The final entry of my sabbatical adventure away from the Church entitled: "Church No More."
Almost three months ago I (an ordained minster who has gone to church my whole life) walked away from church– for three months. It is what I've decided to do with my sabbatical. You can read about my initial thoughts on my blog or on The Huffington Post. As the journey unfolds, I will be blogging about it in this series entitled, “Church No More.” I hope you will not only follow along, but add your voice to the reflection by commenting or joining the discussion on my FB page.
They say you can never go home again. The thinking being, having left and experienced new things, you have changed and the people back home have continued in their lives just as you left them. Your experience of going back home again will necessarily be very different from your experience of home as you remember it, even though it may have changed very little.
In many ways, Church is one of my homes and I left it. I walked away for three months and experienced a bit of life outside of it. The three months are up and I'm going back home. This Sunday (September 2) is my first Sunday back.
The saying “you can't go home again,” probably originated from Thomas Wolfe's novel, “You Can't Go Home Again
.” It's the story of an author who leaves his home, writes about it from a distance and then tries to go home again. It doesn't exactly go well. The folks in the town are none-too-happy about him airing their dirty laundry so publicly. So, you can't go home again.
Well, I'm going to try. Yes, I left the Church and wrote about it from a distance and judging from some of the comments and emails I received, some folks are none-too-happy about some of the things I said, but it's time to go back to the Church.
The good news for me is I'm primarily going back to church (little “c,” as in the church where I serve) and then secondarily to Church (big “C,” the institution). I love the folks at Vandalia Presbyterian Church. We're a small church with a big heart. I'm looking forward to seeing them all again and to doing ministry with them again. Here's the thing: I've changed. That worries me a bit.
Part 4 of my sabbatical adventure away from the church entitled: "Church No More."
A little over two months ago I (an ordained minster who has gone to church my whole life) walked away from church– for three months. It is what I've decided to do with my sabbatical. You can read about my initial thoughts on my blog or on The Huffington Post. As the journey unfolds, I will be blogging about it in this series entitled, “Church No More.” I hope you will not only follow along, but add your voice to the reflection by commenting or joining the discussion on my FB page.
I love the Church. I have literally been going to church my whole life– until two months ago. I stopped cold turkey. You can read about it in my article “Ain't Goin' To Church No More.”
Masses of people responded. It astounded me. Most ministers expressed concern saying things like, “My Brother, I am worried that you may be on a dangerous journey,” or, “I fear you may lose your faith.” Frankly, what I heard them saying was, “Faith is so fragile it needs the Church to enforce it,” which only made me more certain I was making a remarkably healthy spiritual choice.
Formerly church-going folk frequently told me things like, “There is a large disconnect between the 'Church' of today and the teachings of Jesus,”and “I have found God in a dynamic, deep way and I love God so much more and for real now than when I was unwittingly trying to fit in with my church culture.”
I've been away from church for two months now and I have to say, I am more at peace than I ever have been. My faith is stronger than it ever has been. My family life is healthier than it ever has been. My desire to seek out God and follow the teachings of Jesus is stronger than it ever has been.
I do not want to go back to Church because life outside of Church is better. It just is. There's no dogma complicating the path to God. It is more than refreshing to escape the games church-folk play with the intent of establishing control and “rightness” on their part; it is life-giving to escape it. Being able to preach the Good News without worrying about which
clique within the church will quietly use my perspective against me simply because they don't agree with me has allowed me to honor the call God placed on me more than I could in an installed pastorate.
Yet, with only a month remaining in my sabbatical journey away from church, I'm already having to consider what going back to church will look like. I still have a month of experiencing, listening and learning to go, but I can already tell you a couple of things. One, the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) are right in their critique of the Church. We are fools if we don't listen extremely closely to them. And two, their consistent complaint that the church is hypocritical actually only diagnoses the symptom and not the problem.
There is, by the nature of culture, always a gap between the younger and eldergenerations within a society. The arts have almost always been the first to pick up onthis reality whether it is Bob Dylan noting, “Come mothers and fathers throughout theland and don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand for the times they are a-changing.” or Dar Williams with the simple plea, “Teenagers, kick our butts.” However it is named, there is little reason to question the gap that exists. That being said, in this time in history and in this place in the world, there can be little doubt that the previous generation has totally let down their children’s generation and the time has come for those of us of the children’s generation to cast off the absurd expectations of our parents and live in radically different ways. That casting off should begin in the place that has the potential for the most radical change, the church.
First, dear sisters and brothers, let me talk a bit about the manner in which the previous generation has let down the younger. Within the church, the older generation, keenly aware of their own mortality and their impending loss of life and power, has sought to codify the movement of the Spirit within the doctrines and dogmatic assumptions of history. Religion, rather than being the cheerful work of moving with the Spirit to better bring about the Realm of God in this broken world has become a barrier and a burden to those who practice it. Rather than being a time of celebration and inclusion, those in the older generation have increasingly walled off the distinction between the sacred and the secular until the only one’s allowed in the door must look and believe painfully like everyone else
in the room.
Sit Boy, Sit. Good Dogma.
In order to understand why we need to grow our churches organicly (whatever that may mean - don't worry, we will get to that), we need to understand a little about how we, The Church, arrived at our current location as well as what the location is.
There was a time, frequently referred to as “the good ol' days,” when the church was the center of society (as in the first quadrant of the illustration below). A large percentage of a community's life centered around the church. It was not only the moral compass and center for their lives, but it was their social and philanthropic center of their lives as well.
This afforded the church the ability to define for it's community what was acceptable and what was not. It was really unlikely that people would challenge the status quo that was being established (one, not surprisingly, heavily weighted down with dogma). Challenging the thing that defined your community and was the center piece of many people's daily lives and activities would have probably been a really good way to make sure you were not accepted by those who had power in the establishment and ultimately you would probably be pushed out to the margins of the circle of society, if included in it at all. So, the status quo that's being established goes unchallenged and ever-unchanging.
As you could probably guess, this kind of influence (and let's just be honest, power) was somewhat intoxicating. The Church, particularly it's leaders, began to believe the myth that they had established. The myth wasn't that they were at the center of community, because in many ways they really were. The myth that they had begun to believe was that they deserved to be there, that it was by some divine right that they have so much influence (and power).
That was the beginning of getting left behind. In the illustration below, the first quadrant represents where the church once was – in the center of society. The blue arrow represents time and change. Over time, society began changing. The church, in it's perceived place of godly instituted influence and power, did not change even though it has a history of changing and, at times, doing so dynamically. The further society moved down the time line, the more it changed and the more church did not. With each passing year The Church became less and less relevant for a quickly change society.
The bottom half of the illustration is where we arrived. Society has moved on and, much to the surprise of The Church, has done just fine without us. People, it turns out, were created in the image of a very responsive and ever dynamic God and were able to find other social centers, other ways to express their philanthropic needs and other ways to fulfill their spiritual desires. The Church didn't fare as well. We continue to insist that we can repeat the things we used to do (maybe with a few minor adjustments, but certainly not with any changes that are significant or truly challenging) and expect to reap different results. Not surprisingly, it doesn't work and The Church not only continues to die, but more importantly it continues to be less and less relevant for more and more people which takes away the opportunity of doing ministry with them.
We have a problem. Growing our churches organicly is at least one good solution. But before we go there, we need to understand how our current condition has effected our relationship with our community. We will look at that in the third installment in this four part-er on Growing Church Organicly.
Part 1: Hopey-ChangeyPart 3: Can The Walls Come a Tumbling Down?