This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”
While everyone else is enjoying Christmas, I'm finally allowing myself to process some of the thoughts that have been going through my head recently. I plan on enjoying Christmas too, but it's good to finally have some time to think. This past May, Rachel started me thinking down a path I hadn't explored before through a series of posts called Listening to a non-church-goer. I had always seen the dark side of church life, but it had never occured to me that things might be so bad within the church that it would make sense to follow God outside of the church. I used to think things were simple: follow God, go to church; abandon church, and you've abandoned God. That started a process of discovery that has led to a lot of fresh questions for me. I began to question so much about church life. Like a house of cards, the entire thing began to crash down for me. Why was so little of my attention as a pastor given to soul care? Why does the institution consume so much effort? Why are our energies so inward focused? Why so much time on putting on what appears to be a Sunday morning show? Could we justify the way we're spending money in light of the needs in the world? How many lives are being changed from the inside out? Why do we have a programmatic answer to every possible question? Why do so few of them seem to work? I didn't have good answers to a lot of these questions. What's worse, I began to question my role in the whole thing. There are a lot of parts of pastoring I don't like, such as meeting after meeting, committee work, and figurehead stuff (attend to say a prayer, show up here, show up there). I could put up with this as long as I believed in the whole institution. As I began to question the institution, I became more frustrated with my work. My discomfort has been growing. Today, I've tried to put voice to some of my frustrations, and to ask myself where I see this going. Please understand that I may be completely wrong in what I'm about to say. Some would say that it makes sense to abandon the whole thing because it can't be redeemed. You may be right in the end, but I'm not there yet. Here's where I am, as of now. First, I think it's good that I'm dissatisfied. I won't rationalize my concerns. Instead, I'll lay them out honestly and wrestle with them. If they cause discomfort, then that's a cost I'm willing to pay. Next, I need to believe that I can play a role within the system. I may be completely wrong in this, but I see guys like Brian McLaren and Jordon Cooper who are effective voices from within. Is it hard? Sure. But I'm okay with that. I believe that there are others who are dissatisfied with what we've called church up to now, and are longing for more. A church can turn away from all that holds it in bondage and can begin to operate in new ways: to step off the programmatic, success-driven track, to begin to live for more than Sunday mornings. Building? It can use that to serve the community, to give it over to be used by, for instance, the urban poor of the area. Sunday mornings? It can begin to transition that from a sit-and-soak experience to just one of the expressions of group life within the church. Finally, and this is where I feel greater clarity today than before, I need to stop blaming the system and start living up to my calling. If I give in to the CEO or modern church pastor model, then I have no one to blame but myself. A good deal of my frustration comes from the fact that I have been ignoring key parts of my calling – reading, writing, reflection, spiritual direction – that are entirely possible within my current system. Eugene Peterson writes at length about this. I need to start where I am, and be faithful to my calling, before I start blaming the system. I'm only starting here. I know some of you will think I haven't gone far enough. But that's where I am tonight, and I welcome your thoughts. Oh yeah – Merry Christmas.