Conforming to Belong

Conform according to Webster’s means to simply “do what other people do.” 

I don’t know about you, but for as long as I can remember I’ve felt this pressure to do what other people to do so I could belong.

Romans 12:2 says,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

God has called Christians out of conformity to the world.  After what I’ve been through I’m working through exactly what this means.  I want to know the will of God.  Most of all, I don’t want to be abused again.

The Amplified version gives me a clearer understanding of these verses:

Romans 12:2 AMP

Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

When I think about the superficial customs of the world my mind goes back to those days before I was a Christian when I felt like I needed a boyfriend and made some very unwise choices to keep him once I got him.  I remember my cousin telling me it’s OK to have sex if you love him.  It seemed everyone I knew was doing it, so why not me?  When I gave in to this worldly custom, I just felt more empty, ashamed and alone.

But a new life in Christ is calling us to something different; a transformed life, new ideals, new attitudes, that will prove God’s perfect will, just for me.

The verses following describe to us what our transformation looks like and the importance of not thinking the way God is working in our lives is more important than the way He is in anyone else’s.  Clearly God has called us to a life that’s different from the worldly customs we were once a part of and to a life of community with individuality.

Romans 12:3-5 ESV

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Paul says we are one body, but members individually of one another.  I love that he says individually.  This means be your own person.  But how often do we in church feel a pressure to be like everyone else and it kinda feels like those worldly superficial customs all over again?

I once went to this church where several ladies all bought Ford Windstar minivans, and I felt left out because I didn’t have on.  Not only in that way, but I also compared my clothes with their clothes, also my hair and my weight with theirs.  I felt I didn’t measure up.   The entire time I attended this church and measured myself to others I believed my best wasn’t good enough, and when I tried to be like them I was snuffing out the Spirit of God in me who just wanted me to be who He created me to be. 

In the world and in the church it’s so easy to fall into a pattern of conformity, because we so desperately want to belong.

I watched a disturbing yet enlightening video last night called “No Place to Call Home” that GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) posted on their Facebook.

Boz Tchividjian GRACE says  about this film:

“After watching No Place to Call Home, I learned that Jesus People USA is a Christian community on the north side of Chicago.  It is a place that holds wonderful childhood memories for many of its former members.   It is also a place where the bodies and souls of dozens and dozens of precious children were eviscerated through systemic sexual abuse.  A place where sexual offenders roamed freely and had easy access to vulnerable little ones, who were often outside the care and supervision of their parents.   This was no place to call home.”

– See more at: http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/03/28/place-call-home-abuse-christian-community/#sthash.qoikOLnC.dpu

This film was very difficult for me to watch.  Listening to the stories of one abuse victim after another, I was taken back to my own abuse story.  Emotionally I was drawn in. My stomach churned hearing story after story, but I didn’t turn it off. Because in hearing other’s stories I know God always has something important to teach us.

Jesus People USA welcomed all walks of life into their communes.  People broken and vulnerable and wanting to belong left their lives and followed the Jesus People conforming to their way of life and living in their communes.  On the surface it sounds so Christlike.  The disciples dropped everything, too and followed Christ.  The early Christians lived in community and shared with one another.  Yet the environment of the Jesus People USA fostered an environment ripe for abuse.  Why?

It’s clear to me from listening to to the stories of the victims that their families came to the Jesus People because they needed help in living life, yearned to find God’s purpose for their lives and wanted to belong in a community of people where this could be lived out. Who doesn’t want all these things?  They are good things and gifts God wants us to have.

Jaime Prater, the man who made the film told Boz in an interview about the film:

“I would also say that my experiences with Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church have made me wholly untrusting of religious institutions and churches. I do not call myself a Christian; I have little faith in group thought. I have witnessed more lives damaged by religion then helped by it. I am a firm Theist. I believe in the life and works of Jesus. I aspire to be like him, but I additionally believe that god, whatever it may be, is big enough to speak to its creation any way it wishes to. I firmly believe that god has many voices and representatives in all faiths and cultures. I suppose however that a positive outcome of my time at JPUSA is that god became much bigger after I left and relearned what I had learned. Because of my upbringing, I had been taught that God acted and behaved certain ways. When I left JPUSA, I began what I can only describe as a regurgitation of that upbringing. I questioned all of it, all of the time. I had to believe it was true for me, not just because that’s what I was taught. That process continues today. What I discovered is that God is bigger then what was always described, and the love of God is more overwhelming and positive then I had ever experienced.”

Jamie Prater said he had little faith in group thought.  He’d seen the damage that was done by it and he wanted no part.  I can’t say that I blame him for that.

It saddens me to read that he left Christianity all together, but growing up with that kind of experience and thinking of my own experience, I can relate somewhat.

But I’m not ready to give up on Christianity. However, I am ready to give up confirming to belong. This is the world’s way of doing things and as Paul teaches and Jamie Prater sees “God is bigger then what was always described, and the love of God is more overwhelming and positive then I had ever experienced.”

He is also bigger than what religion often teaches us.  Or any individual in the church teaches us, even the pastor.

An environment is ripe for abuse according to Diane Langberg when people in the church become more like their church leader than Christ. 

Jesus People USA called people to conform to certain rules in order to belong.  Individuality seemed to be lost. This opens the door to all kinds of abuse, because Christ isn’t leading, man is.  And as Christians we all know where that goes.  It’s the very thing God called us out of.

When I began to blindly follow my leader rather than Christ, the first thing that disappeared was my purpose and individuality.  A memory comes to my mind of a friend who’d just gotten out of drug rehab.  Describing her life as an addict hit close to home with me.  She described a dead, purposeless life.  I knew only too well what that was.

Since I’ve gotten out of that relationship my purpose has started to come back a little bit at the time.  It’s been most evident in the fact that I’ve wanted to write. It’s been such a welcome relief.  As I process through all of this pain I’m learning a little more about what a renewed life in Christ is and the freedom it brings

The problem that’s at the forefront of my mind right now is church.  I know I’m called to be a part of a body, yet when I feel this pressure to conform or hear any legalism I want to run.  Because I know how damaging it can be.

So I continue to write, continue to search, and continue to attend church.

Waiting is the hard part. 

But I’m holding onto to the unseen hope, though sometimes it seems by a thin, frazzled rope, that God will bring good.

And on the days when it feels like that rope has broken, I remind myself He is faithful even when when I am faithless.

More information on Jamie’s film:

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt3220014/

To download film:

http://www.noplacetocallhome.com/#!shop/c1qof

2 thoughts on “Conforming to Belong

  1. Understandable, but sad that Jaime came to such negative conclusions about Christianity. He says, “I have witnessed more lives damaged by religion then helped by it” – I do not dispute that much evil has been done in the name of religion. Sadly, there are countless examples. The evil one loves this. He seeks to discredit anything to do with faith in Christ. However, many do not understand the way Jesus truly transformed life when he was on this planet – His teaching was so outside of the cultural norms that it was shocking. He taught that women and children were to be valued, that all people were worthy of being loved, that we are to serve one another rather than looking out for ourselves…

    Those with power within the church need to take their responsibility seriously, and understand that they will have to account for their actions.Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you AS THOSE WHO MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.” Christian leaders who misuse their power within the church to hurt or mislead others will be judged. Leadership should never be taken lightly, especially leadership within the church.

    I’m glad you are writing Liz. You may not see God’s hand in redeeming your brokenness for good, but He is definitely at work. Your willingness to share is helping to bring this important topic out from the shadows and into the glorious light of Christ where lies can be dispelled, and His truth can reign 🙂

    Blessings,
    Kamea

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  2. Thanks, Kamea, as always for your encouragement. Writing is the only way I can keep things in perspective. You are so right leaders need to take their roles seriously…after this its going to be difficult for me to trust another leader, but I am trusting God to direct us to just the right place…my counselor continues to tell me the same thing you are that God is going to redeem all of it and use it to bring good…you are correct it is hard for me to see it…thank you for pointing it out.

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