I feel really stuck.
Its a more personal post this week, about where I’m at:
I know much of it is a consequence of my choices, but it just seems like a raw deal.
I am 30 now. It seems everyone my age is on their career path already, or something at least similar to what they will end up doing. Many people change their career streams but perhaps not as drastically as I have recently. It really does feel like I threw all my eggs into one basket… only to find the basket was actually a food blender.
At some stage, along the way, I settled in for a life time of service to the Institution of church; an existence of small salaries and long hours, and truth be told I was happy to do it. I felt called to do it. I still do, although things have changed somewhat now. I spent 10 years studying and becoming a professional minister. I think I was good at it too, but like many others, who people don’t like to mention in churches anymore, I became disillusioned with the Western Institution of Church.
You think I’m the first? You’d be sadly mistaken.
Here’s an interesting fact: of the 32 people who started out with me in my class at Baptist College, only 3 are now Pastors in churches. The rest of us just could not match up what we read in scripture with what we saw in many of the churches we worked for. It caused untold tension (I know because many of us often speak about it). Some of us gave up the bigger picture and settled in for a lifetime of up-holding the Institution, along with all its flaws, never questioning because our livelihoods were at stake. Some (like me) tried to join in and change things from the inside; giving a picture of what things could be, but always being told to sit down and shut up by those who had something to lose, or those who feared change. Some walked away whilst at College because they couldn’t do it. It hit us all at different times, and in different ways, and for different reasons.
Now many of you who are happy in your churches will be thinking that these people, and others I know like them, walked away from God, and they’re actually heathens. I suppose you have to think that, because if they’re not people who have turned their back on God, then you have to admit that maybe they see something you don’t, and then, just maybe, you have to take an honest look at the way things are. I hate to burst your bubble again but these guys are some of the most Godly people I know. One is running a school for handicapped orphans in the Drakensberg. Three are teaching English in the Far East. I recently watched a film made by one of the guys of the slums in Kenya which he made to create awareness of the situation there. One guy works running an AIDS clinic in East London. One guy trains teams to travel to churches and build up their youth ministries. One guy runs as sports ministry to under privileged kids. I could go on but the point is that they all struggle with Western Institutional Church… not because they don’t love God and what He’s trying do, but maybe because they love what He wants to do so much that they won’t give up on the dream of a restored world, and swap it out for Institutional mediocrity. When I take a look at the big picture; what they do feels more like Jesus.
I know this is hard to hear, and I sound like a judgmental ass, but I hope you see past that… my judgmental ass that is:) I don’t dislike church. Of course I don’t! I love the idea of people who follow God, getting together to grow their spirituality and change the world… that’s church! I just think that what we call ‘church’ (local western-style churches) have become so distracted and defensive that they have given up on some of their purpose. And its gotten so bad that people seem to want to stick their heads in the sand instead of facing the uncomfortable stuff to be make sure they are on track.
The reactions to these blog posts are a case in point:
Some, who have left church already, are writing to me saying, “YES! Thats what I wanted to say but didn’t know how to, and no one ever really listened to me.” Why don’t we actually listen to guys like this? What are we scared of?
Some who are happy in their churches, end up vehemently defending their brand of church asking ‘how I could be saying this stuff’, because ‘look at my church and how great we are’. I’m sure you are, and I’m genuinely glad you’re happy, but maybe you could still take an honest look at some of this stuff with me?
And a precious few, brave souls are at least willing to ask the questions with me so that maybe, just maybe, a more effective, more God-honouring church can someday soon rise out of the self seeking masses. These are the guys who give me hope; those who are happy in their churches but still have a holy discontent for more and better, and if it means asking the uncomfortable questions then so be it.
I say this because I believe nothing will change until some brave churches are willing to acknowledge their mistakes, not explain them away, and then make the radical changes needed to set things right and get back on track. I don’t have the answers but I feel the tension… and I know I’m not alone. The big reason I am taking this break from church (in its typical form) is because my spiritual director gave me some great advice just before I left my job at the church. He said, “You need to take some proper space now, and work out what you think about things, because heaven forbid you just start up another church that just looks slightly different from the rest. The global mainline church is in big trouble”, he said, “ and we need some prophets to try and see a way forward.” I want to be one of those, if its not too arrogant to admit, BECAUSE I love God, and still think that those following Him (the Church) are the hope of the world.
Here are a few very loose and random thoughts so far:
1. What if a church met in a venue which cost them no money?
2. What if a church had no paid staff, but leaders led for free, and everyone served just to make it work as an organic community?
3. What if a church still collected the money people wanted to give to God, but ALL of it went to meeting the reals need of people and making the community around them a better place (instead of the measly 10%-15% we allocate on most church budgets)?
4. What if we let down our walls of paranoia and superiority, and spoke to people of different denominations (and dare I say it, different religions) to see what we can learn and how we can connect? You don’t have to give up your beliefs to learn something from someone who isn’t like you.
So practically speaking, this is why I’m stuck:
I’m committed to this process of working through my issues with ‘western church’ to try and see a way forward, and then be part of the solution. I don’t know what that looks like but I do know that I have to avoid just jumping at the first church job that comes my way because it will stall this internal process. I also know I need a job and no one else really wants to hire me in this ‘Affirmative-Action’, ‘too-much-experience’, ‘too-little-experience’, ‘we’re-in-a-recession’ economic climate. I want to do this process properly. I want to keep speaking to friends who are helping me bounce thoughts around. I want to keep writing this blog and hearing your feedback. I want to finish this book I’m writing. I want to keep on thrashing this out with my ‘Spiritual Dads’. But I know that if I took another job with a church I would have to give it all up and settle in to tow the line.
I really don’t know what to do.