So Donald Miller wrote a series of why he doesn’t go to church posts and its caused more than a bit of a stir. He is a fairly big time Christian author, so as one might expect, his honesty caused no small amount of teeth knashing and other bits. Alas, out of 526 blog comments I read, no one tore their clothes… not sure what that means, but it was interesting.
There were two things struck me with the commentary on Donald’s series… First, many of the issues he brings up are spot on. Secondly, I perceived an underlying tone of many of the most ardent objectors that seems to indicate they are trying to convince themselves they are holding to a right position. If my perceptions are correct in this, no wonder church growth has been going negative… its not just more folks not believing.
Its not a new deal either. Folks have been leaving churches behind for centuries. You have folks in early Christian and other histoircal writings leaving the church for the desert. You have the Didache going so far as to state itinerrant preachers and prophets who stick around for more than a couple days are not cool. Alas, leaving to get closer to God is probably not the largest cohort of folks leaving, but it most certainly is part of it.
My guess is that the larger number of folks who don’t attend is that church doesn’t seem as relevant to their life as it once did. In folks I’ve talked to over the years, Jesus most certainly is as important, or even more important than when they were regular attenders, but formal worship not so much. I’ve heard many a story of folks digging into the scriptures more, praying more, and being closer to God post leaving than they did when frequent attenders.
individual vs communal vs scaling vs bidirectional vs unidirectional
Thus we are at a paradox, but I sort of wonder if we haven’t been there for much longer than is apparent. My guess is a lot of things served as masks, and now that a couple bits have changed, the light penetrates deeper than it did in the past.
In the glory days of church growth, attendance was often by social command. Christian privilege was also a huge deal. If you didn’t show up, your name was mud. If your kids didn’t show up, your name was mud… peer pressure kept a lot of folks in churches. One problem with this of course is the lack of authenticity it creates. Ie Christian for 1 hour on Sunday and then its turned off until the next Sunday. A positive side is that repetitive experience, even if ones mind is 99% turned off can have lasting effects.
Beyond the social pressure of worship to maintain Christian privilege, we also have the scripture bit about not forsaking the assembly. I’m not convinced this is anywhere near the global prescriptive we read into it. Ie, its one thing to be encouraged to assemble to stay on track to build one another up etc… its something else when it becomes just another must do thing to get the suffering over with as quickly as possible. From Donald Miller
The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?…..
He’s not calling us to be sanctified through dutiful boredom.
Yep, the whole gnostic leaning thought that we go to church for the spiritual side and we should ignore feelings and such is pretty counterproductive. Granted I’m not saying church services should be like a Journey, Grateful Dead, Def Leppard, Vikings, Packers, Bears, etc (insert favorite concert or sporting event here), but they ought not to be totally ignore folks feelings either. I remember a Catholic priest friend some years back telling me if he consistently didn’t get anything out of going to church, he wouldn’t be going either. I think he was right on the mark with that. Church cannot be a one way deal… consider the bride of Christ thing, and how no one in their right mind would enter a marriage if it was only a 1 way deal from the get go. Of course recognizing this is one thing, addressing it another. The trad vs contempo vs mixed vs integrated vs age specific thing is likely a bandaid deal.
I think there is also an issue of expectations… remove the social pressure to attend, and the scrutiny increases. Consider that Acts 2:42-47 presents a pretty hardcore model for church… Such might fly and sort of does in some university constructs in part due to their transitory nature… but in a regular community, such is near impossible human nature being what it is. Consider the following discussion from Carson T Clark and a church leader related to his ordination process.
After I’d carefully laid out my understanding, he replied something to the effect of, “That sounds more like AA than a church.” Wanting to make sure I was understanding him rightly, I asked for clarification.
He explained that that degree of transparency about psychological struggles, intellectual doubt, broken relationships, spiritual confusion, and the like was simply impractical for a local church setting. It was unfeasible.
“People may need to go outside the local church for that kind of growth and healing.”
Carson T Clark’s view was probably close to the Acts 2 texts…. I’ve seen many a recent grad carry similar idealism, only to have it blown to bits when its execution is attempted. This is not to say its not valid and/or that it can’t be done via picking and choosing bits and pieces here or there, but holistically it can’t work. Churches are hospitals for the broken, run by broken people, and crashes and burns are inevitable, its not a matter of if, but a matter of when… which is why such can work out better within a university context that a traditional parish… ie the membership is continually moving, long term scars and institutional pluses and minuses don’t have enough time to become dominant. This does pose a problem for the recent grad though… their experience has created Acts 2 expectations in a given form which is near impossible for a typical local parish to meet. (Or at least if they are brutally honest, it is near impossible to meet.)