Leaving Church 2- discussions with Jason Clark…

(Part of a series of reflections around an exchange with Jason. The previous one was posted yesterday.)

open door, rock chapel

6. I’m not arguing for institutional church and reject the ‘black and white’ thinking that because we have buildings, staff, programs (alongside experiences and life changing growth), that what I say is aimed at promoting institutions. I actually believe we all believe to institutions, the current preference being for the self in consumer society. What imaginations drive the way we relate about church is what interests me the most.

You lost me a bit on that one I am afraid.

I think you may have been reacting a little to my suggestion that people who are part of large institutional Churches, with their paid staff and building/admin costs have a lot at stake when faced with people leaving. It is an understandable pressure on those whose life has been in faithful service of these institutions and each time someone leaves it can feel like a real kick where it hurts. It is hard to then maintain relationships and remain open to learning from that rather hurtful event. Those who remain will also likely see the leavers as having betrayed them in some way- they will now have become ‘the other’, and it will be a natural tendency to make easy judgments. Of course this works both ways. The end result is that the gap widens.

I would reiterate however that I am someone with a love for the Church- and am puzzled by my current situation on the outside (trying to find other ways to do church.) Gifted pastors are a treasure (I know several of them who need a pay rise) and in our climate a good roof is rather necessary.

But you also used that word ‘consumer’ again, as if leaving Church was primarily a consumer choice for most of us. Can I push you a little on this one too?

In an age where we have been hammered into being consumers above all else, it is not surprising that our Church members make consumer choices- including changing their religious outlet when better spiritual bargains come on the market elsewhere. But surely the same is true of those who stay. They are perhaps expressing consumer satisfaction- niche product though it may now be.

Are consumer choices not the main reason for individual Church growth in the UK? People leave to go somewhere else– where the music is better, the preaching more entertaining, the seats more comfortable, the congregation younger, trendier and more dateable. Are these always poor choices? Do we rail against this kind of consumerism when it delivers corporate success? (To be fair, I know that my friend Graham has really struggled with this in his Church.)

Also (and most crucially)- what alternative to consumerism is Church really offering? Is there a danger that we ask people to reject consumerism as far as church is concerned but change nothing else? Drive to church in the same cars, from the same big houses, full of the same gadgets? The logical extension of what you say might be to continue to attend a Church even if it tears you apart, as to NOT go would be to serve the institution of Consumerism.

There are other movements challenging consumerism head on- questioning the nature of our economic system, proposing cash-less transactions, time banks, trying to live simpler more sustainable lives based around shared common resources. I know Christians are involved in many of these movements but can you honestly say that Church is characterised by this kind of engaged criticism of the core of consumerism in our culture? I wish that we were, but most of our activists are fully engaged in something more pressing within the institution of Church…

Can we really complain of consumer choices within a Church that is fully participant in the consumer marketplace?

I would suggest that people (like me) leave Church for other reasons too. To categorise leavers as somehow having sold out to easy consumer choices might risk not listening what is going on at a deeper level. It also means that re-engagement with Church for people who have left is that much harder.

7. My post was not a diatribe against non attenders trying to get them to attend. The future of the church is not in attendance, but in participation. I just think people mistake non attendance with participation. We are all attending something weekly, and participating on ways of life, the only choice is what sets the agenda for that participation and regularity.

But given that your post was in relation to people attending corporate worship, what is the difference between attendance and participation? Can one participate without attending? The fact is that we attend less and less ‘club’ like activities as a nation- increasingly we live in interior spaces, with the odd foray into collectivised consumer ‘events’. I suspect that, like me, you would regard this as problematic on all sorts of levels, but it is a fairly well understood trend that Church has a few possible responses to;

  1. We can condemn it as another example of what is wrong with the sinful world.
  2. We can demonstrate an alternative in the form of a flowering of all that relational Holy Spirit fruit. People would then know the Church by the love we have for one another.
  3. We can take note of the new social landscape and start to re-imagine a Church that fits within it.

I would sadly suggest that there has been too much of 1, not enough of 2 and 3 is a work in poor progress. (This is a generalisation from my limited perspective, and is certainly not intended as a description of any one Church!)

8. I get tired of being pitted against fresh expressions, and consider my church to be one. But having new christians, sundays, and facilities means we are instantly labelled as institutional. Again a black and white correlation I don’t accept 🙂

Sorry if you felt that I did that in my earlier comments- I certainly did not mean to. I was more suggesting that the Fresh Expressions movement was an attempt to move Church away from corporate worship in the more traditional sense- as in meeting to sing and hear preaching in a large building.  Again, not that there is anything in the slightest bit wrong in doing just that, my suggestion was that the cat gets skinned in many different ways.

9. The state of the church in the UK is dire. If I wasn’t planting one, I’d probably struggle with the ones local to me. I hope I’d choose the one that offended me the least and let me serve, give, pray and engage in mission with others. I’d want to be part of the solution and not just walk away, which is what I hope I have done.

Me too.

But there might come a time when we all have to walk away. Your reason might be different to mine, but our hope is that the faith journey would not end there- rather we would be looking to start again.

We usually have to start small- with a few friends. Some of us will be carrying wounds and scars from the leaving. We may avoid using words like ‘Church’ and we will be suspicious of how people use power. What we start will be very fragile, shot through with the same imperfections as we are. Most of our projects will not survive- particularly without support from Church.

What this support looks like is unclear, but we will probably not be easy to support as we will be very sensitive to (perceived or actual) judgementalism. We will tend to keep away from those in Churches who do not understand the journey we have been on.

Church may chose to ignore us, watch us inevitably fail but this would be a dreadful mistake. Many of the people I have spoken to who find themselves outside Church are the very ones who have been the Church planters, the worship leaders, the youth workers, the street preachers, the messy church makers, the alternative worshipers. They burned out on Church, but are people of vast experience. They can not go back, but they might go forward with the right kind of encouragement.

10. Context is everything, and I fear people reading the comments here will do so without listening to my talk and the context within which it was made!

Fair point Jason. Observer bias in blogging is pretty hard to fight! I hope I have not been disrespectful of your comments in responding in the way that I have.

All the very best to you and yours.

5 thoughts on “Leaving Church 2- discussions with Jason Clark…

  1. Chris – over the last few days you have articulated my feelings about church in a way that I probably wouldn’t have been able. Jesus didn’t become incarnate to create church. The word used in the bible translated to be “church” doesn’t mean church as we know it. The early church was a movement and not an institution. They first had to stop and thing a bout organising themselves to make sure that poor widows got fed, so appointed 7 to oversee that, whilst 12 carried on spreading the Good News.

    The way I see it, Christians can have a great relationship with God and with others through the organisational structure that church provides, but I think any organisation and/or structure can have it’s downsides, and the longer it has been an institution the more baggage/dirt/scandal it can accumulate, so it seems. There is also the issue of the amount of energy adn money taken to maintain institutions.

    So, I’d say to someone go to church if it helps you be closer to God, to see God in others, to be a sheep and not a goat. It’s good to celebrate and sing (though the Jews only had a big gatherings a few times a year) but when that becomes the focus then I think we’ve lost sight of what Jesus manifesto was – the Beatitudes and that bit in Isaiah about freeing the oppressed, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind.

    If singing in a big group is the main expression of love for God for someone- what are you going to say to Him when you meet Him?
    God: “So how have you loved Me?”
    Me: Well I’be sung songs really passionately, and even cried a few times
    God: But how have you loved me?
    ME: Well I’ve told You I love you and really, really, really meant it
    God: But how have you loved me?
    Me: Errrr…
    God: You know what I am going to ask, don’t you?
    Me: Did I visit you in prison? Clothe you when you were naked? Feed you when you were hungry?
    God: Did you never read about my friend Amos?
    Me: Am I allowed in anyway?

    Well, I’m afraid I am too rebellious and fed up with hypocrisy for institutional church. Currently trying to work out if I can be a follower of Jesus without even going to Fresh Expression of church, just through the way that I live in my own community (like a solitary missionary would). I can’t stand the baggage and the consumerism that Chris has articulated.

    So if church is good – great. But I’m not sure it’s for me…

  2. whether a believer with a renewed heart can only renew its mind as a member of a church..

    but first what i think are signs that those who might claim to have a mature mind
    and thus able to fully discern matters of good and evil

    essential to a renewed mind
    i think is that they accept the bible as divinely inspired guidance for the church

    Heb 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
    Heb 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
    Heb 5:10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
    Heb 5:11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
    Heb 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
    Heb 5:13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
    Heb 5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

    the renewed mind too in terms of this bible passage..
    Rom 11:20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
    Rom 11:21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
    Rom 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
    Rom 11:23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
    Rom 11:24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
    Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
    Rom 11:26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

    AN ASPECT OF THIS MYSTERY
    i think is that israel is symbolic of the conscious mind …also symbolically ..THE MAN
    and gentiles as the subconscious mind or heart or woman

    THE FULNESS OF THE GENTILES COME IN
    as when a believer has purged all its remaining indwelling sins
    as a renewed heart alone is not yet a purified and perfected heart
    till it has been purged of all its remaining indwelling sins.
    yes..a believer’s sins are covered by the shed blood of jesus
    but it has not yet met jesus in the air..
    AIR AS SYMBOLIC OF THE CONSCIOUS MIND
    AND WATER OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS ..RECORD MIND OF THE SOUL’S PAST

    also what a believer with the renewed mind would know i think
    [meaning thus that i have not yet achieved said renewed mind
    but nevertheless feel sure i know some of the things
    those with a renewed mind would not disavow and would accept]
    is that indeed it was the suffering of jesus as one without sin
    who made salvation available to all humanity..
    but too that by such as reincarnation
    that all human souls will eventually be restored
    to their original glorified soul body..
    and that those who lack maturity as believers
    can not enter the kingdom of god…god the father
    but can enter the kingdom of heaven …of god the mother..
    because they are not yet fully learned all the lessons of the holy spirit..
    but god the mother aka THE HOLY SPIRIT..
    does allow into her kingdom
    all believers ……
    perhaps too good hearted people
    who perhaps did not accept jesus
    due to the misrepresentation of the bible by way of the church’s false dogmas

    in this regard perhaps the church
    has become to some degree as being of the world
    and as the h jews who rejected the messiah
    and as the jews who persecuted believers
    to some degree today’s church can be as the jews who persecuted jesus and believers

    in terms of reincarnation many of the early church fathers accepted reincarnation..

    in terms of reincarnation
    one of the best delineations of such
    i think is by way of the edgar cayce material
    wherein it says that
    joshua ..the high priest in zechariah
    was an incarnation of jesus …his 29th incarnation i think ..according to cayce..
    an interesting passage on this from zechariah..
    that suggests as applicable of how jesus was born without sin
    Zec 3:1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
    Zec 3:2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
    Zec 3:3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
    Zec 3:4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
    Zec 3:5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.
    Zec 3:6 And the angel of the LORD protested unto Joshua, saying,
    Zec 3:7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.

    so then whether as jesus was a jew and attended synagogue
    if a believer should to belong to a church and attend….
    bearing in mind what happened when he went on the sabbath to the synagogue in narzareth…

    Luk 4:13 And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
    Luk 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
    Luk 4:15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.
    Luk 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
    Luk 4:17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
    Luk 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
    Luk 4:19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
    Luk 4:20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
    Luk 4:21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
    Luk 4:22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
    Luk 4:23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
    Luk 4:24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
    Luk 4:25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
    Luk 4:26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
    Luk 4:27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
    Luk 4:28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
    Luk 4:29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
    Luk 4:30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way,
    Luk 4:31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days.
    Luk 4:32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.
    Luk 4:33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,
    Luk 4:34 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.
    Luk 4:35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not.
    Luk 4:36 And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.
    Luk 4:37 And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about.

    well perhaps enuf speculations for now ….

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