Comment by Doug Koop - Editor of Christian Week.
The Christian church has many exit doors, and the two I've just described are not the most heavily trafficked. They are noteworthy in that they involve people very conversant with the ways of the church, who in word and deed have demonstrated genuine commitment to it. The fact that one has chosen to be content with the "world" while the other pursues a more rigorous level of spiritual discipline is not the main point. Both were insiders who decided to get out. Neither was receiving what the church was created to deliver. That would have made the difference, for rare indeed is the person who will walk away from a spiritually nourishing environment; uncommon the one who will decline the experience of genuine Christian love and community. These stories are true, and it's not easy for people who are secure in the bosom of the church to find anything encouraging in them. But there are some positive aspects. An ability to be self-critical marks a deeper level of maturity. The honesty of these individuals, and their willingness to speak and act against the weaknesses of a comfortable church community, bespeaks an understanding that the church ought to be better. We can learn from that. But criticism is not easy to take. Indeed, discouragement is a much readier response when committed people transfer their allegiances. This is especially true when those leaving have a valid point, when the performance of the church has been subpar and the cost of improvement appears beyond reach. The church has always embraced a strange mixture of the holy and the profane, and it can certainly be untidy. After all, it is the place set aside for human beings to confront the claims of God, where the Spirit of God is invoked to do the work of transformation - of bringing about fundamental change. It's a place where lofty motives and pure ideals meet the realities of sin and brokenness; where the highest hopes and bleakest realities co-mingle. The story of the church through the ages comprises multiple successes and too many failures. As Daniel Taylor has described it: "No institution has accomplished so much for good in the world; none has fallen so short of its calling." Leaving a congregation is not the same as leaving the Church, but disappointment with the fellowship of believers causes discouragement, burnout and casualties in all directions. Good people are tempted to leave. Some do. Why stay? Because the community of the committed needs the contributions of people with integrity who have a vision for what the church ought to be.
It has been said that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Good church requires the constructive input of those burdened by a holy discontent with the status quo. Why stay? Because the total effect of Christian witness is frequently invisible to those on its frontlines. The real miracle of the church is that God's grace continues to operate in spite of human failures. Why stay? Because church is the place where the most important matters of life are the primary focus. Worshiping God, restoring souls and working for reconciliation at all levels of society are its raison d'etre. A more important institution will never be established.
The bottom line is that the church must be about its real business if it aims to keep its devoted critics. Cheap substitutes will not satisfy earnest seekers. Church as benign subculture is too shallow a calling. Some of the dissatisfied will pursue a lonely and dangerous spiritual pilgrimage without the benefit of a gathered company. But others will simply wash their hands of the mess and step aside. Both losses are tragic.
The above articles were taken for this Preface by permission from:
Week web site
Then we will note how the problem may in fact be inevitable by the very fact of meeting with others. We will also remind ourselves that all of us are very imperfect, easily hurt, and often self-willed.
Then we will wonder if there is any way to improve the situation from within our church gatherings? And in each chapter our main concern will be to see what a person who is frustrated about this or that aspect of church going could do by way of an alternative.
As in every book and article on this web site, we will never use guilt as a reason for church going. The message of Jesus the Messiah is very good news, and it results in freedom and joy. Nobody welcomes good news, or freedom, or joy by feeling guilty about it. (See Living Totally : Without Guilt).
The material in this book expresses the concerns of many. It is written by Bob Brow, corrected by Mollie Brow, set out by Les Potter on the Model Theology web site (www.brow.on.ca), and added to by those who share their experience with us.
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