know Breanna? To show us Jesus love?
I can forgive the church. I know they have a big job. I also know that it has been my choice to be in this big church. But I worry about this happening to others. What about those who feel "neglected" as I did? Instead of extending grace or searching for a smaller church, will they refuse to forgive the church and in the process blame God? The big question here is this ~ Does the negligence of the church to it's followers AND it's visitors turn some away from God? Honestly, I think it does and that scares me.
My big church has the benefit that in being a large congregation they are able to offer phenomenal programs - student ministries program, a fantastic conference each spring for women, a purity conference for men, concerts with nationally known Christian singers, a handful of class options for women, children, and men. There are great opportunities for discipleship and spiritual growth but in our big church are we losing people because they don't feel LOVE? The church's mission statement is to "Love God. Serve People." I'm not sure about you, but if I don't feel loved I don't feel served.
Coincidentally (although nothing is really a coincident in this God-orchestrated life), my thoughts regarding the danger of big churches preceded my reading Jen Hatmaker's book "7" (who also happens to be speaking at women's conference held at my church this spring). The book talks of excess. Jen talks of churches that are blessing the blessed but missing those who really need Jesus (we ALL need Jesus but some don't know it). She also writes:
"We are far from Jesus’ original vision; the whole enterprise would be unrecognizable to our early church fathers. The earth is groaning, and we’re putting coffee bars in our thirty-five-million-dollar sanctuaries. Just because we can have it doesn’t mean we should. I marvel at how out of place simple, humble Jesus would be in today’s American churches."
I think it is vital that churches constantly evaluate their priorities and evaluate how and if they are serving God, their community and their flock. It is also important to acknowledge MY responsibility as part of the church. I am responsible in demonstrating the love of Christ. For the body of Christ is "not made up of one part but of many"(1 Corinthians 12:14).
I'm not leaving the church. Despite the lack of pastoral "love", I am being fed. My husband is involved in a men's bible study group and is growing in faith. My son is involved in a couple small group studies with other teens and is also growing in faith. But what can my church do? What can I do so that others will feel Christ's love? I'm not sure if God is calling me to speak so that those in authority at my church can see that this is an area that needs strengthening or if He is calling me to be the difference.......or maybe both.
Even I must do my part. I can make small changes by being observant. I can pull out my church directory and start praying over every single person in it! I can do a page a week until I have every name memorized (this may take awhile). Every week on our way to church I can pray that God would keep my eyes open to the needs of other. I can pray that He will give me a boldness to move out of my comfort zone to offer a word of encouragement, a hug........love. A love like Christ's. This prayer to love others has become my daily prayer.
"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
I haven't named my church (although for some of my readers I don't have to)....please don't judge my church. My intent here is not to bad mouth my church because I really do love it! My intent is to make everyone (churches AND individuals) to examine if they are doing everything in their ability to serve others. This message is as much for me as it is for others. I'm still learning and growing as it truly is a life long process.