December 11, 2018

It’s Time Again to Recommend: “Mere Churchianity”

By Chaplain Mike

To conclude this week of remembering the founder of Internet Monk—the late Michael Spencer, who died a year ago—we point you to the crowning achievement of his writing life: his book, Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.

If you have not yet had a chance to read this book, we encourage you to do so.

The book begins with a story about a youth group going to Dairy Queen, acting crazy and rowdy, leaving a mess without bothering to clean it up. Michael, who was the youth pastor, received a letter from a young person who worked at the DQ and had witnessed their behavior.

You also probably don’t know that I am a member of your church, but for the past year I have been an atheist. The reason is very simple: Christians like you have convinced me that God is a myth, an excuse used by religious people to mistreat others. As long as there are people like you and your youth group, I’ll never come to church or believe in God again. You are petty, selfish, and arrogant. I would rather be an atheist, no matter what the consequences, than have people like you accept me just because I was a “Christian.”

As Michael meditated on that incident, he recognized the incredible irony of “the Christian life” as it had been presented to him in the church. Though the church constantly challenged Christians to let people “see Jesus in us,” he realized that the following was true:

  • We had no idea what Jesus was really like.
  • We assumed that being in church would make us like Jesus.
  • We seldom studied the Bible with the purpose of seeing how it connected to Jesus.
  • In the name of Jesus, we were ungracious and unloving to people who didn’t believe exactly as we did.
  • We knew very little about what Jesus was doing on earth besides dying and rising again.
  • We assumed that Jesus bought into our idea of what was important in life.

The purpose of Michael’s book is to critique this “churchianity” that has little to do with Jesus, and to encourage us to seek a more “Jesus-shaped” way of trusting and following him.

Mere Churchianity is presented in four parts:

  • The Jesus Disconnect: In which Michael diagnoses and describes symptoms of the problem, and introduces the way of Jesus-shaped spirituality. “What I need is a real transformation by the real Christ, not the one that is manufactured by organized Christianity.” (p. 44)
  • The Jesus Briefing: In which Michael invites to take a closer look at Jesus as he truly is; especially as presented in the pages of the Gospels. “To understand Jesus and the God who comes to us in Jesus, we have to come to terms with the truth that Jesus is absolutely singular and unique. No matter how much research we might do, we can’t define him. He is remarkably exclusive compared to the phony versions of Jesus running loose in our culture.” (p. 77)
  • The Jesus Life: In which Michael discusses what a believer’s life might look like if he/she followed Jesus into a Christian life without adjectives, reminding us that “it’s a bad idea to be a good Christian”—“Jesus was not clearing the road so I could ride victoriously through life. He was becoming the road that would carry me through all the garbage, falls, and disasters that were the inevitable results of my existence.” (p. 135)
  • The Jesus Community: In which Michael addresses those who find themselves in the “wilderness” with regard to being connected to a church, encouraging us to find or start a community of those who long to follow Jesus himself. “The decision to pursue Jesus-shaped spirituality won’t take you to a building with a sign out front. You may have to look hard to find the overgrown path of the “road less traveled by…that has made all the difference.” (p. 210)

We invite you to participate in a journey into the heart and soul of Michael Spencer’s Jesus-shaped, grace-filled message by getting a copy of Mere Churchianity and reading it today. It represents what we are all about here at Internet Monk.


  1. Thanks. This book has really been a help to me. I found that I looked to the church instead of God during most of my “Christian” life.

  2. Finished reading Mere Churchianity about 6 weeks ago. Very good perspectives, observations, and challenges. The tone and style is somewhat chatty and definitely “Southern”. I wish Michael could have had the opportunity to write several more books.


  3. You know, I was reading Mere Churchianity last year while spending the week at my denomination’s local camp (in Northern Saskatchewan). I remember specifically reading the section where he talks about never seeing a deer close to a “deer crossing” sign. I thought, like everyone else, “That’s true. I have never seen a deer close to a deer crossing sign.” About an hour later, I drove into town to pick something up and I saw a doe so close to a deer crossing sign that she was actually touching it.

    Of course I love and appreciate the book, and I agree with his analogy there, of course, occasionally you CAN actually find Jesus at a church.

    • I don’t remember what Michael was getting at, but here in Maine there is a joke about a lady at the annual town meeting who got up and said, “I wish you’d move that deer crossing sign to some other place. It seems like an awful lot of deer are getting hit right there.”

      I just happened to put in a plug for Michael’s book. It’ll post after midnight.

  4. I have said this before but Mere Churchianity was the first Christian book I had read in probably ten years. I will look back on that as a turning point. For the first time, I was able to be honest about my sin. I had played the strange church/religious game so long that I tried to deny that I had any major sin because then that would show evidence of my not so victorious Christian life which would then mean I wasn’t saved. Of course by denying my sin I was.. oh what does I John say about that? Right, I was making God out to be a liar. And consequently Gos was not in me. So here I am almost a year later and headed into a direction I never would have thought. It was a blessing to read Michael’s book. I didn’t get acquainted with his work until he had died but I consider him my friend.

  5. Mere Churchianity is a great book. It was one of those books that articulated stuff I’ve thought about evangelicalism over the past few years. I encourage everyone to read this book.

    • That’s a good description of what I thought of the book too. My wife and I both got a lot out of reading it.

  6. Martin Romero says:

    Really enjoyed it, and made me think a lot about many things related with church and the Christian life. Definitely it’s one of those few Christian books that I know I have to read again to extract all its juice.

  7. I finally purchased this book a week ago and am looking forward to starting it soon. I have profitted from all the IM writers and thank you.

  8. One more Mike says:

    Chaplain Mike is too fine a gentleman to mention this, but I’m not, so I will (gn).

    Please order from the link on the sidebar here at Internet Monk. In fact, order several copies for friends, family and as gifts.

    • @One more Mike
      Thank you for the reminder. I’ve just downloaded it to my Kindle, and looking forward to reading it (alas, it’s #3 in the queue).

  9. off topic, but I didn’t know which thread to put this in: this sounds like a book that needs to be IMONK’ed; found this in Church Leaders Read

    Kevin DeYoung, continuing the conversation about pietism and confessionalism, mentions John Williamson Nevin’s most famous book, The Anxious Bench. DeYoung says this about the use of new measures in the revivalism of Nevin’s day:

    Nevin attacked the revivalistic system that made surprising conversions the norm and weakened the role of the institutional church. He maintained that Finney’s New Measures could not be reconciled with the older method of lifelong catechesis: “The spirit of the Anxious Bench is at war with the spirit of the Catechism” (62). On one hand, you have the system of the Bench which “makes conversion, in its own sense, to be the all in all of the gospel economy and the development of the Christian life subsequently a mere secondary interest” (70). On the other hand, you have the system of the Catechism which believes in sermons, systematic instruction, pastoral visitation, catechetical training, attention to order and discipline, and patient perseverance (61). These two systems are altogether different. You must choose one or the other. And according to Nevin, “It must be ever a wretched choice, when the Bench is preferred to theCatechism” (63).

    Nevin was concerned that the New Measures were putting all the attention on bending the will to make a decision for Christ in a moment of great existential angst. By contrast, the better method of ministry is the slow, deliberate, ordinary work of preaching, worship, sacraments, discipline, instruction, and catechism. Nevin is right: the best ministries are “constant, regular, earnest; not marked with noise and parade; but like the common processes of nature, silent rather, deep, and full of invisible power” (76).