Saturday, June 12, 2010

Can you offer hope?

Julie from Maine recently sent me an email asking for advice. She was also interested to see if any of you had advice or encouragement to give her. She's had a hard time finding true Christian fellowship in her area. Below is a portion of what she wrote:

"My question is this - I was not raised with any sort of faith, quite the opposite in fact. My parents are very bitter ex-Catholics. None of my friends go to church and most are athiests or believe in a "higher power". I have tried to go to many different churches throughout my state, and have had one very negative experience after another. The last church I attended turned out to be a cult. I'm just about ready to throw in the towel because if this is what belief does to people, I'm not interested. However, online I see little glimpses of hope, you and other bloggers. What advice would you have for me at this point?"

In another email, she further explained the experiences she's had at churches she's gone too, and none of them were good, ranging from a liberal pastor, to one just wanting to pressure her into membership to help his numbers grow, to a church split, to another steeped in legalism and extra-Biblical rules.

I've emailed her to encourage her to keep looking, giving her some recommendation of church denominations that I've experienced or heard of as being solid. However, it's hard to recommend one when each local church is different. Do any of you live in Maine? What church would you recommend?

I've been inspired by how she's holding on to faith, even when she's not supported by family or friends. I've tried to encourage her as best I can, but I've not experienced what she's going through, so it can be hard to relate or know what to say. Have any of you been in a similar situation? What advice/encouragement can you give her?

I know Julie would appreciate any comments you have. Let's also be praying that God will bring her into a supportive, Bible-believing church soon.

25 comments:

Stacy said...

To Julie:
I highly recommend the "church search" on the website of 9Marks (an evangelical ministry focused on building and supporting healthy churches). The website is http://churchsearch2.9marks.org/

You can enter your zip code and it will show you what churches in your area agree with what this ministry refers to as the "nine marks of a healthy church." I have found these "marks" to be very Biblical. You can read what these nine marks are here: http://www.9marks.org/what-are-the-9marks/

I have been raised in a Christian family, and it is still hard to find good churches and true Christian fellowship!

Anna B said...

Hi there!

I was also raised in an entirely non-Christian home, and my best experiences have been with biblical non-denomiationals, and with Mennonites.

I especially recommend the Mennonites - I'm sure there are some in Maine - but I'd definitely say to find a more rural church. The city ones, esp in the east, can be kinda liberal.

Sarah said...

Hello! I hope I can help. I used to live in New England and had the same trouble, till God led us to Calvary Chapels. Maine has 5 of them and they are Bible-teaching, non-denominational churches that have been around for years. Here is a link to the CC's in each state:
http://www.calvarychapel.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5&Itemid=69

I pray that she finds one she feels comfortable at!

God bless,
Sarah

David Petersen said...

Anna, I'm from HomeschoolAlumni, so I read your blog occassionally.

My family used to live in Maine, and yes, it is a very hard place to find a conservative evangelical church. I know of a couple of decent churches in Brunswick and Portland. If you're near there, let me know and I can get you some contact info. I don't know what section of Maine you're in.
Let me know if I can be of further help.

David Petersen
Miami, FL
dpetersen85@live.com

Elijah Lofgren said...

I can offer hope!!

Hi Julie,

If it were somehow possible, I would highly recommend moving to Cedar Rapids, IA. I've never been to a better church than New Covenant Bible Church.

Today Linda Jenkins (my adopted Iowa mom who helped lead the college group last summer with her husband Steve) told me about a new Christian who knew that he was in a bad environment who decided to relocate to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (from North Carolina I think) so that he could get better friends. I plan to meet him tonight. It's inspiring that someone would move because they knew that it would probably be the best thing for their spiritual life which is the most important life.

I can't really describe how much I like New Covenant Bible Church and wish that more churches were like it.

You may think moving in order to find good Christian fellowship is too drastic of a step, but I think you should give it some thought (it doesn't have to be Cedar Rapids of course, but I've never found a better church elsewhere). My brother Luke amazed me once when he said that finding a good church is as important (or more important) thank finding a good job when choosing where to live.

Like last summer, I am now attending New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids, IA. I went to two different Adult Bible Fellowship groups and REALLY enjoyed it!!! The second group I went to was called Trekkers and today they listened to a recorded message by Dr. James Grier who spoke on "Recovering the Missional Soul of the Church" for about and hour and then we had about an hour of discussion. It was really good. One of the discussions was about friendship evangelism and how it is important to ACTUALLY get around to presenting the gospel and giving them an invitation to accept it. I really enjoyed people talking about "friendship evangelism the right way" since I've been thinking about approaches to sharing the gospel. There was also some VERY INTERESTING discussion about how to best reach our post-modern generation. They plan to discuss cloning, homosexuality and other cultural topics after laying the foundation. One very interesting thing was that our post-modern generation doesn't really respond to things like
"The Four Spiritual Laws" but responds much better when the story of God's love is presented in narrative form.

One of the men that I met said that his wife said something like this after attending Trekkers: "I've learned more here in 1 hour than I did in 4 years at the other church"

What's also cool was that there were many young children in the Trekker's group who were with their parents and seemed to be enjoying it. They even had a young boy of one of the women who attended play a hymn at the end. It was great! I've never been to a better church than New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids in all my life.

I am going to the active, growing, inspiring singles group called Be[Cause] tonight at 6:30pm. I've never felt so welcome, loved, accepted for who I am, as at New Covenant Bible Church.

Feel free to email me ( elijahlofgren@elijahlofgren.com ) if you think there's any way I can help or if you'd like me to put you in contact with someone in the church (for example a young adult woman in the BeCause group or Linda Jenkins who used to lead the college group with her husband Steve). I can start asking around and see if anyone knows of a good church in main. Just let me know how to contact you.

Don't give up!!!

- Elijah Lofgren (Anna's brother who just moved to Marion, Iowa and grew a lot from attending New Covenant Bible Church last summer)

P.S. Part 2 coming in 2nd comment.

Elijah Lofgren said...
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Elijah Lofgren said...
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dave said...

I was referred to this from a blog on Homeschoolalumni.org I just moved to Kittery, so I don't really know much about the rest of the state. I just attended the monthly meeting of this group of pastors, and I think that there are probably some good churches in it. http://pibc.webs.com/northeastkjvbaptist.htm

Here's a link for a listings of churches in Maine. http://militarygetsaved.tripod.com/maine_ibcl.htm I can't recommend all of them, but it does seem to cover the state pretty well. I hope this is of some help to you. I definitely know what you're going through in looking for a church.

Melanie said...

Oh yes, I know the "church search"!! My family and I looked for, I believe it was 7 or 8 years before we found a church that really preached and LIVED OUT the Word of God. They are so scarce!

I am not sure what to recommend her regarding a church right now, but what I would most recommend is for her to continue to dig into God's word and continue to seek to know what God says (not what any one person says). His Word alone is truth and in resting in and living out that truth is the belief that does change lives. The issue is not "faith" itself, but faith in the truth of Jesus Christ alone. I'm sure Julie knows this, but I hope that might encourage her to be reminded of it when it seems like others' religion is so empty and pointless.

Regarding a church, encourage her to keep praying and trusting and looking... and for you, keep writing her! The fellowship, even over the internet, must be very encouraging! :-)

Oh... I just remembered, I know of one good church in Lubec, Maine, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins go every year when they visit Maine, but I don't know if that area is around where Julie lives or not.

Dan Dorman said...

Check out the churches in Maine at this link: http://www.opc.org/locator.html I grew up in the church in Bangor and it's a great, solid church.

Megan said...

Yes, I'm a lurker... :) But I do enjoy this blog, Anna and Miriam! (And I'm one of the writers for Bloom, btw...)

For Julie -

I'm so sorry that you've had to fight so hard to find true belivers and churches. But I'm happy that some of the blogs you've read can give you hope!

Looks like people have given you great sites to look at; I would add one more. If you live anywhere near any colleges, see if you can poke around on their websites and find out if they have any Christian groups there (I would especially recommend Campus Crusade for Christ and the Navigators). You could try emailing the staffers and asking them for specific suggestions and where they go to church.

I hope this helps!

Elijah Lofgren said...

Hi Julie,

Here is what my friend Marlana had to say: "Ask Renee Shafer on HSA as she is from Maine (very conservative). I would also suggest she call a homeschool group and ask if anyone knows of a home church in her area (not of homeschoolers, but homeschoolers often know where the home churches are).

If she is really burned out of the current church, I would suggest she read Pagan Christianity by ... See MoreFrank Viola. But I recommend that book with caution. It explained everything that bothered me about the mega church and the traditional church, such as where the church got its practices from (like dressing up for church, steeples, even the 10% tithe). However, it should not be used as an excuse to forsake the assembly (nor does the author mean for it to be taken as such....he's for home type churches).

Thirdly, if she likes Mark Driscoll, she can always check the Acts 29 network. Now I'm not saying I would do that per se (not a huge Mark Driscoll fan myself though I admire his vision), but its an option I'd throw out there as some of the Acts 29 churches are pretty cool.

Fourthly, John-Mark called church after church in Conn. asking if they had a way to reach out to his friend, a recovering homosexual. None of the churches had an answer. The church is truly dying. So your friend is not crazy...she should spend time praying for a church. Its okay if it takes a while to find the right one. "

Elijah Lofgren said...

Hi Julie,

My friend Rebecca W. said this: "I have NO idea where Portland, Maine, is - but I just found an Acts29 church there (Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and other such churches).
http://www.mdchurch.org/
I don't know if it's her style, but the churches I know about are amazing."

I visited Mars Hill Church (one of the smaller locations in Seattle, WA) of which Mark Driscoll is the lead pastor and it was really good. You may find Mark Driscoll a breath of fresh air. I recommend you try listening to one of his sermons online: http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/featured My sister Lydia is currently going to a Mars Hill Church

Luke and Michele said...

I don't want to be discouraging to Julie but I was to express a note of hesitation about some of the issues she lists with the churches she has had contact with. I believe that it is very easy to see the flaws in a church because it is made up of flawed people. And while it is important to connect with a healthy body, once you do plant yourself then part of its health is what you contribute to it. The two criteria we used for a church in Erie, PA (which we had to find before we moved up here; that was a specific criteria for moving) was that it was committed to accept the Bible as written (in all things, without applying a "system" to it that forced tortured explanations for some parts), and that the people in the church were growing and being affected by their involvement in that body. The latter one is not easy to measure, but the former characteristic should lead to the latter one. God was very gracious to lead us to a church that had those characteristics, and now that we are here we now share in the responsibility to help the body continue to provide them.

One consideration is even to the extent of which body might be the best foundation to work within (e.g. where is the Bible accurately taught) and then join that church with the idea that you may be an agent to encourage the church to address areas where they might be weaker. This would almost be the concept of considering it a mission of being placed in Maine. Ideally you would get solid teaching and just be trying to encourage change in other things. Obviously missionaries that go to a place with no existing church don't expect to get fed where they are, and you might consider that your goal should be to find the best place for you to give.

Even on the aspect of solid teaching, there are many ways in today's age to get solid teaching from afar, so if nothing offered it, then looking for people eager to grow might be the best alternative. Don't forget that while you might think that you're going to be an impact to others, it is very likely that God will also mold and form you through that process to grow you as well.

Luke.

Anna Naomi said...

Thank you all for your comments! I do hope they help, Julie.

Luke: The church is indeed made up of flawed people, but Julie described her church experiences in depth in an email, and I can assure you that none of them sounded like they were a church that would be healthy to continue going to. I do agree that once you find a solid, Bible-believing church, you should commit to it. Hopefully Julie will find one soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna & Everyone who responded,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such thoughtful replies. Anna had given me a few church recommendations, but there really weren't any in my area. I am glad that so many of you had suggestions as now I at least know where to start.

Elijah - you are too funny! I certainly had never thought of just moving, but when I considered it, there's not much keeping me here. The trouble would be mainly financial. I got laid off about 2.5 years ago, was unemployed for a year, now I do have a job, but I'm making about $10,000 less per year than I was. My parents are actually helping me every month pay the rent. And I loved those songs you sent, especially the first as it made me tear up as I was reading it.

Thank you so much Anna for letting me "hijack" your blog for a bit. I have definately been encouraged by all of you.

I will let you know how my continued search goes.

In His love,

Julie from Maine

Anastasis said...

What a difficult situation. I have a friend who's had a similar problem.

A few comments:

1. No church is perfect - they're full of people like us (sinners). We must never expect too much from a church. But I don't think that Julie is being unrealistic in her expectations.

2. There is a lot of corruption in some parts of the church - particularly in the charismatic and pentecostal worlds.

3. There are a variety of expressions of Christianity (both practical and theological) and what suits one person may not suit another. As an example, I share your views on modesty and I would not have a problem with a church teaching that low-cut tops and short skirts are wrong. I'd see it as a good thing if a church had a dress code along these lines. But others may find it legalistic (and obviously the way it is taught and practised can be legalistic). Similarly the 9Marks website that Stacy mentioned does have a particular theological bias.

4. Integrity is more important that doctrinal specifics. If I was desperate to find a church, I wouldn't worry if they didn't share my particular theological convictions on secondary matters, provided that they weren't deceiving people.

I can't make any recommendations as I don't know Maine. But here's some suggestions from my experience:

Find out how a potential church is governed. If it is controlled by the pastor and his family, or a group of elders that are only accountable to themselves, that should raise a warning flag. As a generalisation, these churches are more likely to be problematic or even abusive compared to ones that are congregationally governed.

Denominational churches often have more checks and balances than independent ones. Don't necessarily write off a church because of the reputation of its denomination - eg whilst Episcopal and United Methodist churches have a reputation for being liberal, that doesn't always apply to every church.

Finding out how a church views other local churches. If they say that they're all off the rails and we are the only ones who are right, I'd also advise caution - this sort of thing is a cult-like tendency. How we relate to those we disagree with is a good measure of how are hearts are before God.

You can often tell where a church is at by looking at who their web site links to - if it's a load of prosperity preachers, they're almost certainly of that inclination and so should be avoided in my view. Seeing what books they promote or asking the pastor for a book recommendation is also a good way to find out what they are really like.

I've been blessed by the teachings of Justin Peters (www.justinpeters.org) - he is a well-travelled minister who warns people against false doctrines. It might be worth seeing if he has any contacts in Maine.

Lauren said...

To Julie:

I have been in a similar situation, not that a good church could not be found, but that I have actually been grounded and at times otherwise prevented from going (back in my teens). I know from experience the difference that Christian fellowship can make on your walk with Christ! So I really feel for you.

During the time, however, the Lord taught me to cling to Him and to dig deep into His word on my own. I treasured God's word more than a bunch of kids who had grown up with it all their lives, and I was so eager to attend church when I could--because it was a privilege! So God may even be blessing you through your current experience, even if you can't see it now. Cling to Him, rest in Him, and seek Him to guide you to the right body. It's difficult when family members are not supportive. But remember that God is your Father and will never forsake you!

As far as a good church, I agree with Luke: find people who are passionate about learning and obeying God's word, and who are dedicated to encouraging each other in Him. Those are the two biggest keys I see in a healthy church: a commitment to the word of God and to the people of God. Everything else should spring from that. Better to be in a church that loves God, His word, and His people but doesn't have everything "figured out" yet than in a church that has all their theology nailed out to "perfection" and that is proud of their apparent "holiness".

That may not be anything new to you, but I hope it is encouraging. Trust that the Lord is using this time for your good (Rom. 8:28) and seek to glorify Him in whatever ways you are able!

Grace and Peace!
Lauren

Vicki said...

Dear Julie,

May the Lord bless you as you search for the church family He wants for you! It's not an easy search (yes, I do know!), but the right church will bless you beyond measure!

Love in Christ,
Vicki

Pete said...

Hi, I came across this via Elijah Lofgren.

I think the reason for so many broken churches is because Satan is tricky and we are fallen. Anyways
I would also recommend Calvary Chapel churches (like one other person said). My dad knows many churches in main if you want specifics (he helps pastors put in radio stations)

God bless!

Elijah Lofgren said...

I've removed the 2 songs that I posted in comments because I think it violated copyright to do so: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4508158.stm

Instead of posting the lyrics, you can hear them here:
"Get Back Up" by Toby Mac, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOBer-hHu9I

"Wait and See" by Brandon
Heath, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALx7GCQ9GxE

Keep pressing on!

- Elijah

Kathryn said...

We have struggled in finding a church that teaches God's Word as it is written and that stands firm upon His standards. The best advice I can give is; stand firm in your faith and don't give up on God just because you may give up on you local churches. Keep praying. In time God will lead you to the right group of people. Don't give up!

Catherine said...

Don't be discouraged! God has called you, and you listened.

The Catholic Church, although many dislike it, is my personal choice: they have a lot of good things to say about works of mercy. Even though there have been many scandals, things have changed within the Church itself. The more conservative Catholic Churches (like the Trinitine Rite, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox) definitely have a strong belief in modesty. The Masses are absolutely beautiful.

The Moravian Brethren is also a good group. The Methodists are also fine: some may be liberal, but not all. The Presbyterians, Lutherans,and Episcopalians.

If you feel God is calling you to a religious vocation, the Catholic Church also has many religious orders.

Good Luck and God Bless!
Catherine

Stacey said...

Hi Julie,

I'm an oldster (46!), but I have a few words for you:

I lived in Maine for 7 years, and I now live in Scotland. Unfortunately, both places are very, VERY liberal and lacking, for the most part, in solid Christian faith. I experienced it in Maine in the 1980s and 90s, and I experience it now in the Highlands of Scotland in 2010.

Hold on to your faith by staying in the Word, reading Christian blogs and testimonies online, and keeping in prayer. God will provide. He will not let you fall. He holds His elect securely.

But I know it is frustrating and that is what the devil wants... to frustrate us. Stay strong and stay close to the Lord. Blessings to you in your search. You may have to have a house church of your own. My dear husband and I keep our faith alive via our daily domestic church, and it took three years to find the church we attend now: which only has 7 congregants! You are not alone in your despair of a good, strong Christian community. Blessings to you.

Meg said...

To Julie,

I can't offer you anything other than encouragement. Even within denominations, we've got issues of good versus bad churches. I had to leave the church that my family had attended for several years because the pastor was weary, the congregation viewed pew-time as family meeting time, and so forth. There was little prayer life, little True worship (it was loud, but Life-less).

It was not easy to look for a new church within my denomination. I finally found a good church and have been there for 2 years; and I still get flak from my family for attending.

You're doing exactly what I did to find the right church - you asked! I'll keep you in my prayers; Pray that the Holy Spirit lead you to the right church; God will give in time.

Blessings,
Megan