I recently joined a mainstream, healthy church after being in an unhealthy group several years. Going there’s been interesting at times… They can quote a verse and understand it completely differently than me, can use a Bible term I’ve thought I understood and mean something else by it, and sometimes have a very different perspective that I do on things. This week there’s been more of that. I’ve decided the term “culture shock” is fitting. I may love the services and enjoy the church, but it still takes a lot of getting used to, going from a church where so much was taboo, restricted or dangerous to a place where people are accepted for who they are. Like moving from Baghdad to small town America. Major culture shock, but I like it!
If you are a long-time member of a church, be patient with people who are new to your church. Take time to explain what you mean. Be careful of your church terminology, even if they were Christians before. Many things you take for granted may be very new to them. Things related to church government or various theological arguments might be especially confusing. Things like “church autonomy”, “elder”, “presbytery”, “pastoral authority”, “support the ministry”, “tithes and offerings”, “worship”, “praise” and “dedication” can mean such different things to people from other churches or denominations. “Quiet time”, “prayer”, “devotions”, “fasting” and such can become quite confusing. Not everyone is comfortable asking what these mean in their new church. It’s not that they weren’t Christians or haven’t studied their Bibles. But over time, terms have become accepted in one place and not in another.
Consider the English language. If an American went to Britain, they would fairly quickly notice some language differences. They speak the same language and can understand each other to a large degree, but there are also distinct differences between the two countries’ languages. Accents and terms vary from place to place. Similarly, a person from New York City could move to Missouri’s bootheel and see and hear what to them would be some very strange things. Yet we Missourians would say the same about them. And yet we’re all Americans.
For those who find themselves in my situation, finding a different sort of church and loving it, but not understanding it, remember, you aren’t alone. And if you don’t want to go into too many details, perhaps now you have a way of explaining: I like this church. It’s my home and family. Yet I’m used to a very different “church culture”. Please explain…
If you experience church culture shock, it doesn’t mean the church is unhealthy. But it can be… well, a shock. Take your time. Ask questions. And enjoy the journey.