Is Church Membership A Two-Way Street? 

Over the past few years, my husband and I have gotten involved with several ministries. We’ve gone to churches or chapels. We’ve gone through membership classes, fulfilled membership requirements– jumped through those expected hoops…

Then we moved, as is the military way. We’ve lived Stateside twice, for a combined 3 1/2 year total of our 19 years of marriage and military life together. 

Church membership, in my understanding, is different than any other membership. We are already members of The Body of Christ. Does moving just dissolve the local church membership? It doesn’t for me.

I carry some deep-seated disappointment and hurt, I’ll be honest, from our last church membership. More than just moving unexpectedly.

I hoped to be embraced by the church community when we joined with them. It’s such a large community, I don’t even think people knew, or cared, that we decided to make that committment. No one outside of our small class of people welcomed us. We were allowed to go to the business meetings where they were transparent about using the tithes and offerings– but there was also the expectation for us to give– sometimes until it hurt as we trusted God– to support their ministries. 

To be fair, our first Christmas there, they gave us gift cards that added up to $200 for Walmart. We needed coats and winter clothing, coming from a tropical climate. We needed groceries, dealing with less money. It was humbling, and appreciated. But, there was no conversations with us, just someone handing us a card, and maybe a gift basket– I wish I could remember it better. I think it was outer appearance they judged our need on, because no one ever asked us anything, no one took time to hear what we all had going on.

While we were there, I got very sick. There were doctors visits, blood tests, exams, other tests– some very painful or uncomfortable. I had blood tests done over several years past that had problems revealed and recorded, but no one had ever told me or did tests to diagnose the causes. 

I wasn’t able to serve as my heart really wanted. I tried to communicate to leadership a couple times about my limitations and my need for prayer, but honestly– I never felt heard, and I did feel judged because of my lack of involvement, or needing to sit down when I tried to serve with the Thanksgiving ministry. 

On top of health concerns, we had one vehicle, new to us but on it’s last legs. Having spent the majority of our marriage living overseas, we had to start our household all over again. Taking that assignment also meant taking a pay-cut for my husband, and we owned nothing in the states. We had so many obstacles to overcome.

I went from driving on the left side of the car and road, to the right, slow speeds to fast, terrifying highways… Driving anywhere was an enormous stress, scared I’d wreck our only car, nervous I’d drive on the wrong side of the road or get confused… I was a wreck!! 

The church environment was one unlike I had ever really experienced. Instead of any type of an outreach for people new to the area, there was this expectation that we just “jump in.” 

I was overwhelmed– entirely.

I was scared about my health– at one point I honestly thought I might be dying. 

I was drowning just trying to stay afloat and maneuver this new, kind of cold, environment.

Thank God I have a healthy marriage!! 

My husband and I were quick to try to jump into music ministry, as we have everywhere we are, as much as we could. Even that was a new experience– from having to audition, to figuring how to fit my music skill into a completely new dynamic– it started on a high note, but faltered completely by the time God decided to surprise us and move us on. We were actually looking into buying a home and settling there, but God had different plans for us.

I’m not a very social face-to-face person, and I found it incredibly difficult to find even one close friend.  I tried over and over. I met so many nice people at that church, and I did find friends through our writing group outside of the church we were at. But, in the church I felt like I was held an arm’s length away by most people. They were polite, and extremely helpful in so many ways– I love the people. But no one asked about me. No one asked how I was adjusting. No one was interested at all in things I had experienced living in another nation, or as a military spouse, or even as a Veteran.

I was surrounded by so much activity, so much joy– I don’t think I’ve ever felt lonelier.

Overwhelmed, I tried to give all I could, but the more I didn’t get back, the more my attitude about having to jump through hoops that I honestly wasn’t able to jump through soured.

After months of medical tests, including 2 different MRI’s, a full body x-ray, some horrible test of my nerves that I couldn’t even finish– my main doctor gave me a partial diagnosis– some rare, unnamed immune disease I was born with but didn’t know I had. 

My whole life I’ve fought to overcome this tiredness that I learned was actually a physical fatigue. Daily life wears me out. Interacting with people, especially in groups, often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and exhausted– sometimes to the point of tears.

I remember, over 20 years ago, crying out to God during a time I was dealing with fatigue, He spoke into my spirit– “I will bring friends to you. I will bring ministry opportunities to you. You can rest in Me.”

So, I waited on the Lord, and He has been so wonderful to me!

He brought my husband *to* me. He brought a new career and love of teaching violin *to* me. He brought me ministry opportunities and friends who really know me *to* me through various online avenues.

The church we left was a place I had to go to to exert myself in ways that left me not just depleted of energy, but empty emotionally. It wasn’t a refuge– not for me, anyway. 

The small group setting was really nice and friendly, but when it was over, most people there moved on and forgot about me. Not everyone, but most.

The church is there for ministry– even for its own members. I needed to be ministered to, I needed what the people weren’t equipped to provide. I felt no one cared. Even when I asked for prayer. Since we moved nearly 2 years ago, not one of the leaders has kept in real contact with us or inquired after us in anyway. There is no interaction over Facebook at all, no messages– nothing. 

We became members, but they never joined with us. 

I will say, 3 or 4 of the members still interact with us, and I am so thankful we’ve stayed in contact. They are truly amazing people.

There is an expectation that as Christians we should just be able to stand on our own, to fit into those premade “molds” everyone *has* to fit in. But, I don’t. So then– what? I’m just on my own because I don’t meet the expected standards? 

Will church leaders ever stop to assess the damage caused to members through expectations and standards? Will they begin to look for each individual’s best interest here on earth, as we participate and join together to be about our Father’s business?

One can only hope. 

 

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