A couple of weeks ago I went to a gathering of local pagans. They very graciously allowed me to join them for their monthly discussion in a pub. I was slightly apprehensive as I had all kinds of preconceived ideas about them casting spells and cursing those who crossed them. However, what I encountered could not have been further from this misconception. I found a group of people seeking to consistently live out their beliefs, caring for one another, generous and inclusive of strangers. They respectfully listened to my experiences and opinions and genuinely wanted to encourage me in my desire to create church that is authentic community, encourages participation and fuels a Christ-centred spirituality that makes a positive difference to life and the environment.
What really saddened me was that the majority of those gathered had started their spiritual journey in a Christian church. They recounted how their questions about faith had not been taken seriously, they felt controlled and constrained by a hierarchy that seemed dependent on the passivity of the congregation and experienced prejudice and judgement as they wrestled with issues of identity. One of the problems they have with traditional church is that encountering the divine is removed from the ordinary and every day. One of them said to me, “my beliefs don’t just make a difference for a couple of hours on a Sunday!”
While I think we have come a long way and lots of us are Christians who seek to demonstrate the Kingdom is at hand 24/7, on Saturday I encountered an example of how there is still some way to go as our local ‘Churches Together’ put on a family fun day in the park. It is fantastic that Christians got out of their buildings to bless and engage with the community. But to go the next step, I think we need to be much more creative about integrating faith so that it is part of the fun and games. I was in a prayer tent and it really had little to do with the rest of the festivities. What was needed was an interactive prayer activity that engaged the children and gave parents an opportunity to help them participate. I also found it disappointing that at 5pm all the bouncy castles were turned off to do ‘church’ i.e. hymns, a talk and people sitting in rows before the stage. This could be interpreted as time to stop enjoying yourself because we’re going to focus on God now! I know this was not the intention but could we not bounce our worship?
Today a friend sent me a link to a blog entitled ‘When believers leave the church’ (http://starfishhouse.net/blog/2012/07/uncategorized/when-believers-leave-a-ch…). It says, “In 2005, George Barna, the most quoted Christian statistician, went in search of…‘leaving believers’ to discover who and what they were about. In his book ‘Revolution’ he describes them as, “the most passionate group of Christians he had ever encountered.” He continues, “A common misconception about revolutionaries is that they are disengaging from God when they leave a local church. We found that while some people leave the local church and fall away from God altogether, there is a much larger segment…who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church. They have decided to get serious about their faith by piecing together a more robust faith experience. Instead of going to church, they have chosen to be the Church, in a way that harkens back to the Church detailed in the Book of Acts.”
This is probably where I am at but at the same time I wonder why we have to leave. Could we not have the grace and maturity enough to stay in relationship with local church and for it be informed and challenged by the more intentional, whole life discipleship we are seeking to model? I would really like to hope so because otherwise we will see many more finding faith not just outside church but beyond the Lordship of Christ.