If you've ever contemplated leaving the churchthis bookis one you need to read. The late Michael Spencer author of the amazing blog internet monk wrote it just before he found out he had the cancer that took him from this life. There is an excerpt here that I hope will whet your appetite for more. The first chapter, titled the Dairy Queen Incident will resonate with any number of us who have done youth ministry or have been one of those youth ministry kids.
I remain within the institutional church for reasons even I don't fully understand. The church has been the source of both the greatest pain in my life and of the greatest healing and hope in my life. Like a dysfunctional family we bumble along hurting the ones we love the most. Sometimes I think the safest thing to do would be to opt out altogether. I know that my closest friends, at least those that aren't themselves enmeshed in the institutional church, have wondered at times why I stayed. Why I stay. The highest compliment my best friend could pay to a church is the one he paid to the one I am currently attending, when he told me "they can keep you." This after several years of begging me to leave my abusive previous church. And my current church gets much more of it "right" than my previous church did but I know all to well, being the religious mutt that I am, that no church is ever going to have it all right. I've been kicked out of or fled from a pretty good cross section of the mainline protestant ones. In my 42 years on this earth I've been Southern Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, back to Southern Baptist (different church), back to Methodist (same church as the first run through Methodism), and now Baptist (progressive not Southern) again. I've also worshiped with the Pentacostal church, the Catholic church, the Episcopal church, the Presbyterian church and several flavors of non-denominational churches none of which I elected to actually place membership with.
That's an interesting process that whole placing membership thing. Sometimes when I check my mailbox I feel like a religious bigamist. Apparently it is far easier to join a church than it is to LEAVE a church. I find myself simultaneously, despite notifying each one as I moved on, a member of four churches all of which send me mail. Actually the Church of Christ sends their mail addressed not to me but rather to my husband and daughter, I apparently was excommunicated at some point after her birth and despite their insistence on baptism in THEIR denomination for membership she seems to have been made a member in my place. Its quite amusing if it weren't so annoying. The Baptist Megachurch that we were members of after leaving that Church of Christ seems not to know that we left and indeed we probably confuse them by the fact that we make use of their homeschool ministry offering for enrichment classes for my daughter and we use their wonderful health club, excuse me recreation ministry, when the mood strikes us. The Methodist church that we were most recently members of has persisted in keeping me on their mailing lists since I originally joined there in 1989, through our family tenure in both the Church of Christ and the Baptist Megachurch. I guess those membership vows are like wedding vows but who do I contact to let the church know that I want a divorce? For now we rest among an amazing congregation of progressive Baptists. We are learning who our new family members are and going through the honeymoon stage of a new church relationship. Like an abused wife in a subsequent marriage I still wait for the veil to fall away and the dark side to show itself. Thus far though they have been amazing.
All that to say I see the flaws in the institutional church but I choose to be there anyway. When I was struggling my hardest, having left the church without actually LEAVING the church, I found Internet Monk and Michael Spencer. It was like water in the desert. I wasn't crazy. I wasn't alone in seeing that the emperor had no clothes. I wasn't by myself in my frustration with how different the church looked, particularly the large mega churches I moved within, from the Jesus I saw in the bible. I wasn't the only one who couldn't understand how we could care so much about who was sleeping with whom and so little about who was sleeping on the streets because they were homeless. I wasn't the only one who wondered how a quarter of a million dollars in new carpet for the sanctuary held priority over helping a fledgling church inside communist China. If you're one of those people who is bothered by this sort of thing Mere Churchianity is one you need to read. And when you do, come tell us about your reaction to it. I'll be writing more on the subject I'm sure.