I’m considering two articles at the moment, both titled “Detoxing from Church.” The one that’s probably more well-known is this one by Jason Zahariades, and the other which may actually predate it is this one by Robbymac.
There’s some radical stuff here, but stuff which resonates profoundly with me. Both indicate quite strongly that detox is a necessary step in the process of moving from the pursuit of church to pursuit of Jesus (my description). Robbymac describes detox as a “tunnel of disillusionment and disconnection”, and “the period of time where individuals and groups go through an intense season of feeling betrayed, confined, and to a degree, deceived by their previous participation in a church system that they no longer find attractive, healthy, spiritually invigorating, or even biblical.”
Zahariades quotes Dallas Willard, who indicates that a successful plan for spiritual formation will look like AA. At this stage I imagine calling my “sponsor” at 9:00 one Sunday morning…
Sponsor (sounding sleepy): Hullo?
Me (sounding anxious but sheepish): Hi, Bob? Sorry to wake you up, but I gotta talk to somebody, I, uh, I feel like I want to go to church today.
Sponsor (awake now): You aren’t in the car yet are you? Have you gotten the kids ready? Are you still at home?
Me: No, man, but I want to, I mean if I hurry I can still make it…
Sponsor: Okay, sit tight, I’m on my way over – just promise me you won’t do anything until I get there.
Robbymac references an interview he did with Bob Girard in which Girard basically suggests that the primary purpose of detox is to allow the individual to not only purge themselves of habits gleaned from “the system”, the traditional church, but to repent for having embraced and appreciated them. Wow. Although this seems harsh at first, there’s something in it. Having participated in the structure of church at the leadership level, there have been times when instead of being the Body of Christ, I was simply inflicting church upon others. For that I agree repentance is due, so I expect that will be part of the journey… and I do already feel grief about it. This stuff I am going to call “churchcrud,” by which I mean to refer to the trappings of program church which are ultimately unhelpful despite good intentions.
But here’s the thing – both articles paint a picture of something intensely appealing. Zahariades’ piece really leaves you feeling that the whole process is driving towards and preparing you for the experience of genuine community (as opposed to program-based community). This hits me because it’s the very thing I’ve been craving, and really, which first caused me to pull back from my involvement in the local church. As a former small group leader, it’s something I’m passionate about, having achieved a taste of it which I can no longer find in the small group “program.” Robbymac’s piece on the other hand gives me something entirely different – the assurance that I might be at least a little bit normal, that the very thing that causes in me what almost seems like disdain for the church is in reality an expression of my passion for it. Worth quoting: “People are in detox because they love Jesus and have a vision for being His Body in an advancing Kingdom on this earth.”
Ten years after starting a church plant with a number of other people, I was able some months ago to step back and say to one of the other founding couples, “This is not what I worked for all those years to build.” This was a kind of God-realization moment for me, a sort of turning point when reality broke through with an arresting form of clarity. For ten years I seemed to be bucking the trend, and then the realization comes that after repeatedly “losing” small battles as directions emerged which I couldn’t fully support, the church is now in a place I don’t want to be, heading in a direction I don’t want to go. For about two months past that realization, I still felt the need to push for change, to fight for something. Then mercifully, following one particular meeting of church leaders, I very clearly felt “released” by God to stop. Maybe it’s all me and that’s the point I just gave up, but until then I felt compelled to plead the case for particular viewpoints, for reasons I felt were of God and were based in love for the Body.
What I do know is this: the thought of a detox period is acutely appealing, just to get free of all the churchcrud I seem to have accumulated. Having inflicted it on others, I want to get that stuff out of my system so I can be whole and I can stop hurting others with it. So I can engage in true community. Say “No” to churchcrud: this is what has me desperately seeking detox.