August 19, 2019

Outsider Lessons

On-the-Outisde-Looking-In

On the Outside Looking In, photo by Dana Killam (info below)

Not long ago, I wrote a Wilderness Update post called, “Square Peg Syndrome,” which resonated with many people. Consider this a follow-up to that piece.

Yesterday, I read a similar article called, “A Few Things I’ve Learned as a Christian Outsider,” by Benjamin L. Corey over at his blog, Formerly Fundie. He wrote it for those who, like him, “feel like outsiders– out of place everywhere, at home nowhere. . . . exhausted, and on the margins of faith.”

Here are a few of the lessons Corey says he has learned as a Christian outsider:

  1. I’ve learned to get my identity from Jesus, not the tribe.
  2. I’ve learned that the key to happiness is contentment.
  3. I’ve learned who my friends are.
  4. I’ve learned to forgive– not out of desire, but necessity.
  5. I’ve learned that sometimes theology becomes more important than people, and that I don’t want to ever be on the wrong side of this equation again.

He concludes with these words:

Sometimes I think that those of us who feel like outsiders focus a little too heavily on the negative, so these are some positive things that I’m learning– things that are helping me feel like I’m slowly finding life again.

What things have you learned from life as a Christian outsider?

Good lessons. Good insight. Good question for us.

If I were to answer, what would I say? How about you?

Let me share three simple lessons, then it will be your turn to respond.

1. I’ve learned that “church” (as we do it) means different things to me in different seasons of my life.

In our culture, church as we have organized it is primarily a young person’s place and an activity center for families. Especially in more suburban settings. Especially in larger churches. Keeping a lively program going for families, children, and youth is essential in the competitive ecclesiastical atmosphere where I live, just a few notches from the buckle on the Bible belt.

Therefore, I don’t feel at home at church as much as I used to when I fit the demographic. Now I want depth, silence, beauty, an emphasis on formation and contemplation, respect for tradition, leisure for conversation, questions, and reflection. I don’t care so much about action, and when I do, I would prefer meaningful missional works that actually accomplish some good in the community around us, not mere Christian activity or events.

But you gotta pay the bills, right? So we keep bringin’ ’em in and meetin’ their needs.

2. I’ve learned that what I really understand church to be is a group of people with whom I share a common life in Christ.

That specific formulation came to me as I was driving home from the worship service last Sunday. I like my church all right. The liturgy and weekly participation in the Sacrament has been a tremendous boon in my life. There are lots of good people there. But most are not our neighbors, the majority live in other communities, they have their own established friendships and activities, and so do we. We are not enmeshed in each other lives daily or even regularly, except for attending Sunday worship and perhaps another church event or two.

This is so much different from when I was a parish minister, especially in congregations where we lived in a parsonage near the church building. We were seeing people from the church every day, having conversations, aware of what was happening week in and week out in each other’s lives. I really miss that about being a pastor . . .

Believe it or not, what happens for me here on Internet Monk is as close to that as anything I’ve experienced in quite a while. So much so that, on our recent trip when we visited Ted’s home in Maine, I felt like I was meeting someone with whom I shared a true bond. Same with Randy in New Hampshire. Same with the other writers and colleagues such as Jeff, Denise, Dan, Lisa, Damaris, Joe, Adam, and others that I see infrequently but keep up with through this forum. I used to say regularly, “This is not where I live.” Now I’m starting to think that cyberspace will be as personal and communal as we make it.

At any rate, I don’t have, and I miss that regular face-to-face community in Christ.

3. I’ve learned that the God of the church is too small, too tame, too provincial to deserve propping up any longer.

By the “God of the church” I mean the God we have largely created so that we can feel comfortable in our church cultures. As the modern prophet A.W. Tozer once said:

The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anybody. He manages to stay pretty much within the constitution. Never breaks our bylaws. He’s a very well-behaved God and very denominational and very much one of us, and we ask Him to help us when we’re in trouble and look to Him to watch over us when we’re asleep. The God of the modern evangelical isn’t a God I could have much respect for.

This is, I think, what many of us feel when we say, “I’ve outgrown the church.” There is a sense, of course, in which that is impossible, and such a statement teeters on the edge of pride and disdain for others. But I don’t mean it that way at all.

I mean that, as one who has become an outsider, I have seen a bigger God. I have seen the Father’s love at work in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in ways inaccessible to those who hide behind church walls and separate themselves from “the world.” There is a parochialism, a separatism, a Pharisaism, if you will, that keeps people from seeing Jesus in any setting outside what they deem “holy.” But there are aspects of creation, common grace, wisdom, and the imago Dei so powerful and real in the most unlikely and unexpected places all around us every day! I hunger to explore them, but they have no place in the constricted imagination of our holy huddles, so one must become an outsider to access them. And once you have tasted the feast which God prepares for us in the midst of the everyday, the thin gruel of what passes for Christian thinking and good works in many of our churches can almost seem repellant.

No, I don’t think I’m “too good” for the church. But on the other hand, I don’t think many churches are doing anyone any favors by conducting business as usual. Michael Spencer found himself in the same wilderness, and urged us all to avoid “Mere Churchianity” like the plague.

Anyway, I may not be a total “outsider,” but my edges are still far too square to fit most of the places I see around me.

• • •

Header Photo by Dana Killam

Comments

  1. I’ve learned that the Word (The Promises)…are just not enough for most in the church. Myself included, so much of the time.

    I’ve learned to ‘try’ and live with no expectations about how life should be.

    I’ve learned (am learning…slowly) not to trust in what I see…either in myself, or the world. But to trust in His Promises…alone…in spite of all the evidence against those Promises.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > (The Promises) are just not enough for most in the church.
      > Myself included, so much of the time.

      My question at this stage of my life is: should they be? So much of my earlier church experience was about telling me “Yes!” to that question. I left that sphere because, ultimately, my answer was “No!”. Not that the promises are not very important to me, the ground under my feet so to speak…. but I have 24 hours 7 days a week to live. They are the ground, but they are not the sky or the trees. Wanting more, other,… I do not see that as a problem at all. It is more than perfectly normal, it is healthy. I [and most other people, IMNSHO] have no problem distinguishing between what is of one realm and another; the church of my youth wanted to tell me [and everyone] that we couldn’t do that. But we can.

      > I’ve learned to ‘try’ and live with no expectations about how life should be.

      Agree. To the extant that is possible.

      > I’ve learned (am learning…slowly) not to trust in what I see…either in myself,
      > or the world. But to trust in His Promises…alone…in spite of all the evidence
      > against those Promises.

      I still see a lot of evidence For those promises; amid the vortex of swirling poo.

  2. “2. I’ve learned that what I really understand church to be is a group of people with whom I share a common life in Christ.”

    Outside of my immediate family, that might be, uh, nobody. Does that count? Is my family my church?

    • Family grows dearer all the time.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        True. I’d just add that family is not a matter of birth. My family `tree`, today, [and I would refer to them as “my family”] is comprised mostly of grafts. It is an unlikely tribe, but I’ve met biological families where the same could be said.

    • About a year ago I talked with a group of young people about my oldest son’s age (early 20’s) about Church. They were turned off by Church because they felt that most in the pews had their noses high in the air and then did whatever they wanted (including bad behavior) once they left the Church walls.

      I don’t look at it like that. People at Church are like me, struggling to be something better, a better husband, a better wife, a better person, even if consciously they don’t know it. They are choosing to do it together. That is what I love about it, working together with others, even if we don’t know each other, worshiping together… yeah, kind of corny but it works for me.

      Additionally, in my faith tradition, and in my experience in mostly cultural oriented churches (meaning there are a lot of us in this particular area who grew up in our parent’s tradition) it was not a young people’s church of do, do, do. It was more like Holy, Holy, Holy …. smells and bells that continues to this day, at least for me….

      Point three I need to sit with a little longer, because on initial thought I see the Church as the center of the wheel, and other experiences as the spokes radiating out….. and maybe that is because the pastor is not the cult of personality… I will think on this….

    • I’ve been there before, too. Right now, though, I’m in a nice little sweet spot, having found a good, broad set of Christian brothers and sisters with which to share my walk. Doesn’t mean it’s always fun, but it’s good. I think the joy of it is that several of these friends are unafraid to challenge religiosity and Churchianity, so it doesn’t feel like I’m alone.

  3. I’ve learned that the Church is as imperfect as I am.

    I’ve learned that Church is a lonely place, but no more lonely than anywhere else.

    I’ve learned that the Church often behaves as little more that a poorly run business.

    I’ve learned that I will not find many certainties in the Church.

    I’ve learned that I love the Church, but it will always be an unrequited love.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      This.

    • I agree with your points but it begs the question why even go to church at all. Thats what I’m trying to figure out right now. After thirty some years of being churched I feel like church is a constant rehash of sermons. I learn more and experience Christ more outside than inside the church.

      • It can be a conundrum. Right now I go primarily for the liturgy and Sacrament.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Ditto. I’m done with “the sermon”, really. I’ve heard it. To me it is a dispensable part of the service. I appreciate RCC Saturday services that just do a homily and move back to the relevant stuff.

          Sermons can be great, when they are great, but when they are not great they are often of negative value. It is a thing only worth doing if done well. And they cannot be a substitute for study and education.

          • And they [sermons] cannot be a substitute for study and education.

            Adam, I’ve come to realize that one of the best reasons for the weekly sermon is that the pastor get himself immersed in the bible, in prayer, in meditation and study. The rest of us usually don’t have the time.

            It helps if the sermon is also of great value, and I know what you mean about when they’re not.

        • I, too, go for the sacraments. The sacraments, and the liturgy surrounding them, actually preach the gospel, and give me Christ. And I try to be a positive presence for others, to be with them and pray for them; whether they need my presence, or benefit from my prayers, is beyond my ken, and may be none of my business.

          There’s also the fact that my wife is the church musician, and depends on me for support in doing her job.

        • Liturgy and Sacrament are things outside of oneself. I find those things comforting as they draw me outside of my own spiritual echo chamber. If you go the route of “Jesus and me – I don’t need church” you are getting into subjectivism and that will limit your growth. The next step after that is, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

      • Just thinking off the top of my head here, but maybe you can share the Christ you’re finding OUTSIDE the church with those INSIDE the church. Kind of a reverse spreading of the Good News!

        • When I get a chance to preach or teach I certainly try to do that.

        • Ultimately, this is the calling of every Christian, to mutual edification. Especially the clergy. I propose if this Christ was higher up on the agenda of our churches, more people wouldn’t have to leave in order to go searching for Him.

      • Andrea, now THAT resonates with me! Having grown up ‘in church’….and having been immersed in “church culture “….in a broad variety of faith traditions for more than 60 years now…I can honestly say that the vast majority of what I’ve learned has NOT been due to services, preaching, or any other aspect of what we call ‘church’….but from personal study, from interaction with…and sometimes clashing with….others who also p
        re seeking for authenticity…combined with surviving the vagaries of life. I’ve taken several “sabbaticals” from churchianity over the years, the current one going on 5 years now, and while I miss some aspects of corporate worship, my ‘family of choice’ now includes agnostics, an atheist or two, a ‘unniversalist’, several who would probably be derisively labeled “new Age”, and more than a few other “post-Churchianity” wanderers.
        What I’ve learned is that no faith group holds a monopoly on love and genuine caring…you know…what Jesus said exemplified and fulfilled all of God’s laws. I’ve met atheists who are more kind and living than most Christians I’ve known. My best friend is a “wandering/seeking Universalist”….one of the kindest, gentlest men I’ve met, who is, as we speak, struggling to hold his family together as his wife faces impending cancer surgery…..and my feeling is that it is for moments like this that Jesus redeemed me…not to sit in a pious group…listening to recycled Internet sermons, singing vapid choruses…or ancient hymns…or majoring on eating wafers, as if THAT was how we ‘gain’ more of Christ. While, as I said, I occasionally. Miss some aspects of ‘church’….I’ve found far more meaning in learning to BE ‘church’, than in ‘attending’ church.

      • Andrea, in response to your question about why go to church at all, did I forget to mention that I love the Church?

        • I was going to add, it’s also sometimes for the donuts.

          • They serve donuts at your church! What! Next you’ll tell me that the coffee at your church actually tastes good….

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            No, the coffee is terrible. I make it. And I have tried everything short of chickory and gasoline, but to no effect. I have resigned myself to warm brown dishwater. At home I use a French press, so I suppose I am not qualified for drip perk…

          • For the love of God, man, no! Don’t even mention coffee and chicory in the same breath!

    • Love your simple take on this, Robert.

  4. Internet Monk has a nice way of resonating. There are a lot of broad strokes, and little tidbits in this post that are right on.

  5. The observation about “different seasons” resonates. 1 John 2:12-14

    Children are blessed by what they receive, young men by what they achieve, fathers by what they perceive.

  6. Maybe many people share this sense of uniqueness in their faith but at the same time have learned to work within a local assembly in spite of its shortcomings seeing others with great humility and awareness that they may need to see this great God if, indeed, we think we see and understand better. To whom much is given much is required. The Apostles in general saw a little God, often but that very God they failed to see continued faithful to the weak sheep.

    Consider the carnal Corinthian church. The great Apostle, Paul certainly saw a bigger God yet he loved them and ministered to and with them never mentioning his feelings of special distinction in comparison to them and how he understood God to be, rather patiently he identified with them as our Lord did and does with us.

  7. Good stuff, Chaplain Mike.

    The only thing I don’t understand here is Corey’s #5:
    “I’ve learned that sometimes theology becomes more important than people, and that I don’t want to ever be on the wrong side of this equation again.”

    For me, it’s almost the opposite. I’ve seen so many people put theology OVER people that it sickens me. (See the Theology of Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill fallout for a possible case-in-point.) So can anyone help me understand his take on this?

    • I think that’s what he means too, but the wording of his point was a bit awkward.

      • Yes, I see that now. The key word is “becomes,” and I see that he’s saying it’s wrong when theology becomes more important than people. (Plus I read his blog, in which he states this.)

  8. David Cornwell says

    1. I’ve learned that the world is pretty mixed up, especially the “Christian” world. We cannot seem to get the story right, all of us telling a different version of it. And when we tell our version, others stand at the side making faces and try to correct what we believe the story to be.

    2. I’ve learned that Evangelicals have changed over the years. When they were outsiders, they were able to provide some correctives to the Church as a whole. Now that they have become the insiders they have erected walls of “truth” to keep everyone else out and themselves in. They seem to think that it’s better to have schism than compromise iota in theological proposition.

    3. I’ve learned that Christian fellowship be found in some pretty strange places. Some wonderful, caring, and loving Christians sometimes have a messed up theology. They seem able to open loving arms to the unlovely, lost, addicted and weird. Most do not even think or care about theology. I envy them for this.

    4. I’ve learned that being a former pastor, I look at every church I attend with a tendency to analyze. I do not like doing this, but do not know how to stop.

    5. Now something I am in the process of learning: I recently started attending a rural UCC church (formerly Congregational) which is just two miles from my home. It is mostly an older group of people. The pastor is part time, and a former UAW organizer. He pastored a UMC church before this one. He, and the church, are conservative in theology, but not an evangelical. He has a great heart for the community, and helped start a free health clinic. The worship and preaching is simple, and the people love to sing. I am finding myself liking this church a lot. And I am greatly surprised!

    6. I’ve learned that Internet Monk is a good place to bring mixed up feelings and theology to the table for discussion. And, for that matter, almost anything else. Just remember that someone will make sure that talk stays civil.

    • 1. Yep. I’m constantly trying to remind myself that just because MY Christian walk is a certain way doesn’t mean someone else MUST mirror it. The only “must” is trying to make sure our paths (which all start from different points) meander in Jesus’ direction.

      2. Yep. Our recent discussion about the Jesus Movement indicated the truth in this, as did a book I mentioned in that thread “Reborn to be Wild” by Ed Underwood, who relates his first-hand account how the outsiders became the insiders and lost Jesus along the way.

      3. Yep. I’m not even sure what theology I believe in anymore. It’s a mix of Arminian/Wesleyan with a dash of Calvinism thrown in. I sometimes refer to it as the Theology of Rick. It bothers me to see people plant themselves in one camp or another, ignoring or rationalizing away anything that might indicate their theology might not be the full truth.

      4. We have a former pastor (of a different denomination, no less) in our church’s men’s group. I’m constantly asking him, “So, how did YOU handle this issue and avoid religiosity, churchianity, or unhealthy repercussions?” He just smiles and says, “I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

      5. Nice!

      6. Yep. Though I don’t consider myself as damaged by evangelicalism as some folks here, this community has made me see how truly careful we Christians must be as we present the Good News of the Gospel.

      • David Cornwell says

        “I’m not even sure what theology I believe in anymore. It’s a mix…”

        Same here, and the mixer keeps turning and churning, so it might look a little different tomorrow than it does today. I’m not kidding on this, because I don’t have the same level of sureness that some seem to have that they have it all pinned down. And actually I like it this way because I can hopefully be more open to listen, modify, and enjoy.

        • I like it this way, too…how it appears to be shifting on me constantly. It keeps me very humble. It helps me challenge those who seem rigid and “right.” It helps me avoid planting flags and fighting battles and winning arguments but losing in sharing Jesus’ Good News.

    • Number three is the only thing keeping me sane right now. The congregation I serve is very fundagelical and pietistic, especially for the LCMS. I sometimes feel like I’m banging my head against a wall at every turn. But the people here are wonderful. Though I sometimes feel like my work has a strong “missionary to the reached” angle to it, I am grateful that I do not experience what CM refers to in the post about a lack of community. We got community coming out our ears at our full service, around the clock, purpose-driven all ages family activity center. Our post-evangelical family has been very welcomed and our many hang-ups have not been excessively provoked.

    • David, I’m reading between the lines here and trying not to get out ahead of you, but it does sound like things are starting to come together for you, and for that I am glad. It may be a time in general for things to come together for those seeking Truth and the Kingdom of God right here on Earth in this lifetime. I would say this is a move of God’s Holy Spirit, but of course that is controversial and cause for argument. All this doctrine really doesn’t matter much at all in the end is what I believe. What matters is if people love each other, look out for each other. Many years ago I had occasion to exchange a few words with someone attending a Jehovah’s Witness church. She said she went there because the people were friendly and she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was going to a Lutheran church at the time and I said that’s why I go to church too. I don’t think there is really a lot more to say than that.

      • David Cornwell says

        ” it does sound like things are starting to come together for you”

        You are correct. Several things seem to be working together. One of them is more satisfaction with the “place” I am in geographically right now, and finding a local congregation that can at least be a partial home to Marge and I. This is added to the mix of what I’ve come to believe about the Slow Church ideas of parish, community,conversation, listening, patience, hospitality, etc and a pastor who seems to embody some of this teaching so naturally. I am able to see where we might fit into this milieu very easily for the first time in a long while.

        Yes, the Spirit is full of surprise.

  9. 1. I have learned that ideas, however important, are “dead letters” so long as they exist only on paper. They only matter because of incarnation: because God comes to us, because God includes humanity in God’s life, because in some imperfect measure we can be in-communion with one another. Consequently, arm wrestling matches over ideas and struggles over “our principles” are meaningless and generally destructive whenever these contests and their aims pull one away from mercy or from life together.

    This is hard medicine for me. I’m an “ideas” person. I really like words. I like schemes and theories. I like ideals, and ideas. I like the paper that ideas are written on, and book bindings. I used to love the idea that the Bible was full of principles, if only one could mine it for them. “The perfect book.” Then someone introduced me to the idea that theology can be a “system.” A system, how wonderful!

    But… this and $1.90 will buy me a cup of coffee. It takes another 1.90 to buy you coffee.

    If one’s principle is to heal a person, then heal them.

    If one’s principle prevents her from healing a person, then it’s as good as garbage, however sublime it sounds. She should burn the paper she wasted on it and be done.

    2. When I left “evangelicalism” (if indeed I did, definitions, definitions!), I felt as though I had lost my faith and voice. But I’ve also that was good lose those things. I know less, but I’m a kinder person. Maybe someday I’ll also be a useful person.

    3. During my stay in the wilderness I’ve learned from silence, and from not having answers or even trying to have them. I’ve learned from listening. I have no idea how to stop analyzing everything and everyone, but I have learned to stop talking.

    4. I do talk in one location: Internet Monk. It is here, more than from anyone other one place, that I’ve learned what I relief it is one day feel completely alone, and even resigned to that alone-ness, but the next day to feel one’s self less alone. When I happened across this blog, back in Michael Spenser days, I couldn’t believe he’d actually realized that the “post-evangelical wilderness” was a location. Goodness, I thought: is there someone else out here? It’s has been a big relief and blessing to me to read people’s comments here, because everyone comes from different places and many of us don’t agree on all sorts of things, but frankness here is refreshing. It’s like something unspeakable has been made speakable. I’ve learned that it’s very hard to create a space where that is possible, and also that this space needs to exist.

    5. I’ve learned that I’m too easy comfortable with my alone-ness, and that I need to be in community. I’ve also learned that I don’t know enough about what this means.

    • Your #1 resonates with me, Danielle. One of my “strengths” is intellection (which doesn’t mean I’m smart, it just means I like to think), so ideas are big. I’m a writer, too, so I like to read and pour over texts and study. Thus, movement is rare and procrastination is strong. My “stretch” was when I sensed The Lord wanted me to start a coffee shop ministry of some sort. Took a few years, but it’s been an interesting thing to see God move in a slow-moving thinker like me.

      2. Kindness is useful.

      3. Yep. And it’s funny to listen to the talkers who don’t seem to know what listening means.

      4. Yep.

      5. Yep. As a writer, I need “alone” time.

      • David Cornwell says

        “I have learned that ideas, however important, are “dead letters” so long as they exist only on paper. They only matter because of incarnation”

        Easy to forget, but so important to remember.

  10. I’ve always known there’s no such thing as a perfect church, but one of the things I am making peace with is that you will never find a congregation that doesn’t have things that bug the hell out of you. I don’t think we would ever want to actually find that. Aside from being freakishly scary, there would be no challenge to our life together, and no room for us to teach one another, and no chance of welcoming outsiders into the community.

    I’m a big believer in lockstep uniformity when it comes to doctrine, but it can only get you so far. Learning to pursue relational unity with those whose views I find repugnant is a therapeutic spiritual discipline, and it really helps keep idealogical conflict in perspective.

    Most importantly, this hardcore introvert is finding that it is people, not just ideas or methods, that enrich our lives with meaning. After all, Jesus is first and foremost a person, before he is a theology or a message. Being willing to compromise on some things (and knowing clearly where to draw the line on others) goes a long way towards cultivating a culture of a mutual respect amongst which healthy Christian friendship can thrive.

    • Nicely said, Miguel.

    • Never pegged you for an introvert (you play music for a crowd for cryin out loud)…. I am a closet introvert, meaning I think I am introverted, but ask someone else and they’d say I’d probably talk to anything that has a pulse….

      Also, I play acoustic guitar badly and sing almost as good as Bob Dylan with a cold, but I won’t miss an opportunity pull out the axe and drive people crazy, – maybe that’s not extroverted, maybe that’s just obnoxious….

      • “…as good as Bob Dylan with a cold.”

        LOL. Great description!!!

      • As another hardcore introvert, I have to say that ‘playing music for a crowd’ is often a much easier and more satisfying way of communicating than speaking with those who often won’t take the time or trouble to really understand what one is trying to say.

        The Bible tells us to live at peace with everyone, so far as it lies within us, and generally I can. I have hundreds of friends (in the sense of friendly acquaintances) at many different churches, but it often seems as if we’re just bouncing off each other. There are very, very few people who really understand how I tick and would challenge me as I sometimes need.

        I suppose we all feel safer if we maintain a respectable facade, but it definitely adds to the feeling of being an outsider and I can fully relate to this article.

        • You hit the nail on your head with the first paragraph. As an introvert and a musician, I find that practically the only place I fully express my deepest emotions and desires is in my music. I very rarely talk to anyone, even my closest friends and family, about personal matters.

      • ask someone else and they’d say I’d probably talk to anything that has a pulse

        Introverted does not necessarily mean quiet. My wife might say the same thing about me. But I want to talk to 1 or 2 people at a time, that’s it.

        • David Cornwell says

          “I want to talk to 1 or 2 people at a time, that’s it.”

          Sometimes I get uncomfortable with a larger group unless I psych myself first,

    • Sometimes I wonder if the majority of IM readers/commentators are introverts, and if some of our common responses to church environments is a reflection of personality type.

      • I think you’re right. Obviously no scientific study has been done, but I would wager that the IM and the post-evangelical world in general is dominated by introverts.

        I have found it very difficult to develop relationships with people at church. When I do develop those relationships, we usually bond through music. I can relate to Steve above in that I don’t go to worship for the community – I go for God’s promises in the Word and Sacrament. I’m honestly not sure if this (the lack of community for me, not Word and Sacrament) is a bad thing. Even though the majority of my friends profess Christ, only a few are from my church or my denomination.

  11. Introvert Monk here. So was Michael.

  12. “Therefore, I don’t feel at home at church as much as I used to when I fit the demographic. Now I want depth, silence, beauty, an emphasis on formation and contemplation, respect for tradition, leisure for conversation, questions, and reflection. I don’t care so much about action, and when I do, I would prefer meaningful missional works that actually accomplish some good in the community around us, not mere Christian activity or events.

    But you gotta pay the bills, right? So we keep bringin’ ‘em in and meetin’ their needs.”

    I hit the brakes so hard at this paragraph that I almost headbutted by ipad.

    CM, with much respect, I don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand, I empathize that the culture(s) of your church experience(s) have not evolved as you have matured. On the other hand, the comment seems incredibly dismissive of the younger generation, as though they/we don’t desire any semblance of depth or meaning.

    Also: You liked it when you fit it, but now that you don’t fit, it’s about them paying the bills?

    The transition from who-I-was-then to who-they-are-now is profound, poetic, but troubling. The verbiage suggests an inherent individualism at play, the kind that is often rightly critiqued at IM. Can you speak to it?

    • Sean, thanks, I can understand how it might sound self-indulgent. I’m sure that’s part of it; if we don’t critique ourselves at IM, we have no right to cast stones at others. I guess I could have written that I’m just as selfish about what I want as everyone else.

      Also though, it focuses on the kind of church culture I wrote about in the post Wanted: An Adult Faith in a Youth Culture and other pieces. In that post I wrote, “I want a church where I know and feel that the adults are in charge, where wisdom trumps enthusiasm, where historical perspective is considered, where depth is valued as much as breadth, where stories have shaped us for generations.” I think Internet Monk has long critiqued evangelical churches in particular for imitating our culture’s obsession with youth, energy, change, innovation, excitement and experience at the expense of long-honored paths of spiritual formation.

      You’re right about my “hypocrisy” about this — the fact is, I didn’t value it as much when I was younger, had kids to keep busy, and went along with the church program. But it is one of the reasons I eventually became disenchanted with “the show” and became an outsider.

      The part about “paying the bills” is a nod to the vicious cycle so many churches have found themselves in: they aim at being “growing” churches — they grow and invest in expensive facilities and staff — which means they must keep growing or face dire financial consequences — so they focus even more on growth at the expense of other priorities.

      Sorry about the shocker. Protect your iPad, brother.

      • 🙂

        That context is very helpful.

        At first pass it read as though your experience was fine for you then, but everyone who is still there is something less-than. Knowing that the programmatic nature of the church is bearing the brunt of your critique, past and present, is very fair and gives credibility to how you’ve matured and evolved. Thanks for hearing and clarifying.

        • And this isn’t to say that pure preference isn’t a valid reason for critique or a change of scenery. This is where I’m beginning to land after a few weeks of this kind of dialogue here.

          Thanks for affirming the need for all of us to practice critical self-reflection.

    • “CM, with much respect, I don’t know what to make of this.”

      Sean, possibly throw tongue-in-cheek into the mix with a dash of sarcasm, Perhaps a bit unseemly for proper Christian behavior but how do you react to church as circus? To each his or her own, but I’m guessing that if you really enjoyed the circus you wouldn’t be here in the first place. I’m also guessing that as you grow in years and understanding that your own tastes and opinions will change. Apparently part of life. It is great that Martin Luther left us all these tens of thousands of choices where we can gather together with similar mindsets, tho Martin wouldn’t think so. I would expect you would be bored senseless with what I find most comfortable. I can’t speak for CM but I doubt very much if he intended for you to follow in his footsteps as he searches out the meaning of church and community in his life. You have your own footsteps to report on here, and that’s what makes this such a valuable place. Without you, we become unbalanced.

      • Notice the language I used (“seems,” “suggests”) and that I asked a question at the end of my response rather than writing Mike off.

        Sharing opinions and stating disagreements with people smarter and more experienced than me is a vulnerable practice, but I’ve been at this IM thing for awhile and have gained the courage to get my hands dirty when something strikes me in a particular way. I trusted Mike to come right back at me, directly but with the fairness that he is regarded for. I respect him enough to ask the question. I’m about the honesty and the dialogue.

        So… I’m not sure what you’re trying to tell me.

    • the comment seems incredibly dismissive of the younger generation, as though they/we don’t desire any semblance of depth or meaning.

      It’s interesting that you notice that. I didn’t strike me that way at all, probably because I am somewhat younger and I share CM’s perspective on many issues like this. The irony at play here is that not all young people want youth culture driven religion, but youth culture driven religion tends to seem like it’s built on the assumption that they don’t desire any semblance of depth or meaning. I’m painting with a fairly broad brush, but I expect this methodology to die off sooner than later. More and more I’m encountering younger people who are just turned off by it, even if the numbers of adherents are still high at the moment.

  13. My understanding of my self and the world around me took a quantum leap when I began to study the introvert mindset late in life. I was astounded to learn that depending on how you define introversion, introverts may make up something like half the population, perhaps a majority. Not all introverts are the same and not all occupy the same place on the spectrum of personality types, but it makes a great deal of difference which side of the introvert/extrovert scale you live on. Freud did us a great disservice by classifying introversion as a personality defect in need of fixing. To the contrary, introverts have highly valuable skills and talents which the world is desperately in need of, and can’t figure out where to find them in all the noise and bustle.

    Much of what we find difficult in various churches and the world at large may be nothing more than a world ruled by extroverts. This varies from culture to culture, but the Western culture and especially the American culture hold up extroversion as the ideal everyone should be working toward. A good part of the problem is that introverts understand extrovert behavior, much as it pains them, but extroverts are pretty much clueless when it comes to introvert needs and behavior. If you go to church and come home tired and worn out, you may be an introvert.

    One of the writers here, Adam McHugh, has written a book on Introverts in the Church. That should probably be required reading for all pastors. There are a lot of books available now on the introvert and I have barely made a dent in them. I would say that if you only read one book on the subject, it should be Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. That book has changed my life I am happy today to find all the introverts here with enough self-understanding to proudly claim the title. And I have said this before but it bears repeating. This place is not like a church, it IS a church. And a good place for introverts to hang out.

  14. More than anything else, what keeps me on the outside — or hanging out at the fringe — of the church I’m presently attending is a fear of doing damage. I’ve seen first hand how the introduction of new and radical ideas — when a large percentage of the congregation simply isn’t ready or willing to think outside the box — can destroy an entire church family in an alarmingly short period of time. Some take hold of the new ideas and run with them — and sometimes run over other people in the process — while others take up the sword to combat the “heretical” infiltration. Most just wander quietly away in the confusion. Some get torn in half as they try to hold everything together.
    I like thinking outside the box, and I like considering issues from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. But a lot of people just aren’t willing to go there, and some people just can’t. Their brains don’t work that way.
    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m having a hard time keeping a lid on myself, and I’m afraid of what might happen if I get too comfortable or confident and accidentally open Pandora’s box.