When I started formulating ideas for this series, I wanted it to explore reasons and solutions. I don't want to lay down a multi-part diatribe against churches, nor do I want to write a scathing condemnation of those who either have left the church or feel no need to be a part of one. There were a few raised eyebrows when I used the term "ran away from the church" in my post last week, but let's be honest here, that is an accurate phrase. Running away from the church is not the same as running away from God, but that is often what happens.
So I want to begin with some definitions. What constitutes "the Church" anyway? For my purposes, I'll use the big C "Church" to designate the Church Universal and the little c "church" when I'm talking about the local church. There are all kinds of arguments that the "church" is the only true expression of the "Church" but I'm going to leave that alone for the time being. I'll also delay dealing with the argument that the Bible doesn't call for a "church", only a "Church" until we get going here.
Who are those who have "run away" from church? In this discussion, I will specifically talk about those people who purposely stay away from any church. There are plenty of people who are "between churches" at any given moment and get frustrated with the whole visiting process. I understand that. I will give the benefit of the doubt to those people, even though many times people aren't very motivated to get to that next church. I think some who have left the church began by being between churches, then stopping in mid-stream.
The purpose of this series is to try to find some answers. Why are people staying away from the church? What are churches doing wrong? Why are the people staying away? Are they legitimate problems or the product of a sin nature and a self-absorbed culture? What about house churches instead of the tradition, institutional kind? What does God want from us?
I don't think there are many crystal clear answers applicable in every instance, with the possible exception of that last question. But there are trends we can notice. But in searching for answers, the conversation must be generalized. It is uncomfortable for me to sit and type criticisms of the church, knowing full well that some churches don't have some of these problems. It is just as tough to type criticisms of people when there are many cases where the generalities do not apply. I am not trying to attack anyone's character or salvation. I just want some solutions that both sides can address. If you take offense, fine. I'm sure some on each side of the argument will do just that. But let's figure out what is wrong together and work toward finding answers.
As a pastor, it has been asserted that I have a bias here. Well, I do. I'm a churchman. I make no apologies for that. However I am hardly a traditionalist as some would try to label me. That could be because of my background. I have been a pastor for nine years and a Christian as far back as I can remember. But there was also a time when I was not a part of a church. For nearly seven years I mostly avoided church. I wasn't rejecting God so much as I was too lazy and intimidated to find a church. The fact that I was moving to a new state every two years didn't help matters either. But I suffered through the same struggles as many who have run away. I found every legimate criticism I could to justify my own actions. In the end, it became more about seeking God and His will for me than it was trying to find a perfect church. It must have been, because I didn't find a perfect church. I found one where it was hard for an outsider to become accepted; where you were expected to be of a certain economic and educational standing; where the church's customs were expected to become your own; where you were lost in a sea of people, yet at the same time alone and sticking out like a sore thumb. That was the church I found -- the Western church, shaped as a product of our culture.
I thank all of you for your comments on the question thread last week. As we go through the series, I hope you'll continue to question and comment on anything that strikes you. Above all, I hope that this series will spur some thought to those of you in a church to do something in your own life or with your church to help alleviate these problems. And I hope God may use it to direct those who have left the church to help overcome past hurts and issues. May it be a fruitful process for all of us!