I wondered for a long time how to summarize one hundred and eighty-two pages into a physical image. I finally got a picture in my mind that the cover artist for my first book, An Irreligious Faith, captured beautifully.
On the cover is a birdcage that strangely reminds you of a church, with its tiny stained glass window and cross on top. It is rather elaborate, but it still is a cage. The door of the cage is swung open and in the far distance you can see the silhouette of a person walking into a brighter land, perhaps a city.
First, the cage, then the brighter land.
The cage, representing the institutional church, has serious issues. It’s in trouble. People are abandoning it in droves.
Since I wrote about those issues in An Irreligious Faith, I will only summarize them here. These are generalizations, which means they are generally correct, though there are some wonderful exceptions in local churches here and there.
- has its own separate culture. Living out our faith in the real world seems more like Jesus.
- is a convenient, but irresponsible, way to outsource our spiritual expression. I can’t find a legitimate basis for this approach.
- has become self-serving. There is too much emphasis on sustaining and growing the organization, and too little effort devoted to serving people as an act of love.
- has become unloving and unaccepting. In an effort to be correct, it has lost its authority by becoming unloving.
- is not a safe place to ask questions. There are too many pat answers and strange looks given in response to good, honest questions.
- suffers from top-down leadership. That discounts the value of an individual and opens the door to possible spiritual abuse and cultishness.
- sucks up resources. There is so much spent on buildings and staff that seems like it would be put to better use on external needs.
When someone parts ways with the institutional church, the first thing he should do is complain. By that, I mean, list your grievances, as I have done above.
The next thing you should do is grieve. Finding it necessary to leave the institutional church behind is disheartening. It’s not what we expected. We are loosing our expectations and hopes for the church, for a community, and our own sense of belonging and purpose. Usually, some relationships become a casualty in the process of leaving. That is a major loss. Give yourself some time to move through the grieving process.
Then, stop complaining and get on with your life. Don’t get stuck there, or you and all of those around will be miserable!
So much for the cage.
Next week, more about the “brighter land.”