Don’t Give Up on Your Local Church!
I’ve been asking some of you what issues you want addressed in the Mishpochah Message. One Jewish believer answered, I need some encouragement out here in the trenches. I go to a church, not a messianic synagogue. I enjoy the fellowship, but sometimes I feel out of place and even a little guilty about being a part of a church.”
We are receiving many calls and letters requesting affirmation and encouragement for Jewish believers attending conventional churches.
Maybe you are one who needs that encouragement and affirmation. Maybe there isn’t anyone in your church who thinks like you, talks like you, was raised like you and has been rejected for their faith like you, simply because you are Jewish. That doesn’t mean that you don’t like the people in the church, but you just get lonely in a way that others don’t. Ever feel like you are a hexagram peg trying to fit into a pentagram hole? You feel like having the Lord in common should be enough, but you miss having some of the other things in common: the memories, the humor, the heritage and other bits of Jewish experience that you don’t even know how to relate to anyone but another Jew.
You know, I wish we could be next-door neighbors. My kids could play with your kids, and if you don’t have kids, we could share my kids! I wish you could just come next door to have supper with us, to laugh about the things that Jews laugh about and feel sad about those things that grieve us. I wish we could celebrate the Jewish holidays together. And I wish that I could go to your church with you, to stand with you and provide affirmation and encouragement in person. But most of us are separated by so many miles that we can reach out only with a phone call or a letter.
Some of you just need to hear that it’s really worthwhile to keep on in your churches, and all it takes is a reminder of what the church is all about. But we also know from our 1993 survey that there is a substantial percentage of the mishpochah who are not in regular fellowship anywhere.
Some who are not in fellowship are backslidden. Maybe that is you. But I think that the fact you are reading this means you care. Maybe non-attendance is the initial evidence of taking a path that leads away from the Lord. If you are avoiding believers because you are avoiding God, please come back and let God’s will and God’s way illumine your life so that you can be a bright light for Him. If you want that but are having a hard time taking that first step, please let us know; we want to help.
Others are not backslidden; in fact they are hungry for fellowship but feel alienated from the churches they have tried. Maybe that’s you. Infrequent attendance and non-participation makes one a weak link in the chain of fellowship, but you don’t know how to strengthen that linkage.
You might attend a messianic congregation if there were one in your area. Or frankly, maybe you are not interested in a messianic congregation but need assistance in relating within your church. If that is you, perhaps you are battling preconceived notions: your own or someone else’s secondhand reservations.
Maybe none of the above describes you. Even committed Jewish believers who are active members of evangelical churches might struggle to maintain a right attitude toward fellow Christians. Almost all of us have encountered some insensitivity to Jewish people in the church.
How many times have we overheard a fragment of conversation and caught a phrase like: “The price was too high, so I had to Jew him down,” as if haggling over price was unique to Jews? Whether or not that insensitivity is characteristic of a church, after a few incidents it might seem to be. While such remarks might not stem from outright anti-Semitism, they certainly display ignorance and let us know we and our people are misunderstood.
Others have the opposite problem in their church. They became overnight celebrities simply because they are Jews. The extra attention can be gratifying at first, but too much is too much! The negative, the overly positive or the completely unaware responses to us as Jews accomplish the same thing: they remind us that we are different. When you know that you are different, yet you know you should fit in, it is easy to feel alienated and ambivalent.
We are already a minority among our own Jewish people who shut us out because of our faith. Naturally we want to feel completely at home in the presence of others with whom we have common faith. But that is not always the case. Then, too, there are our own insensitivities and prejudices that can make everything in the church seem so strange, so goyish. Gentiles have no monopoly on prejudices and ignorance.
Most of us feel uncomfortable with the symbols and trappings that most Christians appreciate. We don’t crave golden crosses for jewelry, nor do we feel naturally comfortable with church architecture, pictures of Jesus and ecclesiastical language. Some people find it difficult to separate what is cultural from what is truly spiritual. If we measured ourselves by their standards, we would feel it impossible to be ourselves if we would be spiritual. It bothers us when certain forms of worship are presented as the model of “true” faith and practice because we know that there are other equally valid models.
All these things can contribute to Jewish believers feeling ambivalent and alienated in a local church.
People try to solve the problem of ambivalence and alienation in four different ways: One way is to decide that it’s not worth it. That seems to be the case with 26 percent of the Jewish believers we surveyed; they simply avoid regular fellowship. Another unhealthy response is to avoid or deny the significance of one’s Jewish identity. There are a few who attempt to assimilate rather than grapple with being different. They refer to themselves as “former Jews.”
Still other Jewish believers remain in their church but are not proactive on behalf of their Jewishness. Some even become “nattering nabobs of negativity,” continually complaining about the church’s defects, giving Jewish believers a bad reputation in the process.
But praise God, there are many Jewish believers in Jesus who dig in, pitch in, take responsibility and accept their roles as part of the remnant in the church. They choose to overlook some superficial aspects of the church that cause culture clash. They grow in faith and are usually a positive influence. They make a significant contribution to Jews and non-Jews within the Body of Christ, as well as being a “credit” to the Jewish people on the Christian “account.”
If you are struggling because it is hard to express your Jewishness within your church, please, let me encourage you to give your local church a chance. Try to “grow where you are planted.”
The whole idea, “grow where you’re planted,” stems from the fact that leaving one fellowship simply makes it easier to leave another…and a pattern of leaving develops. This stunts growth and starves the soul. Instead of risking that kind of spiritual starvation, try to do what you can to help make your church a place where Christians of all walks of life can feel at home.
I believe it is healthy for certain Jewish believers to be members of evangelical churches. I base my view on the doctrine of the Universal Body, which is taught throughout the New Covenant. The following is one of many examples:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members…are one body [emphasis supplied], so also is [the body of] Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12, 13
Even with the biblical mandate, it is difficult to dig in and say “I am a part of this body,” when non-Jewish culture and, in some cases, insensitivity to Jewish people make us feel like outsiders. If you feel that way, you’ve got to remember that being different from others in the body does not mean that you cease to belong in the body.
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not part of the body?
1 Corinthians 12:15
Diversity in the body of the Messiah can work to our advantage or disadvantage, depending on how we respond to those differences. Often, our response is not so much how we feel about others, but how we feel about ourselves in relation to them. If we feel confident in our own belonging to Yeshua, it is much easier to appreciate the differences between ourselves and others.
An important characteristic of the church is the dynamic of diversity and unity. The two go together. Unity implies a way of dealing with diversity. If we were all the same, we would not have unity, we’d merely have uniformity. Unity amidst diversity demonstrates the ability to love and work together even though we are different from one another. There is a certain fullness in unity that you don’t have in uniformity. Compare singing in harmony to singing in unison. Both make good music. Both are good expressions of the Body of Christ. And if the Body of Christ is a symphony of souls, why shouldn’t part of that symphony be played in unison and part in harmony?
The story of unity is one reason we need Jewish believers in all kinds of evangelical churches. Unity leads to something else that we need individually and corporately:
…for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.
The word “perfect” is often translated as “mature,” and in this context, (“that we should no longer be children”) maturity does seem a good choice. Unity and maturity go hand in hand.
One infestation of immaturity that we must avoid is the “self-exalting/other-deprecating” syndrome. There is a saying in Yiddish, “Azde calle net tanzen zugse der klezmer kennet shpielen.” When the bride can’t dance she says the orchestra can’t play.
Children learn at an early age that they can build up themselves and their friends by finding others to tear down. This practice often intensifies with preteens and carries through adolescence. “I could have made the team if I had tried out. But those guys are a bunch of losers.” Or, “What’s so great about getting good grades? Good grades are for geeks who don’t have anything better to do than homework.”
Putting others down is a sign of insecurity and immaturity. Any confidence gained by putting others down is a false confidence. It isn’t based on any value within ourselves. One way to tell that people are growing out of adolescence is that they demonstrate a well-placed sense of self-confidence. Mature people identify themselves according to positive things they are and are able to do, as well as their ability to cooperate with others. Immature and insecure people rely on separation from others whom they portray in a negative way.
That does not mean that we don’t recognize important differences between ourselves and others. But it does mean that those differences do not give us the right to create divisions. For example, I keep hearing a misnomer that causes me to cringe. It’s the phrase, “Gentile Church.” For many, that is nothing more than an observation that the majority of people who claim to be Christians are not Jews. But I really think we have to stop using that term because it is just plain unbiblical. And though many use the phrase without malicious intent, it’s a term that allows creeping prejudices and it’s a term that makes it difficult for many Jewish believers to be at home in the church of their choice. Though I don’t think it is intended that way, it’s a rude term that only divides.
Yeshua established one Church. He told Simon Peter, “On this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). It wasn’t simply a matter of adding a wing to an already existing structure. Yeshua is the Cornerstone that the builders rejected. Ordinary synagogues are not built on that chief Cornerstone. The Church is. We can certainly continue using certain prayers and forms of worship that are in keeping with our Jewishness. But in substance, we are a new people. Jews don’t become Gentiles and Gentiles don’t become Jews—but we all become new creatures, new Jews and Gentiles united in the Body of Messiah, which is the Church. The Church is a new organism that is neither Jewish nor Gentile, though it is made up of both.
When people speak of the “Gentile Church,” I don’t think they really believe the church underwent some form of mitosis, reorganizing itself into two separate entities. But those of us who worship in Messianic Congregations need to be sensitive to the mishpochah who don’t. How must they feel when they hear their community of worship described as the Gentile Church? We are endangering our own mishpochah by making them feel they don’t belong where the Bible says they do belong! We all belong with other believers in Yeshua, whether they are Jewish or Gentile, regardless of the cultures and forms of worship they practice.
Just imagine if Gentiles started referring to the “Gentile Church.” Picture them naming congregations “First Gentile Presbyterian Church,” “St. John’s Gentile Lutheran Church” or “Grace Gentile Baptist Church.” We would be livid if they implied that Jews ought to be excluded! Yet, if we use the phrase “Gentile Church,” are we not implying that Jews don’t belong? We can be thankful to God that the Church is not like that. Let’s be careful not to foster the kind of separatist thinking that we would find hurtful if it were to come from others.
It is necessary and incumbent upon Jewish believers to have a positive attitude toward the Church and to the fullness of Gentiles that God desires to bring into His Church. In order to love our own children, we don’t have to hate everybody else’s. In order to encourage the growth of Messianic Congregations, we don’t need to undermine evangelical churches. And in order to encourage Jewish believers to maintain their Jewish identity, we don’t need to transmit prejudices against Gentile Christian cultures and forms of worship.
There is no doubt that being the only Jew (or one of a few) in the local church can be uncomfortable. We want to be careful not to falsely accuse our brothers and sisters, and normally there is not a problem of malice or bigotry. We are far more likely to encounter the ignorant remark or the insensitive joke from people who simply don’t have the experience to know better.
How can you deal with the problem of insensitivity to the Jewish people within your church?
It’s important to remember that God wants us to tackle any problem we face by first bringing it to Him. We must remember that God not only has an opinion on these things; He has a will and He has a way of dealing with problems. He wants us to be part of His solution to what is essentially His problem.
As we draw closer to God, we become more secure in His love for us, and more aware of His love for others. Then we can deal with those problems in a constructive, Christ-like way. So have a teachable spirit and ask God to help you deal redemptively with people.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore offensive remarks. We do not help an insensitive person by keeping silent, nor can we help other Jewish people who might come in contact with that person.
It isn’t enough to say, “Please don’t say or do ____, as it bothers me.” You might get someone to alter behavior that way, but it won’t help people to feel or sense what God wants them to feel. They might continue to think or say those things when you are not present.
People in the church need to know that it is not merely for your sake that you point out Jewish sensitivities. As believers, we have a spiritual patience and can choose not to take offense, but unbelievers will certainly take offense at insensitivity to and prejudice against Jews. Many of us Jews also were raised with stereotypes about Christians. One of those stereotypes says: “scratch any goy and underneath you’ll find an anti-Semite.” We want to do everything possible to ease the underlying tensions.
Therefore, if something bothers you, explain why in a way that shows you trust that the person who said it would care to understand. We cannot help others feel with and for us if we demonstrate a lack of feeling for them in the process.
Avoid dumping a whole load of do’s and don’ts on non-Jewish Christians. You don’t want them to feel they have to “walk on eggshells” any time they are around Jewish people.
As people respond with greater sensitivity over one issue, choose a time to remark on how much you appreciate their efforts. You might conclude such a remark with a statement like: “I want to be sensitive to you as well. I hope you would let me know if there have been things I’ve said or done that didn’t take your feelings into account.” But you had better be ready to hear if there are!
Challenge stereotypes in a thoughtful way. If someone makes a remark about Jews and money, you might say, “That is a generalization that concerns me. Do you mind if I ask you a question? How many Jewish people have seriously discussed their value system with you?”
The person might reply, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything by that. I was just kidding.” To which you might say, “I’m glad to hear that. But somebody who doesn’t know you or have Christ in common with you is likely to take a comment like that at face value. I’d hate for anybody to believe you really think that way about Jewish people.”
Sometimes people hear a Jewish joke from a Jewish person and assume that we don’t mind Jewish jokes. It is appropriate to tell such a person (kindly) that many groups of people feel comfortable making jokes about themselves but do not enjoy hearing the same jokes from others. It’s much like siblings who call one another names at home but defend one another at school if anyone dares use the same names.
What if a person genuinely believes the stereotypes? Sometimes your own experience can be enough to set them straight: “You know, as I was growing up, money was always pretty tight in our family.”
The main thing in dealing with the insensitivity of others is to decide what we want our own sensitivities to be. We can and should help Gentile believers be more informed and sensitive regarding Jews. At the same time, we need to make sure that we are being more sensitive to what God tells us than we are to what other people say. When correcting others, we should do so in the same way and for the same reason that God corrects us. He loves us too much to let us be satisfied with ourselves in our present state of growth. Our desire to sensitize people in churches should come from that same love.
So please, don’t give up on your local church, but take part in God’s plan for reconciliation:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body. (Ephesians 2:14)
Regardless of our background, regardless of our gifts, we all belong to Yeshua. In Him, we belong to one another. Let us rejoice! To feel at home with our Lord and Savior is the main thing. When we are immersed in Him, it’s much easier to make ourselves at home with His people, regardless of their background.
Maintain Your Jewish Identity While Having a Positive Influence in the Church
1. Let your Jewish identity be in those things that you do rather than in those things you would rather avoid.
Help your church learn what being Jewish means to you while showing what an appreciation of Jewish things can mean to them. For example, make a big seder and invite whomever you can from your church. Include guests who might not otherwise have an opportunity to know much about you or about Jewish holidays.
2. Communicate your love for your own people by demonstrating care and concern that your family and friends come to know Yeshua.
Jewish believers who are reluctant to tell their own family and friends about their faith send a signal that it is too intimidating to share your faith with other Jews. This makes church people reluctant to tell our people about Jesus as well. Further, by signaling other Christians that the rejection of family and friends is too terrible for us to risk, we condition people to sympathize with us as Christians but not as Jews. We shouldn’t make the mistake of gaining sympathy for ourselves at the expense of our people.
3. Be a person of influence in the church. Influence does not necessarily mean gaining a high position. Be involved as such an exemplary church member that everyone will wish more Jewish people would join the church.
For example, why not be a Sunday school teacher? Whether you teach adults or children, teach as a Jesus-believing Jew. Take the time and effort to the best teacher you can be.
Or, be a greeter. If you volunteer to make others feel at home in the church, you’ll be surprised at how much more at home you will feel.
If you are musically talented, be a committed choir member. Raise the possibility of singing a piece of Jewish gospel music. A wide variety of such music is available from several of our ministries and congregations.
4. Be overly selective as to what you allow to trouble you. Don’t expect Gentiles to relate as Jews.
5. Speak out when there is something that is genuinely troublesome. Keep short accounts and don’t allow ill feelings to fester.
6. Be a prayer prompter. Get people in your church praying for the peace of Jerusalem.
7. Become a resource person. No matter how remotely located the church, there are members who have Jewish friends, maybe even Jewish relatives. We have all kinds of materials that you can use and pass on to others through our Purple Pomegranate Productions. Ask us for a catalog if you don’t have one.
8. Establish a havurah or fellowship meeting to get together quarterly or monthly with other Jewish believers to compare notes and encourage one another. If there are no other Jewish believers in your area, have a havurah meeting with people from your church who like Jews and want to encourage you in your Jewishness. You might even consider becoming a Jews for Jesus Co-Laborer (committed volunteer) in your community because that position attracts the kind of people you want to know.
9. If you have children, teach them in a semi-formal manner what they need to know in order to be a Jewish person. You won’t feel so sensitive about their exposure to non-Jewish culture in the church if you are balancing it with Jewish input. Again, PPP has many resources available if you don’t have a selection of materials locally.
10. Attend the Jews for Jesus Ingatherings. We have extended weekends of Jewish believers who meet regionally to discuss such subjects as mixed marriages, how to celebrate the holidays, etc. These extended weekends are as intense or relaxed as you want them to be because you take them at your own pace.
There are many meetings of Jewish believers in Yeshua that you ought to consider. Check the Bulletin Board for dates as well as phone numbers you can call to receive more information.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.