It’s time to change the conversation, Ben.
This is my second attempt at posting a blog today that deals with the issue of what Ben calls “Rogue Christianity.” The first, I am sorry to say, was a little bit more rant than substance. It’s a hard topic for me to not rant about, because I’ve been there.
I’ve been the person who left church. I’ve been the person who didn’t want others to question that decision. I’ve been the person who rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t need the church in order to have faith.” And maybe those seem like flippant excuses to some. Maybe they are. But the point remains: I’ve been there.
And no matter what anyone says about it, I choose to default on the premise that most of the people who reject church or who reject Christianity do so for reasons that are much more complex than “I don’t need the church in order to have faith” or “I love God, that’s all that matters.” So treating the discussion as if these are really the issue…is as much part of the problem as anything, in my opinion.
Ah…I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to refer you to Ben’s blog for a moment to read his two pieces in the “Rogue Christianity” series. The first blog is simply titled, “Rogue Christianity.“ The second is titled, “Rogue Christianity: I Love God and That’s Enough.“
I don’t want to debate the several points that jump out at me on this topic, because frankly, that’s what caused my ranting in the previous blog that remains unpublished. Here’s where I want to go with this.
People are unique. People are not a “mishmash” of conversation. Now, before I do this…I want to state that I’m not picking on Ben. Well, maybe I am a little bit…but I’m allowed. I love and respect Ben for a lot of reasons, and I know that HE knows that individuals are not a mishmash as his example indicates. Nonetheless, I have to do this. We have to talk about the conversations.
Let’s look at the first one, posted on the original Rogue Christianity post:
“Do you go to church?”
“No, I haven’t gone in awhile.”
“I haven’t found one that really meets my needs.”
“Sooooo, who is holding you accountable? Where are you finding community? Who is leading you spiritually?”
“Well, I listen to a lot of online sermons, pray a lot on my own and I mean, really, what is the church anyway? It isn’t a building so when my friends and I gather, we are the church.”
I changed the color of the would-be-Ben in this dialogue because I get confused easily (I’m so dyslexic, dialogue makes me puke). Again, remembering that this is an EXAMPLE of a TYPE of conversation, not a word-for-word dialogue.
This dialogue offers two great things. First, the would-be-Ben asks specific questions about teaching and community. Second, the would-be-non-church-go-er answers the questions. We can debate whether the answers are good or not, but at least he answers!
What is missing from this dialogue? What’s missing, in my opinion, is this:
I am really sorry to hear that you haven’t found a church home. If you don’t mind my asking, what are some of the needs you’re referring to here that aren’t being met at the churches you’ve tried?
Maybe that seems dumb to everyone else, but to me, it’s a brilliant question that needs to be asked. Even if the result of the current conversation is a bomb, it gives the would-be-Ben in this case some ideas to take with him and pray about regarding his own church. And a lot of times, I think people’s needs aren’t met because the church doesn’t know there’s a need! Instead of figuring out who’s responsibility it is to mention needs, let’s jump at the opportunity to find out where we can minister to someone. If this were an actual conversation, the would-be-Ben would have a PERFECT opportunity to find out what the would-be-non-church-go-er is looking for, a perfect chance to glimpse his struggles and desires regarding his faith. This opens the door wide for ministry, for friendship, and for facilitating interaction with a church.
What if you asked the person about the needs, and he responded like this:
Well, I really have a lot of questions about doctrine and faith and how it all pertains to me. But it seems when I mention them, I am told to “just believe” or “not to doubt.” I would love to have an honest discussion about some of my questions.
Woah! Would-be-Ben! You’ve got a great opportunity here. You could attempt to answer all of his questions then and there, but better yet–you could offer to meet regularly with him to study and find the answers together. Suddenly, you are in the position of being that accountability he might need; suddenly, you are a voice of influence in his life; suddenly, you are someone he trusts and would listen to if you said, “hey, why don’t you come and worship with me this Sunday?”
My point here isn’t to correct Ben, because again–his example was a TYPE of conversation, not an actual dialogue; rather, my point is to get beyond the superficial issue (i.e.: John* is not attending church), and find out what you can do to impact or affect change in John’s life. And maybe you can’t. Maybe John is going to say, “look, I appreciate your concern, but bugger off.” That’s okay, too. But at least be honest enough to ask the real questions and not be so worried about whether John lives his faith the way we might think is “right.”
I said it before…I’ll say it again. This is a much bigger issue than people simply thinking they don’t need fellowship or teaching. People leave churches (and Christianity) for reasons–deep, delicate, personal reasons. I don’t know ANY Christian who simply feels they don’t “need” church. But I know many, many Christians who feel the church doesn’t need them; or who feel that the church is a joke; or who feel that the church doesn’t have anything to offer that can’t be found, for instance, on the internet.
Don’t make the mistake of letting church attendance be the issue. It’s not. It’s the symptom. Figure out the issue, put on your gear, and tackle it.
Oh, and…yes…Ben…you do need to be careful. You’re not dealing here with theories and ideas; you’re dealing with people created in the image of God. As Rich Mullins says,
We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, forged in the fires of human passions, choking on the fumes of selfish rage. And with these–our hells and our heavens–so few inches apart,we must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.
Let’s hear your voice…I want to know what you, my trusted Blog Viewers, think about this topic.
Pax Domini, my friends.
*”John” refers to the would-be-non-church-go-er. I just grew weary of typing all of that, and changed it to “John” for simplicity’s sake.