Have you #LeftThePews? Are you an #Exvangelical? Are you wondering what to do with faith after having your entire worldview deconstructed and shattered? Is there anything salvageable in the broken pieces? Take heart. You are not alone. And you’re not crazy. And you are anything but unfaithful. You haven’t quit on Jesus or God. Relax. You’re actually right where he wants you. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to some other people in the room you may be able to relate to:
Like the dejected and disillusioned disciples on the road back to Emmaus, sometimes it takes leaving something that claimed to represented God, yet blinded you from seeing him in the streets. It’s Jesus who is on your road, too. And when you get home, and host a stranger for a meal, God will encounter you afresh, set you on fire, and call you back into community. Be patient.
Like David, the misunderstood, anointed king of Israel, sometimes it takes fleeing from the oppression of the current system—collecting discarded miscreants and misfits in caves and roadsides—and appearing to the outside world like you’re running away from your responsibility and destiny, to actually find and fulfill your destiny. God is in your dark cave, too.
Like Moses, the passionate, brash, social justice fighter who murdered an oppressor of his people and then escaped to the desert, sometimes you don’t know how to give proper expression to the burning call of freedom in your heart against oppressive systems. God will teach you and speak to you in your desert, too.
And like Jesus himself, who prophesied destruction on the religious system and rebuked all of its religious leaders, he has a lot to say about leaving the religious establishment. Keep following him. He wants to use you to make things right again.
Is this dangerous talk? Probably.
Are we afraid of being unmoored? Not if God is calling us to leave the harbor.
Are we unanchored? Mostly. The purpose of our ships was for sailing, not sitting. Some anchors were weighing us down.
Are we unsecured? Absolutely. Untied from stationary posts. Headed out to the open seas like Moana.
Are we unsafe? Yes, but nothing about the open seas was meant to be safe.
Are we alone? Certainly not. God is with us, and together with him we will eventually tie together our rafts, driftwood, sculls and sailing vessels and create something beautiful that the world has never seen.
They say the Church used to be Centralized—one leader, one head, one authority passed down from Peter (somehow) to the Roman Church Leadership. Really? Was it really every centralized? Were there strings attached and chains of command in place that connected all believers in the New Testament? I don’t see it in my reading of the Bible. I believe the only strings attached to “congregations” by trans-local ministers like the Apostle Paul were the strings of his affection and care. He knew people by name. He knew believers that lived in different cities. He didn’t know them as a branded, organizational entity as we think of churches today. When he writes to the saints in Rome, he is literally writing to his friends in Rome who believed the good news through him. He’s not writing to a church address.
Did he establish roles and responsibilities to groups of people? Yes. But it was the sort of “appointment” that came from observing those who carried the most buy-in. I think he said to people,
“I see you care for and oversee these precious believers well. Keep doing it.”
“I recognize you as an elder in this community. I invite everyone else to recognize you that way, too. Will you please continue to lead and guide this community with your wisdom?”
“You carry the heart of a shepherd. Feed his sheep.”
The Church, as a new breed of people the world had never before seen—a collection of Jews and Gentiles living under and facing oppressive religious and political systems together, supporting and loving one another—was envisioned by Paul as a big family, not an esoteric club with secret rites, insider language, and membership rules. The mark of true believers was a language everyone understood: the actions of Love.
What kind of love? Love that looked like Jesus. His royal command to his disciples was not open to wishy-washy, loosey-goosey feelings. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s pretty clear. And that insinuates a whole lot of practical application. But one of the applications is not fear-based membership guidelines. Our door—whether it’s our home, our hearts, or our meeting places—is meant to always be open to outsiders. I don’t mean seeker-sensitive-styled openness that shows people how well we can perform worship sets, or inspiring talks, or whatever. I mean openness that lets people in on authentic, messy, love-filled relationships.
I believe we can all be the Church better, whether or not we go to a meeting place during the week. In fact, I believe we can transform our meetings and our homes into something much more revolutionary, much more old-fashioned actually, much more Kingdom. If you want to keep following me along the lines of this church conversation, click below and join the renovation project—where we’re going to rediscover what church is and how to do it and how to be in the world. There’s hardly a conversation that excites me more. Stay tuned!