The following is just a conglomeration of stuff that is all related in one way or another to what's been happening in my life since I posted about reading So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore. No real rhyme nor reason for posting them all together. No real reason for the title and format, either, except it made me smile. Only the old-timers reading this will get it (maybe).
When I told Les about my reaction to reading the book last week, I broke it to her gently because I didn't want to just run her over with my enthusiasm, since that would obviously come across as scary ("Honey - I just read this book in one day and it has changed my life!", he blurted with glassy, shining eyes... :o). But she's known about all of my struggles and questions with institutional church all along, so I don't think it came as a big surprise to her. Her very first reaction, though, was, "But I want the kids to stay in school!" Let me explain.
Our children go to a parochial school affiliated with the denomination Les grew up in. It is also the school Les and her sibs went to, and her mother before her. So there's a lot of family history there. The kids only just got to start attending this year, fulfilling a dream for Les. "Our" church (for obvious reasons I feel uncomfortable now applying a possessive pronoun to the word "church" when talking about institutional church) pays a large portion of the tuition for the kids, in exchange for regular attendance and tithing (the amounts involved mean that our tithe basically pays for the tuition - but paying your church is tax-deductible; parochial school tuition is not).
So immediately Les jumped from her husband thinking about not being a part of any institutional church to worrying about whether a specific institutional church would continue to subsidize the children's education. That is understandable, and I expected something of the sort. And I am not minimizing her worry about it - this is important to her, and I love her and respect her and support her and what she cares about.
Chris posted today about the book and how it affected him, but in the end decided he will continue to go to his church while trying to enact some of the lessons from the book within it and within his life. That's good. As I commented to him, "[O]ne of the points the book made is everyone is on different journeys and different points in their journey. So it's cool that you and I might have different reactions to the book. It isn't even whether you're 'ready' for it or not - God's plan for you is different than His plan for me."
Let me be clear right here - So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore had a huge impact on me. It caused a lot of festering problems I was having to be brought to light and showed me what I could do about them that was constructive, loving and most importantly centered on Jesus. But that doesn't necessarily mean I think it's a one-size-fits-all prescription for everyone. If you still want to be "in church", good for you! I have no problems with you if you don't have problems with institutional church. We can still talk about God and share friendship. If Jesus had wanted us to all wear uniforms there'd be design patterns in the Bible for them. Instead, we each get to be on a journey toward and with God that is our own. Hopefully we can remember to love and respect and listen to people whose path is different than ours.
Cindy then posted about what she thinks her church is going to need to survive. From what she's been blogging it appears she's been wrestling with what to say for a while now, and even whether to say it at all. I admire her courage for finally writing what's been on her mind to someone in her church (and hey, he asked! Like I always say, "Don't ask if you don't want to hear my answer!" :o). I wish I had that kind of courage - it might have either stopped or short-circuited some of my own struggles over the past year. I made a few attempts at doing something similar with a couple of different people in the church, but it never really went anywhere. My fault, I am sure. Anyway, Cindy wrote:
I think the church-centered christian life (as opposed to a Christ centered christian life) that american protestantism has created in the last few generations is what is killing the church in america. and the new generations see it for what it is- empty activity that does little besides sustain itself for more empty activity. not that nothing good happens in local churches; far from it. but the abiding culture of complacency we've allowed to take over so overshadows the true mission of God's people that we risk losing it all.
we need corporate worship, we need corporate teaching, we need fellowship. But, we also need to get the heck out of the church building and live lives that show we care about somebody in addition to the people we worship with. we must address this corporate addiction to church that we ourselves have created. call it a church intervention, maybe. and if we succeed, the withdrawals will be ugly, angry, and very messy. If we don't succeed, thousands of local churches just like ours will be gone in 20 years or less. I'm not even sure if that isn't what should happen.
I think that earns Cindy real points for honesty. Bravo! And as I look at the denomination with which I am still officially affiliated, I could say the same thing. They've lost ca. 400,000 members since the 1970s. That's about a 15% drop in membership during a time when the U.S. population grew by almost 50%. Something is wrong there, and it's not something that can be cured by yet another new program. "If we just get the right combination of CCM, PowerPoint and small groups, we'll stop hemorrhaging members!" seems to be the only way people within institutional church can think. My father-in-law is an elder in another church of the same denomination, and he has told me they are constantly looking for some new program to turn things around. I haven't tried to tell him that another course or set of small groups or committee or any other "gimmick" isn't going to solve the problem. Cindy's statement (which echoes Chris's thoughts) that, "we also need to get the heck out of the church building and live lives that show we care about somebody in addition to the people we worship with" just might, however.
And good luck with that. Remember, "Intrasystem goals come first."
In probably the biggest coincidence of all, "my" (awkward possessive pronoun) pastor emailed me yesterday right about the time I posted my long asynchroblog rant/screed/love-note. He had reached out to me some time before Easter saying he was slammed with the Eastertide season and all its duties but had noticed my absence and would be following up with me. Yesterday he did the following up part. He was very nice about it - no scolding, just a "worried about you and where you've been" message. I like the man a lot. It is certainly not his fault I am where I am at, even though there have been times when I have held him up as an example in my head of "what is wrong with the system". That's not fair to him, at all. He's never been anything but gracious and kind to me. Even now I have no reason to believe he'll change and suddenly be cruel to me, and would be severely disappointed if he did.
In my reply I gave various reasons about why I haven't been coming to church, then cut to the chase and talked a bit about the struggles I've been having. In the end I wrote, "But my problem is that every time I've thought about talking to you about it all I've thought it would end up in conflict, and I just so don't want to go there. I like you and respect you and appreciate the help you've given me, so I just have avoided church and you because of it."
It will be interesting to see what he replies. While I am not drawn to returning to institutional church as we know it, that doesn't mean I think the people within it are evil or mistaken - they are simply on their paths and I am on mine. I also think we each have things we can learn from the others, so it is to my detriment if I suddenly bar myself from talking with someone simply because they're still "part of the system". If we all stopped talking to each other, that will make it worse and even more, I believe it would be unbiblical in the extreme. So we'll see. If we have a talk, I'll let you know.
That's it. I have no grand over-arching observation to tidy it all up with here. It's been an interesting five days (yikes! only five?) since I finished the book, and it's certainly been an interesting 24 hours since yesterday's post (which generated the most comments of anything I've ever written). I am filled with amazement and joy with all the good discussion I've had here and on other blogs since then. Thanks to you all for listening and sharing. I appreciate it.