355. something amiss

In my last post, I mentioned a Facebook group I and a few friends started up called Church Exiles 808. Since I’m in Hawaii for vacation, I put out an invite to the group to see if anyone wanted to meet up. So this past Friday, about ten of us got together at Tokkuri Tei (special thanks to Kyle for hooking us up with that place!) and we just sat around eating, drinking, and getting to know one another.

From BlogPhotos

I was really struck by the various stories of church that came up, some directly, some anecdotally.

Some spoke of being silenced – not being able to say what they really thought about a given situation or difficulty. Although the church should be the one safe place where one can bring all of one’s self, often there is an unspoken “limit” to honesty in church. Doubt often falls outside this limit. Legitimate critique of leadership is also outside this invisible circle. Issues of sexuality (straight or otherwise) are also often off limits. Now I understand that there are boundary/safety issues and so not everything is fit for the public, corporate sphere, but still, if someone wants to have an honest conversation about the legalization of pot, or about the issue of homosexuality in the church, I think that should be allowed to happen without the person who brought it up being dismissed or made to feel shame for even trying to have the conversation.

Some spoke of the lack of intellectual engagement in the church. They spoke of how sometimes the phrase, “it’s all a part of the mystery of God” is used to derail discussions that are beyond what the pastor is equipped to talk about. Some of the people who spoke of this frustration said that what disappointed them was the inability for their pastor to just come right out and say, “I don’t know.” The “mystery” answer is a non-answer. It’s dismissive, disingenuous, and, in a way, dishonest. Of course pastors can’t be expected to be experts on every topic under the sun but they should have the honesty and integrity to say they don’t know when they don’t.

Some spoke of poor leadership/management. There are always different kinds of power plays happening in any organization and the church is no different. Unfortunately, whereas management training is an integral part of almost all organizations outside the church, within the church it’s something of an afterthought and that can lead to all kinds of abuse and/or burnout. This problem is particularly dicey in churches where many of the people being managed are volunteers.

There were other frustrations shared, but those are the ones that come immediately to mind.

But there was another thing that I found fascinating.

In many of the discussions, people spoke of still wanting, in some way or another, to believe and participate in the fellowship of God’s kingdom. You’d think the logical thing to do with all these awful frustrations would be to just check out completely, not just from church but from the whole Christian endeavor (because the two are intimately linked). But whereas many have left the former, to some degree or another and for various reasons, they have not been able to let go of the latter. But they would like to regain the former as well but they are wary.

And that gives me hope because it suggests that something new is possible. Probably everyone who was there that night could write volumes regarding ways that the church has used, hurt, and failed them. Yet there they were, gathered around a (communion?) table laughing and ranting and sharing their lives with one another. The cumulative discontent at the table should have been a kind of spiritual anti-matter expressing itself in annihilation of the church but that’s not how it was.

Instead, I think what united everyone at the table was some kind of thread of belief. For some, their grasp of this thread is tenacious, for some it’s tenuous, but it’s there.

I think that small gathering of people represents the tiny tip of an immense iceberg. Something is amiss in the Church and it’s doing a lot of damage. Dwindling church attendance is not about a lack of belief (people want to believe!), it’s about something else.

From BlogPhotos

But what exactly is that something?

And more importantly, is the church really ready to address that something if the solution turns out to be something that looks starkly different from the Christianity they are comfortable and familiar with?

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One thought on “355. something amiss

  1. Kudos for encouraging these conversations, Randall. I wonder if some of these experiences are generational, or the product of a Church that isn’t adapting to the change happening all around it, or something else? Like I wonder if these concerns: lack of intellectual stimulation, lack of confidence in the church leadership, inability to speak freely and ask questions—are characteristic of the 30-40 somethings of today, or those from particular ecclesial traditions, or something else?

    I’ve been having a recurring conversation with a friend who echoes many of these ideas you’ve enumerated. The result: many of his friends left the church. You could even say that though he sometimes attends church, he’s not connected and is still, 20+ years later, trying to find his way back to something, though at this point, he’s not exactly sure what that something even looks like. And the church isn’t necessarily helpful in helping him to explore what that is.

    And they/we are not alone in wanting these things in a worshipping community, or in trying to wrap our heads around how to create this community. One <a href="http://dougpaulblog.com/2011/06/5-things-im-seeing-in-church-planters/ blog I recently read listed an observation about what he was seeing in church planters: Open [to God’s missional Call; Teachable [they admitted they didn’t have it all figured out]; ready for someone to invest in them [those seasoned leaders who would disciple them]; Diverse; and Holistic [it wasn’t just about one area of ministry at the exclusion of others]. Imagine what kind of Church we would be if we were able to do even half of these.

    It’s exciting to see these conversations happening in different circles across different geographic areas. To me, that shows that the Spirit is moving in mighty ways, stirring the hearts and minds of people who long for a deeper sense of belonging, of community, vital worship and spirituality and faith. lLike you said—it’s not that people don’t believe—they want to believe and are waiting around to see if they should still. The Church must respond by saying, “yes!”

    You ask an important question: is the church ready to handle this? Is the church ready to recognize that for the past x years we’ve been on auto pilot, thinking that the same ways we did church 10, 20 or 30 years ago are still the same ways that work today? What I think is happening is a groundswell of people like the group you’re working with who demand something different. Something authentic and ecumenical and grounded in scripture in the context of community. Something that admits that we are all on a journey and the ‘leaders’ don’t have all the answers, but are committed to walking together.

    I think we’ve seen some good examples of this already happening, and from what I’ve heard you write/talk about, you’re on track to exposing more of the iceberg.

    Blessings as you continue these conversations and dream what the church of today could look like.

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