Different Approaches to Seeking Fellowship
So, you’ve prayerfully considered the warnings and encouragement in the earlier sections of this article, and you’re ready for some practical advice on finding fellowship. As you try to find a setting where you can live a Kingdom life, you can choose from three basic approaches:
- Stay in your current church or join another “conventional” church. For reasons explained below, we’ll call this the “William Law” approach.
- Join a conservative Anabaptist church.
- Join a like-minded house church, or help form one.
Which of these options is best will depend on the individual circumstances of your family. As much as possible, you should try to chart your spiritual course together as a family, especially where major external changes are involved. Don’t needlessly leave your spouse or older children behind. I’ve seen cases where one person in a family zealously tries to adopt lots of new practices which are commandments of God and good in themselves but pursues this course without regard to the rest of the family. Perhaps a sister runs ahead of her husband, or the husband doesn’t wait on his wife to come to the same conclusions, or parents fail to consider the feelings of their teenage children. Teens do need to submit to their parents, but you can easily lose your children spiritually by trying to move too fast.
Because of these considerations, the age of your children and your own family situation play a big role in which fellowship option will be the best choice for you. There is no perfect option out there; each of these approaches has its drawbacks and advantages, and you will need to decide which is best for your family.
The “William Law” Approach
First, let’s talk about what I call the William Law approach—just staying right where you are. Ask yourself honestly:
- Am I the most loving person I can be in the church I presently attend?
- Am I the kindest person I can be in this church?
- Am I the meekest person I can be in this church?
- Do I bear as much Kingdom fruit as possible in the church?
This is not an encouragement for you to boast, just an opportunity for honest self-examination. Can you answer yes to the questions above? If you think you can, is that what everyone else in the church would say about you? If you find the answer to one or more of those questions is no, as it would be for most of us, you might want to stay right where you are and focus on becoming the kindest, most loving, Christ-like person in your church.
The reason I call this the William Law approach is that this is basically the choice he made. William Law attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge and studied to become an Anglican teacher and priest. He passed all his studies, but lost his position when he was refused, on the basis of conscience, to give a required oath of allegiance to King George. Since the Anglican church was a state church, William Law was not allowed to practice as a clergyman, so he began tutoring the children of wealthy families. It wasn’t a high-paying job, but a man could make a living at it.
William Law became what one might call a Protestant “saint,” in the way that the Catholics use the term. He stayed single throughout his life to devote himself entirely to service in the Kingdom. He did a lot of writing on behalf of Christianity and a lot of private teaching.
Toward the end of his life, William and two Christian sisters he had taught and discipled moved to the village of King’s Cliff, where he had been born. They attended the Anglican Church there and established a little sanctuary there, something like a monastery. They all lived celibate lives and supported each other, but they used most of their income to help the poor. When someone came to their door, they tried to apply literally Jesus’ command to “give to him who asks you,” so they gave most of their money to the needy. They also started a school for girls and an orphanage.
The generosity of William Law and his friends attracted lots of tramps looking for some free funds, and the locals, including the pastor of the local church, didn’t appreciate this much. Still, William remained in the Anglican Church, and there he lived a more effective Kingdom life than most of us ever will.
William Law’s approach is possible. Do not assume that when you develop Kingdom convictions, your only choice is to find an entire church that believes as you do. That may be ideal, but few of us on this journey have found that “perfect” church.
Another form of the “William Law” approach would be finding a different conventional church. If you are attending a Baptist church, for example, where the pastor opposes you and sees your ideas as a threat to others, you might find that another Baptist church or church of a similar denomination is more supportive of somebody who holds to nonresistance and wants to live by the Kingdom teachings of Jesus.
From my contacts over many years, those who have taken the William Law approach have generally had the happiest results. I would not have predicted that, and it’s not the course of action I would have recommended twenty years ago; I’m just reporting my observations.
- Advantages of the William Law Approach
One big advantage to staying and being a Kingdom Christian in one’s home community is that you don’t have to move. Moving can be a highly stressful experience in itself, and it usually means finding a new job as well. Finding a job in a new location can require changing one’s profession, and if it takes awhile to find work, you can get into an economic hole that’s hard to get out of, adding still more stress. Staying in the church where you are or switching to a more supportive one across town saves you all this extra stress.
Also, moving somewhere to join what I would call a Kingdom-oriented church, such as an Anabaptist congregation, is difficult if your family it is not supportive. If one spouse is not in favor of the move, it usually ends up being a bad experience. Also, if you have teenage children with a lot of close friends in your current church, they are likely to be resentful about moving to a different type of church in a new place. No, your children should not rule your family, but you need to work for their salvation, and I know of many people who lost their children spiritually because they insisted on moving to a more radical Christian fellowship.
- Disadvantages of the William Law Approach
The drawbacks of the approach we’ve discussed are that if you continue in a church that merely tolerates your values, you will be walking against the current of your congregation. People might view you as odd, and if you don’t develop a lot of Kingdom fruit, but end up just being somebody with lots of “strange” ideas, you will have a very unpleasant experience. If you tend to be confrontational about differences, you may find yourself in constant conflict in such a church. In this case, unless you switch to a more mellow approach, you may feel forced to go somewhere else.
Another disadvantage of staying put, depending on the age of your children, is that the church where you attend might have an unhealthy influence on your children. Perhaps it strongly promotes the nationalistic, militaristic beliefs you want to move away from, and you don’t want your children indoctrinated in this.
Staying where you are can also be a negative experience on Sunday mornings. I find it really gets under my skin to sit and listen to a sermon I’m convinced in my heart is false and contrary to historic Christianity and the teaching of Jesus Christ. This can be troubling if it is just one questionable sermon in a place where the teaching is usually good, but when this kind of sermon is preached Sunday after Sunday, it can become a negative experience.
Ultimately, you will need to decide whether the William Law approach is compatible with your convictions, personality, and family, or whether another option might work better for you.