|The Barnabas Ministry
Life After Church- God's Call to Disillusioned
Brian Sanders offers an insightful and
surprisingly candid discussion about the disillusionment
many Christians feel about churches.
Sanders is not directing his remarks to those
experiencing abuse, but rather to a set of Christians
who need to move on from their current church to be
faithful to God. Consider reasons he cites for people
leaving churches in such a way (p. 34-48):
He refers to such Christians as "leavers," those
who need to leave as an outgrowth of their spiritual
maturity and a result of a divinely-orchestrated
invitation to the next stage of their faithful Christian
lives. Sanders briefly mentions Barna's
"revolutionaries" (see review of George Barna's "Revolution"
for more) in his discussion. While Barna focuses on the
legitimacy of such "revolutionaries" to others, Sanders
helps the would-be revolutionary wrestle with this
I think there are profound reasons for this-- the needs of young Christians are easily met in a group setting that need not deal with them in a particularly individual way. There has also been extensive research and attention paid to reaching the "unchurched" and getting them involved in church at this level.
But for older Christians-- God has something fairly complex and individual in store for them, given their unique experiences, gifts, convictions and the like. Outlets of such passions and calling are extremely individual and just don't fit what most modern churches do. Of course, it's also nearly impossible for church leaders to orchestrate and manage such things. (But church leaders ought to pay attention to these things; just about everybody in their churches will eventually go through this phase.)
Sanders struck a particular chord with me in his
observation that we all need to feel like our life
matters, that our service counts. This is discussed as a
part of point 4 above, having nothing "meaningful" to
do. There is plenty to do, but if something has no
meaning for the doer, how does it fit with what God is
leading them towards?
Churches that are being left often make an assumption about the development of believers: that once someone has been a Christian for some years, she need only apply herself to the work of the church; she ceases to have specific and acute spiritual needs of her own. This might suffice if the work of the church is participation in reaching the lost or serving the poor. But too often stage two for a would-be maturing Christian is to serve in the parking lot or to work in the nursery on Sunday morning. Both of these jobs are honorable and valuable, but are they the place of growth, purpose and mission for which believers were created? (p. 35)
Radical leavers dream of a church that isn't just about them. Many of us are tired of being coaxed into the maze of meeting our own needs; we never find our way to the end. The whole world seems to be saying, "Look out for yourself; take care of yourself, satisfy your every desire." And the church is no different. The pressure we feel is to find a church that meets our needs, feeds us, gives us what we want ...
... The best thing
about being missional is the liberation from the tyranny
of constant self-interest....
I don't want a church
to cater to me as the consumer. I want the church to
fulfill its mission and help me find a way to be a part
of it. The irony is that, of all our needs, the one most
profound is our need to fulfill our God-given identity
and calling. Being engaged in the mission of God,
fulfilling the commission God has given to you and me,
is our destiny. It's the thing that will most satisfy
us. (p. 106-107)
Sanders doesn't focus on the weaknesses of institutional churches other than to illustrate the void that many leavers experience. Like many of us "leavers" he realizes such churches have their place, but there also comes a time to follow God's call beyond them. His objective is to help the reader hear the voice of God in the midst of the bewildering, "I don't fit here anymore, this is so empty" feelings that mature Christians experience as they grow.
Sanders raises an interesting discussion on the
question of staying or leaving:
The point of leaving is
to find somewhere to stay. (p. 120)
Sanders offers some great tips on evaluating whether to stay or leave (p. 123-126)
For his part, Sanders advocates "micro-churches"
that fulfill what he considers to be the critical
elements that constitute a church: worship, community
and mission. Stripping away the overhead many
institutional churches have, a micro-church allows
people to worship, experience community together and
supports these individualized missions. He doesn't go on
a lengthy discussion about this; the main focus of the
book is on helping leavers understand that their hurt
and emptiness in leaving is pointing to something new
that God is likely wanting to do with them.
Sander's analysis is colored with some emerging church type thought, which has its pros and cons. For example, I agree with his concerns about the church being a building-centered Christian separatist enclave, telling a hurting world "just come here and we'll help you." There are a host of problems with that sort of thinking, not the least of which is that it's not found in the Bible. The church needs to be more organic than that.
But on the other side, he also writes of desires
to see a perfect society (not just the church) that
reflects the "kingdom of God." This would be
characterized by "justice" and other idealistic things.
But if we can't build perfect churches, how in the
world can we work to build the perfect world he
suggests? Not to mention that I'm not even sure we can
define "justice." And, why is justice the overriding
concern? Why not righteousness? Why not love? Why not
peace? Why not freedom! Alas, this whole discussion is
beyond the scope of this review but it illustrates my
concerns with such assertions. (You may want to check
out D.A. Carson's excellent "Becoming Conversant
with the Emerging Church" for more discussion of
In any case, Sander's effort is helpful to those
wrestling with leaving a church. Often, the problems
people have in the church experience don't have to do
with the specifics of the people or programs but with
the very nature of modern churches. Stepping back and
looking at such situations in a more general way may be
tremendously helpful for many people.
Trying to change a church to be what we think it
should be, or need it to be, is usually an exercise in
"kicking against the goads" (Acts 26:14). Sanders'
advice is helpful here:
My advice to those of
us who long for church that is the kingdom is not to
reform the existing church; leave that alone. Instead
try to be the church. (p. 177)
Go get 'em, leavers.
Find a new identity in what we are called to build. Bind
yourselves together, pick your battles and care about
the kingdom first. (p. 181)
Life After Church will be helpful to those wrestling with leaving a church and pondering the next stage of their spiritual lives when they are not subject to severe mistreatment or abuse.
|Copyright © 2009 John
Engler. All rights reserved.
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