A little over a month 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 have a confession. (That's rich, right? A minister confessing.) I have a hard time telling people I'm a minister. Yes, really. I actually tend to handle it this way -- Person: “So, what do you do for a living?” Me: “I'm a minister... (appropriate pause), but not the kind you just pictured in your head.”
Sad. I know. Honestly though, it's worse than that. I'm even very resistant to calling myself a “Christian.” And I'm not even close to the only Christian who feels that way! It's so bad that I have this very conversation with people all the time. There seems to be some kind of “Believer-like-me Radar” which tells people it's safe to talk to me about not liking the“C” word –Christianity.
You'd be amazed at how many people resist calling themselves Christian –or maybe you wouldn't. Maybe you are one of us. The “C” word just isn't what it used to be.
A number of researchers over the last few years (most notably David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons who published their results in unChristian) have found that the word “Christianity” has many more negative connotations than positive ones, at least in the minds of the general public. Want to try a few of them on for size? Hypocritical. Irrelevant. Antihomosexual. Judgmental. Okay, that's enough. I'm getting depressed.
I've been on sabbatical from ministry for a little over a month now. I decided from the very beginning that during the three months I'm on sabbatical, I will not go to church. I've never done that for more than a couple of Sundays in my whole life. Ever. And it worried me.
I'm finding that not only did I not need to be worried, but I don't actually miss church much.
I'm left with this thought: “How am I supposed to follow Jesus when the place I'm told I'm supposed to do it invests so much energy in the stuff that Jesus didn't like about orginized religion during his day and age?” Isn't that counterproductive? It's no wonder that so many people are walking away from church, never looking back and, in doing so, finding happier lives. The “C” word just isn't what it used to be.
Church has become about following the Church and all of those who hold power in it (both formal and informal power). Silly me, I thought we were supposed to be following Jesus. The reality is, when the rest of the world can rightfully look at us and calls us hypocritical, judgmental and irrelevant, and say that we are much more defined by what we are against rather than what we are for -- well, we are not doing a very good job of following Jesus. We are not being very good Christians.
My time away from the Church has helped me see more clearly that the Church is increasingly full of Churchians rather than Christians. We've become so tied up in the power structures and dogma of the organization that we've lost focus on the “Christ” in Christian. We put polity before people and trade love for law. We follow the Church not Christ.
If you stop and think about it, with all of that in mind, it makes a lot sense that people are leaving the churches to find their spirituality. What I still need to ponder on this journey is, can the Church change? What would that look like? Would it make any difference at this point? How can we honor and respct those who have left the Church (for many valid reasons) and be in ministry with them?
Can we make the “C” word mean what it used to mean? I sure hope so.
The journey continues.