Donald Miller wrote a brilliant post about why he doesn’t connect with God by singing and why he doesn’t go to church that often. Whilst his reasons are not exactly the same as mine, the struggle resonated with me. Some of the responses to it though, have shown a complete lack of understanding.
The general conclusion of the pieces are quite simple; Donald Miller is selfish and wanting to make it all about him when it’s about God and the church. This doesn’t seem to make much sense though because, if it’s about God and the church then it’s about relationship, and relationships are very personal things. There is no universal template that can be applied that will work for everyone. I’ve stopped going to church because I want to repair and strengthen my relationship with Christ, and I felt the church was damaging that. The fact it is about God is the very reason I don’t go to church at the moment. Andrew Evans in is his piece mentions people who attend the church because it encourages others. Translation: I go because I inspire people. How is that not making it about them? How is that not selfish? What if you don’t feel inspired yourself? When you have an injury, you have to rest and take a break before you can carry on, otherwise you just make it worse and possibly never recover. Worse still, you may actually drag others down with you and I’m sure criticisms would be thrown around at that. So I share the concerns about Donalds story not ending well, which is why I’m happy that Donald has taken the action he thinks is necessary to recover, especially if worship and singing had become the same thing to him. I’m quite surprised he’s getting criticized for that.
Coming back to templates, heavy references to the Bible about what church and worship is about are made, particularly in this one from Reformation21. Donald expressed problems with the traditional model, concerns which are dismissed since he deems it a model and not what is prescribed in the Bible. What Donald described is a model, a template, and many churches have different ways of achieving what is said should be; praise, prayer and the proclamation of the Word. If that is what church is, then I don’t need to go an organized service I can simply invite people around my house. The church I attended on Sunday seems to have a very different way to the church I used to regularly attend which was a Vineyard church. What works for one, wouldn’t work for another which is why people change churches or attend a few until they find one. Each one has their own model, this may be modern business speak but I think it’s an accurate description. Not everyone feels they need to be in a group, doesn’t make them less of a Christian. Perhaps the issue is what we think church is and therefore what we are actually not doing at the moment.
What they think church should be is based on how they interpret the Bible. This is completely natural, I wouldn’t expect anything different and this is where I agree about point 6; but people interpret passages different ways and it has changed over time. We all believe that we have the correct interpretation, but being concerned because Donald Miller has influence does come across a little bit of someone doing something different and being scared by that (though you could argue I am because I’m writing this response). The church’s history is full of disagreements, what defines it is how it handles those disagreements. Do they accept those people they disagree with or tell them to go elsewhere? Would you stay somewhere you don’t feel welcome? Churches have a responsibility too.
Which brings us onto what exactly is worship? They seem to have no doubts, it involves going to church. Indeed, they go as far as saying “one cannot be a Christian and reject Christ’s body, his bride, his building”. I address the problem with this elsewhere so I’ll try not to repeat myself. Jesus was quite clear in what the 2 most important commands are; Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. No mention of needing to go to church here. This to me is worship and the church, not bricks and mortar which can be destroyed. You don’t need to go to “church” to love God. You can destroy every single church and you’d still have the church of Christ. It’s partly why the church of Christ as described in the Bible and the church as it is today are not the same to me. This is where I don’t think the church can be identified, you can identify individual churches but not when it comes to whole church of Christ. To do so would be putting God in a box and telling him what he can and can’t do. If I’ve learned anything from reading about Jesus, is that he doesn’t do what we think he should. How a church treats its people is surely more important? The lyrics to Matt Redman’s song Heart of Worship come to mind here as well. Worship doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday, it’s a 24/7/365 activity.
If you think a particular way of a church service is the right way and it serves the purposes you think it should, absolutely great. Keep going then, I am very happy that you have found somewhere to worship. Please understand though, that there are many who are still searching, many who have been hurt by your church. Our experiences have not been the same and experiences make us who we are. When I shared Reformation21’s blog on Twitter, I said that it treats people who struggle with church with contempt and tosses them aside as being selfish. I stand by that, even more so with some of the other responses around. If you want to correct in love, real love not a sledgehammer wrapped in velvet, then understand people as people first and then give them space and time. People are more likely to listen to those who take the time to get to know them. We’re not ignorant of what the Bible says either, the Bible is important to us which is why we’re wrestling with these issues.
The simple fact is I don’t need an organized church service right now, and it sounds like Donald Miller doesn’t need one either. We’re not inferior Christians as a result. Afterall, being a Christian means “follower of Christ” not “church attendee”