They Are Not Lazy and They Don’t Want to be Entertained

Contemplationphoto © 2009 Monica Arellano-Ongpin | more info (via: Wylio)Recently I got into a heated discussion with a friend.  She claimed that the Pentecostal style evangelical movement was the fastest growing denominational expression in the country and thus must be a movement of God.  I shared my belief that the “formerly churched” contingent was actually the fastest growing sector of Christianity and asked if the same assumption could be made, “Does that mean people leaving churches is a movement of God?”

She then proceeded to discount the fact that millions of Christians have checked out of church saying, “You can’t count them.  They are all just lazy and would rather play golf than to give time to God.”  Well, that got me a bit heated because I have a lot of formerly churched friends and none of them choose not to go to church on Sunday because they are simply lazy.

Most of my “de-churched” friends are still devout Christians and I would put their walk with God above that of most every Sunday church goers.  I actually know quite a few folks who have checked out of Church but whose spirituality is deeper now than it ever was before.  I know many of my pastor friends are going to hate this post, but stick with me a minute.

Many of the people I know who have left the church did so because they were seeking something more.  I actually think much of what I have witnessed among my friends and in my own church going experience is a backlash to the “seeker” movement which bred consumerism within the church.

In the 1990’s, we were told to think about church as business competing against the many entertainment options people have on Sunday.  We began to market the church as such.  We advertised our amazing “programs” and our “relevant, casual atmospheres.”  We sought to make church easier, less demanding, more entertaining and for many this worked.  This approach led to the rise of the mega-church phenomenon.  I’ll admit, I was a big supporter back in the day.  It made sense to my business brain.  I never calculated the long-term cost of this philosophy of ministry.

Many mega-church leaders have become master showmen.  They are highly engaging, their messages meet our felt needs and they make us feel good just for showing up on Sunday.  They ask only for our presence in worship, our tithes, and our willingness to bring our friends to church.

At one point, I joined the missions committee of one of these churches and the most significant request they made of me was that I bake cookies for my neighbors and invite them to an upcoming Easter Egg hunt.  I remember thinking, “Wow, Stephen was stoned, Paul beaten and imprisoned and my big sacrifice is baking cookies!?!”

Needless to say, I did not find much fulfillment at that church and we left shortly thereafter.  Many would see my “church hopping” as a negative and would say I was treating the church like a consumer product.  I guess in a way they would be correct.  I was seeking a church that actually expects those who call themselves Christ followers to live in such a way that the world would see Jesus.  Perhaps some would answer the question, “What would Jesus be doing in 2011?”, as “baking chocolate chip cookies and hosting an Easter egg hunt.” However, I just could not reconcile the Jesus of the bible with the kinds of Christ followers being produced by these churches.

I know many people have come to Christ in these Churches and I am not knocking them.  I am just pointing out that “Christianity lite” is not right for everyone.  While I admit that many have left the church out of boredom and are now on the golf courses or at the soccer field on Sunday morning, I do think there is a significant number who left for the same reason I left the cookie baking club.  I left because I want to spend my time following Jesus.   As I shared last week, following Jesus leads me into times of solitude in the wilderness and times of solidarity with the poor and oppressed.   For me, Christianity is deeply spiritual and profoundly committed to social justice.  I have found this combination hard to come by in the institutional expressions of the churches I have attended.

Though my question to my friend, “Does that mean that people leaving churches is a movement of God?”, was said tongue in cheek.  I honestly think that the answer might be “yes.” Many of the people I know have not given up on following Jesus, they have simply felt called to go deeper in their walk.  They are choosing to follow Jesus in ways that are different than our traditional “church going” images. In a way, the church did what it was supposed to do.  It made them hungry for more and sent them out into the world to live out their call. Rather than judge that decision, I think we should be celebrating it.

I wish rather than Christian’s greeting one another with the question, “Where do you go to Church?” we instead ask, “Where do you see Jesus?”  While I do experience Christ presence within the church walls, I also see Jesus in the faces of the people I work with and in the trees under which I seek God’s presence.  I see Jesus in the budding “beloved community” we are ushering into existence in Hillside court and expressed in God’s reconciling work all around me.  I also hear it in your comments on this blog and hope you will share with me any thoughts, ideas or insights you have into this subject.

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12 Comments

Filed under missional church, Spirituality

12 responses to “They Are Not Lazy and They Don’t Want to be Entertained

  1. If numbers are the measure for how the Spirit moves, how come when 2 million people get unemployed no one suggests that is a move of God? Thanks for this.

  2. I agree mostly, but caution painting large church ministry with a broad brush. I could point you to Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio and Granger Community in Indiana (also a UM church). Both are large churches with great experiences on Sunday (and Saturday) and both are heavily investing in mission work in places like Darfur and India. Even Willowcreek – the first “mega” put out a book called “Reveal” and talked about where they went wrong and how they left people too shallow in their faith.

    • wmccaig

      I agree – some large churches are more interested in discipleship than others. I primary experience was with churches that were so focused on the “unchurched” that they put no effort into teaching people to actually live like Jesus. So the back door is often just as wide as the front door once the “entertainment” value wares off.

      • Jenn

        Yes, I agree with many of your points. I do think those leaving the church aren’t always leaving to “play golf”. I believe God is calling many of them to look for something deeper…a church that teaches scripture and a relationship with the Lord.

        I especially like your point on the front door and back door. 🙂

  3. LLM

    Challenging thoughts. Thanks for having the guts to post them. I can not abandon the church for many reasons…but I can totally relate to the people you refer to in your post and your thoughts too. I am at a point of deep frustration and discouragement with the church and Christian people (speaking generally). I love Jesus more than I ever have…I so want to find genuine fellowship with other believers who really want to live the Christian life together and challenge each other in the faith. But it seems hard to find. People just want to socialize, or keep things superficial, or bake cookies for Easter egg hunt (haha). I find if I try to take things deeper spiritually that people get uncomfortable…I feel like I am among unbelievers instead of believers…

    • wmccaig

      Your post means a lot to me. I know there are those who will read this and think that I am crazy to write what I wrote but they are not reading the emails and fb posts that I get from people just like you who want more but can’t find it. I think a lot of people out there are just kind of free floating. They have not given up on the institutional church but like you they are frustrated and often opt to just stay non-committal to any one church. I know these folks and I am tired of people passing judgement on them when they really have not listened to the frustrations.

  4. Jim

    George Barna’s book, Revolution, speaks directly to this point.

  5. Abby

    I agree that the institutionalized church leaves much to be desired when the focus is numbers and marketing. But for those who leave the church, I would ask “where do they go?” I believe that one can have a deep relationship with Christ without being part of a formal institution, but I would argue that to truly grow spiritually we need to be involved with a Christ-following community. If those who leave church are spending their time on the soccer field and golf course and neglecting their need for spiritual community, then are they truly growing? We are created for community. The original church was a community. The church in Acts was committed to passionately sharing Christ’s love by caring for those in need. I would guess that they did ask the question “where do you see Jesus?” or some form of it. The apostle Paul speaks of Christ followers as “the body of Christ.” We are meant to represent Christ on earth and that is done best when we are in it together. My fear, however, is that those who leave the church isolate themselves from opportunities to be involved in Christ’s body. So yes, leaving the church may be a movement of God if that movement leads to the creation of a new community who are committed to following Christ and encouraging one another. But then wouldn’t we call that new community a “church?”

    • wmccaig

      Hi Abby,

      You wound your way from a question to the answer I would give you. Many of the folks I know who want more are doing more. They are serving in the inner city, they have started non-profits, they have created alternative “faith communities” that most people would not recognize as such.

      I can not speak for the golfers and soccer moms, they were not really the point of my post. What I was getting at is that you can not judge all the folks who have left the church with a broad brush any more than we should judge the church with the same broad brush as Mike pointed out.

      I know several people who have started various forms of community that takes them out into the world and allows them to be Christ in ways that many in the institutional church would not recognize as “church” but it appears that you, like me, would see it as such.

      The one place I would push back a little is your comment that the place we look most like the Body of Christ is when we are all together. I actually think we look most like the Body of Christ when we do the things Jesus did like feeding the hungry, healing those who are suffering and seeking to bring heaven to earth.

  6. LLM

    I’m posting again. After a couple days thought, your article has really made something clear to me. I think we, in the last several years, are seeing the long term affects of the seeker/marketing approach to church that began in the 90’s. When there is a paradigm shift, it takes awhile to see the true affects because the old paradigm still holds influence for awhile. Things seem fine for awhile. But we are finally seeing the long term results….shallow believers who may sadly not even realize the shallowness of their faith…and deeper believers who have reached a point of frustration and discouragement. I think you’ve nailed it.

    But then, should we be that surprised to feel discouraged and alone? We are told to carry our cross. Jesus minced no words that the way of true discipleship would be hard, challenging, and isolating at times. Its a narrow road…that only seems to get narrower as we follow in the footsteps of our Savior.

  7. Pingback: Christianity lite? | Enough Light

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