Seems there’s some misunderstanding about the journey we’re on. To some, it looks like the journey to leave the church we’re in… which to me is evidence that we aren’t explaining it very well. Given that observation, I thought it might help to take another stab at it in hopes of clarifying it in my own mind if nowhere else.
- I long for a church that is low-key. I’m tired of hype, I’m tired of noise, and I’m tired of intensity. I used to like all those things, but I no longer equate these with “signs of life.” I long for something more contemplative, a place that can acknowledge worship as being intellectual as well as emotional.
- I long for a church with deep interpersonal relationships. I was attracted to a place that talked about relationships and tried to build relationally, but with growth, time, and change, what started as relational has become merely functional. Faith walks need camaradarie, lives shared one with another.
- I long for the attainable challenge of Jesus. Put the other way, I’m tired of being challenged, by which I refer not to the challenge of the gospel or the challenge of Jesus, but to the challenge of leaders who seem to continually push for greater levels of sanctification. Ever unattainable, this leaves one straining for an unreachable goal and feeling cast down for falling short. To elaborate, this causes a situation in which a believer perpetually feels or is actually considered “not quite good enough” to engage in ministry. I long for the challenges which God give the grace to attain, rather than the challenges of men which one strives fruitlessly to attain.
- I long for a decentralized structure, and I long for servant leadership among peers. Power corrupts, which is a danger in the church as anywhere else… and a heirarchical structure is the breeding-ground for the corruption of church leaders. Jesus talked about this, about what can happen to church leaders who start well but end up enamoured with their positions. Practically speaking, this drives the necessity for decentralization so that the structures can be interrelated but independently manageable in smaller sizes.
- I long for a culturally relevant church. I don’t understand why cross-cultural missionaries attempt to understand culture to present the gospel within it, while churches in the developed world tend to simply withdraw from their own culture, often condemning its evils. Unfortunately for them, our culture is filled with people who need to see real Christianity in action they’ve seen enough caricatures of Christianity already. Being culturally relevant in the early 21st century means understanding -gasp!- postmodernism.
- I long for a church that can be outwardly-focused without constantly pushing evangelism on the congregation, and for a church that does not relate evangelism with church growth as an end.
- I long for a church that recognizes the value of ancient traditions. I’ve long been saddened by the iconophobia in many evangelical circles, discomfort with symbolism, suspicion toward any type of mysticism, and the ignoring of rich faith traditions from Advent to Passover.
- I long for a church that is not uncomfortable with mystery or with the sacraments. The evangelical understanding I’ve been taught on the Eucharist is anemic, and the standard baptism explanation of “an outward symbol of an inward faith” misses the spiritual act, which still has an element of mystery in it.
- I long for a church that recognizes the value of story. Scripture is story, and so are the lives it touches. One cannot presume to talk about relationship without recognizing the importance of personal stories.
So this is the path I’m on… I am seeking a place that is in pursuit of the things I long for. If I can’t find a place like that, I’ll find some people who are in pursuit of the things I long for, and together we’ll create such a place. The path I’m on is the pursuit of these things I long for in the church.
Is this path a reaction to church? Partly. It would be easy to list the things I don’t like about the church and give that as the reason to leave… but that really misses the heart of it. Please understand that I’m not mad at the church. I have been frustrated, but the path I’m on puts an end to the frustration and helps me to be able to avoid getting mad. To unpack that a little, I’ve tried for several years to change things. Big things, small things, things that bug me, things I think are wrong. Let’s just say there’s resistance, and leave it at that for now. It does tell me that this church will never be what I hope for, and efforts to change it will only result in frustration and/or pain. In other words, no good will come from my efforts to change it… it is what it is. Now, I’m not dismissing the church or writing it off. On the contrary, I consider it a part of my heritage; for many years it was a rich part, and something for which I’m deeply thankful. On the other hand, I’ve reached the point where I long for different things than the things I longed for when I first signed on.
So the basic thing about this journey is the same as about any journey… it’s not about the place we’re leaving, it’s about the place we’re going. Even if we don’t know where we’re going; it wouldn’t be the first such journey instigated by God.
I hope that helps. I feel better, anyway at least for now. I’m sure there’s more to follow.