Leaving Church Finding God: Being Done not None

The old adage goes, “You can talk about anything, except religion and politics.” On this blog, I guess I throw…

The old adage goes, “You can talk about anything, except religion and politics.” On this blog, I guess I throw that advice out the window. My hope is that you find this blog an outlet to those lingering thoughts that you find in the back of your mind. Those things, that at least for me, I am usually not bold enough to say. In this post, I can feel that I will probably hit on both religion and politics. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Pew research and many blogs analyzing their research has made a big deal lately out of the rise of the “Nones”, those people who identify no particular religious affiliation. It’s no secret that the category, “Nones”, that researchers use can be deceiving and does not really tell the whole story.

For instance, I don’t hold any religious affiliation, I would qualify as a “None.” However anyone who knows me personally would say, “Wait! You talk about Jesus, say you follow Jesus, etc.” Yes, this is very true. I do follow the teaching of Jesus, someone who I believe was very anti-religious. In fact, frequently when Jesus found himself at “church”, violence erupted. I’ve talked about this some here, but that whole topic probably deserves its own blog post as well.

The point is, I don’t identify a religious affiliation, yet I do not consider myself secular. I’m not a “None.” I’m a “Done.” This term, “Done”, first came to me through a blog post by Derek Flood about being done. My lack of religious affiliation doesn’t reflect a lack of belief, instead it reflects my state of being done with religion. I’m done with the systems and institutions that have proven themselves unworthy stewards of the Divine.

The scandal of religion is that it never was really the steward of the Divine. The mystics, prophets and even Jesus himself all flow from a counter-religious movement that has always been present. In fact, I’m convinced, if I look closely at my own religious heritage, I have had the beginnings of being “Done” for much longer than I have been able to name and recognize it.

So yes, I’m done with religion. I’m not trying to start a new group, a new synagogue, a new church, a new mosque, a new temple, a new anything. The tribalism that all of these things carry with them is simply too much to overcome for whatever redeeming qualities they may have. This is a big shift for me. I’ve long held out hope that the next movement, the next organization would be different. I’ve been around religion long enough to realize that they aren’t. So, I’m “Done.”

This my sound very cynical. I hope and pray that in reality it isn’t. Don’t mistake this for something that it isn’t. I’m closer to God or the Divine (whatever word you resonate with) than ever. Losing the ties of religion has freed me to find the Divine in places I simply didn’t feel permission to find it in the past. I’m more alive, more free than ever.

Religion has the never ending pull towards tribalism that I’ve become more and more convinced we can’t escape. To identify as Christian simply carries too much baggage of things I don’t want to be associated with. The devaluing of women, persecution of minorities, creating taboo around sexuality, authoritarianism, false humility, devaluing of human experience, tribalism, the list goes on and on of things that are completely valid critiques of Christianity. The same is true of Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. There is simple too much done in these religion’s names that are counter to the law of love.

Islam cannot call itself peaceful. Why? Because if you want to be tribal, you take the load of the entire tribe upon you, including ISIS. Christianity isn’t peaceful. Why? because if want to be tribal, you take the load of the entire tribe upon you, including Donald Trump. Ahh, there I go, I just hit on politics. Well I guess this post has probably offended everyone now.

The point is, it’s simply too complicated, too confusing, too divisive to try to distinguish between the good and the bad that come with organized religion. For me, it’s better to be “Done” and live a simple life, ruled by love, that connects to God in my own way.

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April 30, 2016 @ 1:25 pm Trackback URL No Comments on Leaving Church Finding God: Being Done not None

A Living Eucharist

In Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book” the root…

In Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book” the root words of “Eucharist” are identified as coming from the Greek for good and gift:

“The Greek word for thankful is from the verb eucharizomai – the Greek for eu, which means “well” or “good,” and the word charizomai, which means ‘to grant or give.’It’s from this word that we get the English word Eucharist, the ‘good gift.’ Jesus is God’s good gift to the world.”[ref]Bell, Rob, and Don Golden. Jesus wants to save Christians: a manifesto for the church in exile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan :, 2008.[/ref]

I’m not an expert in Greek, so I cannot argue the merits of this root meaning insight, but I think the idea holds true with or without it. Jesus is indeed God’s good gift to the world. This is generally accepted among almost all Jesus followers.

Unfortunately, I think we often fail to take this line of thinking to its next logical out-working. If we are Christ’s body, Christ’s ambassadors, Christ’s spokespeople, then, we are also God’s good gift to the world. This is why Paul can say with confidence, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” ~ 2 Cor 4:10

But what does being a Eucharist to the world mean? Does it mean that we tell people that Jesus died for their sins? Does it mean that we help people develop a relationship with Jesus so that they can go to heaven?

Thinking about about Jesus being a good gift to the world, takes me back to the idea of incarnation itself:

If the incarnation does not have a profound affect on our lives now then the act of God becoming man seems to hold much less value.

If God were simply looking for a “spiritual” transformation, then a God-man coming among us is unneeded. All that is needed is God’s grace, which needs no human form to be enacted. If, however, Christ came to earth to affect his kingdom here and now, then the incarnation is a first fruits, an initial taste of God’s kingdom advancing here and now. As the recipients then, of this Eucharist, we have the honor, obligation and duty to carry this Eucharist into the world that it may have a world-changing effect now.

This means that we are not concerned as Jesus followers with spreading a religion. We are concerned with being a good gift to the world, a Eucharist, poured out for those around us. “Carrying around the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed.” We, “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” (Col 1:24) When Jesus sent out the 12 in Luke 9 he sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And what sign accompanies this proclamation? Is it an explanation of the law and gospel? Is it a passionate cry for people to turn from their sins? No. It is the simple command to heal the sick. To bring right to a wrong that sin has brought on the world.

This is how Jesus taught His disciples to advance His kingdom. When did we ever get the idea that it had more to do with mental assent to a set of theological ideas and less to do with God’s Kingdom happening now in real life? Julian, an emperor of Rome at approximately A.D. 360 observed this, “For it is disgraceful when… the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.”[ref]Chinnock, Edward James. A few notes on Julian and a translation of his public letters. London: D. Nutt, 1901, 76.[/ref]May we, a Church that is a Eucharist to our world, live up to the reputation that our early brothers in the Roman Empire had. May we take our discipleship out of our heads and put it into our hands and our feet and be a “Good Gift” to our world.

Photo Credits: Untitled by digao3000d – Attribution 3.0

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January 30, 2014 @ 7:39 am Trackback URL No Comments on A Living Eucharist

Rethinking Church Structure: A Connectivist Approach

Church structure, or any structure for that matter, is absolutely fascinating to me. I love thinking about how things relate…

Church structure, or any structure for that matter, is absolutely fascinating to me. I love thinking about how things relate to each other and how to make those relationships better. As many of you know I have a professional background in education. In education there is a recently developed and popularized learning theory called connectivism. I won’t wander off into an in depth explanation, but the basis of the theory is that learning happens in the connections between thing, ideas, people etc. This mimics the way we understand that the brain work with its connections or synapses.

With this as background, I began thinking about how the local church is structured and functions. I came up with a few diagrams to illustrate my thought process.

Connectivist Church-01

This first diagram shows a traditional church structure. There are all sorts of “ministries” or “boards” or “teams” or whatever a particular church chooses to call them. The overarching structure that everything functions in however, is the local church. Go outside of the local church and you are kind of in a no man’s land without a lot of guidance or direction. Depending on the denomination you may even be labeled as a liberal or not staying true to the teachings of the church if you do things outside of this circle.

Members are usually advised that the best way to serve God and each other is by joining some of these “teams” or “ministries” in the church. Perhaps if you are a musician, you join the worship team which is made up of people varying musical talent, some great, some not so great. Or perhaps you aren’t sure what to do so your pastor suggests you should be on the “cafe team” that makes coffee after the services. You don’t even like coffee, but you figure how hard can making coffee be? We’ve all drunk some of that coffee haven’t we?:P

This system has some inherent weaknesses. First of all, if a “ministry” or “team” doesn’t exist that matches a person’s giftings, they either have to start it from scratch or do something else. If they wish to start it from scratch they will most likely have to work through some leadership structure that may or may not help them. In many cases the leadership structure may even hinder them because the pastor(s) or board have too much on their plate already. Or, they simply don’t want to give up control of how the church runs. And in most churches if the pastor isn’t behind it, it just doesn’t happen.

Second, because there are many necessary ministries and a very finite number of people in most average sized churches, many “teams” are going to be staffed with untalented or under-qualified people. This is why you find pastors who are horrible at counseling people trying to give people advice, or people who don’t even really like kids teaching Sunday school, or people playing guitar on the worship team that would really benefit from knowing more than three chords. In the end, I believe this church structure often yields a top heavy institution that is ineffectual at doing anything well.

Connectivist Church-02

Here’s my alternative thought. What if we thought of the local church as an organism that serves as a launching point or community through which people can move out and accomplish all sorts of kingdom related work? Who says that all the teaching in a church needs to come from a pastor who may or may not be gifted in teaching? And who says that every church needs to try to produce the greatest worship experiences for it’s members?

What I envision is a church that connects people with the best of what is happening in its community and world. Coming back to the connectivist idea then, the value of the local church then does not reside in it’s institutional programs and systems. Instead its value is found mainly in the connections it fosters between people, , resources, organizations, companies, the environment, governments and all sorts of things. In fact I would argue that ideally in this model the local church ceases to be an institution and becomes a living organism that is constantly reacting, reshaping, and finding new ways to affect change based on the environment in which it exists and the hundreds of thousands connections it represents.

Connectivist Church-03

The really exciting thing for me is when I took this drawing one step further. Just like in education, having a connectivist approach to the church allows these separate organisms known as local churches to start to interact and add value and meaning to each other. For example, perhaps one local group of believers doesn’t have any really talented musicians, what is standing in the way of that community partnering with another community that has really talented musicians? Or what if a community has some really talented teachers, in the connectivist approach, what is stopping them from offering teaching sessions to other local church communities? The wonderful answer is really nothing.

So why doesn’t this happen more? Here are few ideas:

  • We are afraid of doctrinal differences and have not learned how to deal with them as believers.
  • The “value” of the pastor goes down and there may not be a justification for it being a full time position.
  • It takes more work on the part of believers. The ministries of the church cannot be simply handed off to professionals to organize and execute. Everyone has to be engaged and involved.
  • We have a lot of language that gets in the way. We think about “going to church”, becoming “members of a church”, “switching churches” etc. Instead we need to thinking about “being church”, “doing church” and “connecting with believers.”
  • We as humans like defined limits. The traditional church structure allows for very defined limits and “approved activities.” But I do not think it allows for a full expression of the Body of Christ.

I’m really excited to continue thinking along these lines and test out these ideas. Feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.

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January 7, 2014 @ 7:24 am Trackback URL 2 Comments on Rethinking Church Structure: A Connectivist Approach