August 7, 2020

Curious Minds Want To Know: Does the IM Audience REALLY Exist?

seatsC.S. Lewis said that the person who tries to be unique never is, and the person who sets out to be original seldom is.

I would suggest that the IM blog and IM radio podcast audience are made up of people who may, at least at some point, have felt they were “the only ones,” or one of a few.

Slowly, as books and blogs and stories and coffee shop conversations proliferated, their view changed.

Now, they/we know. There are thousands of us at a thousand different places in the evangelical wilderness. Our experiences in evangelicalism weren’t exactly what we originally thought. Given a place to stop, listen and talk, it turns out there are many of us, not just a few. No one seems to have a map, everyone seems to have a story. Very few of us want to go back to whatever evangelicalism was when we were happily going along with the show.

We are simply here, and we’re greatly strengthened by the stories we’re hearing and the reality we’ve discovered can’t be questioned.

Whenever I write, I’m aware of this. An audience exists around this web site and around some of what I have written, who understand what the wilderness experience means. They do not all want or even understand the post-evangelical label. They do not all agree with me or my pessimism about the future. They are not a “movement.” (Good grief.) They are not all reading Brian Mclaren, or N.T. Wright or Don Miller. They are not all anything, any denomination or any common complaint. They are not some common hoard of emerging caricatures.

We are every denomination, every age, both genders, in and out of ministry, holding on to different parts of what we once were. We take encouragement from some of the same voices, but we are most definitely not anyone’s club of the discontented. We are tribes, hermits, monastics, liberals, conservatives, traditionalists, emergers, contemplatives, prophets, lamenters, artists, solo players and plodders. Most of us have found a place to live out this wilderness experience and we go to work every day doing something for Jesus.

The audience for what I write is very real and very there….having an experience that my critics will endlessly and tirelessly describe as nothing more than the whimperings and whinings of people who can’t get over some aspect of their fundamentalist past or can’t see the glory of the evangelical present and future.

This audience has found thousands of faithful and happy evangelicals, but it has also found those who have left, are leaving and will leave. The people with no where to go. The people who don’t know what to do with their experience in evangelicalism. The people who have found shelter in some half-way house, oasis or way station.

For eight years of blogging and for most of three years of controversy, this audience has grown every year.

I could name the names of other individual Christian bloggers with large audiences and no one would embarrass themselves saying they were illusions or insignificant. But my audience? Apparently this audience either isn’t there, doesn’t matter or should be labeled as the source of the problem.

Be that as it may, the audience for this blog is real. They can be diagnosed, shuttled off to the back lot with all the other wimps, cranks and troubled kids who won’t behave. You can dispose of this audience with a word and swish of your rhetorical wand, but this audience, its experiences and its place in and out of an evangelicalism gone sour is not imaginary.

This audience and their experience of evangelicalism is part of what is happening in evangelicalism, right there along side the culture war and the latest efforts to save everything with a conference. There is no amount of diagnosing me personally that is going to make one person in the IM/IMR audience cease to exist, cease to have their experience or cease to find themselves moving out of, through and beyond evangelicalism.

If you think it’s about me being “sensitive,” well have a coke and stay a while. Ask yourself if my lack of obsequiousness is the real core issue here. Ask yourself why the blogosphere would be such a pleasant place in some corners if I just closed up shop? Ask yourself what it is that this blog and its numbers represent? Ask yourself how the stories- and people- on this blog would be treated elsewhere?

Then go back to being REAL, IM audience. That’s what you do best.

COMMENTS OPEN!

Comments

  1. But seriously …
    I think an important conversation is occurring on this blogsite, and I thank you, Michael, for hosting and facilitating it.
    Christ said that only those who are sick need a doctor and that He came to restore those who know they are sick, not those who think they are well. And for all our differences of opinion and different visions about what the church should be, one thing that most of the bloggers on this site seem to have in common is that we recognize that there is something wrong with us, both as individual Christians and as collective church bodies and institutions. We feel that somehow something important has been lost — or the ship has drifted off course — or that we’ve missed some important point — or that we’re just not producing the kind of fruit we should be. We don’t always agree about what it is that’s gone wrong with Western Christianity or on how to fix it, but I do think most of us realize that the Body isn’t in the best of health.
    So, when it comes to finding healing and restoration, this is a pretty good place to start — or start over.

  2. I’m here in Oxford, Mississippi and a part of the iMonk blog.

  3. Scott Eaton says

    Still here. Still reading. Still grateful.

  4. Michael, your blog is one of the Oasis’ that I rely on. There is a community here. It’s a real one. And I feel quite welcome. So, thanks.

  5. We’re real. Keep posting. It doesn’t matter whether we agree on all points or even most, just that you are willing to say what so many feel. We are all looking at the same landscape but we define it differently and your definition is a great addition to the description.

  6. as others have said,
    God bless

  7. I’m one of the few non-believers who you have ensnared in your audience. The conversation here is great and worth reading and it really helps me appreciate a world that I had no knowledge of before I read this blog.

  8. You and those who make comments make me think about my life with Christ.

  9. I think on some level your audience is even bigger, but they are afraid of where asking the questions will lead them, so they stick with comfort.

    It amazes me how often I will share a piece of your writing or something you link with evangelical friends who will immediately resonate with what was said. But the next day they’ll forward me something from an evangelical megaleader talking about how we need to hunker down and avoid this sin or that sin and be a better example for our neighbors.

    I think many who are entrenched in evangelical circles see much of the fallacy and error in what they see and hear, but they just don’t want to rock the boat for fear of losing community and ending up in our wilderness.

  10. The blog is daily reading for me, and has been a huge source of comfort and direct challenge for me. I’ve passed the “good infection,” to steal a phrase from Lewis, on to as many people as I can, Christian or otherwise.

    For me, the blog has been an integral part of the present leg of my spiritual journey; I’ve spent a long time deciding what I don’t agree with or believe, and now I think I’m being called to start putting some positives in place.

    Keep up the real, good work, Michael. Your words are conduits for grace.

  11. It’s actually good to know that I am not really part of your audience. That way I can’t get in trouble for all the time I spend here when I am supposed to be working:)

    • copy that KM…..wow, now I feel MUCH better, I can’t be a slacker….I’m not even real 🙂

      well, back to the un-reality we call work

      Monk: this place IS an oasis; thank you for showing up and ringing the bell.

      Greg R

  12. I am one of those you referred to–I thought I was alone, a dying breed of open minded, “thinking” Christians who was willing to challenge traditional thoughts and beliefs. I’m here and very happy to find a place where nothing is off limits (or at least it seems that way to me) to at least ask or question, a place where you can have different views and from what I have read in the comments, others may disagree but at least you are not attacked or asked to leave.

    Thanks for sticking with this…looking forward to more.

  13. Hey Michael,

    Been reading for over a year, had many comments but never posted one. Why? Mainly because I work in kids ministry at a fairly large church in your favorite baseball town. As well as the fact that we have a ministry partner relationship with a small church which, if I’m not mistaken, is a stone’s throw from you.
    In other words, determined that it wasn’t worth the risk of being recognized. Too much chance that some of my parents will figure out that my “nod and smile” when they suggest a family day at the Creation Museum really does mean that I’m thinking about it…..but they aren’t going to like what I’m thinking! 😉

    Just wanted to say Thank you! My “short list” of those to whom I plan to give your book grows longer by the day. If I can make my a Diet Coke with lime…and some of that amazing Sonic crushed ice….maybe I will stick around and post some more.

  14. Michael,

    Thank you for this place.

    Before I discovered the world of people like me I wondered if I would ever know the truth. Mulder said the truth is out there. I know I’ll never know it until I leave this life, but I’m the smallest bit closer to believing that just because I heard something for 40 years doesn’t mean it’s true.

  15. Michael, and all:
    I am here, even if I am annoying.

  16. I don’t see what unifies this auduence other than a dissatisfaction with their church. Rarely is any critique tied to scripture; mostly criticism arises from your personal experiences or opinions, which is why I think you should think about what your critics say. Empowering people to be dissatisfied for vague, undefined reasons does nothing constructive.

    • “I don’t see what unifies this auduence other than a dissatisfaction with their church.”

      Then I would say that you are not paying attention.

    • I always love the charge that you need to back up any critique with scripture or it’s worthless.

      It’s an easy charge to be leveled because you can easily defend what you or your church is doing by picking a verse that supports your position or your action.

      If you are paying attention to the critiques you hear on this site they almost universally are rooted in the totality of scripture – in the Gospel. In what Michael would call being Jesus-shaped. Would it help the argument to post a summary of the Gospel with key passages for reference every time a critique of the evangelical church is made?

    • Well, you didn’t use any scripture in your post, and you seem to be expressing your opinion.

    • “Rarely is any critique tied to scripture”

      I can’t fathom how you’ve read this blog for any amount of time and come to this conclusion. Most of the critiques I’ve read here are solidly founded in Scripture. People may not quote chapter and verse in every post, but there is a deep concern for the call to follow Christ and be a light to the world, to comfort the suffering, the sick and the outcast. There are incisivie critiques of practices and approaches, nearly all grounded in and reflecting a genuine concern for the gospel.

      When you have scores and perhaps hundreds or thousands of people, many very devoted and experienced and some even quite educated, hitting on the same theme, it’s seems a bit hasty to write us all off as disgruntled ex-whatevers.

    • I love my church! And I love this blog. Among other things it helps me to not be satisfied with where things are at, but to be transformed into the community that Christ wants us to be.

    • Maybe we can agree that pure dissatisfaction , merely being disgruntled, is not very helpful. But neither is putting on a smiley Ward Cleaver Phil 4:4 face, divorced from the rest of scripture. If all you see is dissatisfaction, I’d say look closer. Problem is, their are multitudes , IMO, our their who have similar questions and issues. What’s your take, Boaz, convince them to ‘get over it and get back to the word ?” I think you can hold up your end of the bridge with more purpose than that.

      In fairness, some of Monk’s posts are introductory to a dilemma or problem, but that doesn’t mean that he, or the I-Monk audience doesn’t care about scaling the mountain and seeing improvement. Quite often, here at I-monk I see printed what is rarely talked about in a live venue, but should be. Gotta start someplace.

      Pax
      Greg R

    • First, I think if you read more carefully, you’ll see many specific issues raised by IM and by others. Those issue relate pretty strongly to the great themes of Scripture … and to the great questions and experiences of the church(es).

      Second, are you suggesting that personal experiences and opinions don’t matter? Many of the questions raised here relate to the evangelical movement and its subculture, something you can scarcely discuss without referring to up-close, personal observation or at least recent history books. Citing a proof-texts doesn’t get you very far unless you think very carefully about praxis — how to appropriate and live truth here, in our specific context amid our specific problems.

    • Feliz Navidad says

      I’m afraid this response typifies exactly what is wrong with so much of the evangelical so-called church — their knee jerk response is to condemn any thought, no matter how cogent, as “not biblical” without any knowledge of or dependency upon Scripture. “Otherness” is by definition of the devil. This is fundamentalism at its worst.

  17. A few people have mentioned this blog as comforting. I agree. At first I thought I liked this blog because it is compelling, or interesting. But after some more thought I realized — it is comforting. I am having trouble putting my finger on exactly why it is comforting — I am not as clear a thinker as MS. I think it is comforting to know that I don’t have to make a choice between Jesus and my nagging doubts and disconnects. I can meet Jesus *in* my nagging doubts and disconnects. I don’t mean that the thoughts and inclinations that emanate from my mind are the path to Jesus. But I mean that I can dive into them, not be afraid of them, and Jesus can meet me there, sorting out the truth from the dross.

  18. Hey…new guy arriving on the scene…but I have been in the wilderness for about a year and 8 months. It has been a hard road…I just found myself losing my faith and not fitting in the molds of what some would refer to as the church.

    Now I still attend a church…but I had to get to a place where I actually hit the bottom of the road…emptied my cup so to speak…

    I cant belive it took so long for it to happen… 🙂

    But now I find myself refilled with the Holy Spirit. I would call it a awaking…A refreshment of spirit and stirring within my soul. I feel refreshed and refocuses on what I have been called to do.

    My only problem is discovering in what context I will be able to move forward…because there are no new trails to speak of…only the one that God himself has already made for me to follow

  19. Peggy in Shenandoah Valley says

    Like so many other responders, this site- this community- is an oasis I visit daily. Sometimes more than that, especially if it’s a hot topic, or one that brings out a diversity of well-articulated opinions. This invisible community is one of my “churches”, but I am also blessed with a small Sunday morning church that meets in a rented space and spends most of its tithes helping out with local needs and small but powerful ministries in other locations. Many of us are “refugees” from large evangelical/CCM churches that have already collapsed or taken too many wrong turns. Another of my churches is a CS Lewis society which is quite ecumencial and intellectually challenging. Another is a small women’s bible study in which I’m probably the most “educated” in terms of formal education, but by no means the most superior in terms of hunger for a Jesus-shaped life, knowledge of scripture, and a life transformed. And sometimes “church” happens at the most unexpected times and places. I am so grateful for my on-line church, the imonk community. I just wish we could occasionally have a face to face gathering; but just imagine how hard it would be to settle on who/how to do the music!!!! 🙂

  20. “We are tribes, hermits, monastics, liberals, conservatives, traditionalists, emergers, contemplatives, prophets, lamenters, artists, solo players and plodders.”

    If I were to be totally honest, I’d have to say I’m a back slider who enjoys observing strife and controversy.

    • Well, hang out here at your own risk, then : ) I’ve also been in that particular box, but have found that the more I listen to thoughtful, caring, grounded discussions (grounded not only in Scripture but reflected in people’s own experience), the less comfortable/complacent the ‘observer’ role becomes and the more I’m challenged to make new moves of my own.

      The only thing I’ve ever ground my teeth about here, is the choice of an AMiA priest as I felt very disappointed that the voice of my faith tradition (liberal, Anglo-Catholic) would not be represented. But hey, you can’t have *everything* even on a Blog as generally fabulous as this one, and I’m happy to carry on being a friendly ‘outsider’.

      Like many others, I often post links to friends and colleagues who have expressed their appreciation.

      Sally D, South Africa

  21. I visit and read reguarly, have done so for the past few months. I guess I was late to the party. My wife and the leaders at my church all say I am different now. Which is good. They aren’t all enthusiastic about the change. Which is OK. I’ve quoted articles and comments from here and received an odd assortment of responses ranging from anger to astonishment. Keep it up. You articulate some things which I feel and help me fine tune my own thinking.

    • We can relate, Tom C. My husband is presently doing a teaching on “The Prodigal God” by Tim Keller. He has split it into three parts and has used several I-Monk essays to get people thinking (“Weird Christians” and “Why Do They Hate Us” are the two, I think). It would be an understatement to say that some people do not like this kind of challenge to their way of “doing Christianity”. They’d rather go around blaming the “younger brothers” all of the time and feeling sorry for how they are treated, which surely must be ONLY because they love Jesus and anybody who is not just like them “hates” Jesus, so there ya go!

  22. I too am one of those people that felt alone. Well… at least in my church I felt alone but I have a nagging suspicion that there are others like me there. I have been burned out, used up, and out right bitter at times unfortunately. What do you do then? Stay put or church hop? I’m looking for community too. I like imonk because it seems as if all of the things that disturb me in my core that I can’t really put a finger on are being articulated. I love that someone has been able to do it. I know some don’t like the idea that this blog points out problems and they don’t see solutions being offered (although I would disagree with that) well… you gotta be able to put your finger on the problem first before you can fix it. Anyhow I dig the site and I’ve been lurking for months.

  23. This blog is a thread I hang by. Before reading here, I didn’t know anything about post-evangelical and emerging church and blah blah. I just called myself a ‘Recovering Baptist’.

  24. I am an IM reader and I passed the Turing test. 🙂

    Seriously, though, I found this blog at a time when I was starting to wonder if intellectually honest Christians actually existed. Sometimes this is the only place I can find them.

  25. I don’t remember how I ended up at this sight, but saved it as a “favorite” and have lurked here for months without posting. I have attended the same church for 33 years and love all the people there. However, our national church decisions have made me think twice. This site has also made me think about what is really important. Please keep posting.

  26. I really think that, with the exception of unbelievers who regularly read IM, most of us are believers in Jesus. Jesus is the bottom line here. Jesus being the Saviour of the world. It’s not a discussion of choice of political leaders. We’re all, fundamentally, looking at the big picture. Which is so far beyond this life. And politics.

    And because we believe Jesus is the Saviour of the world, we really want to know how we should live, according to Him. It’s so much more than dissatisfaction with a church. Even if we just go with what He told us in scripture, it’s difficult enough. But there are people who have added on, or embellished, until what they say seems to be carved in stone. Like Jesus, Himself, said it. Even though He didn’t.

    It’s hard enough to love my neighbor as myself. It’s hard enough to work in a warehouse store on a Sunday and see all the “christians” who come after church, and the way they behave. Did going to church make it ok for them to be !@#$%#@! ?

    So, thank God, yes, thank God, for this website, because I believe Jesus isn’t liberal or conservative; but something, Someone, way beyond this material plane; and He wants us to know something other than this list of rules that passes for christianity these days.

  27. To quote the immortal Dr. Seuss:

    “We are here, we are here, we are heeeeeere!”

    Sometimes it just takes one additional YAP for the rest of the world to realize you exist….

  28. Sheboygan Falls, WI checking in.

  29. KR Wordgazer says

    Thanks, IMonk.

    I read this to my husband and found him nodding, with a look of relief on his face I haven’t seen there in a long time. We left our old church almost 10 years ago, and started going to a new one that we chose primarily because it was tolerant enough to not insist on adherence to a large, exacting group of doctrines in order to fellowship there. And yet in many ways we go there only because it’s the best thing we have come up with to do while we continue to try to figure out where Jesus fits into this thing we call Christianity. . .

    My husband doesn’t visit blogs much– but it comforted him when I read this to him and told him that we’re not alone.

  30. Ironically, I went from a frustrated marginal Evangelical to a frustrated marginal Catholic.

    Would I change my journey, Nope. Would I want any one else to do the same, NOPE.

    Do I find community here, that exists not in my tangilble life. Yes, Yes a thousand times yes.

    • “Do I find community here, that exists not in my tangilble life. Yes, Yes a thousand times yes.”

      ditto.

  31. I admit I don’t get out much, but I’m curious about the meta-impetus behind this. Is there actually some concerted effort to marginalize/deny/rationalize/pooh-pooh/explain away the exjstence of the “tribes, hermits, monastics, liberals, conservatives, traditionalists, emergers, contemplatives, prophets, lamenters, artists, solo players and plodders” who tend to be very seriously concerned about the emperor’s wardrobe?

  32. LC-MS Lutheran lurking here.

  33. Orthodox Christian lurking here. Been frequenting this site for half a year now. This blog gives me a perspective I can get nowhere else. I left the evangelical wilderness about four years ago. The evangelical chapter of the Western Church now seems rather obvious, at least as obvious as what has happened to the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. But there remains much about evangelical Christians to strive to emulate. I speak for myself and what I see among my parishioners. May we emulate your virtues. No need for pessimism. Saints are are formed in this secular furnace. We all better learn to pray.

  34. I’m another who thought she was the only one. Thanks for being here.

  35. I am real. Nigerian. grateful for this blog.

  36. O, and that was my first comment ever, have been reading for about 2 years, came over from a link on the Scrupe Group, a group for sufferers of scrupulosity (religious OCD).

  37. I came.
    I saw.
    I read.
    I staid.

    God bless, and keep writing!
    🙂

  38. I’m here, and more real than I probably have a right to be, though I’m not part of the post-evangelical audience per se. (Was never evangelical to begin with!) But you come from such a different part of the Christian spectrum from me that I can’t stop reading…

  39. I consider this blog an important part of my Christian formation and spiritual direction. I’m here, and I’m definitely not going anywhere.

  40. God bless you, Michael. I’ve been a regular visitor for, gosh it must be 5 years and 2 churches. You have no idea (actually, you probably do) as to how widespread the bewilderment is within the evangelical community. Not angry dissent, just sort of a stunned realization of some of the severe flaws, both in evangelical *tradition* and the *contemporary* evangelical church. A vague nausea whose source is the *priestcraft* and the marketing and the extra-biblical rulebooks which seem to abound………Where’s Jesus, and where are the people trying to get their heads around His message? They are many places, and this is one of them.