“I like God; I just don’t like organized religion.”
“Why would I need to be part of a church? I can be a Christian just as well on my own, without all the headache and without all the hypocrisy.”
I’m a pastor, so I hear these lines a lot. A lot.
And I get it, really do. Most of us have set in pews (or theater seats), bored out of our minds or steaming with anger. We’ve been shamed and manipulated and talked down to. We’ve heard sermons hyping the next cause, the next “vision,” only to realize soon enough that the whole enterprise has way more to do with the pastor’s ego or the institution’s survival than with the truths we intuitively know – just know – Jesus would be about: compassion, justice, mercy, integrity. We’ve been burned by a church’s political agenda or theological haggling or myopic culture or moral shortcomings.
Our hopes have been trampled by the many (many) relational disappointments. Often, we find more of Jesus among our friends who wouldn’t be caught dead in any church than we find among our acquaintances who appear dead in just about every church.
So we chuck the whole thing. I understand; I’ve cycled around that block a few times myself.
Noticing this trend toward disillusionment with church, a fair number of us pastor-types kick into high gear, trying to prove how different we are from those churches, how relevant or authentic or organic or missional or postmodern or post-postmodern we are (and if you have no idea what a few of those words mean or why any church would label themselves such, I applaud you). Not your grandpa’s church, we say (I jest not – I’ve been part of a church who thought this exact line quite clever). But still, it all seems huckster. We’ve been sold the same entree before, and the newfangled packaging doesn’t make it any better this time around.
We feel used. Bored. Fatigued. Done. We may not even intend to walk away. We just drift – and there is nothing solid anymore, nothing of value or meaning, to keep us connected to this community of faith we once knew. So, we go about our lives. We are still moral. We love our families. We certainly maintain some kind of spiritual dimension. But church? Not so much.
Does it matter? I think so, and I’d like to take a couple posts to tell you why. I’ve wrestled with this a long while. I’ve been disillusioned too, thought perhaps the whole affair a farce. And yet here I am, and a big chunk of my life is spent among a small community known as a church. I’ve come to believe it really matters.
This is one of those blog moments that I especially hope would turn into a conversation, but that will of course be up to you. And for my friends who are not Christian or who claim no religion of any sort, please bear with me. I’d love for you to listen in – and interact too if you like. At the least, you’ll understand more of why this exercise in Christian community has, against the odds, warmed my imagination and given me fresh belief that God really does intend good for this world.