There was a time way back when I was really mad at church on Sundays. My wife hated to go because she knew the whole drive home would be me critiquing and giving my commentary on how the service went, what the preacher got out of the scripture, and how long it took them to mention Jesus.
There was a time I sat in church for a while, made note of what time the sermon started and whenever the preacher mentioned ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ I’d check my watch again. Like any critic, I didn’t celebrate when they said Jesus in the first minutes of the sermon, but I really pounced and complained when it took them 34 minutes to mention Jesus. Today I shudder to think that somebody would listen to my sermons with such unbalanced criticism.
A wise mentor-friend gave me some advice about all of that. He said that I was getting angry because I couldn’t clearly identify what I believed was true about a bunch of things. He suggested that I get a pack of 3×5 notecards (or 4×6 if you want to write big!) and start growing.
Write down on every card a single topic, teaching, or belief. Then look through the Bible and write down every bible verse that talks about that topic.
That sounds exhaustive.
(I did it on my laptop because I’m miserable about keeping track of notecards.)
Then when you’re done writing them all down and looking up everything, lay out all of your cards. Look at the ones that are primary. It’s OK to have a bunch or just a few.
Which ones are worth dividing the Body of Christ over?
Which ones are worth marching out of a church and never coming back?
Which ones are worth your patience and forbearance?
It worked. I learned more truth and more of my personal truth.
It worked just like he hoped. It still helps me today. When I hear a self-help sermon all about doing such and such a great thing by trying harder, I know that’s not how Jesus talks. I don’t have to get mad. That preacher isn’t right, but I have a lot of mercy for him. If I ever get a chance to talk to him about it, I know where I’m coming from — at least.
I also realized which issues are big deals and which ones I’ll let slide. Not every single doctrine of Christianity is sealed tight in a neat little package. There is a lot of wiggle room in a lot of issues. Through prayerful consideration in making my notes, I know where I will wiggle.
Do it yourself and chill out.
I know this is the stuff that denominations and non-denominations are built on, but Jesus prayed in John 17 that we’d all be one. He was thinking about His eleven disciples and He was thinking about all of us. Sometimes I think about making a kit and selling it. I could have cards that say things on them already. But that’s not really necessary. You can do it yourself. Make a list and start making notes. I’ll give you a head start:
- Church (days, times, groups, buildings, requirements, memberships?) (You see that you can quickly make a bunch of cards and sub-cards!)
- Church leadership
- Church music
- Christian music
- Women pastors
- LGBTQ+ pastors
- Men pastors
- Child pastors
- Interpretation of Tongues
- The Bible
- The Apocrypha
- Rob Bell
See, it becomes quite a project. Like 3-19 years. It’s actually changed my way of thinking. When something NEW! comes up in church-life, I run it through this filter.
I hope it brings you the same kinds of peace and truth this exercise brought me.