In this post, I want to outline four types (groups) of people that populate and dominate the Russian church in the United States. This is all based on my twenty year observation while being in the Russian church in America.
Let me say right out of the gate that I love the church in general and the Russian church in particular. I do not remember a time when I was not a part of a church. I was born into a fourth generation Christian home. In the home I was raised, everyone went to church and took an active part within the church. My entire tenure in the church has been within the Russian church. I have visited many English-speaking churches but have always been a member in a Russian church. I recited cute poems with the rest of the kids during major holidays within the church.
I delivered my first sermon at the age of 12 in a Russian church. I was baptized in a Russian church — with my best friend at age 14, at Green Lake in Seattle, with a complete orchestra accompanying the celebration, situated on the shore. I began to lead my first bible study with a small group of people, per the inspiration of my mother, at age 17.
I include a brief biographical sketch because over the last two conscious decades of my life — I have been a part of the Russian church. During this time, I was able to make some observations. These observations seem to be staple items within the Russian church. These observations might be true in a different cultural context (for example in any church), but I can only write about that which I lived in and lived through.
It is no surprise to anyone that at the present moment, the Russian church in an American context is experiencing a tumultuous time. The following is just a brief sample of where these issues stem from:
- Cultural differences
- Language barriers
- Tradition vs. Scripture
- Reverence vs. Relevance
- Lack of communication between generations
- Lack of desire to understand different age groups (youth to understand the adults; adults to understand the youth).
- Methodology differences
- Theological differences
This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Before we get to some practical steps to take, I want to outline four groups of people within the Russian church. These groups represent in my opinion most if not all of the people that currently are a part of the Russian church. It is helpful for us to look at these groups, to think about these groups and to attempt if possible to live peaceably (Rom. 12:18) in and amongst these groups for the following reasons:
- Because we are all serving the same Jesus
- Because we are all members of one body (of Christ)
- Because we need to be thought of well by outsiders
- Because our life preaches a powerful testimony (for the good of Christ; or for the shame of his name)
- Because we are all passionate about the same mission (while methodology might differ, and does)
- Because we need to learn how to work with people who think differently than us
- Because we can make necessary adjustments and avoid a potentially preventable disaster
- Because we are all going to spend eternity in heaven, together.
Here are four types of people in the [Russian] church.
1. Constructive Co-workers. This group consists of people who genuinely want to help and support those who serve in the church. Their suggestions might not be pleasant to hear but they are indeed valuable and at times, very helpful. The people representing this group do not generally have personal agendas or vicious vendettas. They simply see a flaw within your methodology and want to offer you their opinion. This group enables others to become more humble. This group provides analyzed arguments for various plans and projects within the church. Some people tend to perceive this group as being unhelpful. Others view them always providing suggestions but never putting in any work. However, what they tend to say usually has some merit and is worth listening to.
2. Constant Critics. This group loves to criticize constantly and consistently — anything and anyone for a diverse variety of reasons. Their criticism is destructive rather than constructive. They serve criticism for the sake of criticism itself. For this group, anything new or unusual is excellent fodder for commentary and criticism. They are seldom pleased and are rarely pleasant. A pedestal is the usual position from which they function. They tend to be experts in all fields and in every discipline. This is why they extend a “helping” hand and demand that people listen to what they have to say. Cooperative initiatives are greeted with instant disapproval. You can do no right in your position. They can do no wrong from where they stand.
3. Bridge-builders. This group is unprecedented in value but almost non-existent in quantity. If you find an individual that resides in this group within your church, thank God for them. Next, build a relationship with them, learn from them and work alongside them. This group understands the intricacies and tendencies of each and every generation that populates the church. They are passionate about young people. They find a common ground with the older people. They respect those who have gone before them. They want to help those who still have a long way to go. They understand that the young people are the future of the church. Finding and sustaining a dialogue between the differing generations is what makes them excellent bridge-builders. This group does not choose favorites based on affinity. They do not demonstrate loyalty based on partiality. They are neither reformers nor conformers. They are obstinately opposed to those who want to stifle growth and create dissension. They love Jesus, love the church and want to see intergenerational worship take place. If needed, they will shield the sheep from ravenous wolves. They are not blinded by selfish ambitions and are not led astray by misguided objectives. Blessed be the bridge-builders for they choose to fulfill the will of God within the church of God for the glory of God.
4. Agenda Activists. This group usually tends to be hurtful, not helpful. This group is obstinately obsessed with building a platform for themselves. They then use this platform to push personal agendas and carry out personal vendettas against those who disagree with them. They are not able to disagree agreeably. They are far from being amicable. It must be their way or else you are going to be stranded on the highway. They are usually known by what they are against rather than what they stand for. Recruitment for more activists to fulfill the agenda happens frequently and aggressively. It does not matter who gets hurt in the process, so long as the agenda is fulfilled and the pseudo-platform is extended. This group tends to focus on previous victories and antiquated accolades. Instead of investing into new leaders, they are holding fast to their positions and are training new activists. They create roadblocks for people who want to serve and extinguish the flame where it is barely burning. They demand to be respected because of their experience but do little to cultivate meaningful relationships.
The above is a small snapshot of the reality in which the [Russian] church finds itself in at the current moment. We do well to look at this list and avoid joining a group of the negative variety. At the same time, we must be transparent with ourselves. If we are not vigilante in our Christian walk, we might be repeating the same mistakes of the group with which we find absolutely nothing in common.
In the end, as I mentioned before, we have a common purpose and a unifying goal (I hope). By understanding that these groups exist, we can be better equipped to handle the behavior we demonstrate. My chief aim in this post is to encourage unity not discord, teamwork not dictatorship, peace not chaos.
In all of this, the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel should be of utmost importance to us.
May God give us the courage to continue forward with each other, to be patient with one another and to love deeply, as Christ first loved us.
In my next post, I want to offer some practical steps you can take if the following is true:
- You are frustrated with the situation of your current church (it does not necessarily have to be a Slavic saturated church)
- You are passionate about bringing glory to God by serving the people in your church and community
- You want to continue serving with minimal confrontations and maximal impact
- You are thinking of abandoning the Russian Church altogether because of various reasons
Question: Do you go to a predominantly Russian church? How have you been able to remain constructive in this environment? What would you recommend to others?