Monday, June 30, 2008

Life After Church

I'm back home now after speaking at a weekend retreat in Maryland for a church from Virginia. It was a good weekend, though a little draining. I gave a brief introduction and devotion Friday night, and three talks on suburban stuff (Saturday morning, Saturday evening, Sunday morning). Focused a bit on consumerism and materialism, since this church happens to be in the wealthiest county in the U.S., and we talked about ways that Christians can be good neighbors, seek the welfare of their suburbs and be a gift to their community. Plus I did a Saturday afternoon seminar on relationships/dating/singleness/marriage, and we had a separate impromptu open mike Q&A session. So I was pretty worn out by the end. But it was a good time, and I enjoyed getting to know folks. And I was amused that the retreat center had a coffeeshop called HeBrews.

A few months ago I read Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians by Brian Sanders, and I meant to post some quotes from it but didn't get around to it earlier. Most of us at some point have situations where we wonder, "Should I stay or should I go?" Sanders's book is a good resource for helping sort all that out. Here are some nice quotes:
“There are only two healthy choices when it comes to our relationships with a church or ministry. One, we stay in that ministry, fully engaged in its vision and loving everyone involved. Two, we leave to find a place where we can be fully engaged in the mission and vision and love everyone involved. Either choice is good. But too many of us believe there are also choices three and four. Three, we stay but hate it, constantly complaining and feeling unhappy with the vision (or lack of vision) of the leaders and even ourselves in that context. Or four, we leave angry, only to isolate ourselves and actually become less committed to God in the leaving.

“I advocate staying and leaving. Stay if you can do it in a joyful, hopeful way. Stay if you can fully support the ministry and its leaders. If not, leave. But don’t leave God or community or mission. These things make us who we are. They should be a part of our lives because they are rivers of living water and tributaries of God’s grace for us.” (p. 121)

“[A]nother staff supervisor was listening to me talk about how this thing or that thing needed to change. He said, ‘Brian, you may be right in what you’re saying, but you are not right. It’s okay to tip over the apple cart from time to time, but a real follower of Jesus would stick around and help pick up the apples.’” (p. 146)


High Calling Blogs said...


Wise thoughts. Staying or going - no absolute answers there.

Brian Howell said...

Is it really so simple? Two options? What about a church that drives you crazy sometimes, that hurts and makes you angry, that is full of sinners, but whose vision you do support? I'm afraid the "stay if you can do it joyfully" line can become another version of "stay as long as it's working for you and you're feeling fulfilled."

I think our commitment to a church needs to be more like our commitment to marriage. Once you've committed, except in some extreme circumstances, we work it out. Yes, divorce happens, but it should be a last resort for defensible reasons.

Al Hsu said...

Brian - Yeah, it's never quite this clear, and maybe the Sanders quotes make it seem a bit too simple. I think that in general evangelicals need to get away from the church hopping/church shopping mindset and learn more about fidelity to a local congregation (and denomination or tradition as well).

But it's tricky. There are any number of reasons why people might leave a church, and different people at different stages of life might not yet have figured out their theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical identities. Ideally you settle into a church tradition and local congregation that reflects God's call on your life. But things can change.

Maybe it's less like marriage/divorce and more like extended family and all the complicated messiness of that. At some stages you might hang out more with your mom's side of the family. Other times with your dad's. Or you get to know your in-laws. Or occasionally go on a road trip with a crazy uncle. But you're still family.

Well, that's probably all that that metaphor can sustain, but yeah, in general we're better off learning disciplines of commitment and submission to tradition and local congregation rather than uprooting and switching whenever we feel like it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the apple cart analogy is good.

"If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem."