Real Church

After they have lost a limb or the use of part of their body, I tell my patients, “You must grieve for a season.”

But I always follow up this statement with another. “Life cannot flourish in the season of grief; we cannot stay there forever.”
Some seasons are dark and quiet. Meant for healing…for tending the inner places. In the winter, trees do not stop growing. Rather, roots continue reaching, seeking–strengthening and nourishing hidden places. This season is necessary to nurture sleeping beauty, prepare for the unfolding of glory.
Sometimes we experience something akin to grief in our spiritual lives, friends. Loss of hope, loss of trust–not in God, never in God; but in man, in people we trust to lead us closer to him–these things can launch us into grief–paralyze our growth. After all, it was man’s lack of trust that broke our relationship with God.
When man disappoints, treat yourself tenderly for a season. Hold yourself gently. Draw in branches, prune back old bloom. Tend to those deep places that need nourishment.
But do not stay there.
Send your roots deeper; let tendrils reach with fanning fingers…
You might be surprised what the spring brings.
I’ve been reading a book entitled Real Church: Does it Exist? Can I Find It? by Larry Crabb. (Thank you, Tina). In these pages, Dr. Crabb relates his growing dissatisfaction with church, while, at the same time his hunger for God grows.

I remember sitting in a church service a few years ago that felt especially annoying, troubling, disconnecting me from my hunger to know God, to hear His laughter, to imitate His Son, to dance with the Spirit. I wrote a sentence to myself in the space reserved in the bulletin for sermon notes. I recall my exact words: “I think I might have to give up Christianity in order to follow Christ.” I should have written “churchianity,” the version of Christianity I was hearing described in the sermon. I’ve never wanted to give up the real thing; I just wanted to find it.

I just want to find it.
Have you ever felt that way? Like church is interfering with your relationship with God? Sometimes it seems like the devil’s strongest foothold is through the doors of our churches.
I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t tell you what Dr. Crabb’s solution to the problem is. I can say that it seems to have to do with creating an authentic spiritual community. What that might look like, I’m not sure–but I’m turning pages eagerly. Perhaps it means we need to re-think some of our traditional views of church. Perhaps it means we need to seek other areas of fulfillment in our lives. I do not know.
I do know this. My God is bigger than the walls of my church. My life with Him does not stop at that threshold. When I allow Him to be present with me in everything, my disappointment in man is healed.
After a season, that is. Because we are human. We must grieve.
I’m going to keep reading Real Church for now. But my true foundation is in my relationship with Him. He is drawing me close, strengthening the deep places.
But branches are budding out again, roots continue to spread wider. Spring will soon be here. And it’s going to be a beauty.


  1. says

    I find this post very meaningful. I’ve struggled with this very thing, especially when something requiring our attention goes unremarked and not attended. I’ve come to think that our faith and spirituality do not come just because we step through church doors. They require a forever-striving, and a stripping down to get at what’s inside.

    “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”
    ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

  2. says

    Wonderful…this so describes this season of my life…there has been lots of quiet and healing…not doing…now the hunger has been growing…to abide with Him…not allowing the “church” to dictate what my days will be…but to abide and hear His whispers…to walk with Love….to search His Word at His feet not completely dependent on others to speak to me.

    I know a lot of people who are searching…they have known Him for years…and now find themselves restless with the little box of “church”….ready to embrace love more, stretch the boundaries….and love as they go out…The “church” can not carry the relationship we must have…we must learn how to abide with Him. I’m so thankful all along He has known my heart and now we can more fully abide…the two of us.
    Sweet post Laura….

  3. says

    I am always in a state of wanting more in my relationship with GOD and being dissatisfied with what churches can offer. I sooooo long to be all GOD created me to be, but I am clearly a work in progress.
    Blessings, andrea

  4. says

    Laura, adding this one to my book list.

    Not sure which way you meant it, but the reference to your life in Him not stopping at the threshold – on the way in to those four walls, or the way out. But I have been in places where it felt as though it stopped on my way in to church.

    This real life in church, it does exist. I have, sometimes in fleeting moments, sometimes longer seasons, experienced it. But those other times, oh, oh…

    Good encouragement to keep reaching.

  5. says

    “When man disappoints, treat yourself tenderly for a season. Hold yourself gently. Draw in branches, prune back old bloom. Tend to those deep places that need nourishment.

    But do not stay there.

    Send your roots deeper; let tendrils reach with fanning fingers…

    You might be surprised what the spring brings.”

    This is so beautiful Laura. We have been through seasons like that in our church life.
    But I will tell you, with an honest heart, that there have been times when I have been disappointed in God. It sounds awful to even say it, but it is true. I went through a season of grief then, and without my knowing (perhaps it was the others who were praying for me) the roots were continuing to grow. Spring did come.

  6. says

    Yes, I’ve felt that way (that church is interfering with my relationship with God). But often, I’ve found that that’s because my focus is misdirected. It’s often not the fault of the church, but the attitude that I’ve brought to the pew.

    HOWEVER — and that’s a big HOWEVER — I know far too many situations where church has interfered greatly with a God-relationship, and in the process, church hurts the very people it was designed to reach.

    Great post, Laura. I’ll add the book to my list.

  7. says

    I, too, have known the “winters” of life, and how thankful I am for God’s patience with me during those times. And I know the joy of springtime!

    I love your beautiful, thought-provoking word pictures!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  8. says

    “Tend to those deep places that need nourishment.”

    Yes, God is bigger than the walls and bigger than Sunday morning. Some of the most amazing spirit-filled, God-centered moments during this past year have happened in our living room as we raise voices with a hymn cd or at the dining room table as we study His word. At times the air has been electric with God’s love.

    Before moving in October, we did home church for about 10 months for a variety of reasons. It was during that time that we indeed grew closer in our individual walks with the Lord.

    Perhaps it is best when man recognizes himself as just man…

  9. says

    Great encouragement, Laura. Yes, man does disappoint and yes, sometimes it is the one who we trust to lead us closer to Him who disappoints. When I experienced that exact pain in my life, I spent too much wasted time being angry about the sin, trying to do what only God to do and, my time of grieving was much longer than necessary. And I did allow “church” (but really that situation that was connected to church) to interfere with my relationship with God. (but I allowed it) In addition, I did contemplate leaving “the church” -entirely -for a time, feeling exactly as Dr. Crabb decribes in the paragraph that you quoted.
    But, Spring did come!
    And God answered my prayer…healing my heart in regard to the church. He has blessed me and my family richly with a “real” church, which is by no means perfect, but is striving to be a “real church”. I also do believe that much of “real church” is authentic Biblical community as you mentioned, which I feel very, very blessed to have – now, after many years.
    You are awesome, Laura, and God will bring spring in astounding beauty and greatness! You will see! I can’t wait to see what He does!

  10. says

    Loved the thoughts here. I am in that dark and quiet place. I’ve been here for what seems like a long while but it is well and has been a time of tremendous growth and as you wrote “necessary to nurture sleeping beauty, to prepare for the unfolding of glory”

    There is much going on in regards to my church family and their place in my dark quiet time. It has been hard not to have “expectations” of their role and subsequently I have been somewhat disappointed .. The devil has tried to gain a foothold in my disappointment but I praise God that He has never left my side and continues to guide me and grab hold of my tongue at times as I have wanted to lash out in judgement .. I continue to seek Him as to how I can come forth from this place with new eyes to hopefully allow more of Him to inhabit my service in the Kingdom … He must become more , I must become less …

    the book sounds like a must read for me =)

    In Him,

  11. says

    Wow, Laura This post hits me on two levels, because I am grieving my mother’s impending death while sitting in a crummy church situation. God has been faithful, but in non-traditional ways.

  12. says

    There is so much in this post that has been on my own heart lately. Real Church? What did God intend for it to be? I know it should never get in the way of the depth in my relationship with Him but should motivate it into greater depth. I have many ponderings about this very topic bouncing around inside of me and God is so faithful to lead me to Him to find the right way. 🙂

  13. says

    “In the winter, trees do not stop growing. Rather, roots continue reaching, seeking–strengthening and nourishing hidden places. This season is necessary to nurture sleeping beauty, prepare for the unfolding of glory.” So love when God speaks through His body. Thanks for these words, they match so completely with the book I am reading.

  14. says

    I am actually going through such a phase right now. I don’t like it in the least. I want to know I have a church community to rely on, but often get so disappointed in people.

  15. says

    Not long ago, I wrote about breaking free from “Christmas” so I could live my “Christmas.” The sentiment fits nicely with your thoughts here.

    I love church. I love a house of worship. I love the hymns, the offering, the choir which almost always could use some help, the preacher, the cross and candles, the stained glass, the hugs (oh and the shiney faces for sure). I don’t imagine it will ever grow old or tiresome for me. Yes, church is a habit, but I am convinced that there is a great likelihood that my heart will intersect with another believing heart (certainly there has to be at least one gathered there with me), therefore bringing God’s presence alongside. Where two or three are gathered…

    All that being said, we get so much of it wrong when we gather together under one roof. Where flesh gathers, problems are sure to follow. How we deal with those problems is a good benchmark of whether or not our church is healthy and on the right track.

    I know you’re struggling. I wish it wasn’t so, but God is faithful to reveal his wisdom along these lines and lead you where he will.

    Great post, Laura. So raw and real and unedited. Love it.


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