When Churches “Gray Out”

Some people have an unusually sharp sense of when something in an atmosphere is wrong. I mean seriously wrong. I’m not talking about some psychic ability, I am talking about an emotional radar that picks up on currents and undercurrents more quickly than many others do. When I was a child, my mom used to say that there was no fooling me when it came to these things. It was an ability to sense things going on that were not immediately obvious to others.

Years later, I’ve done a lot of reading about Empaths, those with an emotional radar on high alert. Empaths tend to absorb the emotional atmosphere of a group of people, a place very quickly. It can be helpful in life, but it can also be exhausting when things are troubled.

There is much more to this personality type, but this is one aspect of it.  I think it applies also to sensitivity to the spiritual atmosphere in places, as well.  It’s called discernment.  I will give one example.  Thirty-odd years ago, as a teen, I was attending a church with my family. It was a small church that was a split of a split. The church was reportedly going through some turmoil, but it went over my head as far as what the problem was exactly.

I hated the place. I hated being there, and I couldn’t say why. One of the unhappy church people was in charge of “children’s church” that ran during service time for the kids. I was roped into playing the old upright piano for the handful of kids she was leading. Eager to please, I was shocked to see the music she set before me just as the singing was to begin. Not being a very solid sight reader, I stumbled and hit several wrong notes. I was unprepared for the music she was using and had not had a chance to practice.

The sour look on the leader’s sharp face pretty much let me know that I had been an epic disappointment. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I felt terrible. Lacking a great deal in confidence, I was apparently  a total failure as Children’s Church pianist.

I slunk off home that day, vowing to never ever again make such  a fool of myself and upset a church lady, especially that church lady who clearly disliked me. A few days later, one of my parents informed me that she had been most displeased with my performance and they had been informed that I was not needed in the future. My parents were disgusted with the church lady as well. I was relieved that my brief career as Children’s Church pianist was over.

Things worsened at the church, and every time I sat through the service, I had the uncanny sense that I had left a world of color.  This sounds strange, and it was strange. Over the years since then, I have called it “graying out.”  In these situations, it’s as though my eyes see things in gray and white, not in living color anymore.

I started resisting going, and various complaints kept me home altogether. My parents didn’t seem to mind. I developed a strange revulsion for the place. Then came word of something bizarre going on at the church. The pastor confided that strange things were occurring in the building. The piano in the sanctuary late one night began to play by itself., he said. In the dark. He believed it was some occult phenomenon due to the ugliness going on among the handful of church people, one of which was an angry pianist.  He claimed that strange chanting had been heard under his office windows. The pastor had been a missionary in South America prior to pastoring in the US. He was a devout Christian trying to hold the church together. He said things were dark spiritually at this church.  He resigned soon after, and he and and his family left the state. The church folded soon after that. Mercifully.

This “graying out” in the atmosphere I have experienced many times since.  I believe that God uses this sense as a warning about unhealthy places. It’s not something I disregard anymore.

As Christians, we are taught to believe the best in a situation, have patience, and to not hastily judge a person or circumstance. All of this is true, but when there is clearly the sense that something is wrong, it is worth stepping back and carefully evaluating a relationship or situation to decide what it is that we are sensing. The times I have ignored this have been serious mistakes.

When a room  or when a church “grays out” and the color and vibrancy is gone, something vital is missing. Life in the truest sense is being suppressed and repressed by something. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s un-forgiveness and grudge holding. maybe it’s a powerful spirit of control that robs the atmosphere of color and oxygen.  Where the Lord truly is, there is a spirit of liberty, not control. Where love is, pride can’t rule and reign. Where forgiveness is, there is vibrant life and every color imaginable. There’s joy. No “graying out.”

A lot of churches in America are “graying out.” The forms remain, but the God that is being claimed has long ago left the premises. Those exceptional churches where humility and Christ-likeness reign are few and far between. Never take that for granted if you have one.  The love of Christ is life-giving. People grow in healthy ways. There is a freedom and respect for boundaries, and an atmosphere of hope. What a difference the Lord’s presence makes. All gray is gone, and the spirit of heaviness disappears like dew in the morning sun.

Lost in the Dark

highwayI dropped someone off at their home recently in a part of town I am not really familiar with. I had a lot on my mind and was deeply engrossed in thought. It was about 10 o’clock at night, and I was anxious to get home. I had been driving what seemed about 10 minutes when a thought shot through my mind like a laser. I had absolutely no idea where I was.

It was a barn that told me I was way, way off the path home. I turned around, convinced I had missed my turn only a mile or so down the road. Except it wasn’t the right road. I knew I was going west, but after three miles, it was plain that I was totally lost. Every mile, I was getting deeper out into the country. No lights anywhere.

How in the world had I ended up there? Where had I gone wrong? I turned around again, thinking I had missed a north/south highway that would get me to I-94. Except there was no north/south highway. Was this the Twilight Zone? I had been deeply engrossed in thought, but never had I been lost like this. Driving  back the other way again, I was completely baffled, not seeing anything that looked remotely like it should.

There wasn’t even a highway sign that told me what I was driving on. I turned on a small, unknown road that went north and stayed on that for a while. Nothing but more darkness and farm land. I felt a prickle on the back of my neck. This was just bizarre.

I turned back to get on the other road that at least was bigger and decided to stay on that. Finally, there was another, larger road going north that looked like it might lead somewhere besides a dead end. Lights ahead. Aha. Civilization. Suddenly, a massive church loomed out of the darkness. But that was a shock. It looked like the big Catholic church on the southernmost end of town! Now I was really worried. How did I get home from there, and how in the world had I ended up so far off my way home?

I pulled into the parking lot of the church and then started laughing. It wasn’t the church I thought it was. I knew this church and it was only half a mile from the Interstate.

Greatly relieved, I got on the freeway, mulling over how such a silly thing had happened. I had made a wrong turn, clearly, but just how off I was didn’t hit me until I looked at a map of the area after I arrived safely home. One wrong turn in the dark, and I had been hopelessly lost. Were it not for that large, well-lighted church, I probably would have turned around again and been more lost than ever.

It occurred to me how very much this is like our culture. Lacking any moral and spiritual landmarks, society is wandering around, headed hopelessly towards disaster. No landmarks for morality, no clear view of our Creator, and the result is  confusion that oozes from the headlines every day.  A nation lost in the dark.

A country is made up of individuals, and the overall state of the country is the result of a complete lack of moral/spiritual landmarks. We are driving around on dark roads, thinking we know best, but we really don’t. All the while, we are either going in circles or headed towards the abyss. That church, looming up in the gloom, was a landmark to me. It showed me the right road to take. I had something sure and fixed in my mind.

That is what the Word of God is in our times. We are not left to guess about God’s design for the family, about what is expected of us, and we are not left alone to fulfill what is required of us. We have Jesus, the One who lived perfectly for us on our behalf, and who took the penalty for our sin for us. Without that landmark, we live deluded lives, driving around, thinking we know the right way. We do not.

I am grateful for the Solid Rock, the landmark of God’s Word that tells us of Jesus Christ. In the darkness of our times, the Word of God is also a bright light to our path. If we are wise enough to heed its message, its Author, God himself, will see us safely home.