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Why Joshua Left the Church

Illustration by Gianluca Costantini via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I wrote a post on Wednesday called, Christian Refugees, which compared the refugee population in my community to the refugee population of Christians who have given up on the local church.

A new commenter to my blog, Joshua, left this comment which took my breath away. I asked him for permission to post it here and he graciously allowed it.

Here it is in its entirety:

First, Great thoughts. Now, rant alert: 

What gets me is that in our case, the church (the country we left) keeps guilt tripping us for leaving. “well you really need to be in church” “you’re not goin to grow”.

There’s a reason why we’re not there: cause you were dicks to us. And you’re still dicks to us. What refugee returns to their country while warlords are still lopping off people’s heads?! Of course they wouldn’t. 

But you’re masters of guilt trips Somehow you still have the power. We may have fled years ago and it’s still a guilt trip every time we interact. And the really funny thing? We’re worse than the people who have never been in the church at all. They’re in need of Jesus, they’re a potential target, worthy of love. We’re apostates. Look, I love God. I serve the community. I exhibit His character. I just can’t deal with the crap. Somehow us being in the same building for a couple hours every week makes things right? And if we’re not sitting in this same place every week, I’m worth less than you?

And you’re really surprised I left?

Our relationship was NEVER based on anything real. If it was, our friendship would continue. The proximity of our chairs for two hours every Sunday was the only thing that brought us together, and when I wasn’t in that chair anymore, you assumed the worst of me.

I still like you. At least, I try. I really wish I could go back to the homeland. Have a cup of our native drink, cheap Sunday morning coffee, and sing a couple of our folk songs. But then that dude is going to stand up and say a bunch of stuff that makes me feel awkward because, while some of it’s good, some of it is just way off. And there’s nothing I can do or say under our totalitarian government. If I speak up, you’ll ether marginalize me or throw me back out. Once the speech is done, we’ll all go our separate ways, not to see each other again for another week, unless it’s to get together and discuss how we all agree with what the dude said.

So here’s where I’m at: I have a community of folks who love me because they love me. It’s not conditional on agreeing on all the same things. And we’re ok with that. 

So until you can get over it and stop the warlords, stay away. I’ve found a new kinfolk. And if you can’t have a conversation that doesn’t include some jab at me for leaving, then I don’t need you.

(sorry, recent situations lead me to dump that)

I read Joshua’s comment through tears. Having made the transition from church staff to church attendee, much of what he said deeply resonated with me. He shares such simple, deep truth, which cuts to the heart of a problem. We need to face the reality that a reason only 2%-5% of the population actively attends a church in the United States has little to do with our programs, it’s much deeper than what we’re offering. It has to do with how we approach people, love them, and ultimately minister alongside them.

I asked Joshua to share a little of his backstory, both so I could have more context for his comment and so that you too may discuss both Joshua’s case and the cases of thousands of Christian refugees in your community.

So here’s the story:
I grew up in a reformed tradition. I was employed for several years at a church in a lay-role, and planted a church after leaving there. And eventually, felt that the neither the church or me were providing each other with what we needed. So I became a part of a small community who meet in a house. We don’t define ourselves by a doctrinal statement, by our relationship to one another. It’s the most authentic situation I’ve been a part of, but this has lead to problems with extended family and friends who don’t consider this to be a “church” and don’t understand the changes I’ve had in my faith, which have caused my love for others to grow. While I love them, and I don’t really care if they understand or not, these relationships are often wrought with pain for my family and myself because of the divisions created by these people. My words were a lament for these situations. 
I pray we can come to love one another as Christ loved us, and live in peace.

Questions: If you were having coffee with Joshua what would you say?

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Actual Leadership

There’s a wide gulf today between the type of church leadership that is celebrated and the type of church leadership that is actually working.

On the one hand an authoritative form of leadership is popular. To succeed, according to legend, you need a super strong pastor and a super strong elder board and a super strong pastoral team who makes all of the decisions so that people in the pews can just come to church and know that the people they trust have everything under control.

Ideally, it operates like The Donald. What Mr. Pastor says goes and his lieutenants act on his direction.

Go ahead, put on your best Seth Meyers or Amy Poehler, and say REALLY. I mean… really?

Isn’t it odd that we would never accept that type of leadership outside of the church?

I dare you to try that with your spouse. Or your kids. Or a soccer team. Or anything that isn’t leading people out of a burning building.

Fear is a short term motivator. And when you try to power play or hoodwink people to get what you want done you simply erode trust.

Authoritarian leadership in the church is a fable. That’s not how people are lead today. And it certainly isn’t how you lead a revolution which will change people’s hearts.

Actual leadership comes when you surrender your power over people and ask them to come alongside you. 

  • It’s collaborative.
  • It’s simple, based on mutual love and respect.
  • It’s agenda lacks manipulation.
  • It’s freeing.
  • It inspires dreams that are big and audacious.

That’s actual leadership. Leadership which moves people and changes things.

And there are lots of examples of this in the church today. So let’s celebrate and recognize THAT.

Welcome to The Youth Cartel. Where we will celebrate that.