A little while back I decided that I would like to feature a few guest-bloggers from time to time, and that I should share some of the books in my review pile around so that a few others might be able to produce some short reviews and reactions, lightening my book review load in the process. Like the other day, today’s post is a book review guest post, combining both ideas. This one is by Dianna, a friend and journeymate. We’ve known her and her husband for more than 20 years now, and we not only share a CLB, but also our current journey in a home-based small group church.
First a bit of background about me and then some thoughts about Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians by Brian Sanders. I’m a friend of Brother Maynard’s. (He’s a good guy in person too!) And with only a little bit of arm twisting I agreed to review one of the books from his stack of books. It wasn’t a hard decision, I enjoy reading and I got to rummage through the pile and choose the one I wanted. There were a number that caught my eye but Life After Church was the one that intrigued me and pulled me in.
You see, I am a leaver. An unresolved, but committed leaver. The unresolved part comes from the fact that I wouldn’t say the word “leaver” is one that describes my church experience. I attended for many years the small northern Pentecostal (PAOC) Church that introduced me to Jesus until I moved to the city I now live in and the non denominational church I attended for 17 years. It was there I made my vows to my husband of close to 18 years, it was there that we had our three children dedicated, it was there that I was on pastoral staff for 5 years and it was there that I volunteered in countless ways. “Loyalty” more closely resembles who I am in regard to my church commitment.
And yet here I am. I left.
Shortly before our family left I felt God give me a nudge and in essence the conversation went like this…
God: You’ve been having an affair.
Me: What do you mean? I’m not. I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband. What an earth (or heaven) are you talking about?
God: You’ve been unfaithful to me.
Me: How? (knowing it to be true, but unsure of what act of unfaithfulness he’s calling me on)
God: You have loved the church more than you’ve loved me. You are so busy serving the church; you don’t realize when you’ve stopped serving me. You are so keen to do what you perceive the leaders want that you have no idea what I want.
It was true. Fall to the ground in repentance true. And although some people could stay and work out a new relationship with the church that didn’t violate the sanctity of the relationship between them and their Father, I couldn’t. I needed to get away. Readjust my heart and ears and actions to my Father and then rebuild a relationship with Church.
The title, Life After Church, drew me in but his content kept me reading. In part, because he’s written in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm the reader with a cold dissection of church with the ensuing technical jargon and in part because he adds his own story into the mix. I have the sense of this being flesh and bones reality. And most importantly, I kept reading because this is a book not about leaving church altogether but about wanting more for the Church. It’s about Life After Church As We Know It.
Sanders argues that if you’ve left the church, don’t abandon being the church, as many leavers leave it altogether. On the other hand, if you’re staying in your church, in spite of seeing where it needs to change, then be the change you wish to see. Either way, he says, fully participate in the kingdom of God. The book is helpful for both the stayers and the leavers, as there is value in both.
The book is about the stuff of God’s kingdom. After reading it, I felt gently cuffed upside the head with the reminder that I’m an alien, I belong to a different kingdom. In my obedience to leave the greenhouse that my old church had become for me, and my desire to be out in the field where the harvest is, I lose sight at times of the fact that while I am definitely “in” this world, I am not “of” it. I have gloriously been adopted into my Father’s family and the love He’s shown me, He is eager for me to share. Not the, “you need Jesus or you’re going to hell” kind of sharing but rather the “binding up the brokenhearted” kind of sharing. God has given me wonderful places to sow his love; I want to do that with authenticity, grace and sensitivity.
So if you’re someone who has a yearning in their soul for the Church to better reflect the heart of God, whether you’re a leaver or someone who’s called to be the change from within, this is a great read for you. You’ll feel your struggle acknowledged; your spirit encouraged. I feel like Brian Sanders doesn’t dismiss the concerns we have, but urges us to be involved in being the Church that we so long for. I really like that. We’re a part of the solution. And I really love that the solution isn’t for us. It’s for all of those the Father longs for and loves.
Thanks for the cuff upside the head Brian, I needed it.