Four years ago, I left my church.
And while I realize that I didn’t leave the Church, it seemed like a big deal at the time to leave behind our particular church, with its particular building, and everything inside it and invite people to worship in a home. It felt like we were leaving behind a lot more than just a building. We were leaving behind a way of life. And in a lot of ways, we felt like we were losing.
Since then, I haven’t become this rabid crazy person who says that all church buildings should be torn down. House church is just one way to do things. A good way, maybe better than some other ways, but not the only way.
And in the last four years, I realized I learned a few things. Things that would make it very difficult for me, should God ever call me back to a more typical church.
The church is in a weird place today. We talk about love and forgiveness, but we don’t really need those things in churches. We have so many choices in churches, why would we ever put up with a church that doesn’t meet our exact desires? Why tolerate Christians who have offended us, or a church that isn’t quite our taste? Wouldn’t it be easier to just find a new church, the way people find new spouses?
I actually think it would have some positive and unexpected consequences if half the churches out there had to close. With so few choices, we just might be forced to swallow our pride, and reconcile ourselves with other Christians we can’t stand. Christians with bad theology, or bad politics, or bad manners, or bad hygiene.
I’ve got a family I love. But I’ve never really felt I loved anyone outside of my relatives or my wife (outside of the platonic Christian love that doesn’t mean anything most of the time). I don’t love my coworkers or neighbors or the employees at Target. And for my whole life, I didn’t love anyone at church. But somehow I’ve learned in the confines of a house church, for the first time in my life, what it means to really exist alongside a people outside my family, to accept one another’s faults, to value and love people, and never want them to leave.
I’ve learned that churches of all sizes have to be ready and willing to pull the trigger on a moral decision that will cost them. For most churches, moral decisions don’t amount to much more than deciding what they believe about gay marriage or abortion, or whatever the topic is. Whatever the decision, it isn’t something that’s going to require much action.
But a few churches are called to really be tested. The moral decision will be right there, in the sanctuary. My church was called to make that choice. Doing the right thing cost us a church, friends, reputations, money, and health. And despite the costs, God blessed our choice in ways I never expected. I wouldn’t change a thing. Is your church ready to lose it all, or would doing the right thing get lost in committee?
I Just Don’t Care
I can’t imagine how things would’ve turned out if I had taken the more typical path. What if I had become a pastor of a large church? Pastors are supposed to do a lot of things besides calling on sick people and teaching Bible lessons. They’re supposed to be CEOs and advertising gurus and a bunch of other stuff that I realized I just don’t care about. I might’ve been good at all that, but probably not.
I’d probably be burned out, like thousands of other pastors. I can’t tell you how many burned out pastors I’ve met. Brilliant, compassionate people who just couldn’t stand the job anymore. Let me ask you this: how did the church manage to lose 80% of my generation, while at the same time, burning out millions of its most dedicated pastors and laymen?
I’ll take what I’ve got right now any day over the alternative.
But if you told me five years ago that this is what I’d be doing, I’d never believe you.
Talk to me, people! Tell me about how your life has changed in the last three, four or five years that you’d never have believed.