Welcome to Brian's Bits, where Brian gets to share at length about various topics stirring inside of him.
 
So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore
27 September 2010
 
 
This past weekend, in less than 24 hours, I started and finished reading So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobsen. This book spoke so directly and specifically to where I'm at in life right now that it felt as if it were written just for me! Yet I believe that you don't need to be in my shoes in order for this book to have a profound effect on your life too.

This is the first book which I have read on my new six-inch Amazon Kindle. Over the past few years we as a family have gone totally digital with our music and photos. Recently we started going a lot more digital with our videos — both homemade and store-bought. At some point in the future most books will be digital, so it seems like a good time to start going digital with our books too.

There are some definite advantages to an e-book reader over a paper book. You can download a book instantly rather than having it shipped to you. It saves trees and reduces shipping pollution. The text is completely searchable. The device can hold hundreds and even thousands of books. There is a built-in dictionary for looking up words, and through Wi-Fi you can look up information on Wikipedia, or any other Web site.

One thing I really like about paper books is being able to highlight significant passages. With a Kindle you can also highlight passages, and even copy all of them to your computer. When reading and highlighting So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore I ended up with twelve full type-written pages of quotes! That saves me a lot of time when making Web pages like this. Cool!

This book has some interesting similarities with the number-one New York Times bestseller, The Shack. (You can read my brief review in a previous article.) They both impart deep, insightful, radical teaching in a fictional book, mostly in the form of conversations between characters in the story. The use of story — which intertwines the conversations with the circumstances the characters are in — causes the truths that are shared to enter your heart at a deeper level than a merely intellectual understanding.

There is also a connection between the authors, since Wayne Jacobsen collaborated on The Shack for over a year, and ended up starting a company to publish The Shack because no other publisher would touch it! With more than 10 MILLION English copies in print, and translations into 34 languages, those publishers who passed The Shack by are probably (and hopefully!) kicking themselves really hard!

It's funny — when I first started reading So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, I didn't realize it was fiction! I thought it was an autobiography (In fact, the first edition of the book had the main character's name, Jake Colsen, on the cover as the author! But I do still believe that it is based a lot on his life). And when I found that the first chapter takes place in San Luis Obispo, where I lived for four very formative years in my early twenties, I was captivated! It wasn't until the second chapter that I realized it was fiction! That sure gave me a good laugh!

Like I said above, I collected twelve type-written pages of quotes from this book. Obviously I can't share all that here (do I hear a sigh of relief?!). Besides, the quotes I do share below have a lot more impact when you read them in the context of the entire story. This book impacted me in two important areas of my life, so I'm going to share the extracts in two separate articles. This page will share quotes which deal with the nature of the church. My next article will share passages which deal with my employment situation and my continuing journey with Yeshua (Jesus). So, here we go....

"No prison is as strong as religious obligation. It takes us captive even while we're patting ourselves on the back."
 
"Why do people go to church?"
"Because we're supposed to have fellowship. We need it to be fed, to stay accountable to others, and to grow in God's life together. Are you saying that's not right?"
"So if someone doesn't attend anymore, what happens to them?"
"They should find another local church and get involved, or they will wither spiritually or fall into error."
"Listen to yourself. You're using words like 'need,' 'should' and 'supposed to.' Is that the body life God's called you to?"
"I thought so."
"Scripture doesn't use the language of need when talking about the vital connection God establishes between believers. Our dependency is in Jesus alone! He's the one we need. He's the one we follow. He's the one God wants us to trust and rely on for everything. When we put the body of Christ in that place, we make an idol of it."
 
"Do you remember teaching your children to use a fork?"
"Not exactly."
"But they all use one, I assume. Did you send them to fork school, or have a PowerPoint presentation on the makeup and use of a fork? It sounds silly, doesn't it? But as long as we think of this life in Christ as knowledge to acquire instead of living in him, we'll do all kinds of foolish things. Your children know how to use a fork, but that's because they learned it in life. As they got old enough you probably put the fork in their hands but held on so they wouldn't poke their eyes out. You helped them guide it to their mouths, and when you grew confident they wouldn't hurt themselves, you let them do it on their own. Embracing the life of Jesus is a lot more like learning to use that fork than it is sitting in meetings."
 
"If you really want to learn how to share Jesus' life together, it would be easier to think of that less as a meeting you attend and more as a family you love.... As long as we see church life as a meeting we'll miss its reality and its depth. If the truth were told, the Scriptures tell us very little about how the early church met. It tells us volumes about how they shared his life together. They didn't see the church as a meeting or an institution, but as a family living under Father.... Meeting together isn't the problem, but it's easy to get stuck in a way of meeting that is artificial and counterproductive. That's why it feels awkward to you.... We're trying to get from our brothers and sisters what we're not finding in Father himself. That's a recipe for disaster. Nothing we as believers can ever do together will make up for the lack of our own relationship with God. When we put the church in that place, we make it an idol and others will always end up disappointing us.... I know people who meet in buildings who are incredibly relational, and some who meet in homes who are not. The location isn't the issue, but whether you are caught up in religious games or helping one another discover the incredible relationship God wants with us."
 
"Jesus didn't leave us with a system; he left us with his Spirit — a guide instead of a map. Principles alone will not satisfy your hunger. That's why systems always promise a future revival that never comes. They cannot produce community because they are designed to keep people apart. They keep the focus on services or rituals and principles turn most people into spectators. By holding up standards and motivating people to conform to them, they only encourage people to pretend to be what they are not or to act like they know more than they really do. Questions and doubts are discouraged and people can't deal with the things they are hiding. Thus their relationships become superficial or even false because they only let people see the shadow they want them to see, not who they really are. Feeling isolated, they only become more focused on their own needs and what others aren't doing to meet them. They fight over control of the institution, however large or small, so that they can make others do what they think is best. It is a story that has been repeated for a couple of thousand years."
 
"How are we going to know how to live in God's life if someone doesn't show us?"
"That's where religion has done the most damage. By making people dependent on its leaders, it has made God's people passive in their own spiritual growth. We wait for others to show us how, or even just follow them in hopes that they're getting it right. Jesus wants this relationship with you and he wants you to be an active part in that process."
"But can we do it on our own? Don't we need some help?"
"Who said you're alone? Jesus is the way to the Father. As you learn to yield to his Spirit and depend on his power, you'll discover how to live in the fullness of his life. Yes, he'll often use other people to encourage or equip you in that process, but the people he uses won't let you grow dependent on them. They wouldn't dare crawl between you and the greatest joy of this family — a growing relationship with the Father himself."
 
"I never realized how much of what I thought was ministry was only manipulating people's shame — whether it was to make them feel guilty for falling short or to earn other people's approval."
"That's what religion is. It's a shame-management system, often with the best of intentions and always with the worst of results."
"But it did work, at least externally."
"Yes, but it only drove the bondage even deeper. In the end people are still addicted to shame and bounce between self-pity and self-glory, never finding freedom to simply live in him. It makes people think God wants a cause-and-effect relationship with them. If they'll be good, he'll be good to them.... Isn't it sad that we thought we could press people into spiritual change, instead of helping them grow to trust Father more and find him changing them? You can't press a caterpillar into a butterfly mold and make it fly. It has to be transformed from the inside.... And it is so much more exciting lifting shame off people than burdening them down with it. No wonder Christian fellowship has to be sold as an obligation. Who would want to hang out with people who are always laying a guilt trip on you or pressuring you to meet their expectations? Which is why body life often ends up so performance based and manipulative."
 
"The work of building the church is [God's], not yours or mine. Don't think you can put something together by your own ingenuity. That has been tried a zillion times in the last two thousand years, always with the same results. Sure, it's fun initially, and the excitement of seeing God touch lives overshadows our own attempts to organize it. But that doesn't last forever. Eventually people end up cemented into that which is designed to protect God's life among them. But it often ends up shoving him out in deference to their own wisdom. We're just not bright enough to control the ways in which God works."
 
"Are you saying it is better not to have a meeting?"
"It's not a matter of what's better. It's a matter of what's real. There are lots of ways the church can celebrate its life together. At the moment you only seem to grasp one of them. Seeing the church as a reality instead of an activity will allow you to celebrate the church however she expresses herself around you.... When you can only see it one way, you miss so many other ways in which Father works. Instead of thinking about what kind of meeting or group we should have, ask what would help people best grow in his life.... It might help you to not think about what you do every week, but rather about what Jesus is asking you to do today."
 
"Haven't you known many so-called pastors or elders who didn't have the spiritual maturity to back it up? Didn't Jesus tell us that those who facilitate within this family are not those who exercise authority over others, but those who serve? Is it really that difficult to tell who they are? One can hardly conceive of body life today without an organization and a leader shaping others with his vision. Some love to lead; others desperately want to be led. This system has made God's people so passive most can't even imagine living without a human leader to identify with. Then we wonder why our spirituality falls so painfully short. Read through the New Testament again and you'll find there is very little focus on anything like leadership as we've come to think of it today."
 
"That's what happens when an institution tries to do what it cannot do. By providing services to keep people coming, it unwittingly becomes a distraction to real spiritual life. It offers an illusion of spirituality in highly orchestrated experiences, but it cannot show people how to live each day in him through the real struggles of life. That's one of the strangest things about Christianity locking itself into an institutional box. Who would choose to be raised in an orphanage? Our hearts hunger for family. That's where children learn who they are and how they fit into the world. This is like an orphanage revolving around the convenience of the whole. You survive best in it by following its rules, but that's not how Jesus connects you with his Father. For that you need a family and brothers and sisters who can respond to you in the moment, not wait for a meeting or to schedule a seminar."
 
"Once people are in love with the program and grow dependent on it as the spiritual component of their lives, they won't see its limitations. It cannot substitute for their own life in him and it can only produce an illusion of community because it is based on people doing what it takes to sustain the institution."
"But couldn't it be better? I'm torn between the responsibility to reform it and the desire to leave it. Neither sounds like a good option. I doubt it can be reformed, or at least that I can do it."
"People have been trying to reform it for two thousand years, and the result is almost always the same — a new system emerges to replace the old, but it eventually becomes a substitute of its own. Have you noticed that those who share your hunger don't share your passion to reform the machinery?"
"I have noticed that. The people whose spiritual maturity I respect most seem to gravitate away from helping us run this thing. I've been very disappointed that they won't join our leadership teams. It means we have people in leadership positions who don't know God very well, but who have strong opinions about the way things should be done."
"That should tell you something."
"It tells me that maybe the ones I thought were mature aren't, since they were so unwilling to serve us."
"Okay, that's one possibility, or maybe they wanted to invest their time serving people instead of attending an endless supply of committee meetings."
"But that leaves the machinery, as you call it, to people who don't know God's character. They are impossible to work with."
"That's a problem, isn't it? Structures are about gaining power and getting your own way. Those who are growing to know him don't need them."
 
"We call singing together 'worship' and regular attendance 'fellowship,' and we've convinced ourselves we're actually doing those things just by coming, whether they're real in our hearts or not. We've taught people to be committed to our services and programs and let them think that doing so validates them."
 
"No institutional arrangement will ever contain all that the church is. Don't look for it institutionally. Look for it relationally. Certainly the New Testament talks about the priorities of that church — Jesus as its sole head and focus, daily encouragement among believers, plural and lateral leadership, open participation, and an environment of freedom so people can grow in him."
"Are structure and passion polar opposites?"
"No, they're not. Not all structure is wrong. Simple structures that facilitate sharing his life together can be incredibly positive. The problem comes when structures take on lives of their own and provide substitutes for our dependence upon Jesus."
"So I don't need to look for the perfect church or try to put one together?"
"The way you mean that, I'd say no. But Jesus is putting together a church without spot or wrinkle. It includes everyone in this community and around the world who live in a growing relationship with him. It's okay for you to look at how that church expresses itself every day in the people and events around you. Just don't try to corral it into something you control. It just won't work. Jesus saw the church as a reality, not an assignment for his followers to construct. She is growing, all around you. You just can't see it now because your focal point is far short of her beauty and immensity."
"How can I change that?"
"There's only one way — stay focused on him. Where Jesus is given first place, the church simply emerges in wonderful ways. He will place you in the body exactly as he desires. And as those relationships grow, you may find yourself surrounded by a group of people who want to walk in a more intentional community together. That's an amazing thing when it happens, but still you have to keep your focus on him. Even groups that start out centered on him are easily and quickly tempted to organize themselves to death. When Jesus ceases to be the object of our pursuit, our fellowship with his body will fade into emptiness."
Like I mentioned above, these passages are so much more powerful and meaningful when you read them in the context of the entire book. If any of these quotes have stirred your heart at all, then I strongly encourage you to purchase this book as soon as possible and read it numerous times until all the riches shared in it sink deeply into your heart and you begin to live what you read.

Last but not least — the appendix of this book is an article from Wayne's Web site called Why I Don't Go To Church Anymore: Living in the Relational Church. Highly recommended — don't miss it!!

In my next article — Living For a Living — I share more passages from this book which relate to my personal journey with Yeshua and my employment situation.

This article is 10th a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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9  Nov  2008
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27  Nov  2008
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12  Jun  2010
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11  Sep  2010
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So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore
27  Sep  2010
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2  May  2011
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