How to Find a Church that Makes You Feel Like Staying – Not Running

In selecting a church, look for a church whose focus meets the needs of your family and whose style is compatible and enjoyable.

Country ChurchIt’s fun to listen to my teenage kids when they talk about how independent they are and how they can take on the world all by themselves.  They seem to be unaware of the vast support network surrounding them.  Our neighbors support the various school fundraisers for them, schoolteachers and coaches invest considerable time with them, many staying late just to have an opportunity to guide them a little better in life.  Then, of course, they have their parents who work to create a supportive home environment, not to mention the food, clothing, and taxi services.

When we are young, we need support to prosper and grow, when we are older, we need it just as much.  The only difference is that as adults, we need to consciously and deliberately build and maintain our quality support network.

That sad truth is that

The Love in a marriage is far more likely to fade away when a couple has no support network, because few of us, in America, grew up with the kind of role models and teaching needed to guide us in lasting love.  We just don’t know how to do it.

In my book, Essence of Wisdom for Parents, I suggest that a good church is the best place to go in order to build a quality support network. However, many people I’ve talked to have a certain revulsion to the church because of bad past experiences like suffering through monotone sermons given by someone who looks like they’d rather be dead or dealing with pews full of hypocrites that will cut you off in the parking lot right after service.  Many people have also had to deal with just plain stupid remarks made by supposed Christians either in the media, or in person.

I’ve talked with many people who have these feelings, and the truth is, I’ve had them myself.  Over time, though, I’ve found that the root cause of this revulsion is a lack of understanding about the different kinds of Christian churches as well as ill-formed expectations about how a “Christian” might behave.

Before thinking about building your support network, it is important to come to terms with the notion that all people have serious character faults.

We all have streaks of judgmentalism, selfishness, and other bits of ugliness inside. Therefore, wherever you go, this is what you are going to find if you look long enough at any person.

If you think about it, you don’t go to an auto repair shop to see well running cars, you go there when you want to get your own car fixed and what you should expect to find is other cars that are in various phases of repair.  A church is pretty much the same way, so it doesn’t make any sense to let yourself get offended if you run across a jerk in one.

When selecting a church to try out, don’t try to find one with perfect people, rather look for one where many of the people are humble enough to want to grow personally, who want to overcome some of their character faults, and who want to improve their own marriages, families, and other relationships.  This kind of church will have small group programs and may have supplemental events specifically designed for men and women.  This kind of church will have at least of few folks in it who you may later come to see as the best friends you ever had in life.  Folks that will be there for you in hard spots and be there for you in times of joy, but most importantly, be there to help you grow as a husband or wife, and as a parent.

In selecting a church, look for a church whose focus meets the needs of your family and whose style is compatible and enjoyable.

Churches have very different focuses.  Most churches have three primary goals of their Sunday service; however, there are dramatic differences in how they emphasize these different goals.  The primary goals are:

  • To bring together people and strengthen our relationships with each other through shared experiences.
  • To take time to praise God for the grace that he has given us.  (This is typically done through music.)
  • To educate us in understanding better the heart and will of God.

What you get out of a church may depend on whether or not you have chosen a church that focuses on your needs.

If you have a deep understanding of Christianity and have studied the Bible extensively, you may want to seek a church were the focus of the service is not education, but rather a shared celebration of your faith.  Many Catholic churches have this focus: they use many symbols such as incense burners and fancy robes that help to remind their parishioner of aspects of God or stories in the Bible that they have previously learned.

If you do not have this deep understanding, than an education oriented church is likely a better fit.  Within this category, there are seeker oriented churches which are often large and very vibrant.  The pastors at these churches will usually be engaging and will teach wisdom that can be directly applied to our lives today.  These churches will have very good small group and other programs that cater to the specific needs of various groups of people. However, because these churches are large it will take personal initiative to get involved in these programs.  Because of this, there is a preponderance of outgoing “type-A” folks in these churches. (I also think that they have many tall people in them, but that probably says more about me than the churches.)

Methodist churches each have their own personality, but generally are education oriented and very community oriented.  These churches will often have a kitchen and encourage families to get together for events like Wednesday night dinners.  It is easier for less outgoing folks to become connected in smaller churches because you likely sit next to the same folks every Sunday.  If you miss a Sunday, you will be missed.

There are also churches that so focus on community and inclusiveness that they ignore quality teaching for fear of offending someone.  These churches can feel very welcoming at first, but it is unlikely that you and your family will get the mentoring support you will need to raise a strong family from this type of church.  If you rarely hear something in the sermon that makes you say to yourself “ooohhh, I might need some improvement in that area”, then you are not in a church that will help you grow, either that, or you don’t get enough sleep on Saturday night.

The final criteria, is church style.  I have heard it said that the most segregated place in America today is the church.  Usually when I hear people say this, they see it as a bad thing; however, I take a different view.  We have an overriding culture in America that serves to bring us together, but we also have many different micro-cultures in our country:  from the backwaters of Louisiana, to the streets of LA, from the forests of Oregon, to the suburbs of Baltimore.  These micro-cultures have musical styles and speaking styles that can be diverse and I think it makes sense to go to a church that has a style and culture that makes you feel comfortable – as long as the church is meeting the spiritual needs of your family.

As a final note of Church explanation for someone looking at churches, there are different pastors that focus on different aspects of the faith.  Some pastor’s focus on miraculous healing, some focus on “the world is coming to an end” stuff.  Personally, I sometimes question if too much emphasis on these themes helps people to grow.  I always recommend that people read the Bible themselves so that they form their own idea of what these passages are talking about rather than rely solely on their pastor to share their idea of what the Bible says. If you are trying a church were the messages seem quite off base to you, then do not give up on Church altogether, but rather go try a different one.

Most people I know who really like there church they attend tell me that when they first started coming to the church, they “felt like the pastor was talking right to them.”  If you find a church like this, stick with it.

As a final note, if you are a women who has a husband that is less enthusiastic about the faith, then look for a church that has strong male leadership and an active men’s group.  I think there are many great female preachers out there, but most men respond better to male leadership and also appreciate strong, positive, male role models.

If you found a church that you like, I’d love to hear what it was about the church that made it seem right for you.

Marriage, Money, Stuff, and Happiness

Learning to dissociate your personal happiness from the possessions of your neighbors and friends is a significant step of maturity that every family leader must take.

Closet of StuffMost marriage counselors will tell you that money problems are a major cause of marriage problems.  It is always a good idea to think carefully about how money is handled in your home.  In my book, Essence of Wisdom for Parents, I say that

If you are not comfortable sharing a checking account with your spouse, there is a problem that needs to be uncovered and addressed.

When you are in a marriage, and especially when you have children depending on you, it is vitally important that both think about how and why you will use the finite income that you earn.  Money is essentially a tool that can be wielded for many purposes.

One the easiest ways to get into financial difficulties is to hold onto the notion that money (and the stuff you buy with it) can make you happy.  The idea that more stuff could bring happiness blossomed in the 1920’s with the advent of mass production, rising wages, the advent of radio and the expansion of consumer advertising.  Since this time, advertisers have been continuously telling us that we will not really be happy unless we own their new deluxe, whatever it is.

Unless you happen to be Bill and Melinda Gates, it’s important to spend some time really understanding this connection between spending and happiness because, truthfully, the success of your family may depend on it.

In Allen Greenspan’s book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World he describes his research into this connection between wealth and happiness and notes that Beyond the point at which basic needs are met, happiness is a relative state that, over the long run, is largely detached from economic growth.  The evidence shows that it is determined mainly by how we view our lives and accomplishments relative to those of our peers.

This is fascinating when you think about it.  Advertisers tell you that you will be happy if you buy the new Lexus IS C, a truly luxurious convertible.  However, Allen’s research found that you’ll be happy if you’re the first one in the neighborhood who can afford it, but once a few other neighbors have nice cars, your happiness will fade.  In fact, if everyone in the office drives Roll’s Royce’s, your new Lexus could make you feel miserable.

Learning to dissociate your personal happiness from the possessions of your neighbors and friends is a significant step of maturity that every family leader must take.

For some, this may seem difficult.  Recently, though, I asked a number of friends to tell me a bit about the different times of their lives.  Many reflected that their early adult years, when they were short on money, were also some of the best most enjoyable times of their life.  How about you?  When you look back at your life to some of your best times, was it your wealth or stuff that made life good?

Currently, I’m at that point in my life where I have four teenagers keeping me busy and a houseful of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years.  It has started to occur to me that…

Every one of our possessions, everything we buy and hold, adds an incremental burden to our lives.

For some things, like cars, and homes, the burdens are obvious.  Cars need insurance, repairs, and lots of gas.  Homes have painting, cleaning, repairing, gardening, decorating, etc.  Another, less obvious burden is just the clutter associated with stuff.  The burdens can be physical, financial, and mental.  When I was young I thought I needed to buy and collect tools, decorations, furniture, lots of things that will come in handy some day.  Now I have closets full of clothes, most of which I will probably not wear, with more clothes in plastic bags stuffed under the bed. I have tools and books and dishes and decorations.  Valuable collectibles stuffed in drawers, and bags and boxes with presents for family and friends – all of whom probably have too much stuff themselves.

All this stuff can get overwhelming, and the problem is, it is hard to clean it out because each thing I’ve stashed away has a history.  “I got this from Grandma”, “This will really come in handy if I ever take up pole vaulting”, “I’ve had this for twenty years already, I can’t just throw it away now!”  Sound familiar?

It’s hard for me to comprehend the amount of money that’s been spent on all that stuff – five dollars here, ten dollars there.  It adds up, and you know, most of it didn’t buy me much happiness, and now, years later, I find that holding onto it all slowly sucks happiness out of my life.

So if having all this stuff doesn’t really make us happy, why do people enjoy shopping so much?

Shopping and purchasing things gives us a powerful, but fleeting rush of excitement.  It gives us a moment of total control and decisiveness something we often find lacking in our otherwise mundane daily existance.

Is this really the kind of excitement that you dreamed about when you were planning your future?  Probably not.

As a husband, wife, and responsible parent, its good to understand these impulses.  If you feel a need to buy something, stop and think hard.  Do you really need it or are you shopping to fill some other void in your life?  If you do need it, do you need the deluxe model?  For an important household item, spending more on quality may be smart, frequently though; it’s our ego making the decision.

So how about you?  Any of this ring true in your life?  Have any good stories about when you’ve bought something that didn’t bring you the boost you wanted?

Have any good stories when your spouse bought something that didn’t bring you the boost you wanted?

Anger – the morphine of emotions

Anger is the morphine of emotions, serving as an unhealthy way to avoid pain. Dealing with frustrations in a healthy way is how to let go of anger and depression.

Anger, like all human emotions, is natural and has a purpose and place in life.  An outburst of anger is the quickest way of communicating to your loved ones that you have been hurt.  There is an old joke that says the best way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once – her anger will effectively communicate that she has been hurt by your thoughtlessness.

In today’s society though, many people have developed a very unhealthy lifestyle of anger – sometimes using it as a primary means of communicating. The reason for this is that we do not feel the sting of emotional pain as long as we are holding onto our anger.

Anger is the morphine of emotions.

In our society, we have not been raised to handle anger in a healthy way and we often do not fully understand the source of our anger.

Anger is an outgrowth of frustration and, besides numbing our pain, serves as a means to gain control of a situation – often by attempting to bully those around us.  Anger’s sister emotion is depression which is what we experience when we no longer have any hope of regaining control of our circumstances.

Allowing ourselves to unleash our anger is destructive to our relationships.  Usually the targets of our anger are the few people in the world that actually know us well and love us the most: our husbands and wives, our children, our parents.  These are the victims of our anger.

Allowing ourselves to suppress the anger is not healthy either.  Suppressed anger can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, and in the end, is rarely effective in improving our relationships and circumstances.

The first step in letting go of anger is to fully understand the root cause of the frustration.

We get frustrated when people or circumstances are not in line with our expectations. Therefore, it is imperative for us to understand what our expectations in life are and why we have them.  Once we have done this, we need to educate ourselves to determine if these expectations are reasonable or if they are founded on an artificial and idealistic view of how we think the world should be.

For example, if your four-year-old child has spilled fruit juice on your white carpet after you told them to be careful you might get angry.  But was it reasonable to expect a four year old to obey your admonition?  Of course not!  That little bit of frontal lobe in their brain that controls their executive system is not really formed enough to be depended upon, their motor skills are undeveloped, a let’s face it, a four year old has the attention span of a gnat.  A reasonable parent should expect the child to forget the warning the moment the child spots a toy in the room and a reasonable parent should expect to have to buy a new carpet once their children are grown.

Often, the person that we seem to have the most difficulty with in terms of false expectations is our spouse.  Most of us have the ridiculous notion that our own experiences growing up can serve as a model and yardstick for our spouse.  We fail to understand that the environment that they were forged in was very different then that in which we were forged.

You may have grown up in a home with a strong working mom who ran the whole show.  Your spouse may have grown up in a traditional home where the father served as the family leader.  Without educating yourselves, then in this situation it is likely that the husband will be continually frustrated with his wife’s lack of trust and support, and the wife will be continually frustrated by her husband’s lack of respect.

It is sad when two people like this that are good people who actually love each other can be doomed to a life of continued anger, depression, or both – all because of erroneous expectations of life.

There are a couple of keys to re-aligning your expectations with reality.  These are:

Spent time with well-grounded people in similar family circumstances.

This can be a men’s or women’s small group in church or a group of ladies who get together at play dates with their kids.  As you listen to the diversity of points of view, you can begin to learn that your own way of looking at the world isn’t as universal as you may have thought.  It is vitally important to choose your small group of friends properly – if they do not seem to have a loving and caring spirit, then choose a different group.

Read books on parenting, marriage, or whatever topic frustrates you the most.

Parenting books can help you understand child development and what to expect from your child at different ages.  Marriage books help you understand the different types of personalities, and in particular, how the brain of the opposite sex works.  One of the big motivations for my book Essence of Wisdom for Parents was to help set more healthy expectations for parents and couples and through this, to bring a little more joy and peace into some households.

A caution here:  there is a whole media industry designed to satisfy the relational and emotional needs of people, particularly women:  this includes daytime talk shows, and people-oriented magazines.  This media source is not designed to set healthy expectations of life and, but rather is designed to serve as a surrogate for healthy real-life relationships.  Its fine for a little light entertainment, but it will not be a positive contribution to your development.

Find time to sit and talk peaceably with those that get you angry.

Talk about your frustrations and expectations.  If your expectations do not match, then it is a fair bet that the other person in the relationship is harboring feelings of anger or depression as well.  This means that they need help also.  Note that I am using the word talk here loosely.  If tensions have been building for any length of time, then it may be best to intersperse your initial conversations with some leading questions and then carefully listen to what they are saying.  Give yourself a day or two to think about what they have said before responding.

The goal of each of these three keys is to help you grow personally.  A big component of what we term personal growth, is our self-education on the complex realities of the world and the people that live in it so that we develop more realistic expectations.  The human brain was designed to be a continuous learning machine.  If we aren’t doing that then we aren’t using our brain’s properly.  For some reason, we forget to keep learning.  We think that our school years were the one time in life when we were supposed to learn.  The truth is, our school years were the time in life when we were supposed to learn how to learn.

The second step in letting go of anger is to realize that the people or circumstances around us are not supposed to be perfect.

As you talk with friends, read, and study, you will come to find that God did not promise an easy life for anyone and that everyone has flaws, insecurities, and selfish impulses.  Your anger means that you want either God or other people to care more for you in your life.  However, as you grow, you will realize that these other people need help with their issues as well.  This is an opportunity for you.

Taking your eyes off yourself and putting them on other’s needs is the healthy way to alleviate pain.

Helping others to grow in the same manner in which you are growing will help them to get over the pain of their frustrations, and, over time, will help to heal your relationship as it begins to grow again on a more realistic soil bed.

Helping others does not mean that you are their doormat. You do not need to enable their anger by serving as a human punching bag.  What it does mean, though, is that you need to look behind their angry frustrated exterior to find and encourage the good things that are hiding within.  Transforming yourself from an angry warrior to a patient, educated, loving, encourager will go a long way towards developing that sense of idealistic happiness that we all desire.