Andrew Alleyne wrote a piece called, “I hate church“, which garnered considerable feedback. Andrew doesn’t hate church steeples, but was referring to the things inside — the people. (I gather from his satirical take on church he truly doesn’t in fact hate anybody.)
Unfortunately, he hasn’t described anything new. Churchgoers are notorious for either explicitly spewing the most vitriolic opinions that contradict their fundamental beliefs, or implicitly engage in passive aggressive behaviour to shame or distance themselves from someone who doesn’t look or act the same.
There’s no shortage of reasons to hate church people. A book I recently read called ‘Child Catchers‘ describes (in vivid polarity) the brokenness in the Christian adoption industry. This industry is almost exclusively supported by American evangelical powerhouse denominations and combines lucrative profit coupled with borderline child trafficking packaged under the guise of the ‘will of God’. If this industry (and the people who run it) don’t upset you then nothing will. Egregious church activities (industries) such as these generally get lumped together as fodder for the overall disdain for organized religion.
There IS, thankfully, a difference between manipulative religious systems and certain forms of church community.
When you combine the simple and subversive message of Jesus as the pinnacle of the restorative narrative God has for creation, you wind up with a different expression of church.
The question for churchgoers is how to deal with the difference.
Andrew’s post goes down this road, (he ultimately does not advocate leaving the church, his livelihood depends on it after all), and to cynical readers at the crossroads in their church journey the solution would seem to be stop going to church.
I advocate this is bad response, at least in part.
Not Giving up Church When Giving up Church
Part of the culture surrounding missional church involves casting away the shackles of lazy or fundamentalist conventional church and replacing it with simple community in the neighbourhood.
The problem I’ve seen? This reaction leaves these unique sojourners alone AND, I would argue somewhat ironically, inadequately addresses the necessity for church community. Many would disagree with me–church is no longer a necessity and therefore not an important pursuit in the rhythm of life. The argument would be, the few things that church offers one can recreate with a select group of friends who resonate with the same pursuits, life, and schedule.
I argue the opposite is true.
Too often church planters, or just folks tired of vain religious routine, detract from their own spiritual formation under the guise of “simple community” or house church. Escaping bad ‘Christians’ is one thing, but robust Christianity is utterly and completely based on robust community. Any community full of best friends is great, but I have to believe that Christ-centered community is better. What does that mean? Simply put, this community takes love beyond the place where everyone else would stop–and then one step more.
Can that be a small house church network in the neighbourhood? Certainly, it can. But outside of the persecuted church, staying small and discreet in the neighbourhood detracts from the overall potential of a broader church community. To put it another way, if you have the capability to gather with a wider community, and your only excuse is busyness, then your perspective of church is too narrow. (Alternatively some may not have any perspective of church deeming it largely unnecessary, in those instances I revert back to the idea that holistic church community is far better for personal and familial spiritual formation than none at all).
I’m not suggesting a weekly gathering, even bi-weekly. I don’t know what the routine should be. I don’t know how far the ‘wider’ community should stretch, after all, I’m a huge advocate for incarnating IN the neighbourhood with neighbourhood people.
But there’s also power in numbers, numbers of people on the same pursuit to become participants in the unfolding Kingdom of love, justice, beauty, and hope. Those kinds of people are out there, we just need to look for them, or if we’ve found them, hang on for dear life.