Comments from my spiritual brother on my posted thoughts on my Why go to the Church? Posted by Manong @ 10/23/2005 09:53 PM PDT
Why I donít go to church anymore?
by Wayne Jacobsen
I do appreciate your concern for me and your willingness to raise issues that have caused you concern. I know the way I relate to the church is a bit unconventional and some even call it dangerous. Believe me, I understand that concern because I used to think that way myself and even taught others to as well. If you are happy with the status quo of organized religion today, you may not like what you read here. My purpose is not to convince you to see this incredible church the same way I do, but to answer your questions as openly and honestly as I can. Even if we donít end up agreeing, hopefully you will understand that our differences need not estrange us as fellow members of Christís body.
Where do you go to church?
I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer
it with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it is based on a false premiseóthat church is something you can go to as in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus looks at the church quite differently. He didnít talk about it as a place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and others in his family. Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go a Jacobsen is. ĎChurchí is that kind of word. It doesnít identify a location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate to each other. If we lose sight of that, our understanding of the church will be distorted and weíll miss out on much of its joy.
Are you just trying to avoid the question?
I know it may only sound like quibbling over words, but words are important. When we only ascribe the term Ďchurchí to weekend gatherings or institutions that have organized themselves as
Ďchurchesí we miss out on what it means to live as Christís body. It will give us a false sense of security to think that by attending a meeting once a week we are participating in Godís church.
Conversely I hear people talk about Ďleaving the churchí when they stop attending a specific congregation. But if the church is something we are, not someplace we go, how can we leave it
unless we abandon Christ himself? And if I think only of a specific congregation as my part of the church, havenít I separated myself from a host of other brothers and sisters that do not attend the
same one I do? The idea that those who gather on Sunday mornings to watch a praise concert and listen to a teaching are part of the church and those who do not, are not, would be foreign to Jesus.
The issue is not where we are at a given time during the weekend, but how we are living in him and with other believers all week long.
But donít we need regular fellowship?
I wouldnít say we need it. If we were in a place where we couldnít find other believers, Jesus certainly would be able to take care of us. Thus, Iíd phrase that a bit differently: Will people who are growing to know the Living God also desire real and meaningful connections with other believers? Absolutely! The call to the kingdom is not a call to isolation. Every person Iíve ever met who is thriving in thelife of Jesus has a desire to share authentic fellowship with other believers. They realize that whatever they know of Godís life is just in part, and only the fullest revelation of him is in the church. But sometimes that kind of fellowship is not easy to find. Periodically on this journey we may go through times when we canít seem to find any other believers who share our hunger. Thatís especially true for those who find that conforming to the expectations of the religious institutions around them diminishes their relationship with Jesus. They may find themselves excluded by believers with whom theyíve shared close friendship. But no one going through a
time like this looks upon the time as a treat. It is incredibly painful and they will constantly look for other hungry believers with whom they can share the journey. My favorite expression of body life is where a group of people chooses to walk together for a bit of the journey by cultivating close
friendships and learning how to listen to God together.
Donít we need to be committed to a local fellowship?
That has been said so often today, that most of us assume it is in the Bible somewhere. I havenít found it yet. Many of us have been led to believe that we canít possibly survive without the Ďcovering of thebodyí and will either fall into error or backslide into sin. But doesnít that happen inside our local congregations as well? I know many people who live outside those structures and
find not only an ever-deepening relationship with God, but also connections with other believers that run far deeper than they found in the institution. I havenít lost any of my passion for Jesus or my affection for his church. If anything those have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. Scripture does encourage us to be devoted to one another not committed to an institution. Jesus indicated that whenever two or three people get together focused on him, they would experience the vitality of church life. Is it helpful to regularly participate in a local expression of that reality? Of course! But we make a huge mistake when we assume that fellowship takes place just because we attend the same event together, even regularly, or because we belong to the same organization.
Fellowship happens where people share the journey of knowing Jesus together. It consists of open, honest sharing, genuine concern about each otherís spiritual well being and encouragement for people to follow Jesus however he leads them.
Why I donít go to church anymore. by Wayne Jacobsen But donít our institutions keep us from error? Iím sorry to burst your bubble here, but every major heresy that has inflicted Godís people for the last 2,000 years has come from organized groups with Ďleadersí who thought they knew Godís mind better than anyone around them. Conversely, virtually every move of God among people hungering for him was rejected by the Ďchurchí of that day and were excluded, excommunicated or executed for following what God put on their heart. If that is where you hope to find security, Iím afraid it is sorely misplaced. Jesus didnít tell us that Ďgoing to churchí would keep us safe, but that trusting him would. John the apostle told that each of us has an anointing of the Spirit so that we would know the difference between truth and error. That anointing is cultivated as we learn his ways in his Word and grow closer to his heart. Doing so will help you recognize when groups of believers become destructive or manipulative.
So are traditional congregations wrong?
Absolutely not! I have found many of them with people who love God and are seeking to grow in his ways. I visit a couple of dozen different congregations a year that I find are far more centered
on relationship than religion. Jesus is at the center of their life together, that those who act as leaders are true servants and not playing politics of leadership, and that all are encouraged to minister to one another. I pray that even more of them are renewed in a passion for Jesus, a genuine concern for each other and a willingness to serve the world with Godís love. But I think weíd have to admit that these are rare in our communities and many only last for a short span before they unwittingly look to institutional answers for the needs of the body instead of remaining dependent on Jesus. When that happens do not feel condemned if God leads you not to go along with them.
So should I stop going to church, too?
Iím afraid that question also misses the point. You see I donít believe youíre going to church any more than I am. Weíre just part of it. Be your part, however Jesus calls you to and wherever he
places you. Not all of us grow in the same environment. If you gather with a group of believers at a specific time and place and that participation helps you grow closer to Jesus and allows you to follow his work in you, by all means donít think you have to leave. Keep in mind, however, that of itself is not the church. It is just one of many expressions of it in the place where you live.
Donít be tricked into thinking that just because you attend its meetings you are experiencing real body life. That only comes as God connects you with a handful of brothers and sisters with whom you can build close friendships and share the real ups and downs of this journey. That can happen among traditional congregations, as it can also happen beyond them. In the last seven years Iíve
met hundreds if not thousands of people who have grown disillusioned with traditional congregations and are thriving spiritually as they share Godís life with others, mostly in their homes.
Then meeting in homes is the answer?
Of course not! But letís be clear: as fun as it is to enjoy large group worship and even be instructed by gifted teachers, the real joy of body life canít be shared in huge groups. The church for its first 300 years found homes the perfect place to gather. They are much more suited to the dynamics of family which is how Jesus described his body. But meeting in homes is no cure-all. Iíve been to some very sick home meetings and met in facilities with groups who shared an authentic body life together. But the time I spend in regular body life I want to spend face to face with
hungry people who are being transformed by Jesus. I know it isnít popular today where people find it is far easier to sit through a finely tuned (or not so finely-tuned) service and go home without ever having to open up their lives or take an interest in someone elseís journey. But ultimately what matters most to me is not where or how they meet, but whether or not people are focused on
Jesus and really helping each other on the journey to becoming like him. Meetings are less the issue here than the quality of relationships. I am always looking for people like that wherever I am and always rejoice when I find them.
Arenít you just reacting out of hurt?
I suppose that is possible and time will tell, I guess, but I honestly donít believe so. Anyone who is engaged in real body life will get hurt at times. But there are two kinds of hurt. Thereís the kind of pain that points to a problem that can be fixed with the right careósuch as a badly sprained
ankle. Then thereís the kind of pain that can only be fixed by pulling awayóas when you put your hand on a hot stove. Perhaps all of us have experienced some measure of pain as we have tried to fit Godís life into institutions. For a long time most of us hung in there hoping if we tweaked a
few things it would get better. Though we could be successful in limited ways during moments of renewal, we also discovered that eventually the conformity an institution demands and the freedom people need to grow in Christ are at odds with one another. It has happened with virtually every group formed throughout the history of Christianity. It is far more important that our children
experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick childrenís program. He didnít talk about it as a place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and others in his family.
Are you looking for the perfect church?
No, and I donít anticipate finding one this side of eternity. Perfection is not my goal, but finding people with Godís priorities. Itís one thing for people to struggle toward an ideal they share together. Itís another to realize that our ideals have little in common. I make no secret of the fact that I am deeply troubled by the state of organized Christianity. The vast majority of what we call Ďchurchí today offers nothing more than well-planned performances with little actual connection between believers. Many believers are mistakenly encouraged to become dependent on the system or its leadership rather than on Jesus himself. They spend more energy conforming behavior
to what the institution needs rather than helping people be transformed at the foot of the cross!
Iím tired of trying to fellowship with people who only view church as a two-hour a week dumping ground for guilt while they live the rest of the week with the same priorities as the world. Iím tired of those who depend on their own works of righteousness but who have no compassion for the people of the world. Iím tired of insecure people using the Body of Christ as an extension of their own ego and will manipulate it to satisfy their own needs. Iím tired of sermons more filled with the bondage of religion than the freedom of Godís love and where relationships take a back seat to the demands of an efficient institution.
But donít our children need church activities?
Iíd suggest that what they need most is to be integrated into Godís life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of children who grow up in Sunday schools, with all the puppets and high-powered entertainment, leave Ďchurchí when they leave their parentsí home. Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need to demonstrate how to live in Godís life together.
Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal friendships with nonparent adults. No Sunday school can fill that role. I know of one community in Australia, who after 20 years of sharing Godís life together as families, could say that they had not lost one child from the faith as they grew into adulthood. I know I cut across the grain here, but I am convinced it is far more important that our children experience
real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick childrenís program.
What dynamics of body life do you look for?
Iím always looking for a people who are seeking to follow the Living Christ. He is at the center of their lives, their affections and their conversation. They look to be authentic and free with others, to hurt when they hurt, to question what they question and to follow his voice without others accusing them of being divisive or rebellious. I look for people who are not wasting their money on extravagant buildings or flashy programs; where people sitting next to each other are not strangers; and where they all participate in sharing Godís life instead of watching passively from a safe distance.
Arenít you giving people an excuse to sit home and do nothing?
I hope not, though I know it is a danger. I realize some people who leave traditional congregations end up abusing that freedom to satisfy their own desires and thus miss out on church life altogether. Neither am I a fan of Ďchurch hoppersí, who whip around to one place after another looking for the latest fad or the best opportunity to fulfill their own selfish desires. But most of the people I meet and talk with are not outside the system because they have lost their passion for Jesus or his people, but only because the traditional congregations near them couldnít satisfy their hunger for relationship. They are seeking authentic expressions of body life and pay an incredible cost to seek it out. Believe me, we would all find it easier just to go with the flow, but once youíve tasted of living fellowship between passionate believers, it is impossible to settle for anything less.
Isnít this view of church divisive?
Not of itself! People make it divisive when they demand that people conform to their interpretation of truth. Most of us on this journey are accused of being divisive because freedom can be threatening to those who find their security in a religious system. But must of us arenít trying to recruit others to leave their congregations. We see the body of Christ big enough to encompass Godís people however he calls them to gather. One of the things often said about traditional church is that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American culture. We only meet with people who look like we do and like things the way we do. Iíve found now that I have far more opportunity to get with people from a broader cross-section of his body. I donít demand others do it my way and I hope in time that those who see it differently will stop demanding we conform to theirs.
Where can I find that kind of fellowship?
Thereís no easy answer here. It might be right in front of you among the fellowship youíre already in. It might be down the street in your neighborhood or across a cubicle at work. If, like me, you are looking for this depth of fellowship, rest assured you are not alone. If youíd like to talk more about it and see what God might do in our area, please let me know.
WAYNE JACOBSEN was a pastor for 20 years and currently acts as a Contributing Editor to Leadership Journal. He travels the world helping people discover the simplicity of cultivating a
friendship with God and experience the joy of relational body life. He is the author of He Loves Me, The Naked Church and In My Fatherís Vineyard. You can find out more at his web site: www.lifestream.org
You can also find it in compassionate outreaches to the needy and broken in your locality as a way to live out his life in you and meet others with a similar hunger. Donít expect this kind of fellowship to fall easily into an organization. It is organic, and Jesus can lead you to it right where
you are. Look for him to put a dozen or so folks around your life with whom you can share the journey. They may not even all go to the same congregation you do. They might be neighbors or
coworkers who are following after God.
Wouldnít that kind of interconnection among Godís people yield some incredible fruit? Donít expect it to be easy or run smoothly. It will take some specific choices on our part to be obedient to Jesus. It may take some training to shake off old habits and be free to let him build his community around you, but it is all worth it. I know it bothers some people that I donít take my regular place in a pew on Sunday morning, but I can tell you absolutely that my worst daysoutside organized religion are still better than my best days inside it. To me the difference is like listening to someone talk about golf or actually taking a set of clubs out to a course and playing golf. Being his church is like that. In our day we donít need more talk about the church, but people who are simply ready to live in its reality.
People all over the world are freshly discovering how to do that again. You can be one of them as you let him place you in his body as he desires. Every person Iíve ever met who is thriving
in the life of Jesus has a desire to share authentic fellowship with other believers.