Last week I received an email from someone who had read Why I Don’t Go To Church Anymore Hopeful that I had just had some bad experiences, he wanted to invite me back into the box. I thought his spirit was marvelous, though I think his vantage point was somewhat limited. I thought you might want to look over my shoulder at how I responded to his concerns. I know many of you have these issues raised all of the time. (My comments are in italics, his in blue.)
Let me say at the outset that I appreciate you taking the time to write me over this article. You obviously have some concern for my spiritual health and perspectives and graciously sought to offer me a different point of view. Few people take that that kind of risk. That said, this might be a difficult conversation to have. It seems to me you see only one method for the church to express its life together and I have experienced many ways that offer far more relational engagement than happens in most institutions today that call themselves ‘church.’ Since I thought your appeal sincere, let me try to respond to the issues you raised:
Wrong assumption. I was a pastor for more than 20 years and I left it not because I had bad experiences, but because I had good ones, lots of good ones, but they never let people experience the fullness of what it means to live in Christ. As a writer, speaker and Contributing Editor at Leadership Journal, for more than 20 years I have been in thousands of services in some of the most revered ‘churches’ in the country and around the world. I didn’t give up on it after too many bad experiences, but because I saw it at its best and it still fell woefully short of what my heart yearned to experience as I read Scripture.
I don’t see Hebrews 10 as a command but as wisdom not to live independent, selfish lives but to walk alongside other believers in mutual encouragement and shared wisdom. I find that more real in relational environments where people are sharing freely what God is doing in them rather than in those places where only a handful do all the talking. How can we encourage each other when we’re mostly looking at the back of each other’s heads? I think we both know lots of people who attend services, but never truly sort out how to walk with others in a way that stirs us to the deepest life in Christ. What’s truly sad about only seeing the ‘congregational’ model for doing this is that there is nothing in Scripture that demonstrates or encourages us to file into a building on Sunday morning for a set of songs and a lesson for the week from the same voice, no matter how gifted he is. The early church gathered in homes and shared freely together from all the gifts of the body as they sought to know Jesus better. Do you know of any New Testament model for doing ‘church’ the way you do it? Jesus didn’t do it. He didn’t teach his disciples to do it. And there is no hint of it in Acts or the Epistles. This is a form that evolved in religious institutions since the 300s AD and the current model is one Calvin adapted for Protestants from the Catholic liturgy. I find that heritage a bit suspect.
I know you didn’t mean it this way, but I no longer think Christianity is a way to act. It is a way to live in him where he transforms us from the deepest part of our being and it expresses itself in us reflecting his compassion and character to others around us. I think that is a work of the Holy Spirit, not listening to gifted teachers alone. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the elders, teachers, prophets and others that God has placed among the body to help us know him better. I have many that I not only listen to but also walk with locally and from around the world. But I’m convinced that teachers who minister the life of Jesus help others be dependent on him, not on themselves.
Jesus grew up in a Jewish culture and went to the synagogue on Sabbath to engage that culture. But Paul was thrown out of the synagogues and the early church didn’t continue to attend it. Though we know the folks in Corinth met on the first day of the week, it is not clear from the text that everyone else did as well. We do know they got together as I do with believers multiple times during a week, but it is not clear that they were trying to follow Jesus’ example at the synagogue.
Who said all preachers are worthless? I’ve never said any such thing. I appreciate those who speak God’s words in environments where people are equipped to live differently. But I do not think they are the center of life in the body. I think Jesus is the only focus of body life and brothers and sisters who learn to share his life together will grow far more deeply and experience greater life together. You also assume that I enjoy staying away from challenging thinking on this life in Christ. That couldn’t be more untrue. I want to hear everything Jesus wants to bring into my life and challenging thoughts are the most transforming. I regularly listen to others growing on this journey, though I don’t get it from those on TV. They rarely speak or even live the truth.
Here’s where you’re caught in your way of thinking. Preaching means so much more than you understand it to be. Just because we call Sunday morning lectures preaching doesn’t mean they are that. We grow in him not by hearing biblical preaching, but by seeking him, listening to him and living in him. Preaching can open the door to that, but it cannot do it alone. Proclaiming the gospel and the realities of this life in Christ happens far better in settings other than