I Gave up on Church
I didn’t mean to give up on church.
It just happened.
I needed a little time off from small-talk with polite but otherwise preoccupied people...
I needed to step away from having to defer to the “most important person in the room” while the rest of us just sat there...
And then a few weeks turned into a few years, and my children haven’t grown up in church, and now I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. Not with the way things are.
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t walked away from my faith, and I absolutely cherish my upbringing in the church.
(Nothing worse than someone who writes about the church, ditches church, and then writes about all the bad things about church.)
But the current form of church is due for an overhaul. The wine-skin is bursting at the seams, and no one seems to be noticing.
I’ve heard pastors say, “You can’t love God if you don’t love his bride.” But you can if the bride is like your crazy step-mother.
Plus, the pastors who say such things are the same ones who went door-to-door back in the 90s asking people what they DIDN’T like about church and then built a new model BASED ON THEIR ANSWERS.*
It’s okay to not like a FORM of church.
And dare I say it, I don’t like the current one.
I call it “performance church.”
The one where the pastor gazes over the heads of the congregation into the cameras and welcomes the south campus via simulcast...
The one where they fire all the ugly people from the worship team and march in the waify Gen Zers with their Veja Esplar sneakers, midriffs-with-knit cardigans, and mom-jeans...
The one where pastors so generously and self-sacrificially forfeit their salaries so they can justify making millions of dollars in book deals and personal appearances, like Eli’s sons prematurely dipping meat hooks into the caldron to provide for themselves...*
The one where PreachersNSneakers can even exit at all...
I really do think God used it for a season. But I’m not sure he likes it anymore, which is why he’s trying to change it.
Have you noticed: All the megachurch pastors with secret sins are getting found-out.* The pandemic is trying to break-up the model. Church attendance is dropping like a rock.* And, statistically speaking, THE ENTIRE NEXT GENERATION does not value it.*
I’m not even sure the people who attend church like it.
In the near-decade I’ve spent away from the church, not a single other person has invited me to church... much less talked about it... much less acted like it had any importance in their life.
I WANT to love the church. I want to raise my children in a place that awakens their souls and surrounds them with people who spur them on in their faith. But I just can’t stomach it anymore.
A few weeks ago, a pastor-friend stopped me in a restaurant parking lot and confided quite seriously, “I’m starting to feel burned out. Do you think I’m going to END UP LIKE YOU?”
Just as every generation before us required a particular form of church, so does the current one. We’ve been trying to keep the old one going — the one of Hybels, Warren, Houston, and Stanley - but now it’s grotesque and outdated and starting to stink.
But hey. Good news. Conditions are ripe for a new model. And the first leader to get it right will usher-in a whole new movement.
I’m not a young man anymore, so I may be completely wrong about this, but I sense that the church is groaning with birth pangs for something new. Here’s where I think the church is headed:
Small unincorporated gatherings without a financial model.
Gatherings that are more like conversations than lectures.
Worship that is more personal than performance.
Content that is more raw than rehearsed.
Pastors who work in the marketplace and lead smaller churches that don’t meet in conventional church buildings.
Expressions of faith that are more personal than ones modeled on attendance, volunteerism, classes, or donations.
Churches that aren’t permanent installations but rather emerge for particular seasons and then change or go away.
(To demonstrate that I’m not entirely crazy, Tom Rainer actually alluded to some of these in the midst of the pandemic.*)
(Also, years ago, there was a network of churches in the Netherlands called Zolder50 that met in the unused attics (or zolders) of Amsterdam and embodied these characteristics.* I was so sad when it didn’t make it - I think it was ahead of its time. But as a tribute, I recently bought the expired web domain.)
Every Sunday that I wake up remembering that it’s Sunday (which is surprisingly not often), I crave a church community like this.
But my only options are the guy with the copycat oversized Judah Smith glasses, the guy who calls himself the “lead pastor” when he’s actually the only one, and the guy who could single-handedly turn this entire city around... if only... if only I would join a small group, not miss a single week... and serve in the nursery.