Yesterday was a big day for our community Shift church. The building created this new chapter feeling. It felt like a new beginning (again). After I gave our talk on what it means to be a church for the rest of us, I learned some things from several conversations I had with people. Here’s a few take-a-ways:
There are so many people the current system does not work for. This was the overriding theme from every conversation I had. The church model of yesterday hasn’t worked for years, yet we continue to lean into it. And the church does so to great harm. Our church is made up, primarily, of people that this is true for.
We’ve seen rapid declines in national attendance and affiliation. Maybe the reasons for those things isn’t “a great falling away” (as I was taught would happen before THE END would come) but instead it’s our stubbornness for the way it’s always been.
Churches have a tremendous capacity to hurt its own. So much hurt from the church exists. And not because people are crying they didn’t get their way. I’m speaking about people being chewed up and spit out. Staff, leaders and volunteers alike used for what they can offer and then left behind. I cannot tell you how this resonated with so many yesterday. One woman said to me, with tears, that it was healing to have someone validate what happened to them. To have someone say out loud what happened to them was real and must stop. She said that it felt like she could let go of the guilt she carried for how she felt.
Church people can be incredibly cruel to one another. This isn’t new…just look at the letters of the New Testament. We have a long history of eating our own.
People need to have a space to wrestle with tough topics, not just talking points. Everyone was thankful to hear us talk through things they are already thinking and feeling. To acknowledge our own crap, reject it and then address it with real solutions creates trust. People don’t need or want simple answers to complex questions. We cannot afford to continue to give “Sunday School” answers and expect people to just swallow it. We need to have thoughtful and relevant answers, even if that answer is “I don’t know”.
It’s past time for the local church to be a leader in tough conversations. Everyone is already talking about these things and they need their church to weigh in.
Acknowledging that uniformity doesn’t create unity is healthy. No one organization believes all the same things- unless it’s a cult. Every church has various, nuanced beliefs about almost everything and that’s OK. Christianity has never been tied to total agreement on every single issue. This isn’t a new thing. Almost the entire New Testament letters deal with people from different backgrounds trying to figure out how to do this Jesus thing together. We don’t all have to agree on all the things. Church should be a safe place for people to figure things out and have the safety of knowing that different conclusions won’t break belonging. How can we grow if we know that our friendship and community are on the line? That we must come to the “right” conclusion to still be considered in? And we all know that’s how it works.
Let’s not play games here. If someone isn’t in alignment with the leadership or majority of the church on certain issues then they will be slowly, but surely, pushed to the outside. I have personally seen this take place multiple times and unfortunately have participated in it as well. People need the space and time it takes to wrestle with Jesus and what it means to follow him.
We all bring different experiences and filters from our lives to the table and that makes the table so much richer.
People aren’t leaving Jesus. They are leaving the system. Those are not one and the same. We are just the current iteration of the universal church. We are not the end all be all and we would do well to remember that. People aren’t leaving their faith, they are trying to save it.
They want to save their faith because they know it’s beautiful and the message of Jesus is beautiful. But much of the behavior of the church is anything but. It has become an ugly caricature. A caricature wrapped in freedom and individual rights and legislating religion and perceived persecution and empire. They see the words and actions of Jesus and look at the church and wonder how something that says it follows him could look so incredibly different. It’s not Jesus they’re leaving, it’s the system.
Those conversations left me heartbroken but hopeful. Heartbroken because those things happened to real people and the hurt is still horribly real. Hopeful because they were there. Despite all the ugliness of their pasts, they were still searching, still showing up. It was painful and beautiful all at the same time.
Day one was a whirlwind of emotion and lessons. I’m looking forward to learning more.