On a wing and a prayer! Tosin’s Church Manifesto – initial musings

Tosin's Bible Blog: Philippians 2v13: Bonfire
Lord, please give me a heart that blazes with determination for Your Word, Your truth and Your righteousness

Edit: 24 March 2013: This is one of those posts that I just wrote spontaneously after spending a few minutes looking for information online as described in the body of the post.  As such it does not yet truly represent gathered thoughts, but rather initial ponderings, in some places building up on ideas that have previously occurred to me.
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This blog post is titled “on a wing and a prayer” because when I first thought of writing it I was running low on internet data and I was not sure that my remaining allowance would be sufficient to see me out for typing out the post. But then I remembered that I could simply type the post offline and copy and paste onto the blog, which did not quite have the original “Will it last? Will it not?!” tension anticipated in the title, but never mind!

So what this post is really about is not about internet data of course, but rather about trying to find a church. Yeah you know how I said I was through with church?! (Scratches head) – yeah, about that! In that post, I used the analogy of a woman who dramatically declares that she is “through with men”. Well if you’ve ever known one of these women, then you’ll know that shortly after making such dramatic declarations, they are often to be found back talking about men as usual, as if nothing ever happened. I’ve only ever met one person like this in my life, but she is hilarious, lovable, an absolute darling. That exact thing happened: one day she said that she was through with men, she’d had enough of them all, she’d made up her mind, finally, That Was It!…then the next time we spoke, needless to say she was talking about her latest adventures in trying to find a boyfriend. I wanted to laugh so badly, and I was tempted to remind her about her dramatic “through with men” proclamation. I think it is fair to say that it would probably have been long forgotten.

Well to be honest I am behaving very true to my own analogy – guess who is back looking for churches?! Yes, that would be me! It is not that I ever gave up on the Body of Christ altogether, but rather I grew frustrated about the process of finding a truly Bible-centred group of believers who are genuinely genuinely pursuing Christ with everything that they have. Countless times I have seen different churches proclaim that they are pursuing whole-hearted, passionate devotion to Christ. And yet on actually entering their midst, I will invariably find that they are pursuing only lukewarmness and spiritual insincerity.

I’ve just spent a few minutes looking for a church online, and from that I have come up with my church manifesto: not my manifesto for starting a church but rather my manifesto for joining a church. That said, to be perfectly candid it is looking ever more likely that I am actually going to start a church myself, if we are going to go there!

Tosin’s Church Manifesto
OK, how should I start this?! I have to acknowledge that I really, really need a loving community around me. At the moment I am yearning for this. My soul is thirsting for this above absolutely everything. You know what I would really, really love? A group of people around me who are like me; who are pursuing being the best in everything that they can be; who are striving to demonstrate phenomenal character to everyone around them, who will treat me and everyone else excellently because that is who they are through and through, not just the Sunday face they put on!

A church where God is central, where individuals are grounded in His truth and His Bible and in prayer, which collectively makes the whole body strong.
You know something that I am really, really scared of when I start talking about radical churches? It is the possibility of inadvertently joining or founding a quasi-cult. I’m thinking that just a tiny deviation from Biblical truth, if followed for many years, can over time widen into a gaping chasm between the true Bible teaching and what is actually practised. From what I have seen in the faith, I can say that as Christians, it is so easy to walk away from the truth. This is true both as individual believers and as collective churches. Due to our own prideful inclinations, and Satanic temptations, plus external pressures to conform, it can be so easy to oh so gently downplay Biblical emphases. Many of the errors that I have encountered in churches concern things which are technically true, but which have been either over-emphasised or under-emphasised relative to Biblical emphases. Something else that is very, very easy to do is to actually take your focus off God and shift it slightly to the left or to the right. Something that I am constantly having to do in my own life is to keep coming back to God and giving Him my life, over and over again.
“God, this entire thing belongs to You. It is not primarily about my ambition, my goals, my dreams, even my amazing marriage. Rather this is all about You. It is all about obedience to You. It is all about living for You. Lord, please keep me grounded in You. Please keep me grounded in Your Word. Please keep me grounded in yearning for You. Above all else. Above absolutely everything else.”
And then reading the Word of God to remain grounded in God, praying to remain grounded in God, as well as praying for needs, intercession.

If everyone is grounded in God, His word, and in prayer, then together we will be stronger, and we will be able to uphold and support one another more in the faith, we will be able to hold one another to higher standards of accountability and by God’s grace collectively that group would be less likely to stray into error or heresy or apathy.

Money:
Oh money money money money!
It is actually this one subject that actually made me decide to write this post today. I was reading a post where the point was made that in the New Testament Church people actually gave their possessions to the communal church body, and shared their possessions in common. That article was trying to make the point that that is what we should be aiming for as Christians. I was thinking “Yes, but…!”
To be honest, yes, I would love to have that kind of community, where you could lay your possessions down at the Apostles’ feet, metaphorically speaking, where you could be living in that kind of loving community, where you could genuinely share all your possessions. And yet here is the “but”. So many churches that I have come across simply do not genuinely share that kind of God-centric outlook. In many of these churches if you gave “everything” to the church leadership then you would not truly be giving it to God or His work. You would not truly be giving it to fellow members even of your own particular church who happened to be in need. You would simply be giving it to the selfish motives of that particular set of leaders who simply want to have the biggest or most influential ministry in town. You would simply be giving it to their personal lifestyle funds enabling them to continue living lives of greater comfort and luxury while you and other people continue to struggle.

This is the real issue behind my aversion to tithing. In my experience, it is most often the churches who insist on tithing that are likely to request your funds for selfish motives. To be honest, funding the work of God is one of my big motivations for my business endeavours. And yet I have spent so much time trying to think where I should give the money when it does arrive. I’d love to be able to give it to a local church, but I simply don’t trust most local churches. I sometimes think that it would be more efficient to give to a secular charity that would actually feed the poor than to a Christian church that would divert the funds into their own lavish lifestyles or self-promotional endeavours, citing “the blessing of God”. And yet I would never actually give the money to a secular charity. I know that there must be truly trustworthy Christian charities out there who would proclaim the Gospel of Christ even as they are ministering to people. And yet imagine how amazing it would be to actually have a local church where you could reliably give your hard-earned money, confident that it would be used in the most efficient way to spread the Kingdom of God; truly ministering to people, buying Bibles, food, not substituting money for the power of God; having alternative economic models as modelled in Acts 2v42-47. Imagine a church where someone could come and have a means of working and having their basic needs met so they can feed themselves and their families without needing to be at the mercy of the job market?! This is what the Acts 2v42-47 passage speaks of. Times have changed, but thankfully God is still God. Come on Church, let’s think up/pray up creative solutions for our own times!

Character:
Should this be a luxury? Is this unspeakably unrealistic of me?! To actually dream of a place where people are genuinely striving to demonstrate excellent character, and where these people will then relate to you out of that excellent character that they are striving to cultivate?! I’m talking about honesty, sincerity, love, kindness, integrity, truth, unracistness, holiness. I’m talking about not using people, not trying to manipulate people, not gossiping, not pretending to be interested in people just so that they can serve you and your “ministry”, not trying to get people to spend all their time, effort and money in working for your ministry, encouraging people to act in a way that is truly in their own best interests, not just the interests of your ministry, putting the best person in position for a certain role, having a church that is truly directed by the power of God, not by church politics.

People striving to be the best they can be
This is not particularly faith-related. As a person, I am inspired, motivated and energised by people who are dreaming big things, doing big things, who have vision, who are bringing together radical ideas, impossible ideas, who are trying, who are going out there, who are doing these impossible things. I find this kind of creative environment fantastic, the kind of place where you are always saying “wow, wow, wow!” or “why did I not think of that?”, and I need that to fire off my own mental synapses, even if the ideas they are discussing are not directly related to my own field. I am a dreamer, I come up with ideas. What I find de-energising is when you are in an environment and people are forever giving reasons why such and such an idea is totally impossible.. unrealistic…not even worth trying…even if the idea is really quite simple and requires just a tiny bit of lateral thinking.

For instance, when I was in university, for my social justice group I came up with an idea to highlight the problem of surplus packaging. I said “Let’s take the excess packaging waste that we have got within our group, and make it into a sculpture as an easy visual way of demonstrating the problem of excess packaging waste!” (thinking to myself “What could be easier?!”) Perhaps I just did not sell the vision very clearly, as that particular idea was laughed at, as being somehow implausible or impractical. This left me feeling somewhat puzzled. Well guess what, a few years later someone had that same exact idea and went on to make their own sculpture to brilliant acclaim, and I thought – hmm, look at that! (That did only happen the once in that particular group – I guess I just did not sell that idea very clearly.)

Or how about this, when they reject the idea, not on its own merits, but rather because they are rejecting you as the person who proposed the idea? Or sometimes they will take on the idea, but attribute it to someone else because they don’t want to admit to themselves that they could be using one of your ideas. I would also find that extremely de-energising!

I don’t want to be pressurised romantically by men.
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EDIT: Monday 23 March 2015
This issue of being pressurised romantically is thankfully something I have not truly encountered in church.  The reason it occurred to me for this post is because I was asking myself whether the community I was seeking truly had to be a church/Christian community.  This issue is one of the reasons why I thought that it really does have to be a Christian community.  By God’s grace, because my life has always been oriented around church and Christian community, I have largely escaped this kind of romantic pressurisation.  However if I was to try to substitute Christian community for another kind of community, for instance if I tried to hang out with fellow entrepreneurs,  I bet that this would come up time and time again.

You know how it requires emotional strength to turn people down graciously, especially when they are pestering you to the point of irritation?  Well at the moment I don’t feel I have that emotional strength and I fear that I would be overly aggressive if someone tried to persevere in showing unwanted romantic interest. For now then I would just prefer to avoid these situations altogether which is why I have had to concede that Christian community is my only realistic option for community at the moment.  Also, due to that same lack of emotional strength I am also worried about inappropriately latching onto people emotionally myself.
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Has this ever happened to someone out there; that you have a conversation with someone and you start feeling excited that “wow, we’re on the same wavelength!” …and then they start trying to pressurise you, and it quickly becomes clear that none of it was sincere, that they don’t really believe in any of those things, that they are not truly motivated by those higher ideals, they had a different motive altogether from the outset? Even if someone was sincere, having to constantly field unexpected expressions of romantic interest that crop up from out of the blue from absolutely nothing can be so mentally exhausting. Listen, (I want to say) I don’t want to go out with you, OK?! So what, am I going to start explaining about the Two Year Thing?! And then some of these guys can be so insistent. Sometimes there is the element of hurt pride, that a woman could have turned them down, when they had prided themselves on being some kind of prize catch. And so they try to argue you around, which only makes me resent them even more. I would just prefer not to have to deal with it at all, to be honest.

Also people can evaluate you by their own expectations, or experiences, which apparently teach some men that any single woman in her thirties (or any single woman full stop) must be desperate for a husband. So some people just cannot accept that you are saying no, because they just cannot accept that it is possible that you could say no. So they try to argue you around to a yes, if only to bring you back into line with their own mental preconceptions. Cognitive dissonance, I believe it is called – my new favourite phrase.

I guess this is a bit of a rant, and considering the topic it probably belongs on my other blog. However if it is a complaint, it is directed only at that particular individual I call Mr Huggie-Wuggie, because if he were here, then I would not have to be dealing with this! Perhaps he quite enjoys looking on from a distance, watching me have to diplomatically deal with all these jokers. Perhaps this is some kind of pre-marital, pre-relationship husbandly punishment for my sharp tongue and know-it-all ways. Well whatever it is that I have said or done, I’m sorry! Please come and rescue me from all these jokers, er, darling! But I digress!

Because human beings are human beings, then I can accept that a certain amount of this might be inevitable, even in church. But if we are talking about a group of people who are genuinely striving after Christlike character in their hearts, and integrity, who are honest with themselves, who open their eyes to truly see what is happening in the world around them – then surely, surely this would be minimised?!

On the flipside, at the moment I am far from being in my strongest place emotionally, so I am so wary of going to emotionally connect inappropriately out of loneliness. I tend to be overly paranoid about my own tendencies, and in practice I generally find myself to be a lot less vulnerable than I had feared (although there was that one time…) But still, I’d rather err on the side of caution.

There are possibly quite a few other ideas which I need to explore. However, these are the ones that jump out at me right now.

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