Wrapping My Brain Around the Church

It has been awhile since I have posted anything of significance regarding the church and I am hungry to do so. And while I am hungry and have much to say, it might not be best to take it public right now because not everything is fine-tuned. But when have I ever been known to hold my tongue for long. So here I go…

There are many dissatisfied with the church as it currently expresses itself. We spend time talking about it, sharing ideas and even doing our fair share of complaining…. but after all is said and done, more is said than done. Nothing could be more true of the current state of those of us existing on the outside of the insitutional church. Is this where we should be? Should we go back and work at reform? Should we start something new? Should we just stay away from church forever? Or do we just acquiesce to the current state and find joy within the bars of the system?

So here are some recent observations:

First, for the critics who say we should stop complaining and do something…. well we are. Read my previous post on rebellion to understand the situation for many of us. I was thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. who stood against the establishment in non-violent protest to change the world around him and I am inspired to think that my voice may invoke change in a system that is flawed but nonetheless an important part of the fabric of our society. While I do not believe myself to be on par or even come close with a man of King’s stature, I certainly “have a dream” of what I envision the church can and should become. I am currently trying to get my brain around what this “dream” is.

Second, as I have said before, noone should equate my grumblings for some innate desire I have to tear the church down and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Also, nothing on this site is specifically pointed towards specific people or churches. We never name names about our personal experiences and there’s a good reason…the illustrations and examples used could apply to many churches and leaders. The frustrations we discuss here are common to many who attend church… and this is not only true here in the US, but I am finding it to be true for people around the world.

Lately I have found that I am pretty conservative when it comes to my thoughts on the church. There are some that say “church is dead”. Others that say that it can never be relevant because it is too innundated and full of self-preservationists. I am not sure about that yet. The jury is out for me although I do see a monumental task ahead.

Third, the church is a mess. This is largely due to the myopic nature of those in leadership. Many of them are sooooooo close to the situation that they cannot see the forest for the trees. If they could just step outside of themselves for awhile. It has taken me leaving for awhile to see it more clearly. If they could just gain a fresh perspective possibly things might begin to take a turn towards a more healthier state. But they have been so innundated and immersed in their own subculture they do not, and possibly cannot, make fresh strides. The churches I have been around have insisted on pouring new wine into old wineskins again and again and again.

Finally… there are no easy answers. More importantly, there is no one answer to the issues at hand. I am not certain we even know all of the issues. It’s like chasing mercury. For those that say we must stop complaining and move forward I have said that we must keep complaining and move forward. We do not complain in a vaccuum. People are listening. We are gaining the attention that this situation deserves. However, we must move forward and not maintain our “non-church” state as the new status quo. We must seek the new wineskins that we desperately need to present the message of the new wine. We can’t be satisfied with “the way things are” or “the way things have always been”. We must “re-create” ourselves in an “ex nihilo” fashion.

Out of nothing… something will take shape.

30 thoughts on “Wrapping My Brain Around the Church”

  1. <>The church (local church) is not in and of itself “toxic” because it is neutral as it stands alone. What it may or may not serve and offer, the unhealthy people there, the religiousity that may abound, the dysfunctions or abuses that occur…. all of these can be, and oftentimes are, toxic to our faith.<>Steve, would you say that the real problem has less to do with the institutional church than with the people who make it up? our expectations?? maybe just our human nature??Ultimately, won’t any attempt to systemitize or organize, no matter how forward thinking the new-structure may seem, end up with the same forms of toxicity?Because if this is how it eventually ends up, is there really any hope for something better?(really feeling a lot of the crap recently and just trying to work it all out… thanks)

  2. Zecryphon: “One thing I’ve noticed is that alot of people on this site are detoxing from church. But is that really the right word to use to paint the picture of what’s going on here? I know it’s all semantics and probably doesn’t mean much in the end, but it just doesn’t sit right with me. When a person goes through a detox, they’re purging their bodies of a poison that has made them sick, you see detoxes with alcoholics and drug addicts mostly.”I can only say that in my case this was very much the idea. Being raised in a very strict ‘holiness’ denomination much of what I’ve left has caused a purging of the poison that I was once a part of. So, I see it very much the same as being an addict simply because, in my case, having been in some sort of ‘ministry’ for more than half of my life (and I’m only 32), I still want to have that high of leadership at times. It’s waning but I still struggle with the ease that I found within that denomination, having everything spelled out, holding a position of honor, and having many friends across the state.Leaving that was very much detoxing. I’ve lost friends (not by my choice – btw), positions, and the ease of a listed ‘righteousness’. And, yes, I agree that to detox means that you can never go back, like an alcoholic who must stay away from his drug of choice. And, more than likely, I won’t go back. At least, I have no intentions of stepping back into that concept of church. I will say that <>IF<>, in my following Christ, I am brougt back to that point, I’ll go back. But I feel, pretty much, the way you wrote here: <>It’s not about Jesus fixing us, because usually Jesus is not in the church to begin with.<>< HREF="provoked.theliquidcell.com" REL="nofollow">provoked<>

  3. Somehow an old Doors Interview of Mike Yaconelli interviewing himself comes to mind. The whole “Disillusionament Hope” Might have to give that link.Here is a portion of it:in the december 1974 issue of the wittenburg door (cover: woody allen named theologian of the year), mike yaconelli, the late founder of youth specialties, interviewed himself about a planned move away from youth specialties to being a small town pastor (he ended up not leaving ys, and started doing both). here’s an excerpt from that ‘interview’:mr. y.: mike, the wittenburg door has learned through informed sources that you are leaving youth specialties. is that correct?mike: yes, it is.mr. y.: in light of this development, even though you are a close personal friend, i’d like to ask you some hard questions.mike: go right ahead.mr. y: why are you leaving youth specialties?mike: if you have read my articles in the wittenburg door in the past few years, you would have noticed my rather strong disillusionment with the organized institutional church. it has been very difficult to be optimistic in the face of a structure that has allowed the american culture to define it. by that i mean it continues to espouse a theology and practice that has been culturalized to the point of impotence. the ‘liberal’ response has been to emphasize a weak social platform based on an anemic social gospel while the ‘evangelicals’ have countered with a sentimental doctrinal isolationism. both are repugnant. both are so structuralized that change is almost impossible. that, in very general terms, is the source of my disillusionment.mr. y.: wow. would you like to say more?mike: well, yes, thank you. i use the word disillusionment purposely. i could have used disgust, disdain, or rejection. but disillusionment suggests shattered expectation or better a frustrated hope. because i’ve always had hope for the church. i love it. i need it. and although most of my critics read my criticism of the church as dishonest camouflage of my own inadequacies, god seems to have taken me seriously and called my hand….”

  4. I love these perspectives Steve and I believe you have good balance. I am obviously not one who has given up on the institution of the church. I have not given up because I firmly believe this is God’s plan for how He wants to bring His message to the world. I beleive that God wants us to live and function as the big “C” Church (gathering of followers of Christ), but I also believe he wants us to exist in smaller communities that become the small “c” church. The quakers actually call the small “c’s” “meeting places” so that they do not confuse the big C and little c. (Sorry if that is confusing)Because this isn’t my site, I won’t get into my argument from the Old Testament scriptures, but God does desire that we fit into some sort of smaller community which today we call churches. All churches are messed up. Some are much closer to the heart of God than others, but despite their being messed up, churches have done a lot throughout history to bring hope, purpose, and practical assisatnce to millions of people. They have brought a lot of hurt as well, but this is where I say that we should stay involved and be the voice, the hands, and the feet of change in our churches. Take time away if needed, but don’t give up. We need all of you.

  5. No, I was making a joke about expectations. I suppose that it was only funny to me.Maybe we shouldn’t e highjacking this discussion away from Steve’s original post? Perhaps you and I should just chat sometime.

  6. I know how you feel in your desire to see the church become effective. The only way to get a church that does what you think it should is to go start one (please don’t do that).Ninjanun mentioned it here, and Zeke has talked about it elsewhere, but let me join them in urging you to get “Revolution” by George Barna. Once you get it, read it. It’s about us. It’s about people who are hungry to follow Christ, but find the church irrelevant in that pursuit.I think Zec has a point. Detoxing from church only to return is like waiting for the last skin grafts to heal before you set yourself on fire again.Remember Lot’s wife.

  7. gman – thanks for the yaconelli quote…. very very appropriate and worthy of a post which it will receive.Zecryphon – I think “detox” is a fine word for what’s occuring for some people. Yes I assume you could split hairs (not that you would) and say that detox implies not returning to the same thing that caused you to be sick in the first place. However, there is something poisoneous that occurs in some people in regards to their faith within the church system. It can be quite toxic for many and the need to cleanse our lives of those “toxins” within religion, the church system, the SCP’s we encounter there… is quite real. Returning to that same system I think is a matter of personal choice and can be quite empowering to know you can be “in the system” without being “of the system”.In risk of ruining the analogy, the bar isn’t what made a drunk a drunk. Drinking excessively and habitually is the problem (I know there may be other factors involved, and this isn’t a discussion on what causes alcoholism – so let’s not go there). Anyway, for a period of time, while in recovery and for some time beyond, a drunk should avoid going to bars or other places that serve alchol for fear of falling into the same habit, pattern or dysfunction… but this is not to say that when he/she is stronger that they cannot return to the bar, empowered, free from the addiction that held power over them, to be with others in that environment.The church (local church) is not in an dof itself “toxic” because it is neutral as it stands alone. What it may or may not serve and offer, the unhealthy people there, the religiousity that may abound, the dysfunctions or abuses that occur…. all of these can be, and oftentimes are, toxic to our faith.

  8. “Welcome to the Church of the New Testament”Just remember when you say you want to be like the church of the New Testament that this church had organized leaders, they had a system for collecting a distributing money, and they had teams of people organized to do certain tasks. I believe they were less confused by the false motives such as money and numbers of attendees, but the early church was an organized system…. BTW, they did have complainers in the church and had people on the inside calling for change (i.e. Paul). The church was better for it.

  9. ‘keep complaining and move forward. We do not complain in a vaccuum. People are listening. We are gaining the attention that this situation deserves. However, we must move forward and not maintain our “non-church” state as the new status quo. We must seek the new wineskins that we desperately need to present the message of the new wine. We can’t be satisfied with “the way things are” or “the way things have always been”. We must “re-create” ourselves in an “ex nihilo” fashion.’YES. That’s it…keep complaining and move forward. Yes..people are listening. A groundswell movement toward walls coming down and the New Testament Church returning. The flow of ministry as if through walls to PEOPLE; to move as He did. To remove the constrictions of church only on Sunday. To arrange our days based upon the “interruptions” of those who need our ministry…just as He did. To shake the manmade tower of conventionality and evolve and de-volve at the same time.

  10. <>“It doesn’t have much much to say about why sincere Christ followers would disconnect from the insitution of church. And, it doesn’t offer many answers.”<>Why do preachers persist in believing we need someone to give us the answers? Greg, I read the post on your blog about Barna’s book and I really think you have missed the point. <>Revolution<> doesn’t claim to give a voice to the Christians who have left the church, nor is he telling us how to live, as you stated on your site.My impression was that the book’s purpose was to 1) alert church leaders that we exist in significant numbers because of the church’s failure to be relevant (among other things), 2) to let “us” know that we’re not alone. I was rather heartened by this book. I’d encourage you to take another look.

  11. <>Perhaps the answer is to merely find a small group of people with whom you can have a close relationship with. That you might be able to hurt with them through their pain, laugh with them through their joy, and become anxious with them through their questioning. And, just as importantly, that they can do the same with you.<>Welcome to the Church of the New Testament.

  12. Greg–I agree, I found the Barna book disappointing as well. The reason I suggested it to Steve is b/c I thought he was advocating a return to the “institutionalized” church to try and reform it, and I thought Barna (at the very least) did a good job of saying, “it’s okay, and even do-able, to have a flourishing spiritual life apart from the institutionalized church.”I still think it was a worthwhile read, but not for the sticker price. 170 pages or so for $18? Sheesh. 😛

  13. <>Should we go back and work at reform? Should we start something new? Should we just stay away from church forever? Or do we just acquiesce to the current state and find joy within the bars of the system? Out of nothing… something will take shape.<>The difficulty in attempting to come up with solutions is that as soon as the new solution becomes the ‘norm’, it’s as stale as what was left behind, to begin with. You guys addressed this on an earlier podcast, regarding the emergent church, and how they’ve institutionalized, to some extent.We become what we despise, right?I agree that out of all this, something can ‘take shape’. But the real trick Steve, is going to be the ability to keep it from staying in that same shape.What I think we all desire from church is something that will grow, form, re-form and continually re-shape with us. The problem arises when we find our alternative and say, “This is it! This is what church should look like!” Then we enshrine our new ideal, until it stands and rots like every other new reformation that comes down the pipe.Reformation must be continual, and the ‘shape’ must be pliable for it to truly be effective.

  14. Steve–have you read Barna’s Revolution yet?I think Zeke also has an excellent point. When people’s paychecks (livelihood) are dependent on a system (whether it be traditional, or one church in “many locations,” they will usually try to perpetuate that system, even if it is no longer working to really bring people closer to God. And that’s the point of church, right?

  15. Barna’s “Revolution” will be discussed this Friday night (2-3-06) on the nationwide Moody Broadcasting Network. “Open Line” is a call-in show which is aired at 8-8:55 pm CT. The phone number is 312-329-4460.For station and time of broadcast information see http://openlineradio.org.The programs are archived for download/podcast if you’re unable to tune in.< HREF="http://housechurch.org" REL="nofollow">House Church Network<>

  16. The only way the church will change is when people vote with their feet. Once the money goes away, the leadership will finally get the message that there’s a cancer within the church and that radical steps must be undertaken to save the church.

  17. <>Why do preachers persist in believing we need someone to give us the answers?<>The next time I see one, I’ll ask him.Don’t take it as a personal attack, I just didn’t like the book. I thought that “Barna” as a brand was about polling and statistics. My expectation was that I would learn something about people “worn out on the church” and how they are “finding vibrant faith beyond the walls of the sanctuary.”It didn’t give me much of that. What it did offer in terms of how “revolutionary” Christians should live sounded “Purpose Driven” to me.

  18. p.s. there should be only one vision–God’s (not leaders, or young people’s, etc).I truly think the problems come in when we try to systemize things…..this is a post-modern world, not a modern one, so the old way of doing things just doesn’t work anymore.

  19. 16×16 said: “Do you see a need? Do you see people who need Jesus?Go and touch those people.”Isn’t that what got the Catholics in so much trouble? 😛One thing I’ve noticed is that alot of people on this site are detoxing from church. But is that really the right word to use to paint the picture of what’s going on here? I know it’s all semantics and probably doesn’t mean much in the end, but it just doesn’t sit right with me. When a person goes through a detox, they’re purging their bodies of a poison that has made them sick, you see detoxes with alcoholics and drug addicts mostly.Steve has hinted about one day maybe returning to the church, this action doesn’t seem consistent with the recovery that must happen after a detox situation. Alcoholics can’t go back to drinking, drug users can’t go back to using, so does it make sense for us all, if we’re truly detoxing to go back to church? Maybe in the end what we’re really doing is taking a spiritual time-out, hiatus, or hibernation.The way I see it is that the church is not going to change. It doesn’t need to. In the minds of church leaders they are right and the people are wrong. So for every one Steve Chastain or Josh Sager, who see the problems and are thinking of ways to fix said problems, there are ten people who will take their place, keep their eyes shut, heads bowed and ears open to what the leadership has to say. In their eyes we are lost and NEED them to fix us. It’s not about Jesus fixing us, because usually Jesus is not in the church to begin with.

  20. I’m not sure what you mean by that. Can you explain?I meant that you read the book from the perspective of someone who is in the church (small c) and I read it from the perspective of someone who is no longer there. Our intent was clearly different going in.Did you think I was saying something else?

  21. You have hit the nail on the head Steve!So much of “church” is centered around the activities of, and the preservation of magisterium. Anyone who thinks a couple of one hour services a week are going to change the world for Christ, is kidding himself. The sinners are not coming to church. We need to go to them and bring them Jesus. It is things like the internet, blogs and taco nights, which are breaking through the stain glass ceilings place. Friends, ministry is about reaching out and touching people, listening to their problems, praying for them, and meeting their needs, albeit food, money or shelter. Think outside of the bun people.Next month, I am going to Vegas to play in a poker competition. Why? Yea, poker is fun, but I want to meet new people, and I have a great way to minister people who would never go into a church, much less ever want to seek out a Christian. I see a need and a people that need to be touched by Christ’s love.Do you see a need? Do you see people who need Jesus?Go and touch those people.

  22. I’m one who feels that modern church is dead, at least for me. I can’t speak of its life toward others.I should be forthcoming and say that I’m still detoxing from church after a 3 year absence from being a member of a ‘c’hurch. I’ve visited a few churches to find one that I could attend but every time I go, I become irritated at the sermons on tithes and family values because, while these things are important, they seem, to me anyway, to be done with the idea of placating the people in the pew.So what is the answer? Hell, I don’t know. And I don’t know if I ever will – and I’m fine with that. I meet with some guys and gals all the time. My wife and I consistently converse about God, faith, and scripture.Perhaps the answer is to merely find a small group of people with whom you can have a close relationship with. That you might be able to hurt with them through their pain, laugh with them through their joy, and become anxious with them through their questioning. And, just as importantly, that they can do the same with you.Some people like the ‘corporate gathering’ thing. I don’t. It’s not for me. I tried to ‘reform’ it for years and it was too much to ask of modern church. Even worse, I became agitated and angry about it because of the constant insinuation that I was a ‘younger’, immature, and even rebellious.The emerging was a great thing for me to come across but, as you said, it has, seemingly, become that which it ‘hated’, an institution. It has in many ways became a modern church that worships more artfully, that just IMO of course. And that’s not a bad thing, I suppose. It has a group of people that it is reaching and that’s great.< HREF="provoked.theliquidcell.com" REL="nofollow">provoked<>

  23. The Barna book was disappointing. I get much more insight from listening to this podcast and reading blogs. Barna uses the book to cast a vision. It doesn’t have much much to say about why sincere Christ followers would disconnect from the insitution of church. And, it doesn’t offer many answers.It describes the kind of person he thinks he is and you ought to be.

  24. Sorry, I needed to make it a little clearer. I did not realise that I would leave a trail of breadcrumbs – I’m pretty new to this stuff!It seems to me that part of our problems stem from our metaphysic – that is to say our starting point. For me, and I am sensing that Steve you feel this way too, it is that we are uncertain precisely where we should start from. If we have been in the church for many years and have been inducted into the church way of thinking, then the way we form our questions will start from that point. Some may think that this is acceptable and if they do then good luck to them. However, if we are to be true to ourselves and to Jesus then we must be prepared to truly put off our old body and put on the new. This was not expected to be a one time thing but to be a continual struggle throughout ones life. Certainly the first time one challenges one’s assumptions is a rather world-shattering experience, but if we stop there we will not learn to see things afresh. So many of our observations come from our institutional way of thinking. The damage is so great (albeit unintentional) that even learning to think about things in a new way so that important questions can be framed is crushingly difficult. Remember the doubts and anxieties that Martin Luther suffered in the years following his break with the Roman Catholic Church. He went through all the stages of grief and was buffeted about not only by political and ecclesiastical forces, but by the doctrines that were in residence in his own mind as a result of his indoctrination by the church. The process of sorting out the ecclesiastically-impaired thinking from thinking of a fresh perspective lasted his whole life and was a process that he failed to finish. The challenge confronting us is no less daunting. Keep the musings up Steve. The world needs you … and your dream.

  25. <>Reformation must be continual, and the ‘shape’ must be pliable for it to truly be effective.<>Agreed, and it seems to me that it can only remain pliable and organic as long as people’s paychecks and power don’t depend on the status quo. As soon as paychecks and power are involved, there is a strong incentive to exert personal control and change will be resisted.

  26. Hi,Long time reader, first time poster. I am a church person, I love it and constantly try to change it. I believe that one church with multiple congregations (meeting at different times) where different needs are met can keep this flexibility that is being talked about. To see this happen i think those in leadership roles need to let go the control strings and let “young people”, “emergent people” or whatever, find a way of expressing their love for God but still be part of the wider church. I think it relies on the “leadership” being prepared to let people make mistakes, it is not their church it is God’s. All they need do is support those that have a vision to achieve their vision.Anyway, Steve, keep voicing you opinions on Church, always makes me think.J.

Leave a Reply