Why she walked out of church

This post is largely a follow up to Church is Good for Sketching from 30 May 2008.

My wife sent me an interesting link yesterday morning to a website called Lone Prairie Art Works. Specifically, she directed me to a blog entry on the website titled Why I Walked out of Church.

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.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

13 Responses to Why she walked out of church

  1. Tim J. says:

    Dude! Sweet post!

    Seriously… I really need to paint right now, and you throw this out there?

    I’ll be touching on some of these areas in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll just say that I was much more focused on doctrine, church history and theology during the time I first began to look at the Catholic church.

    Liturgy was the last thing on my mind, and I hadn’t even seen a Mass when I decided to become a Catholic. When I did start attending, I was a little, well, disappointed. I had a “Bells of St. Marys” sort of idea of what a Catholic church would be like, and it turned out that the local parish (and the priest) were very influenced by Protestant worship and modernist thought. The worship songs were the same as are sung at nearly every contemporary service in any church, only without the enthusiasm.

    The homily (sermon) was predictably bland (how important it is to be nice, basically), but on the rare occasions that the priest ventured into deeper waters, he undermined not only authentic Catholic teaching, but the fundamentals of any kind of historically recognizable Christianity at all.

    We soon left for a different parish that was more reliably Catholic, but never considered leaving the Church.

    What’s weird about Catholicism is that our heretics – rather than doing the honest thing and admitting they aren’t Catholics anymore – tend to stick around and maintain that they are the REAL Catholics (the New and Improved brand) here to liberate us from the Pope and the councils and our benighted attachment to ideas like heaven, hell, miracles and so on.

    Lesbian “nuns”, renegade priests, theologians who put forward – with a straight face – that Jesus COULDN’T have risen from the dead (that sort of thing being scientifically impossible) and so it is more reasonable to suppose that his body was, in fact, probably eaten by wild dogs.

    All these types hang out and refuse to leave (even after being excommunicated) because they enjoy the cachet of the Catholic handle. That and they feel they can do more damage to the Church from inside than from outside. I’m not kidding. Their aim is to destroy the Church, at least as it has been known throughout history.

    And then you have those on the opposite end of the spectrum – basically Catholic puritans – who will happily tell anyone that all non-Catholics are going to Hell and that current leadership is too cozy with “the Jews”. They don’t accept any Church teaching past about fifty years ago, they think the Mass is only valid and licit when done in Latin and the won’t read anything but the Douay-Rheims bible (like certain Evangelicals who don’t trust anything past the King James).

    So life in the Catholic Church is a constant battle. But the battle could be characterized as the defense of a great walled city, rather than a matter of confused, mingling and constantly shifting front lines on an open battlefield. There is something solid, real and unshakable at the center that can be defended with confidence – something one could feel sure about dying for.

    Oh, man, I’ve let this get too long. I guess I’ll go ahead and post this on my blog. Why should your readers be the only ones to suffer?

  2. Pingback: Why she walked out of church | Costly Confessions

  3. Jim Janknegt says:

    “I’ve become more interested lately in Sunday morning services being acutely God-focused and much less me-focused.”

    I converted to the Catholic church two Easters ago. As my understanding of Jesus real presence in the Eucharist has grown I greatly appreciate the Eucharist as the focus of the liturgy. The reality of Jesus presence in the consecrated bread and wine shapes the entire liturgy and indeed the entire church. If you are looking for a God-focused worship experience I encourage you to think about the doctrine of the real presence.

    I have experienced this sense of the objective reality of worship since Jesus presence IS objective and not dependent on what I am feeling on any particular Sunday. I feel a lot of freedom in that. Jesus presence is constant and the focus: the homily, the music, the community are all a distant second.

  4. pNielsen says:

    Jim,

    I once heard a missionary suggest that the reality of communion is somewhere between mere symbolism and actual transubstantiation. I can’t tell if that’s what you’re suggesting here; I haven’t heard of the “doctrine of the real presence.” This (Evangelical) missionary, for whom I have great respect, helped bring me to realize the reality of mystery — not just in things like communion, but in all of the Christian life.

    I’ll have to examine this doctrine of the real presence you talk about . . .

  5. Arnold says:

    Although you will find both ends of the worhsip spectrum among independent Christian Churches & Churches of Christ, one constant is their weekly observance of communion (there may be some exceptions). In many cases it tends to be a central focus of the Sundy worship service. In my experience, I find these churches to be centrist in doctrine & practice when compared with other denominations, including Catholic. (Please don’t take the mega-church version as the only expression among these churches; there is a wide variety in size & style.)

  6. pNielsen says:

    The church I presently attend was formerly a Christian Church (now is non-denom) and actually still observes communion every week. Great thing for an Evangelical congregation . . .

  7. Valerie Kamikubo says:

    I very much enjoyed your blog post. If you are ever in Long Beach, CA. and want a taste of both the high church as well as the evangelical, then come visit All Saints’ Anglican Church some Sunday (or on a weekday for that matter, as Eucharist is said daily) I don’t expect you to post this…just an invite if your in the area 🙂

  8. Jerry says:

    I like your Transparency! My question is this Where is the Church Which turned the Known World Upside down with Just 120 in the Upper Room? Has God Lost Power and Glory or has the System and Structure sold the Body of Christ Down the Road. If you want to Find The Real Deal in Christ Look not to the Ceo;s of the system but to the Wilderness Where the next Generation “John The Baptist are Crying in The Wilderness” They will be waiting for a Great Multitude who want The Lord more then LIFE in this World. People who Long for Him who Are Hungry and Thirsty for More of HIM…….

  9. I think you’d like “Harvest Community Church” here in Lincoln. Not High church, but definitely the closest thing we’ve found to House Church. I think Stan Parker runs a house church too… But I don’t know what it is or where, etc….

    Our church makes an attempt at some ritual (we have communion every week, for example), and a bit of attempt at the small-group transparency and accountability. But doesn’t do stellar at either one yet…

    But alas…. you’re not in Lincoln 🙂 Nor Bellevue….

  10. Ann says:

    In my “Simple Christian Mind” HIGH church is a place. you go, you look, you sigh, you leave… but HOUSE church is a meeting that takes place where you meet God – sometimes others are present – If WE are the temple of God, then what I need is a place for this “place”. visiting half a dozen churches, I found it one and a half times. I will re-visit where I found it in full, but I will also return to where I partially “experienced” it but was side-tracked by your… asthetics… If God wants me somewhere, who am I to tell HIM where it should be… so I just keep praying for HIM to reveal my “new assignment”

  11. Terre D. says:

    For reasons I still don’t understand and not wanting one at this point; but just to say that…my parents took us to 7 different faiths before I was the age of 18. I left church for quite some time, never really belonging or going anywhere….then….I married and we decided on the faith his father really appreciated due to his time in wwii. We started attending an Anglican Church. I have never felt such peace, and a place to worship with all the senses, a place that lets you grow in your journey with Christ but yet can bring you into parts of the worship in one with another. I am very happy & content in the Episcopal Faith.

  12. Pingback: Music to celebrate the incarnation scant in churches? « The Aesthetic Elevator

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