People Are Expendable: My Root Struggle with Church

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Growing up with divorced parents prompted me to become a reconciler who desires nothing more than making sure everyone gets along. Underneath this way of functioning day to day, I’ve absorbed an underlying fear of the fragility of relationships. I know that things can fall apart dramatically and horribly, and even the most basic things like your family and your home could be taken away from you, either by your family themselves or by a judge.

My two sons enjoy peace and stability where the foundational issues of their parents, their home, or their future are as solid and steady as can be. I write that without judgment of my own history, but there’s no mistaking that the things I worried about and feared as a child are completely different from anything my kids have faced so far. They have a stability that comes from knowing these relationships are steady, permanent, and secure. When I developed nervous ticks in elementary school and continue to struggle with talking fast when my social anxiety kicks in, it’s hard to communicate all of this succinctly to people who say things like, “What’s wrong with your eyes?” or “What? WHAT? I have no idea what you’re saying.”

“Oh, I just spent the first 15 years of my life fearing that a judge would take away everything that I love.”

When it comes to the stability of family, our closest relationships, and our homes, their security, or lack thereof, can underpin so many of our struggles and fears. These are also some of the core issues behind why so many people struggle to commit to a church or feel like they can never return again after a church let them. Issues of control and rejection are a big part of why I still can’t attend a Catholic mass with any measure of freedom or openness.

Put bluntly: in many churches, the people are expendable.

The reasons why people become expendable vary, but the common traits between the churches where I have felt secure and able to belong vs. the ones where I have not have tapped into this deeper need to know that I am not expendable. Those who struggle to belong in churches often sense that they are in some way expendable.

Just as I feared saying the wrong thing in front of my parents, a judge, a lawyer, or a psychologist, churches can foster atmospheres of fear, suspicion, and defensiveness where everything can change after supporting the wrong doctrine or admitting to a particularly taboo action.

Extreme situations aside (such as those involving criminal activity), I wonder if our core problems in the church boil down to how welcoming we are prepared to be. Or more to the point, under what circumstances will we kick someone out of a church or make him/her/they feel unwelcome?

I have seen friends who attend fairly conservative churches with strict doctrinal statements, and these friends struggle mightily because “belonging” means they need to sign documents, take classes, and jump through various hoops in order to be a part of the group. In other words, the message is that being part of the community or even the “family” is contingent on putting a signature on a list of doctrines. If you can’t sign the doctrinal statement, then you aren’t fully a part of things.

The doctrines are essential for churches, but the people are not.

However, these aren’t problems isolated to conservative churches. Anytime a group of people gathers together to form an organization, there is an inevitable struggle to define insiders and outsiders. Those who say the wrong things in a liberal congregation can just as easily be labeled and dismissed.

As our family prepares to move to a new city, we’re going through the rather agonizing process of researching churches in the area. The stakes feel especially high since we have kids who have a very particular, and overall positive, experience of church that is noisy, joyful, and full of freedom to be themselves.

The question I keep returning to about each church is how expendable we would be if we entered into their little subcultures.

Will they value particular doctrines over us when they learn what we believe?

Will they value a quiet service over seeing my son jump around with joy in front of the band?

Will they require signatures on documents and covenants and statements over sharing in our joys and struggles?

Will they demand commitment and service before they even think of inviting us to their homes for a meal?

These tensions may appear to be false dichotomies. Perhaps reading this you think to yourself, “Our church values people AND doctrines!” That could be the case, but what happens when the rubber really meets the road? I admit that I have struggled with this myself. Where would I draw the line personally with someone? Of course there are situations where boundaries are necessary. However, what does it look like to hold out compassion and mercy for people outside of the boundaries set by our faith communities?

I have seen good people in both liberal and conservative denominations fracture when someone comes along who doesn’t fit the mold.

We all long to fit in, to become a part of the group, and to be accepted as who we are. If we make enough investments in relationships, there may even be grace for messing up or believing “the wrong thing.” I suppose the question becomes where that grace could run out. Can grace and goodwill be exhausted or negated?

I have dedicated the spirituality of my 30’s to rediscovering the God of the Bible who doesn’t turn us away or discard us but welcomes those who turn back to him. We aren’t expendable in the eyes of our loving creator. For some reason, it hasn’t been that hard to believe that he would die for us in the past before we screwed anything up. However, once we start to actually fail, mess up, disappoint people, struggle with doubts, or start to shift our beliefs, it’s easy to believe you’re expendable.

If you’ve been immersed in a church culture with clear lines you can’t cross in order to belong, it’s hard to believe that God would be any different from that. The more I immerse myself in the Psalms each day, the more I confront a God who meets us with compassion, blots out our sins, and shares unceasing steadfast love and mercy with us. I’m also convinced that believing in a God who views people as expendable will create churches where people are expendable.

A missionary friend once shared with me that we must find our homes in God, and I can’t get that image out of my mind because God wasn’t safe or a sure bet for so many years. If I was expendable to God when I couldn’t get my act together, how could I truly find my home in God? Wasn’t this the same kind of insecurity that I endured in my childhood?

Once again, the Psalms describe God as a shelter, a rock, a strong tower, and a fortress. As I reach and grasp for God, asking for help and security, I fail to look down at my foundation. When I reach out to take hold of God, I fail to realize that I’m already being held.

I often think that God acted to save me before I had a chance to mess up, but it’s also true that God saved us before we could prove ourselves worthy—worthy enough for God to keep us around.

The home I have longed for is found in God, even if I still need a home and a place where I belong here on earth.

We aren’t expendable in the eyes of God, and at the end of the day we long for a church home that reflects this. Perhaps the greatest challenge some days is to rest in the love and acceptance of God without letting that reality hinge on what those in our communities believe, do, or say.

Author Cindy Brandt Shares about Her New Book Outside In

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cindy-brandt-profileEvery month or two, I take on a new book editing or author coaching project. It’s one of the most satisfying aspects of my freelancing work. Without fail, every author working on a first book is taken aback by the amount of work a book project calls for, but my latest client, Cindy Brandt, really impressed me with her determination and energy throughout the book writing and revising process.

While I don’t usually highlight the projects I’ve worked on, Cindy’s book will appeal to many of my readers, and I thought an interview with her about the process and the final product would be a fun way to highlight this service I offer while introducing new readers to her work. I sent Cindy a few brief questions to answer:

You reference that you’re a third culture kid. Explain what that means and how that shapes the way you think about following Jesus and the ways American culture may influence that.

Third Culture Kid is an umbrella term to describe kids who grow up with the influence of more than one culture. Some classic examples of TCKs are missionary kids or military kids, whose parents may be from one country but they grow up in other countries. Often, they spend time in more than one culture within the span of their childhood.

Although I was not an MK or a military kid, I fit into this category because of the significant influence of two distinct cultures in my life. I am Taiwanese, but I was educated in an American Christian school for missionary children. I became a Christian as a child because of this school so my conversion and discipleship formation took place primarily through the lens of American Christianity.

I think often Americans don’t realize how much their American culture shapes the way they practice their faith. When they transport their faith to other cultures, they often bring a lot of their American-ness to their converts. In my case, I internalized that being Christian meant acting like an American, and because I am in fact, not American, I often felt like I don’t belong to the Christian culture.

However, more and more I am discovering that following Jesus has very little to do with belonging to Christian culture. On the contrary, I believe following Jesus means dismantling the walls that are erected to determine who is in and who is outside of Christian culture.

My hope is that the book, Outside In, serves as a call to tear down some of these walls so more people can be included in the community of Christ followers.

How did your experiences as a third culture kid influence your desire to blog and work on this book project? 

In the beginning of my blogging days, I actually wrote more frequently on the experiences of being a TCK and found many TCK readers who resonated with those posts. However, most TCK blog readers would generally not identify as Christians so the blog would have fit in a totally different niche than mine is right now.

Because my faith is so important to me, I decided I want to be a voice to my people within the church, so I’ve been focused on blogging about faith. I hope my experiences as a TCK and my geographical location outside of America, can bring a unique angle to the conversation.

My book is not specifically for TCKs but speaks to the broader ideas of how to include people in the church. But I think the reason I pay attention to these perspectives is because as a TCK, I do not fit neatly into any category. As an outlier myself, my ears perk up to the stories of other outliers.

You talk about 10 different types of people the church may have overlooked in your book, but are there one or two groups in particular who really stood out and prompted you to begin writing this book? 

You know, I am very drawn to stories of suffering. I was one of those kids where if my friends got hurt with an injury I would be the one crying! The chapters on grieving and depression both come from empathizing with painfully personal stories of loved ones in my life, and I felt most compelled to use my writing voice to amplify their stories.

Of the ten overlooked outsiders, which do you personally identify with the most and why? 

I am the doubter. I speak quite openly about my story and struggle with doubt in the book. I speak on behalf of others in most of the chapters but the doubting chapter was my own story.

A second top contender would be the person who is too busy. I have a type-A personality and over commitment is my middle name. That chapter was difficult to write because I talk about slowing down and being more present, knowing how hard it would be for me to follow my own advice.

Any plans for a next book? (Looking for a good editor???) 

At the end of my book I say there are endless chapters to be written for it. There is always room in the world for one more unique story and one more perspective. I think it would be a fun project to add bonus chapters to Outside In and highlight more Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore.

I also have some ideas swirling in my head on the subject of how to be in relationship with people who are very different from us. In a way it would be a follow up to Outside In. After we have embraced outsiders, how then do we exist in community with a diversity of people?

How can readers find out more about this book and your writing? 

You can click here to find more information about Outside In. I would encourage people to sign up for my newsletter for future writing updates. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cindybrandtwriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cindy_w_brandt

Instagram: https://instagram.com/cindybrandt/

Learn more about my book editing, author coaching, and website content services.

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Vineyard Movement

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Today’s guest post for Denomination Derby is by Amanda Nash of the Columbus Vineyard. If you’re ever in Columbus, OH, it’s referred to as, “The Big Vineyard.”

 

I didn’t grow up in the Vineyard. I came in to the movement as a college student and a new Christian looking for a place to grow and serve with my fresh faith. I had no idea that the first church I visited would become such a major part of my history for the last 17 years. In fact, I was a slow “convert” to the Vineyard. I went through a very critical process where I explored whether this was truly the place I wanted to call my church home.

I am immensely glad that I did make that decision. Over time, I have found so many things that I love about the Vineyard. Though I know that we are far from perfect, the more I am a part of it I simply love the heart of our movement. Here are four reasons why I love the Vineyard, out of the many I could list:

 

The Vineyard and the Kingdom of God

The Vineyard movement has at the core of its theological DNA the central teaching of Jesus: The Kingdom of God. Everything we do is seen through this lens of the Kingdom, i.e. the rule and reign of God. We want to be a part of the Story of God, which is the story of His Kingdom breaking in on Earth as it already exists in Heaven. While we have the future hope of his Kingdom coming in full, that is not the end of the story. In the now we can still ask, “what would this place look like if God were the King, if he were really in charge?” We want to be a part of seeing His Kingdom in this world and at work within ourselves, by the power of his Spirit.

I resonate with the picture that N.T. Wright puts forward regarding the whole of the gospel. That is, that in Jesus, God has inaugurated His Kingdom – the long awaited putting-to-right of creation (and everything that entails). I find that concept right at the heart of my own movement. I am so encouraged to be living out the theme that was at the forefront of Jesus’ own ministry.

 

The Vineyard’s Both/And Theology

The Vineyard movement has a Both/And Theology. There are many areas that we in the Vineyard try to hold in tension. We often say we want the best of both worlds. We want to be evangelical and charismatic; we are committed to scripture and to hearing a fresh word from God’s Spirit; we want mercy and justice; we believe in the spiritual realm of healing and warfare and that the world God created includes a deep appreciation of the sciences; we want to be connected to the historical and traditional church and explore new and contextualized expressions of faith.

This tension brings many people of different backgrounds together. I love that the Vineyard movement gets to bless a lot of other traditions by virtue of holding them in tension. And in reality, we are the ones who are blessed in doing so. It means that so many people who think very differently end up calling the Vineyard their home; I love the growth and vibrancy that comes from that reality.

 

“Everyone Gets to Play” in the Vineyard

The Vineyard movement believes Everyone Gets to Play. We don’t present pastors as the religious elite that no normal person can aspire to become or be called to. The church is functioning at its best when people are released to operate in their gifts. This means that no matter how old you are, no matter what your gender is, no matter your background, we want people to operate based on faithfulness, calling, and gifting.

This means that as a young woman – 19 years old – and fairly new to the Vineyard, I was able to jump into leadership opportunities. As I have responded to a call on my life to be a pastor, there is no limit to me as a woman to how much leadership I am allowed to have. The Vineyard has promoted me as a woman and as a young person and has encouraged me to respond to the call of leadership on my life.

 

The Vineyard Gives Away Our Best

Finally, in the Vineyard movement we Give Away our Best. The Vineyard is an international church planting movement. We are constantly developing leaders and giving them away to continue the increase of the local church all over the world. This means that we fully embrace the notion that nothing is ours. Everything is for His Kingdom. Even though it hurts, we say goodbye to people for the sake of His Kingdom.

I was serving here in Vineyard Columbus (Ohio) for almost 10 years when our church decided to send a plant to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Even though I was an influential leader in our 20something community, our church sent me and my husband and 8-month-old son to be a part of the church plant team along with 5 other significant leaders in our church. I love the culture of being open-handed and making lots of space for new people to rise up.

 

I didn’t know what the Vineyard was 17 years ago, but I am so glad I stumbled into this incredible Kingdom-centered movement that has helped me to grow, challenged me to risk and promoted me in the call God has on my life, while giving me space to be imperfect. I am truly honored to call it my family.

 

photo 2About Today’s Guest Blogger

Amanda Nash is a wife and momma of three. She has worked at Vineyard Columbus for over 10 years with three years off church planting in Amsterdam. She has a BA in Religion and English Lit and is currently pursuing her MDiv at Fuller Theological Seminary.

 

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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