Why she walked out of church
6 September 2008 13 Comments
This post is largely a follow up to Church is Good for Sketching from 30 May 2008.
The entry is a fun rant to read for people like me who sense that the American way of “doing” church is significantly off base in 2008. I can’t back the author, Julie Neidlinger of Hamden, North Dakota, on everything she says, but she admits — like I did in my May post — that she can’t exactly put her finger on what’s really bothering her about Sunday mornings. For instance, referencing her entry, I have no sense that males who grew up in Evangelical churches retain a youth group mentality until they’re 35. This is an interesting hypothesis (in her case, observation), but not something I’ve seen.
I laughed out loud when I read this sentence: “If I see another cool Bible college student or pastoral studies major wearing the hemp choker necklace, flip-flops, open-at-the-collar shirt that’s untucked, and baggy jeans, saying words like ‘dude’ and ‘sweet,’ I will kick their ass.” It reminded me of a friend’s comment regarding a recent Christian college graduate who gave off the impression that he was only concerned with his own coolness, and nothing else. Julie got a lot of flack for this sentiment though, from a lot of people who apparently read her post too quickly and missed her point.
As I left a comment on her blog, letting her know she wasn’t alone in the midst of that critical response she received to her post, I worked out a little bit of my own struggle with the way church is done.
I’ve grown up evangelical, in fundamentalist, non-denominational churches best described as a combination of Baptist and E-free. I still love the people in these places, but the last couple years I’ve found myself craving the other two ends of the church spectrum: High church or a house church.
House church: Transparency, accountabilty, relationship
I’ve never been part of a house church, but I’ve been a part of a number of small groups that I believe (in my ignorance) function like a house church might ideally function. These intimate groups generally offer three important things that my non-denominational experience normally fails to provide.
Transparency is one such thing, although I understand this can often depend on culture and personality as much as how to do church. I’m generally the kind of person that lets it all out (to my wife’s chagrin on occasion), and like for other people to do the same in an effort to know them better. Regardless, it seems to me that smaller groups foster closer relationships — another aspect of the house church missing in larger congregational settings — which in turn promote greater transparency.
This ties into more accountability. Christians are people too. We’re selfish, angry, lusty and hurtful by nature, and we need to fess up. It’s healthy, as James reminds us in his epistle (chapter five, verse sixteen), to confess to one another. I’m a better person when I’m in accountable relationships, which are sometimes quite difficult to come by as a guy. I’ve experienced them enough in my life though to know that I’m a hurtin’ unit when I don’t have them.
High church: Reverence, beauty, structure
When I’m not thinking about joining a house church I’m thinking about joining a high church. High church possesses a reverence often missing in non-denominational services. The character of God is both jovial and awesome, personable and fearful. The jovial and personable aspects of God I get enough of during the week. On Sunday, I crave the awesome experience a more formal liturgy and organized service in a tailored building can provide.
I also crave the architecture — that designed beauty — often associated with a high church service. This isn’t a given, but it’s more likely to happen in an Episcopal or Catholic setting than an Evangelical one based on my experience and observation. Non-denominational congregations typically don’t spring for stone, stained glass, pipe organs etc.
High church liturgy also seems more likely to possess a structure that will foster a more desirable community and personal worship experience. This is somewhat theoretical on my part, having never spent an extended number of consecutive Sunday’s as part of such liturgy, but I like to think that a tighter service would help keep my mind from wandering as much as it sometimes does. I’ve become more interested in recent years in Sunday morning services being acutely God-focused and much less me-focused. I want the sermons to be intelligent and inspiring, but more than this I want them to be from and about God and Scripture. Humor and knowledgeable sermonizing is OK, but in moderation. And can’t God and Scripture be intelligent and inspiring on it’s own?
Why I haven’t walked out of church
I haven’t walked out like Julie has. I understand that a lot of the Christian life is discipline. We humans need discipline and structure, some more than others, as much as we need the ability to be spontaneous and creative. Balance is always hardest, but also always seems to me the best course of action. Therein, I regularly assemble as we’re instructed to in chapter ten of the book of Hebrews: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another . . . ”
And I like the people, even if some of the relationships aren’t at the level I’d prefer. It helps than I’m an extrovert and am energized by being around people.