December 5, 2020

Fridays with Michael Spencer: October 28, 2016

Autumn Mountain Ridges, photo by David Cornwell

Autumn Mountain Ridges, photo by David Cornwell

A saint is capable of loving created things and enjoying the use of them and dealing with them in a perfectly simple, natural manner, making no formal references to God, drawing no attention to his own piety, and acting without any artificial rigidity at all. His gentleness and his sweetness are not pressed through his pores by the crushing restraint of a spiritual strait-jacket.

• Thomas Merton
New Seeds of Contemplation

• • •

At the end of the day, Paul says it is his ambition to take the gospel where it’s never been heard. Jesus says his Kingdom will replace the kingdoms of this world. Between the areas where “no one has heard” and the “Kingdom has come,” God the Holy Spirit is doing countless things with different people at different places of spiritual maturity and with different degrees of success.

Jesus does what he does through people. They are in small groups or large; they disagree and agree; they get along or they don’t. But Jesus’ chosen method is to use people to get his work done. If you have left the church, are you still following Jesus, and are you still available to work in the Kingdom of God in this broken world? Are you open to the truth that in Jesus’ Kingdom you still have an important part to play?

If you want to know what that noise is you’re hearing, it’s the angry mob that doesn’t like hearing that the New Testament isn’t just the story of their church. Those who support churchianity are using Jesus and the Scriptures to win an unnecessary argument. They feel it’s their highest duty to prove the rightness of their chosen franchise operation. In fact, Christians have been so busy proving their wing of the church is number one with God that they fail to recognize the many ways God’s Kingdom work is being done by those who are strikingly different from themselves. If you leave the franchised church, you might be going out the door to find God or to serve God more freely. Either way, it makes little difference to those who see Jesus only within the walls of a church building. In their minds, if you step outside you’re wrong.

If you are a church-leaver, I don’t want to drag you back. I have a better idea: find yourself in God’s great and diverse purpose. Where do you fit in his movement, bringing the Kingdom of God to all people on earth? Can you find your place in the wide diversity of where God is working and how God is working? Can you replace churchianity with a Jesus-shaped spirituality that experiences God’s power as God works toward fulfilling his incredible, history-changing purposes?

Where you are right now in relation to the church, you are still part of God’s design for the Kingdom. Jesus is building his people and his movement his way. I believe we’re all experiencing God’s agenda for our lives. It’s a journey of discovering a Jesus-shaped spirituality now and usefulness in God every day we’re alive.

by Michael Spencer
Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality

Photo by David Cornwell at Flickr. Used by permission.


  1. Ah yes! But what if you cannot see what that purpose or place is? That is the comfort of “belonging”, knowing what niche you fit into in the larger earthly scheme. But when you are cut loose from an organization how are you to determine where you belong in God’s kingdom?

    Really, we are not made to be “Lone Ranger” types, we are MADE to belong, and we spend a lot of our energy trying to “fit in” somewhere. Our “wandering” is only a temporary condition till we find a group of like-minded believers, and even then we rarely lose that feeling of “otherness”.

    • The desire for social belonging and the experience of persistent alienation are both constants in my own human journey.

    • Ronald Avra says

      In the history of faith, both the “Lone Ranger” and “Company Man” types can be found. The “Lone Ranger’s” are most often observed among the prophets, e.g. Jeremiah and John the Baptist; the “Company Men” can be found in the authors of many psalms. Moses made the transition from company man to lone ranger to company man (palace to desert to leader of the multitude) during the span of his life. I would not be surprised if an individual seeking to follow Jesus would find themselves in a variety of iterations.

    • How would you suggest helping a believer who does not belong anywhere, or has never found a place of belonging?

      • StuartB,

        I’ve also had a hard time “belonging”, but since my 20’s, I’ve had God in my heart through prayer. I’m slowly getting the hang of church life, but personal prayer dictates my direction to navigate the waters. Homilies, scripture, and the Eucharist feed me as I search to find my way. Now I feel the need to search out the strays and comfort them until they find their way home.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > or has never found a place of belonging?

        What is our level of intimacy? Because a lot depends on that.

        It is necessary, I think, to broach the possibility of The College Roommate Problem [someone who has been consistently unable to get along with anyone….consistently bad roommates… the bad roommate might be the one in the mirror].

        Belonging requires mercy and patience. The quest for the perfect community will be an endless quest, even if one’s qualifications for perfection are merely nearly complete intellectual/theological/eschatalogical agreement

        It took me quote awhile to be comfortable with great people but with whom I may disagree; belonging, IMNSHO, requires that comfort. Best advice for belonging – GET OUT OF YOUR $@&*&#@ HEAD.

      • Bonhoeffer says these really neat things about knowing others, not directly, but with Christ as the in-between, as the filter through which we see each other, echoing, I think, Paul’s “not knowing anyone according to the flesh.”.

        Depending on how often you’ve heard this advice, it may sound trite, but seeing everyone has an object of grace, and as an aspect of Christ, has really helped me get past my self-imposed barriers.

        I currently am part of two communities, on different ends of the church spectrum. I know absolutely no one with whom I agree about on anything theological, or even cultural, political, interests and the rest…these are not people I would have been friends with “in the flesh”, but I’ve been so so blessed to let down my guard, even when people DO disappoint you, because they’re as screwed up as you, but Jesus!

        And it’s not all just extending yourself to meet the love and acceptance needs of others, receiving love can be hard for many people because of issues of trust or self-perception, but if Christ is the stand-in, he can receive and evaluate their gifts on your behalf.

        Will note to pray for you, StuartB 🙂

        • Thanks for this comment, Osti. I find it hard to hold back when I’m with people whose theology is a lot different than mine, but I try to bite my tongue…LOL…

    • David Cornwell says

      When I left the Methodist pastorate, I ended up leaving the ministry. For a while I left the church, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t hate the church, I just needed to be away from it. I found a “secular” job. I met many people, made many new friends, and found out I had skills that were in demand. I loved much about it. The term “secular” has a bad connotation for many of us. It shouldn’t. Here is the real world.

      In the totality of this process some of the weight I carried with me from my church days began to lift.

      The company I went to work for sent me to London to work on a project. They paid for hotel and expenses in the heart of the financial district (next to the Tower Bridge). I had what I would call an “awakening” in London. The city is vast. The people come from every corner of the world. I struck up something of a friendship with a young waiter of Indian ethnicity, waiting tables, and working on a degree. He had just had some bad moments with some demanding and mean acting American tourists. I tried to ease his pain and make life better for a few moments. This restaurant was in the hotel, so I talked with him several times during my stay.

      My awakening consisted of a simple declaration that seemed to be from God: “This is my city. These are all my people. Don’t separate them into your categories.” This made my trip a joy. It was too short.

      If you find yourself out of the church for some reason, there are reasons for it. And you may find something about the world, about creation itself, to love in the process.

      • Nice story about the Indian waiter, David. And I, too, think “secular” gets a bad rap. It’s the real world. I don’t believe Jesus says, “Follow me,” and then turns and walks away from it.

      • “These are all my people. Don’t separate them into your categories.”
        Yes! You staked it right in the heart with that one, David. There’s probably no way to measure how much damage has been done by “us (or me) versus them” mindsets and attitudes — not just in the church but throughout the entirety of human civilization and history.

  2. >> But when you are cut loose from an organization how are you to determine where you belong in God’s kingdom?

    Uh, seek the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit? Works for me after all these years so I see no reason not to continue, but I recognize not all concur. Michael’s post today could well have been written after reading yesterday’s message and comments. ” . . . God the Holy Spirit is doing countless things with different people at different places of spiritual maturity and with different degrees of success.” Even ol’ Ben, bless his heart.

    On a different note, I’m going to make a wild guess that David’s spectacular photo above was not taken in Indiana, tho I’ve never been down by the Ohio River there. Always a treat when David shows up.

  3. Goshen, Wv is our camp residence. My son and I were driving in that area in the morning just exploring. We came to the crest of a hill on a dirt road with the ’78 Chevy overheating. There was a Methodist church on the left and a cemetery on the right. We walked to a creek down the hill for water while the car cooled. When we got back up a few church goers invited us to service. A couple in the cemetery found out we were exploring and invited us to follow them to another interesting cemetery( we have a family branch from WV). Both the church and cemetery couple told us to not go down the road past this spot, especially with that car. That is what we did and it did get like a cow path and on the edge, but we eventually came to a marker that we were on State Park land. It was the trees that we first fell in love with. We came to Goshen after about another 20 miles. Goshen is not as wild as the drive we took in, there are easier ways in, but it is still almost heaven to us after all these years.