December 15, 2017

Escaping the Post-Evangelical Wilderness?

Michael Spencer wrote a post a couple of years ago entitled “Happy Enough Protestant“. It was his response to many inquiries as to why he did not convert to Roman Catholicism. While Michael was a “Happy Enough Protestant“, he was not a “Happy Enough Evangelical“. InternetMonk.com has been a window into why he was wandering in the “Post-Evangelical Wilderness”.

There are many who will read this post who have been burned by Evangelical churches, or they look at the Evangelical movement as a whole and don’t like what they see. I recently read a comment by a reader who was out of work. His Evangelical churches did not offer any help, but his Catholic neighbors did. He concluded by saying that whatever church he ended up in next it would not be an Evangelical one.

I could trot out the statistics at this point and show how the Evangelical movement is better at caring for their neighbors than other faith expressions. But there would be no point, the experiences that people have with their local expression of Evangelicalism, would totally supersede any statistical summary that I would bring forward. Others, like Michael Spencer, look nationally, and see many aspects of Evangelicalism with which they are very uncomfortable. So Michael, like others, wander in this Post-Evangelical wilderness.

The problem is, how do you stop wandering in the wilderness? The wilderness is not where you want to be. It might provide some perspective for a time, and the solitude might be refreshing, but like the Israelites you want to eventually find the “Promised Land”. I wish Michael was alive to write a follow-up to his book Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, because this is the question that I think he had the most difficulty answering.

For some this might be a matter of finding the right church.

Very early in my interaction with Internet Monk, I read a post by Michael Spencer about what his ideal church would look like. As I read it I found myself nodding in agreement. Michael and I were definitely kindred spirits. We differed on worship styles, but that was about it (I wish I could find that article again).

If we were both looking for a church, what would that church look like?

  • Key to our search would be a church that was centered around the good news of Jesus Christ. Michael lived for the gospel. A church that does not have the gospel at its heart would be a non-starter for both of us.
  • Michael was, like me, an egalitarian. That is, we believed that ministry in the church should be based upon spiritual gifts, and not upon gender prescribed roles. For me this is essential, I cannot be part of a church where my wife and daughters can not minister according to their gifts.
  • Like Michael, I get annoyed at churches who are so focused on side issues like creation science, abortion, or homosexuality, that they forget the gospel. Pastors who dwell on these themes won’t have my attention for long.
  • We both decry the focus on affluence in the North American church, and would love to see the church involved more in ministry to the poor. Churches need to genuinely care for those people inside them, and those around them. That too cuts my number of church choices.
  • Like Michael Spencer, I believe that there is good to be found in many different Christian traditions. Churches that espouse that their way is the only way, or who put down other traditions, are not churches in which I am interested.

I could go on to give many other examples of what made finding a church difficult for me and Michael. If you have been reading Internet Monk long enough you will know many of them.

Finding a church that works for you, especially if you have already been burned by church, can be very difficult.

Both Michael and I tried starting a church based upon what we believed church should look like, and both of us had to abandon our attempts. While at Internet Monk we have many kindred spirits, trying to translate that idea into a local community is a very, very, difficult process.

In my community of 27,000 there is one Evangelical church, and one that is not a great fit for our family. While there are many, many more churches in the area where Michael Spencer lived, he had written once that to find a church that really worked for him would be a two hour drive—each way. On the other hand, my family and I were able to find a church that did work for us in a community that is just 15 minutes away.

This, I believe, accounted for much of the difference in our approach to post-evangelicalism. When the problems with evangelicalism impacts your Sunday morning experience, then your reaction is going to be quite different to someone like myself who has found a safe haven in an evangelical church.

So I have these questions for our readers—

For those of you who feel that you are no longer wandering in the wilderness, what has worked for you? What insights can you offer to those who are still in the post-evangelical wilderness and don’t know which way to turn?

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Chaplain Mike,

    You knew the Imonk much better than I did, even though I was always amazed that he would take time to repsond to individual emails I sent him.

    I always wondered what kept the Imonk baptist. I sent him an email once, when I was working thru my own move from baptist to Anglican. I was basically working thru my issues with infant baptism etc. We shared some exchanges that led me to believe had he lived in a different place or in different circumstances he would not still be baptist. I don’t have those exchanges saved so I will not attempt to give exact statements.

    To all who are wondering in the evangelical wilderness I would recommend Anglicanism. In Angicanism there is true diversity in practice. You can find a high Anglo-Catholic church, a Traditional church, or a very contemporary one. You have a rich liturgy, a culture that values learning, and much more. A godly Bishop is true comfort, and a vestry is a much more civilized way to conduct church business than a monthly conference meeting:)

    I really feel like I have found my home. I am truly spriitually content.

    • oops just realized this post is Mike Bell not Chaplain Mike,

      sorry about that

    • I believe in one post a number of years ago Michael wrote that if he did switch it would be to an Anglican community. I may not be remembering that correctly, but Denise could probably correct me if I am wrong.

      • I emailed Michael Spencer for prayer and advice when I was thinking a moving to the Lutheran church a couple of years ago. Here’s his response: “Go and don’t look back, even when the normal honeymoon is over and you see the faults of the new church. Enjoy and share what you will reclaim.”

    • I know Michael never abandoned Credobaptism, and I know that (regarding Lutheranism), he had a “deal breaker” problem with close/closed Communion.

      • Isn’t the closed communion problem only a Missouri Synod problem?

        • … and in certain locales the Missouri Synod has open communion. My parents when they are down south take communion in Missouri Synod Lutheran church.

          • I don’t quite understand the whole closed communion position for LCMS. Our local LCMS church practices open communion but I have heard rumors the pastor has told people “Don’t tell the LCMS leadership 🙁 ”

            From my brief understanding of LCMS, the leadership of the synod seems to have the same problems as the rest of fundamentalistic evangelism, but local congregations to an extent seem to ignore them.

            ELCA seems to have the opposite problem. The nationwide conference takes social stands I disagree with, but individual pastors and congregations seem to be very Christ centered.

          • ELCA seems to have the opposite problem. The nationwide conference takes social stands I disagree with, but individual pastors and congregations seem to be very Christ centered.

            That’s been my experience with ELCA churches as well.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          LCMS also does not ordain female clergy. In general, it seems like the problem is one of threading the needle: the LCMS is too conservative (or too conservative in certain features) while the ELCA is too liberal (at least in certain features). In practice this need not be such an obstacle. There is wide variety on the congregational level. The LCMS prohibition on female clergy might be a deal-breaker, as that is determined above the individual congregation. But some LCMS congregations have women in non-ordained leadership roles.

      • Singular Observer,

        Way off topic here but I notice on your blog that you mention both Zimbabwe and Saskatchewan, two places where I have lived! How many other people can say that? I also know that Shelagh Rogers would not appreciate the misspelling of her name. 🙂

        • Laughing here! Shelagh Rogers is wonderful.

        • Michael – yes, I grew up in SA, visited Zimbabwe (and Botswana and Namibia), and now live in SK.

          I have actually never seen her name in print – I just listen to the Morning show on CBC on my way to work. So – apologies to Shelagh!

          • My Dad grew up in South Africa, my Mom in Zambia. I was born in England on their way to Canada, but we moved back to Zimbabwe when I was a teen. Did my seminary training in Regina, Saskatchewan, and have lived in Ontario for the last 15 years.

          • Wow – it gets even more interesting! My parents were missionaries in Zambia in the sixties before I was born. Were in Zambia did your mom grow up?

          • And my great-grandfather was the founder of Mt. Selinda mission station in Zimbabwe, on land given him by Cecil Rhodes, as well as Amanzetoti in South Africa. I lived in Johannesburg in the 70s. Where did you all live in SA?

          • Oops. Amanzemtoti.

          • I mostly grew up in Vereeniging, just south of Johannesburg, from the late seventies up till I left for University in the early nineties. My parents were at the mission station close to Katete, eastern Zambia, in the sixties.

          • Ok, here is my African connection.

            My father’s family moved to Springs after the 2nd world war (just N.E. of Vereeniging). They lived briefly in Daggafontein (near Springs) before moving up to Chinglola in Zambia. This is where my Mom met my Dad. My Mom’s family had lived in Kalundu in Zambia, in Mansa (where my Mom was born), and in Mufulira. My Mom was educated at Sakeji school (and taught there briefly). My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in what is now Harare in Zimbabwe and my grandmother was born in Bulawayo.
            My grandmother’s father founded Mtshabezi Mission and built the road from Bulawayo to Mtshabezi. Although I was born in London England, and grew up in Canada, we moved back to Africa when I was 11 and I lived in Bulawayo. We visited all over Southern Africa, but never made it to the Mt. Selinda area because of the civil war. When I was 15 we moved back to Canada, and I have been here ever since.

          • Michael – my wife is from Nigel, just outside Springs. And my parents met in Zambia too! My brother was born there in 1964. My dad taught at the mission school in Katete, and was the acting principal when the Zambian government took over the school in 1971, replacing them with teachers from the old Eastern-block countries, and they had leave the country in a hurry, with all their possessions piled into a VW kombi, with no prospects anywhere. The mission board then got my dad a teaching job in Qwa-Qwa, and I was born in neighbouring Harrismith just a few years later (’74).

      • He never abandoned it, and i purely speculate here, but if he could have found an anglican church close by I bet he would have “tolerated” it from his point of view,

        I myself was willing to embrace it after reading Stott and others and seeing that a pure credobaptism taken to it’s logical end must end in landmarkism and de-church vast swaths of Christians both present and past but that is off topic i know

    • Hey Austin,

      FWIW, I have really been struggling with the credobaptist thingy. It seems so rational and logical, but I just don’t see credobaptists bringing up their children into their faith the way that paedo’s do with their catechism and confirmation. Infant baptism just seems to always go hand and hand with effective family discipleship as a means of passing down the faith through right use of tradition. I’m currently Southern Baptist. But there are too many theological issues I just don’t feel certain about anymore. People have been arguing about them for centuries and still can’t agree, people much more educated and knowledgeable than I, so I am loosing hope of coming to any firm conclusions and convictions about such matters.

      This makes the Anglican church all the more appealing. And the Disciples of Christ, and the Moravians. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” A community embracing this ethic seems just more likely to smell like Jesus, imo.

      • Miguel,

        One thing that moved me to abandon credo-baptistism were my own children, and my own childhood. I think the way I saw folks treating their kids when I was coming up was not spiritually healthy.

        This is a borrowed thought even though I can’t name the source, but whey do we raise our kids to love Jesus, to learn about him, sing Jesus loves me, have them pray every night, take them to church, and then at some point thrust them out of the kingdom and demand some sort of visible act of contrition to satisfy our ideas about what salvation looks like?

        I would tuck my kids in at night, pray with them and look at them as I left the room and ask myself. “If these are not Christian children then what are they?”

      • Miguel,

        I take strong issue with your sentence, ” Infant baptism just seems to always go hand and hand with effective family discipleship as a means of passing down the faith through right use of tradition.”

        I live in a traditionally Roman Catholic country, and I can tell you that while most kids are baptized as infants, the way the society as a whole goes is clear evidence that there is no effective catechesis and discipleship going on.

        I don’t think it matters at all whether you have paedo or credobaptism, whenever a church is the dominant church in a given area you will get many “nominal believer”, who are in the church because “it’s the thing to do”, not because they have a a personal faith. Such people will have a hard time passing that non-existing faith on to their children.

        A couple of days ago I was listening to a missionary to South Africa describing that virtually EVERYBODY you talk to on the street knows about conversion and being born again, but the overall state of society does not bear out claims of a 60-80% Evangelical population. So, there evangelical religion is socially dominant, but Christ’s words that FEW will walk the narrow road are still true there. In the southern US, Southern Baptists may be the dominant religious group, but Christ’s words that FEW will walk the narrow road are still true. In Austria, Catholics may be the dominant religious group(66%, down from 89% in 1951), but Christ’s words about FEW choosing the narrow road are still true.

        • Josh in FW says:

          good point and reminder of our responsibilities as parents

        • Some good points. I was referring mostly to protestant traditions, but every group has it’s success and failure stories. It just seems to me that what passes for generic evangelicalism in America has no mechanism for passing on the core of orthodoxy to the next generation. Your average kid in youth group has no idea what difference the virgin birth makes, but you can bet that he is pro-life. The reformed churches seem more moderate on social issues and more intent on majoring on the essentials in catechism.
          But you’re right about the few. Every tradition is full of people going through the motions. Not sure this is a fixable problem.

  2. I simplified my standards so much, yet it was still very challenging for me. I had two criteria

    1) A service that mentions the Trinity and the death, burial,resurrection, and future return of Christ
    2) Church service and format not centered around the pastor

    One key point for post-evangelicals. We must separate our identity (who we are) from our church. Evangelicals from Baptist and non-denominational life are bad about associating our identity with the church we attend. It is better to develop an identity with our vocation. It is a painful process to separate identify from church attendance.

  3. I did my few years of church detox. I took up golf on Sundays. I did insist my boys attend their youth groups though. I worked in Recovery Ministries which was a Wednesday-Thursday evening commitment. I found a like-minded pastor via the internet during my electronic interaction with other saints. We understood much of the postmodern angst & disappointment with the “institutional church” methodology. As I identified with the ‘emerging’ (not capital “E” Emergent) types I realized my disillusionment had nothing to do with the orthodox Christian teachings themselves but how they were being expressed, or lived out in the real world. I had been exposed to more than enough doctrinal turf wars that I simply chose to avoid any allegiance to any one denomination or apostolic faith expression. Was raised Roman Catholic & began to attend Pentecostal churches after my personal epiphany. I do wonder about this direction I felt was Holy Spirit directed. Anyway, I have attended independent charismatic expressions, independent (former Baptist) evangelical types, visited a local Orthodox worship service as well as an Episcopalian one. All in search of a key spiritual frequency I resonated with upon crossing the threshold into their sanctuary. I settled into a very unchurchy faith expression of like-minded saints ~25 minutes away in a smaller town. By unchurchy I mean there was no unspoken slimy feeling of conformity one encounters when cold calling a new fellowship. The plastic smiles & clammy handshake greetings are not quickly forgotten no matter how fancy the coffee infused drinks are or how ‘hip’ the worship band/choir. Visited some wannabe emergent/postmodern youth oriented services. Did the whole prophetic movement training+involvement (ouch!). I’ve been-there-done-that & have several baptismal+membership+training certificates in place of the ubiquitous t-shirts to prove it. After divesting myself of the accumulated baggage of my faith journey I found a church home where I could invest myself into the lives of others. No great stage presentations. No seminars or conventions sponsored. No celebrity leadership types on staff. No self-promoted outreach programs or attention garnering publicity spiels. And the congregation made up of saints from most of the Christian faith expressions. This is how I reengaged in the community of faith a few years ago…

  4. I have been investigating the Lutheran church and have really loved learning about the distinction between law and gospel. I recently went to a Mockingbird conference and saw that they too use this law, gospel distinction. I don’t really know in the end if I will go Lutheran or Anglican but, as long as I stay in the Evangelical camp I won’t find Christ centered preaching such as what I have heard from these two groups.

  5. One thing that complicated Michael’s journey as well as my own has been the vocational aspect of our situations. For both of us, “finding a church” has not simply been a matter of determining which church we would attend and participate in. As “ministers,” we and our families have had a vested interest in finding a tradition in which to pursue our life’s work.

    As one who has heard God’s calling into vocational ministry, I look at “evangelicalism” and wonder if there is a place for me to serve in that capacity. I am happy in our local Lutheran congregation as far as being part of a fellowship, but I still struggle with finding a path for pastoral service.

    • This is the big problem with being in occupational ministry for me. You can’t just up and leave or go looking around. As I have been seeking out my confessional identity, I have had absolutely zero opportunity to visit any churches and observe how they work out their confessional beliefs, because of my Sunday morning obligations.

      This is one reason why I am trying to “reinvent” myself and leave ministry. I need the freedom to find a church home independent of salary and politics. If God so desires that I remain in ministry (music), I am happy with either volunteer, part or full time. However, that is truly secondary to finding the right congregation and tradition in my opinion.

      The other problem with vocational ministry is when the un-Christ-like side of your tradition rears it’s ugly head and you get pummeled by church politics. When that happens, you dont’ just loose your job. You loose your faith community and circle of friends as well, all with one stroke of the axe. Secular professions normally allow for one of the three to go bad while the other two can still be sources of support. Therefore, I have become a strong advocate of volunteer or part-time ministry. As I told a friend who was considering seminary, if you could possibly imagine yourself doing something else for a living, please do.

      • I have questioned, and STILL question, the whole “professional minister/edifice complex” paradigm of western Christianity. Just because someone decides that they feel “called” to the ministry and have graduated from seminary, what really qualifies them to actually BE a minister of the Gospel? Is there any mechanism within their academic experience that would look at their personality and “gifts”, or LACK of “gifts” and say “No, you had better drive a truck and go for volunteer ministry.”?

        A minister of the Gospel, a REAL minister of the Gospel, would find him/herself in the center of a group of people BECAUSE of their true calling, and in a natural way, not just by the “laying on of hands” by an educational facility, nor by a denominational board just because they have completed appropriate “training”.

        I am not criticizing Chaplain Mike, nor anyone else here who are in “the profession”. I am just struggling with what I see in almost ALL churches these days.

      • Miguel, be encouraged, you are on the right track. I was in vocational ministry for 3 years, and I loved my church dearly (still do). Yet, I was finding it SO difficult to do any explorations of the wider faith as well due to all the reasons you listed above. I ended up deciding to leave even part-time vocational ministry for a while, and although it was (and continues to be) difficult, I know it was the right thing to do for this season, so that I could be faithful in following where the Spirit is leading my family in terms of a church home and confessional identity. I don’t know if we’re all the way there yet, but I do know we’re on on the right path.

        Due my own experience I join with you in being huge supported of volunteer/part-time ministry. Of course, it would be great to be able to do music-ministry full time, but as you noted, it can be a double edged sword–especially if you’re feeling that spiritual restlessness that marks us post-evangelicals…

    • Chaplain Mike,

      I’d like to leave my experience here. You and I have talked before. I’m bi-vocational, but would love to one day be “full time” or “on the field” to borrow a saying from my baptist past.

      I just want to encourage any ministers here who may be in a different tradition that I have found a warm welcome in Anglicanism. I now this will vary from Diocese to Diocese probably, but I have a very godly Bishop who has seen that I have been put thru a very thorough process of both vetting and mentoring while at the same time repsecting my past work in Christ’s Kingdom.

      I will not get into the whole process b/c a lot of it is possible unique to Anglican polity, but I would encourage ministers in one tradition that might be considering another to not let the fear of the process keep you from making the move.

      I have several advanced degrees in Leadership and Education. Not a lot of formal theological trianing, but we are remedying that thru classes and a course of study at the Anglican School of Ministry (a very affordable option) and a very intense and one on one mentoring. I have a very wonderful mentor priest who comes to see me during the month and I often go to see him. We do hands on training and he is never more than a phone call or email away. We have become good friends.

      I think what I’m trying to get out (and not doing very well) is that the future will see a greater need for bi-vocational folks and while we need traditional seminarians and all the guys with the three ph.d.’s and such a lot of the mainline groups seem to be getting more creative in welcoming in ministers from other traditions.

      • added

        obviously none of my degrees required spelling:)

      • Like Austin, I’m pursuing ordination in the Anglican church after ten years of ministry in “mainline” denominations and non-denominational settings. I actually took a year off from ministry to pray, study, and attempt to discern where it was I fit in terms of “The Church”.

        The following things led me to Anglicanism:

        1) Sound doctrine (see the 39 Articles), but liberty in non-essentials.
        2) Word and Table-centered worship, as opposed to pastor and music-centered worship.
        3) Baptism and Holy Communion as sacraments, as opposed to ordinances.
        4) Historical relevance (I love that Anglicanism is a reformed faith, with a healthy regard for the first 1500 years of Christianity).
        5) Clear, concise, credal statements of faith that aren’t confusing in their language…you can read for 5 minutes and know the core beliefs of Anglicanism.
        6) The writings of Robert Webber, John Stott, NT Wright, Todd Hunter, and Mark Galli.
        7) A growth mindset that most denominations only give lip service to ( see http://anglican1000.org/ )
        8) The “via media”

        Again, like Austin, I have found our Bishop to be welcoming, encouraging, and refreshingly transparent. He’s been through the great successes and pains of ministry, and isn’t afraid to show you what’s inside his heart. I encourage anyone out there who’s searching to consider the ACNA, and if you’re in our region, ADOTS. If you’re a bi-vocational pastor, there is a big push toward parish-based training for deacons and priests. It’s been great to have a “spiritual father” showing me the ropes of Anglicanism, rather than just gleaning facts from textbooks.

        • FollowerOfHim says:

          I will second the above. My wife and I have been attending an Anglican church here in Georgia that recently became part ADOTS (the Archdiocese of the South). I must say that it’s refreshing to see the Gospel-centeredness in both the life of the church and in the preaching in particular.

          I will also add, in the non-proselytizing spirit of this blog, that I wish any and all precisely what our priest — whom Lee must no doubt be working closely with in his pursuit of ordination — wished us when we first met for a cup of coffee: the church that God leads you to. For us, it was his own church.

    • Good post. I’d like to hear more from Imonk on what you bring up as well, maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to ask him after I’m done picking Luther’s brain. It’s tough enough to find a solid gospel-centered church Michael (and I live near a big city), but in a town your size odds are even smaller (I’ve lived in small towns so I can relate).

      As one who has heard the call you mention Chaplain Mike and as a former youth pastor, I think it’s even tougher because of the sense we carry that we should be involved pastoraly. I have attended a large large fellowship the last few years (and no, Joel Osteen isn’t a guest speaker) and have found myself longing for something smaller, or should I say much “more intimate” (besides a home group). I find myself unwilling to move unless I’m pretty certain it’s not just for movings sake. I’d thought it’d be easier to get pastoraly involved in a big fellowship over a small one, but strange as it sounds (having attended both), I’m thinking it’s almost easier in a smaller community of believers in some ways.

    • Is it also fair to say that the vested interest you describe also expresses itself in an unspoken assumption that being “back from the wilderness” = regular attendance at a weekly scheduled event at, ans financial support of a brick-and-mortar location?

      My best friend is minister of music at the church that I no longer attend on Sunday mornings, and although we maintain a close relationship and I still actively help his ministry with technical and production support during major musicals, others are constantly wondering aloud when I’m coming back and tell me that I am missed (although these conversations only take place when I’m in the building). I typically respond with “I haven’t gone anywhere, and you can call me or come see me any time.”

    • textjunkie says:

      I’ll also speak up for Anglicanism, though I’m on the other side of the Episcopal/ACNA split from Austin and Lee.

      In my last church we had a fellow show up who’d been a Nazarene pastor for decades before coming to the conclusion that was no longer God’s call for him; it’s a massive upheaval to walk away from a lifetime ministry. He was doing computer stuff for a few years while figuring out what *was* his calling, which turned out to still be a priest, but in the Episcopal church. (And he was fantastic! He brought that evangelical passion for preaching and the Bible with him. 😉

      It’s funny, ’cause I read your comments/criticisms of evangelicalism here and think, “Yup, we fixed that in the Episcopal church.” Though we still have problems of our own, and getting down and dirty in any group of people (business or religion or hobbyists) will reveal all sorts of issues. Lots of folks don’t like the way the Episcopal church does things (cf ACNA, as already noted), and it may be too far to the left for recent ex-evangelicals. 😉 We tend to pull more from the ex-Catholics.

      I find that my experience of church is very much all in my head. I’m beginning to believe that the value of a congregation or church community or a way of worship is very much in the eye of the beholder. I used to think I could make a list and say, “it has to be like this and this and this” but for every point on the list, I think I have had a church experience that disproves it. I’m in a church now for this past year that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone under the age of 65 who doesn’t know the 1979 prayerbook backward and forward, but it totally works for me.

      (Except I do have to admit that preachers who rant every Sunday about homosexuality or abortion etc. will kill any sense of community I have–I was at one church for a decade as the priest and other clergy slid farther and farther down that road. From preaching about the power of God’s grace and discipline, the kind of sermons that raise the roof and change lives, they gradually became more and more bitter and “us vs them” in their mentality, constantly making snide comments about liberal theology and how we were a small remnant of God’s elect in contention against the world and how awful everyone else was. They didn’t go a single Sunday without mentioning how homosexuality was evil. Eventually I realized I was white-knuckling it through the sermon, and then only going to teach the Sunday School and say hi to my friends, and skipping the actual service to avoid hearing the sermon. Which is when I left that church, about 10 years ago. It was really hard to say goodbye, too, because that community was formative to me in my young adhulthood. They are now leaders in ACNA, and I am, gratefully, not. But it just goes to show Your Mileage May Vary, within any denomination and with wherever your life is at at the moment, and the call you heard to one path may have been true and accurate at the time, but no longer true at the present.)

  6. I have recently become quite drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church (never would have anticipated writing that sentence a couple of years ago sitting in a Southern Baptist pew). My wife and I have considered several different denominations/traditions over the past 2 years in looking for a church home after leaving the baptist church. We’ve studied lutheranism, anglicanism, simple/house churches, reformed-types, but found ourselves frustrated in trying to sort through all the differences and determine who was right on various issues. We started asking what criteria matters in choosing a church and how to know whose interpretation of scripture is most accurate. When we started pulling on those threads, the whole sweater came unraveled, and thus, our attraction to Eastern Orthodoxy’s deep Tradition and connection to the ancient church. I’m not sure if Orthodoxy will be our ultimate eccelesiological home (my wife isn’t quite there yet), but we are seriously considering it.

  7. I have noticed on internetmonk that many have ended up in Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox traditions, but very few in a Presbyterian tradition. Would readers of this site consider Presbyterian part of the modern evangelical problem and not a solution?

    • Good question Allen. Michael Spencer preached in a Presbyterian church regularly. I will be speaking in one in January.

      I’d like to hear some feedback from our Presbyterian friends.

      • Like so many denominations, the name often really doesn’t mean anything anymore. There are “Presbyterian” churches that look like and whose people think and act like any generic evangelical fundamentalist church.

        However, my experience with Presbyterians (particularly of the conservative type) is generally that they would not want to be associated in any way with the so-called “modern evangelical problem.” Traditional conservative Presbyterians fall in between the Anglican and Catholic leaning groups and the “modern evangelical problem” types, pretty much believing that they are standing firm in the truth while the others have gone astray in different ways. There is some rigidity in doctrinal adherence but no more so, if one is really honest about it, than one sees in Catholic circles or in Pentecostal circles or any other group where there actually is a belief that doctrinal accuracy is important. I will say that even among my very conservative Presbyterian friends who spend plenty of time bemoaning the doctrines and practices of the Roman church, some freely admit that if they had to choose between what they see in modern evangelicalism and what they see in Roman Catholicism, they’d actually choose Catholicism.

      • Dan Allison says:

        I’ve found a lot of peace and joy, and opportunities to serve, in a small — possibly dying — PCUSA church. We don’t pay much attention to the denominational leadership at the national level, and I’d rather crawl naked across broken glass than attend another regional Presbytery meeting. That being said, we’re focused on Jesus, not side issues. Women serve side-by-side with men. We respect other traditions and have a diverse, if small congregation. I much prefer our form of church government to the pastor/dictator form. I’m probably more skeptical about independent and non-denominational churches than others in my church.

        But I think part of the escape from the post-evangelical wilderness is that one recognizes that no church is perfect. I’m involved outside the church working with other Christian friends in the areas of music and missionary support. I read voraciously, especially writers like Lewis/NT Wright/Tim Keller/JI Packer/Eugene Peterson. I can see a day down the road when this church may not be here and I want to be ready to go wherever God wants to send me.

        • My experiences in the Presbyterian church mirror those of JeffB and Dan Allison. My family and I have attended a PC-USA church for several years. The theology is fairly conservative but most of the congregation would be horrified if they were identified with fundamentalists. Social drinking is acceptable to most. Bible study classes emphasize divine inspiration of the Bible but typically include some critical source scholarship. Political views are all over the place, with the majority either moderate liberals or moderate conservatives.

          Some theological non-negotiables are belief in a literal resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth as the God/Man Son of God, and the Second Coming (though there is no “Left Behind” eschatology).

          • Quick addition: C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright are so popular in the congregation that they are sometimes jokingly called “the 13th and 14th apostles.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Better C.S.Lewis and N.T.Wright than Hal Lindsay and Ken Ham.

    • allen,

      i’d love to hear what folks have to say, but would not touch that with a ten foot pole:)

      i have my ideas but I’ll keep them to myself (that’s a first)

    • Which Presbyterian’s??? Strict Calvinists?? or Free & loving, community types??
      My town has both. I have problems with one group. Care to guess which? 😉

    • The EPC and PCA (Scotty Smith at Christ Community in Nashville) are two Presbyterian traditions I’ve been a part of (over 10 plus years between the two). Currently I do not live close to either, or I’d be attending. I can say the worship experience and gospel saturated preaching is some of the best I’ve been privileged to be a part of and sat under – and I’ve traveled the country. I can also say that I’ve personally been the beneficiary of their kindness’ when in need. So Allen, I’d consider evangelical Presbyterians more a part of the solution than any kind of problem (I make the “evangelical” distinction for several reasons which I won’t get into right now).

    • I can say that a few of my favorite preachers are Presbyterians, and I have a lot of respect for the tradition. That said, I don’t think I’d want to minister in a congregation with a presbyterian model for church government.

    • Speaking from personal experience, I tend to consider Presbyterians and other Reformed/Calvinistic types a part of the evangelical problem.

      My own story: I grew up in independent fundamentalist Baptist churches (read Stuff Fundies Like or Marsden if you want to know I’m talking about). During college I moved to a more Calvinistic soteriology and spent the next several years in a Reformed Baptist (1689 LBC) church. Upon becoming convinced of paedobaptism, a sacramental view of the Lord’s Supper, Presbyterian ecclesiology, and covenant theology as a whole, I joined a PCA church. Now: I now find myself drawn to more liturgical traditions and will likely end up Anglican. I love the BCP and have been attending an Episcopal church that (so far) I like.

      Some of my reasons for seeing Preby/Reformed types as *part* of the evangelical problem:

      – Ignorance of church history. Evangelicalism/fundamentalism, as a whole ignores the first 2,000 years of church history. Presbyterian/Reformed types tend to ignore everything that happened before 1517 (except Augustine).

      – Women. Two main problems here: 1) Contrary to what is taught/practiced, complementarianism is *not* the gospel. 2) Women’s voices are not permitted to be heard. Even putting aside (for sake or argument) issues of women’s ordination, women are functionally treated as second class.

      – Celebrity-centric

      – Emphasis on *me* and what *I* can *do,* yes, in a theological system that is supposed to be monergistic!

      – Focus (albeit subconsciously) on white middle class Republican American culture as biblical.

      – Anti-intellectual bent

      – Residual fundamentalism

      • Before I get flamed, let me say that for about five years I wholeheartedly embraced Reformed theology, first the 1689 LBC and then the Westminster Standards and 3 Forms of Unity. I’ve read Calvin, Edwards, Piper, Owen, Mohler, Mahaney, Dever, Berkhof, etc. I’ve read all the books. I’ve read all the blogs. I’ve listened to all the podcasts. What I wrote above I based on *both* my personal experience *and* what I’ve seen/heard in the larger movement. Your church may well be the exception to that. That’s great. I’m happy for you and wish you and your church well. I really do. That said, I still see Presbyterianism/Reformed types as part of the evangelical problem.

      • Interesting. Obviously, there are a wide range of Presbyterian types. I don’t argue with your experience and would agree that if that’s what you experienced, it’s part of “the problem.” But I’ve been involved with PCA, PCUSA, OPC, RCA and independent Reformed churches and never seen anything like a celebrity-centric culture or an anti-intellectual bent. If anything, there’s an excess of intellectualism. Anyhow, one observation I noted earlier is that denominational names mean less and less as time goes on, so it’s often hard to really know when something says “Presbyterian” exactly what you’re getting. It sure sounds like you got a good dose of “the problem”! I hope you find peace in the Episcopal church.

        • Responding to JeffB’s comment on Amanda’s comment (I think I may be hitting the limits of nesting the comments):


          “But I’ve been involved with PCA, PCUSA, OPC, RCA and independent Reformed churches and never seen anything like a celebrity-centric culture or an anti-intellectual bent. If anything, there’s an excess of intellectualism.”

          Amanda has a much broader perspective on the reformed movement than I do, so I’m a little hesitant to respond from my limited experience. (I’ve been attending a PCA church for the last few years, after years in various expressions of more generic evangelicalism.) I’ll also waffle by saying that as far as I can tell, even within just the PCA, congregations can vary drastically from one another.

          My first year or two at the PCA church, I probably would have given a bit of a “Huh? I’m not really seeing that.” to some of what Amanda wrote. The PCA was such a relief compared to “worshiptainment sliding into prosperity gospel” that my previous church had become. However, now that I’ve been at this PCA church more years, I find myself nodding in recognition of Amanda’s observations .

          I think a big factor in the difference between what Amanda and JeffB are seeing may be the “woman” issue. I suspect a man and a woman, otherwise similar, would have drastically different experiences in my PCA church over time. For example, in my church, the mixed-gender and (I presume) men’s studies tend towards the intellectual, sometimes degenerating into the over-intellectual or some sort of pseudo-intellectual male status jousting using large theological words. On the other hand, in this particular church, I’ve found the women’s studies have an anti-intellectual and generic-evangelical “pink” bent.

          My personal experience at this one church (YMMV) is that as I’ve tried to get involved in a variety of smaller groups – mixed gender Sunday school, women’s Bible study, music ministry, provision of food to the needy – I’ve discovered a very invisible glass ceiling for women that is so low it is about to suffocate me. (I think the low point was a meeting for organizing meals for needy children, when every woman who tried to contribute was told rudely “Hush! I will decide the menu!” by the one man in the meeting (an elder – whose menu ideas showed he obviously had minimal experience in the kitchen). I tried to convince myself this was a problem just with this one man, but the sick feeling in my stomach soon told me that I truly believe that if I tried to address this behavior in any way, I would be blamed as the problem.) This discovery has been quite distressing, since there is much about this particular PCA church that is a welcome relief in comparison to generic evangelicalism. But, at this point, I feel that I, as a woman (particularly as a woman who has minimal skills with large groups of children), I am forced to be invisible and inaudible, staring at any meaningful participation in the body through thick glass.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I grew up in independent fundamentalist Baptist churches (read Stuff Fundies Like or Marsden if you want to know I’m talking about).

        I don’t think I need to read. IFBs have a reputation all over the Net as the most rigid and X-TREME of both Baptists and Fundies. And (judging from the ex-IFB Websites run by women) a BIG problem with Male Supremacist teaching.

  8. As a post -e wanderer myself, it has recently been shown to me that Deitrich Bonhoeffer, in his 1942 letters, dealt with the stagnating religious posture of church vs what Christ in this world looks like, and how he came to some relevant insights about “religionless Christianity.” His letters seem to address the tensions experienced by modern post-e casualties.

  9. For me it was the realization – that I would always be in a “fringe” Church. Many of my fears & headaches in the wilderness were due to the fact that I wanted my Church & beliefs to be accepted in the mainstream b/c mainstream is more safe & stable.
    My beliefs in peace, loving your enemies, everyone equal under God, the Gospel for everyone, etc…. would not fit in the mainstream.
    But now I love the “fringe” – the “fringe” was were the wilderness brought me. The trick is not to judge the mainstream, but to love & walk with them, but also speak your heart to them with honesty. In the history of the Church it has always been the ‘fringe’ that becomes the prophetic voice from the wilderness.
    The Mainstream will fall in love with it’s security, it’s big bank accounts, it’s attendance, & Pop-music. We on the fringe are there to rock their boat & do the dirty work of the kingdom. The “fringe” rarely becomes “successful” in the mainstream’s eyes. The “fringe” church congregations may only last awhile then die out. They may be just a house, or sad looking building compared to mega-churches & Cathedrals. But belonging to the “fringe” challenges you & does not allow you to grow stale in your faith. The “fringe” struggles with the Sermon on the mount, it does not explain it away. The “fringe” struggles with the “Hot button” issues, but it does not judge with God’s authority, but does it’s best to love with his Love.
    My point is:
    Do not think struggling is the wilderness – struggling is our calling. Christianity was not made to be neat & tidy – usually it is bloody & messy (note the cross!) Be True, Serve, Love, & Share your way out of the wilderness. In the Wilderness Jesus is our Holy Manna rest in him!
    peace

    • briank writes, “Do not think struggling is the wilderness – struggling is our calling.”

      Excellent point, briank.

  10. This was a very thoughtful post and hopefully will be a work of encouragement and direction for those who are just entering this vast wilderness.

    It has been a journey for me as for many. At one time I invested a huge amount of energy in starting a house church. It was going to be my Christian utopia, or so I thought. But while I was exiting the Evangelical church out of the more-sane side, most who joined our house church had exited out of the more fruit-loops side. They wanted to horde food and guns for the coming war with the Democrats (eyes roll here).

    My journey took me back to the Evangelical church, especially for the sake of my kids. I was a constant misfit. I found the greatest peace in the larger Evangelical churches, where the spectrum of perspective was broad enough that I could find a handful of men on the same page as me.

    Then I moved to my island 7 years ago. I tried to stay with the Evangelical church, but the one here was small enough, and conservative enough that I never fit in. The unspoken requirements for being a good Christian was being a Republican, or Tea Party member, hating gays, believing that the earth is 6,000 years old and etc.

    Just six months ago, I made a major leap over to the big, more liturgical, huge pipe organ, classical music etc. Presbyterian church. While the denomination as a whole will have many, what the Evangelicals would call “liberal” theological positions, this particular church is conservative . . . save the fact that the pastor is a woman. Even in this church I have found people who would fit comfortably in the fundamentalist church, and on the opposite side, those who lean in the “new-age” direction when they speak of spiritual things. However, for the most part, the mainstream are good people, who love God, who hold to the fundamentals of the historical creeds but who are not flakes, (who tend to major on on the nonessentials).

    So far I am far happier here than I’ve been since I left the Evangelical mainstay, (after a horrible experience as a fundie missionary, almost 20 years ago). I still think some day I would like to move into more an an emerging ministry, but under the context and supervision of this larger body. I’m talking about a coffee shop church group with un-churched (post-churched?) people in their 20s and 30s.

  11. Wish I had time to write more, but here’s the short version:

    Attended fundamentalist school from K-5 through 8th grade. Attending conservative Evangelical SBC churches until I was 40. Left the SBC a couple of years ago. My criteria were very similar to yours, and I found a home in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

    Key to our search would be a church that was centered around the good news of Jesus Christ.

    The Lutheran liturgy is Gospel from beginning to end, from confession to communion. I hear more Gospel in one service at my ELCA church that I heard in 3 months of sermons at any SBC church I attended. (The altar call at the end of a service does not count as preaching the Gospel.)

    Egalitarian

    Women are allowed to serve in all positions at my ELCA church. Our associate pastor is a woman. They even allow women to serve as ushers. . This is one of the issues that keeps me away from LCMS churches, and the Catholic church.

    Like Michael, I get annoyed at churches who are so focused on side issues like creation science, abortion, or homosexuality, that they forget the gospel.

    Happened all the time at the SBC churches I’ve attended. Has never happened at the ELCA church I attend. Another factor that would keep me out of an LCMS church.

    It’s no exaggeration to say that if I had not left the evangelical wilderness to find a home in an ELCA church, I would probably have lost my faith.

  12. hewhocutsdown says:

    Leaving Christianity helped a lot.
    Finding a church much like the one you described helped as well.
    And yes; in that order.

  13. I’ve crept around here a long time but now I’d like to join the conversation. I appreciate all of you trying to follow Jesus whether he leads you away from or to a traditional church. I personally grew up spiritually in a Calvary Chapel which grew into a mega church. Though I learned to study, serve, love, teach there, I found myself wondering/wandering. Finally, my family along with a few other families began a house church. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but we love it. We are still finding our way but we are trying not to scare Jesus off with politics, shows, forms of godliness, basically anything that doesn’t have to do with loving God and loving people. I guess if we can just do the things that Jesus did, we will naturally end up fellowshipping with those who are doing the same.

  14. Like Austin, Lee, and others my trip through the Evangelical Wilderness led to the Canterbury Trail.

    The major things that led me there:
    – Intentional attachment to the Patristic church, including the Creeds, the sacraments and Apostolic Succession
    – Open Communion
    – Simple, one-volume liturgy (BCP is probably the best contribution Anglicanism has made to Christianity)
    – Variety in expression and theology when it comes to the minor things
    – Intentional visual beauty as part of the worship environment
    – An intentional focus on being catholic (with a little ‘c’)

    That said, if it hadn’t been for ACNA, I probably wouldn’t have ended up there. I’d probably have gone Orthodox.

    • Isaac,

      All good points.

    • Well said. The open table was one point I left out earlier that was very, very important to me.

    • Simple, one-volume liturgy (BCP is probably…)

      Now that’s funny.
      (From a frustrated guy from a restorationist, non-liturgy background)

      And, I need to echo Patricia’s thoughts regarding Bonhoeffer.

      • Well, I guess “simple” is a relative term. The reason I consider the BCP to be a simple liturgy is that everything you need is in the single volume. As a contrast, in my background I dealt with Catholic and Jewish liturgy (both have several different books for different occasions) and with non-liturgical evangelicalism that felt the need to completely reinvent the “non-liturgy” every few months on the whim of the pastors. With these as the point of contrast, I find the BCP to be relatively simple.

        • I agree, Issac. The “simple” statement just struck me as ironic, and very true. I always find myself frantic at an Episcopal service trying to keep up, thumbing through the BCP looking for the right collect and canticle… and usually give up at marking the Eucharist service and winging it until we get there.

          And at my local RCC, it’s hopeless. I just limp along until I recognize something, anything.

          Coming from my Campbellite background, liturgy is like watching an Italian opera; it’s pretty and sounds good, but I don’t understand a darned thing.

          (for some reason the phrase “uncultured swine” just popped into my head)

  15. from Michael Spencer’s essay, Signs: I’m weary of immature college students and high school kids going on and on about what God is saying to them as if they were up there with the authors of scripture.

    This statement got me thinking about my own spiritual journey. I must say, my own sense of being able to ‘rightly’ discern wheat from chaff only after 30+ years of being a steady, but imperfect, seeker. I have achieved a level of what the bible hints at as ‘maturity’ although not specifically quantified. I feel I have arrived at a point in my journey where I can rightly identify much of what passes off as religion but is nothing worth emulating. I ‘see’ in the spiritual sense where I do not wish to wander off on some religious rabbit trail no matter the hype & PR associated with it. I avoid the latest-greatest brand of snake oil. I ignore the carnival barkers enticing the less wary ones. I have lived thru a wide variety of Christian faith expressions that have added to my understanding & appreciation of this diverse Body of Christ I also claim to be a member of. I would not have thought that the concept of maturity actually requires sufficient time on the journey to earn ‘elder’ status. I had to go thru much to glean the little of value I now know is not immediate, instantaneous or magically acquired. I am sure my story will be similar to some. Not as another benchmark, but simply as an encouragement on this oft confusing element of what entails His invitation, “You can go back to the way you were, or come, follow Me…”

  16. I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran, became a Christian in college, attended mostly independent or evangelical churches except for a brief stint wth an ultra-Reformed denomination, then 15 years with an evangelical church. Then came the Willow Creek avalanche (along with the “gospel” of Jabez) and we ended up with a Reformed Presbyterian church in a small denomination (but growing with the influx of conservative churches formerly with the PCUSA). We were hungry for something — anything — traditional. Yet some of the same changes we left have begun at our church, and so we’re sitting on the sidelines, watching and waiting. I simply don’t have it in me to fight this all over again — our former church has yet to recover from the upheaval — lost nearly half the congregation — the tithing half.

    Four of us spent the last 18 weeks with a small online group, blogging our way through Mere Churchianity. It helps — an enormous amount. Read it and reread it.

    But I can say that we’ve yet “found” what we clearly know is our church home. I’m beginning to doubt that we will.

    • But I can say that we’ve yet “found” what we clearly know is our church home. I’m beginning to doubt that we will…

      Ouch. Sorry to hear that. I would say I too have some ‘ideal’ of a perfect church, but not perfect in terms of problems or challenge free. That would imply an alternate universe concept that I don’t think part of what Jesus envisioned for His followers. I think there are elements of comfort factor that we could categorize as non-negotiable vs. niceties. My church is ‘perfect’ for me, but not perfect in the quantitative sense. Many other people have visited & said it is not for them. Other long attenders have up & left after some perceived inconsistency with their personal values. I do hope that the dire conclusion, “I’m beginning to doubt that we will” due more to exasperation & not your final conclusion. I think God is interested in where we can feel ‘at home’ in a specific fellowship. Heck, it took me 30+ years to find what I would say is a breath of fresh air to a tired & weary saint. And I know this arrangement may not be permanent. I could move due to job change or simply the next step on my journey. But I do know such oases exist & I am less fearful of striking out on the next life adventure knowing God is aware of my preference…

    • Glynn, I was watching the TV show called Raising Hope and a woman who was trying to get people in her church to donate more money so they could get a new organ said the motto for the tithing campaign was going to be somthing like, “I upped my tithes. Up yours!” 🙂

      • Ouch!

        • Damaris, in case you haven’t seen that show, it is a comedy. And a very funny one it is! I would guess that it will not be everyone’s “cup of tea” but I enjoy it. Good acting, funny writing. Sweet baby playing baby Hope.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You know, that sounds a LOT like some of the clueless RL church signs that periodically show up on this blog.

  17. Eddie Scizzard says:

    Look, I know I ain’t a believer, properly, if I ever was one….although I like to think I was, but anyway…maybe wandering is the point, being homeless is the point.

    If your God is about weakness perfected into strength, then is their a better metaphor for it than the homeless wanderer? The outcast?

  18. I don’t miss church. I really, really, really don’t miss church. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back (and many days I wonder how much longer I’ll last in Christianity itself), but if I ever do go back, right now it seems like I might end up either in a liberal Mennonnite church, a non-evangelical Quaker church, or an Episcopalian church.

    At this point in my life, my list is rather long, but it has more to do with who is welcome than on having correct theological beliefs.

    1) Caring for the poor is a central part of the church’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, and they actually act on that belief.

    2) I’m still not sold on the office of the pastor, but if there is one, s/he would be someone who sees themself as a shepherd, not the public speaker, CEO, or head of the church.

    3) Not anti-intellectual but still a safe and welcoming place for the non-intellectual off the street

    4) An understanding of grace that resembles that of Capon’s

    5) Egalitarian

    6) Welcoming to homosexuals…maybe even condoning committed homosexual relationships, I’m still not sure where I stand on this.

    7) Ideally committed to pacifism, but simply one that prays for peace and is not militarized at all would be ok.

    8) An understanding of Christ and the cross that focuses on the importance of the marginalized, on the idea of victory in death and defeat, and on God’s unrelenting love.

    9) One that is at least welcoming of hopeful universalists like me.

    10) A place where people really love each other, and not just the people who can do something for them. And where love is seen as more important (and even more useful) than holding people to a certain behavioral code or set of beliefs.

    11) A place that is not so consumed with the church service as the main event that they burn out their members with endless demands for volunteer work that really does nothing to help the people who really need help.

    12) A place that accepts and welcomes people like me, who frequently have days where they doubt almost everything considered central to Christian orthodoxy.

    13) Small.

    14) No “us against the world” mentality, no “we’re the only true church” mentality, no “the church service = the Church” mentality, no culture war mentality

    15) No attempts to fit in with evangelical culture, no gimmicks to attract new members

    16) Ideally any money collected will be used primarily to help people in need, not for a building or to pay staff.

    I’m sure there is more, but that’s all I’ve got now.

    • Except for your #13 “Small” you may be happy with the church that Sara Miles was or still is a part of in San Francisco. It’s St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church with open communion and a commitment to helping the marginalized people of the community. Sara wrote the book Take This Bread which I read and enjoyed. Of course, I have no idea where you live…just wanted to point out that this church is much like you describe. I am sure it is not perfect and that there is some infighting at times. Even Sara had to deal with a group of people who were pushing back at what she wanted to do at one time. And they “won” but she learned that she will not always get her way and that it was OK. Michael Spencer recommended reading that book too, but it will likely not appeal to people who are very…conservative.

      • Thanks 🙂

        I have a distant memory of hearing about that church and feeling curious. I live in Seattle, so close enough for a visit but not close enough to actually go there. Berkeley is one of my top choices for PhD programs though, so if my applications go well and I get lucky, I may end up there in a couple of years after all.

  19. “The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from fantasy and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. Whoever accepts this has already begun to find himself, t be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere because it is a question of this salvation, will cause him to bring order to the chaos of life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked.” – Jose Ortega.

    “Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ.” – Saint Francis of Assisi.

    “The shipwrecked at he stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death desperation to the one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything.” – Brennan Manning.

    All of these quotes are from Manning’s essay, “Shipwrecked at the Stable Door” found in his book, “Lion and Lamb”. When I read this again yesterday, I immediately thought of the evangelical wilderness. I wondered if the wilderness is not a transition but a destination, that the life of a Christian is one of wandering, of being lost, of being shipwrecked. When a church claims to have the end of the journey, to provide God wrapped in a bow, to end all anxiety and doubt, something is wrong.

  20. Mike,

    I think in the first bullet point on what your ideal church would look like, this sentence is not what you meant to write:

    “A church that does have the gospel at its heart would be a non-starter for both of us.”

    I think you meant to write, “A church that does NOT have the gospel at its heart …”

    Wolf

  21. 1). Apostle’s creed
    2). Gospel centered (meaning not obsessively Pauline)
    3). Community with a searching heart and who know they don’t have it all together
    4). Egalitarian
    5). charismatic (or open to it)
    6). Denomination is entirely optional, and ALL denominations truly welcome

  22. One observation from the many comments here and my own experience: in our seeking out “greener grass” in other churches until we find one that suits us, are we simply perpetuating the consumer oriented approach which we so vigorously decry in modern evangelicalism? In my own exploration of different churches, I’ve always felt that I had good intentions but the farther along I go, I begin to think that staying in churches I don’t like actually may be the best way to grow spiritually. Being there isn’t about my comfort or pleasure and the greatest spiritual growth may come from staying put and learning how to deal humbly and graciously with people you don’t like. I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone else….it’s just an observation that when one steps back and looks at many of the comments, it sounds very consumerist as if we’re trying to find churches in our own image.

    • Jeff,

      I struggled with the same “greener grass” concern until I asked myself a question, “At what point is it not Christianity anymore”. If the pastor always preaches about “How to be a better husband/father/wife/mother in 5 easy steps.” Is that Christianity? If the Trinity is never mentioned, is that Christianity? If the future return of Christ is almost never a part of the service, is that Christianity?

      I am am open minded person on many things, but at what point is it not Christianity anymore? I don’t have the answer, but I found if I mandate that the Trinity and the future return of Christ is part of a church service, that gets rid of probably 95% of the churches in my area of the Southern U.S.

      Allen

    • In my case, it wasn’t seeking greener grass; it was having to find any grass at all.

    • Good replies, thanks.

  23. Hi Mike,

    Things that I am looking for in a church:
    (1). Theological diversity and openness around a unity based on the centrality of the Jesus of the biblical witness.
    (2). A welcoming, caring and substantially compassionate church that cares for the poor and the needy.
    (3). An egalitarian church where ministry and service is based on gifting and not on gender.
    (4) A church where peace, justice and the care of creation are just as important as a personal relationship with Jesus and personal evangelism.

    The trouble is I cannot find such an evangelical church within 30 minutes drive of my place. The Baptist church I attend is dispensationalist, young eatrh creationist, right wing in politics, complementarian and homophobic.
    .
    I’m a neo-Anabaptist and according to a pastor at a nearby conservative Presbyterian church, I am on the fringes of evangelicalism, and drifting into liberalism. The trouble is that I cannot find an open evangelical group that tolerates evangelical diversity. I gave up my membership in evangelical churches some time ago so that I could live with integrity.

    Thanks for your thought provoking post.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

  24. Reading these comments makes me feel that my wife and I have been incredibly fortunate. We were members at a large AoG church for a long time, and we actually oversaw the campus ministry there for more than 4 years. A few years ago, however, we ended up parting ways for a number of reason, but mainly is was because we just felt that we didn’t fit with what the senior pastor wanted to do. Also, it seems that when you’re part of a bigger church and you oversee something there, the church can never really give up it’s ownership of it. So even though most of the college students we ministered were not part of the larger church in any real way, the church seemed to feel these student owed it something. Anyway, our parting was not on the best of terms. We left quietly, but it didn’t leave the best taste in our mouth.

    Why I say we were fortunate is that we had some good friends in a local non-denominational Pentecostal, predominantly African American church, and we began attending there. Even though we are white, the people there pretty much adopted us. It has been really amazing. The senior pastor is the rarest of Evangelical pastors – someone who has no dreams of grandeur and is completely down to earth. The church congregation itself is pretty diverse ranging from students, single mothers, old matriarchs, to professionals and professors. There’s about 200 people on a Sunday morning, so it’s possible to know a lot of the people. Also, the church is pretty unique for an African American congregation because it is not into the prosperity gospel at all (pastor regularly preaches against it, actually).

    The sad part of this story is that my wife and I are relocating in February, so we will begin a new search. I’m skeptical that we will be able to find another congregation like this. I too am drawn to some sort of liturgical/sacramental based service, but I also feel that there is a lot of room for more modern expressions of music in churches. I play on our worship team, and we play mainly older gospel and urban gospel songs, and I’ve got to say – those songs are powerful. I feel they are light-years beyond most modern p&w music. Perhaps the one thing I appreciate most about them is that they never pretend that everything is great. We are constantly singing about God being with us we struggle through life. I think there is much perspective that the African American Christian community can give Evangelicals – it’s just a matter of the majority being open to hear it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Why I say we were fortunate is that we had some good friends in a local non-denominational Pentecostal, predominantly African American church, and we began attending there. Even though we are white, the people there pretty much adopted us. It has been really amazing.

      Hope you’ve got some strong stamina, Phil. Everything I’ve heard about Black Pentecostals is that they have some of the most lively and exuberant services in all Christendom. Sort of a Holy Chaos ramped up to the max.

      And preaching AGAINST the Prosperity Gospel is a very good sign.

      • Lol! Well, some of our services can be on the long side for sure, but as far as the chaos is concerned, it actually isn’t nearly as chaotic as many of the white Pentecostal services I’ve been in. I think the main thing is, though, that you really have to try not to move during these services. That’s the one thing I would really miss in a more liturgical service. I really do think there’s a place for really good praise music that not just entertainment. It’s relatively rare when it’s done right, but when it is, I think it can be beautiful.

        I’d also add that as far as the overall spiritual maturity of the church, it’s well beyond the average evangelical church I’ve seen.

  25. David Cornwell says:

    I’m truly amazed and encouraged by this post and the replies.

  26. one more Mike says:

    Since Michael Bell referenced one of my earlier posts, I feel like I should comment, so I will .
    I think that being an evangelical christian has become too easy; you say the sinners prayer, walk the aisle, get baptised, take the Lord’s supper once (maybe, if you’re there on a sunday they’re not too busy to have it) and you’re done. You’re in, you’re going to heaven, justified by your faith alone, you don’t even have to show up anymore. But please do because we need you in a “ministry” and we’ve got this jammin’ praise band that puts a lot of work into their performance. Because salvation is so easy, churches have to have something else to do and they fall into politics, YEC, complementarianism and other activities to keep themselves relevant.

    This is too easy, too anti-intellectual and won’t cut it for those of us who believe there’s more to the journey and that Christ is on it calling us to follow his example. I don’t see that path going through any evangelical denominations or non-denominations I’m familiar with. You can pass through those without stirring a breeze.

    I can’t answer the intial question i.e., “…what has worked for those of you no longer in the wilderness…” but the answers of those who have have are beneficial. Great discussion.

  27. Could anyone explain to a non-American where does the UCC (Congregational) denomination fit here? I’ve been reading some stuff about it and it seemed to me a welcoming, open-minded church that focuses on the essentials of the faith, warmly encourages spiritual growth and whose services are more or less rooted in tradition. Am I far off the mark?

    • Reminds me of the old joke: What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian Universalist? Someone who knocks on your door for no reason. 🙂

      Seriously, I’ve known some UCCs, and I’ve had a real hard time pinning down exactly what they believe. The ones I’ve know have been Universalists, but that my not be true for all UCC’s. It’s hard to pin down from the statement on their web site.

      For instance, they say of the Creeds: “The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith.” That makes it sound like affirming any creed is optional.

      One of my brother’s friends was married by a UCC minister who was a card carrying Pantheist.

    • All of the UCC churches and ministers I’ve had direct association with would be considered the extreme far left of the Christianity spectrum. There tends to be openness in the sense of welcoming everyone (ie, gays) and traditional worship. But there’s no sense of emphasizing the fundamentals of the faith or encouraging spiritual growth…honestly, one can believe anything one wants, so long as it’s not a conservative viewpoint or has anything to do with the foundational essentials of the Christian faith, regardless of what any official church documents claim. That’s a little harsh, but it’s an honest opinion based on actual membership at one point and association with UCC ministers and churches in a professional capacity on many occasions. Others may have better experiences with specific local congregations.

      • Just to give a quick example, in the churches I’ve been in, any kind of new age lingo, nature worship, Mother earth prayers, etc were welcome while sermons cast doubt on the Resurrection, actually saying whether it happened or not (probably not), it didn’t really matter.

  28. Read Ephesians 4:1-6 and all the passages about idol meat and the weaker brother.

    What has worked? Refusing to participate in the doctrinal loyalty test arms race and using every difference of opinion or church conflict as an opportunity to have my character refined. There is one faith, one body, one Spirit, regardless of our errors and confusion, so I focus as much as possible on the “bearing with one another in love” part of Christianity in the relationships at hand instead of requiring a church to “meet my needs” or satisfy my wish list.

    Insights? Church is about love, not agreement. God works through relationships over the long haul. Stop requiring conformity or even expecting consensus. Bloom where you’re planted, in humility and patience. Plug into the church nearest to where you live / where you are most likely to encounter these people in your daily life, rather than wandering in the wilderness, of little service to God. View participation in the local church as a “mission field” experience rather than a spiritual spa, if that helps you, but realize that the church doesn’t exist to be converted to your grab bag of theology and pet peeves. Start taking the opportunities at hand to love people, understanding that love involves self-sacrifice and pain, and rarely involves arguing about doctrine or worship style.

    • I followed advice like yours for years and it nearly destroyed my faith.

      I know you weren’t responding specifically to me, but I can only speak for myself here. I am not looking for a church that will cater to my “grab bag of theology” or pet peves and I am by no means looking for a “spiritual spa” (and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone on this site who is).

      I appreciate the arrogance though.

      • Leo sounded pretty straight to me

      • And I always appreciate a good sarcastic jab from a brother or sister. “Wounds of a friend” and all that.

        I am sorry to hear you’ve had such a tough church history. What part of Paul’s advice “nearly destroyed your faith”? The more alarming question: What part of the Christian faith could be destroyed by trying to love people with patience and humility?

        I find it refreshing and encouraging to read so much apostolic instruction about how to deal with our differences. To me, this says that differences (clearly seen, here at IM) are to be *expected* instead of avoided. In my experience, people’s unrealistic expectations about agreement tend to transform our normal theological and personality differences into wedges that split the church. If we can be less hung up on making others agree and instead focus on loving people who don’t agree with us, then we’ll be less frustrated and the church will be healthier. That is the “secret” that has made my church experience so fruitful, though some of my strongest views are not shared by many in the congregation.

        The alternatives are to miraculously make all our denominational differences disappear, pretend we have no differences, or continue splintering into smaller and smaller sub-denominations until everyone only goes to church with those who agree with them.

    • “View participation in the local church as a “mission field” experience rather than a spiritual spa, if that helps you, but realize that the church doesn’t exist to be converted to your grab bag of theology and pet peeves. Start taking the opportunities at hand to love people, understanding that love involves self-sacrifice and pain, and rarely involves arguing about doctrine or worship style.”

      To pull something like this off I would need to belong to two fellowships; the “mission field” church, and a second fellowship to support/strengthen/minister to me. Cuz I certainly don’t have the strength to walk into a church week after week where Christ isn’t being preached, and where I’m not growing because of the paucity of teachings, without some help.

      So while I’m not sure I’d take it as far as Marie does in calling this arrogance, it certainly doesn’t help most of us out here in the real world.

      • I see where you’re coming from, James the Mad. I do see some alternatives to your solution, however, or at least alternative ways to view the problem:

        1) Belong to one fellowship that includes both those who support you and those who don’t. Even one or two “allies” can make a huge difference, as you support each other in learning to love the rest of the body.
        2) [And this isn’t meant to sound arrogant, for we all need these sources of strength.] Cultivate your relationship with the Lord through your own spiritual disciplines so that your strength increasingly comes from Him directly, your own Bible study, etc. Once we get past the new believer stage, we really shouldn’t depend on the local sermon and pastor for our growth. Not with the Internet, a hundred sermons / week on Christian radio, etc.
        3) View your fellowship more broadly. We meet with the local congregation, “mission field” or not, but our fellowship is also with fellow believers in our own town, workplace, family, and throughout the world.

        Most of us “in the real world” don’t have the luxury (or temptation) of a local church that perfectly lines up with all of our own opinions — our right and wrong opinions. So: we keep wandering, get lucky — and then leave that local church again when one of us changes our opinions, or we learn how to live and love despite our differences, all the while seeking to be agents of change as God gives us opportunity.

        • You make some good points, and there is definitely some food for thought here relative to my particular situation. However, I would take exception with one statement:

          “Most of us ‘in the real world’ don’t have the luxury (or temptation) of a local church that perfectly lines up with all of our own opinions — our right and wrong opinions.”

          I’m not looking for “a local church that perfectly lines up with all of our own opinions.” Rather, I’m simply looking for one where the 4th of July isn’t the most idolatrous day on the church calendar, as they actually have a clue where their faith leaves off and their patriotism begins. Where, to paraphrase Michael Spencer, Jesus puts in more than a walk-on guest appearance in the Sunday morning self-help pep-talk (a.k.a. sermon). And where the pastor is not going to to throw a member of his own congregation under the bus because he (and yes, the “he” is me) questioned the rock concert atmosphere of the music at an annual men’s conference.

          And if you’ve read the comments here, I think most of us who have commented understand that we won’t find “a local church that perfectly lines up with all of our own opinions.” We just want to find one that preaches Jesus, and is at least in the ballpark doctrinally. We deal with the rest of it.

  29. After 25 years in the Evangelical world, sometimes even in the holy huddle, the Lord is leading me “Home to Rome!”

    • Niles – Go for it! After 40 years, I finally tired of wandering the wilderness: There’s no place like Home.”

  30. I spent 10 years away from church but now feel at home in a church I have been at for close to two years. Things I love about my church that I didn’t get in my first 20 years of church-going experience (and just a few, because I could go on):

    -The gospel is preached consistently.

    -Not preached: culture war topics, specific positions on divisive theological topics (e.g., Calvinism).

    -Strong, almost familial bond in the congregation, but also a strong focus on reaching out. I love the balance.

    -Not over-programmed. No pressure to be there seven days a week.

    -Higher view of the sacraments (weekly Eucharist, etc.) than in evangelical churches.

    -Mostly, the people. We support and love each other. I’ve been open to both my fellow congregants and the church leadership about some of my difficulties and disagreements and have always received support and never been pressured to fall in line.

    Potential obstacles (because any situation will have them):

    -I like at least a little liturgy. 🙂 I like reciting the creeds and prayers. I like hearing multiple scriptures read each week. I wish there was more of this.

    -Gender roles. I’m a pretty thoroughgoing egalitarian. The church is technically complementarian, but I would characterize it as soft and inconsistent on the topic. I don’t mind the inconsistency because it means we benefit from the leadership of a lot of wonderful women. But perhaps that’s unfair of me.

    -Baptism. I don’t have a hard and fast position on this, but I’m extremely inclined toward infant baptism. My church is credo. I’m not married and have no children, but if that changes, I’m not sure how I will handle it.

    For people still wandering:

    -Look for people and leadership who will love you and who will work through things with you. If you find a group of people you are called to, much of the rest becomes secondary.

    -You will have to take risks. A lot of risks. You will have to risk being hurt. You will have to risk being rejected if you don’t check all the doctrinal check-boxes. But it’s worth it.

    -If you ever get to a point where you’ve stopped wandering, commit to being a welcoming face to those who are wandering. In my experience, churches are the toughest nuts to crack in every way. I do my best to extend my hand to those who don’t yet feel at home–and while I’m not perfect, I’m getting better.

  31. Honestly? After years walking alongside it, building up the courage, and making sure I was ready, I just ended up swimming the Tiber. It was a profoundly terrifying experience. I was alone. The water was cold and the current strong. There were many times when I looked back to the shore from which I’d left, and considered going back (this seemed to happen more often the closer I got to the other side).

    I don’t regret it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Some have to swim the Tiber (and/or the Adriatic) to come in from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness. At least you’ve gotten a Church with a long and rich history and a continuous institutional memory trace. And the patronage of the arts and structure of the liturgy sure don’t hurt.

  32. Another surprised Episcopalian here. We looked for exactly the criteria specified (not such the egalitarianism), and–lo and behold–the church that fit was an (evangelical) Episcopal church (yes, they still exist.), in a particularly whacko diocese, but with no plans to leave TEC. The church is hemorrhaging members and staff merely because of their denominational affiliation. I wish all the orthodox folks had stayed, scorning the “shame”, and made a longer-term fight of it. Heresy by attrition.

    I still like the word evangelical (obviously), and see TEC as both a home and a mission field. As a long-time New-Englander, I guess I find that more comfortable that others might. The key is what goes on inside the parish, not what the national association is up to.

  33. I grew up Roman Catholic and never saw myself leaving; always loved the bible and knew it was key to Christianity. Then, cresting the Jesus Movement in college, I became convinced that the Evangelical interpretation of the bible made better sense, and so left RC as a matter of conscience. I think I traveled through every iteration of Evangelicalism, especially wrt sensitivity about how God wanted me to worship. There were some negative interpersonal experiences, but none that shook my faith. I’ve always been a thinker, and even as a Charismatic I needed some sort of biblical justification for beliefs & practices. Once I turned 40, but not all of a sudden, I simply started finding that, in the face of Life, Evangelical certainties became less and less certain. I was still hoping someday to find a church like Libby describes. In the meantime, I began attending our local PCUSA church, which is like jmjones’ church, and waited to see where God would lead.

    What helped? Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy” convinced me that God is good. Robert Webber’s “Ancient-Future Faith” encouraged me to investigate what the early church was like. The Celtic ethos, especially present in the Northumbria Community and its daily prayer, gave me a place to settle down inwardly while things outwardly were so unsettled. A good friend who shared my misery (currently she is still a Christian, but far from any church.). Finding emerging church folks online and in print who were actually asking the same questions I was, and being able to interact ftf with some of them. Realizing in a deeper way that dealing with words, especially the words of scripture, depends on interpretation. Supremely, the “Christian Origins” books of N.T. Wright, but all the rest of his work too. Wright gave me a Jesus I could worship, and pointed me at the Trinity, in a way that all my previous church experience wasn’t able to do, or I somehow couldn’t understand yet…. I felt I could breathe again! I can hardly put into words how Wright’s work affected me, and to try would be to make this long comment even longer. I seriously considered the Anglican stream, because of him and other past good experiences with Episcopalians.

    In the nine years I was at the Presbyterian church i also became more aware of Eastern Orthodoxy. At first it was “Yes, they have some good points, but so much of it isn’t biblical”. As time went on, and, because of the influence of Wright mainly, but also others, I came to some very different theological convictions than I previously held. I also began finding out more about Eastern Orthodoxy here and there, and as time passed I found that I already believed most of what EO teaches, primarily re “big picture” realities about who God is and what God is up to. I was flabbergasted and blindsided that EO was turning out to be the open door; came totally out of left field. I decided to proceed in that direction, but cautiously, because 1) I’ve been churched all my life and I know how bad things can be (I specifically prayed that God would allow me to see all the less savory things, which prayer he definitely answered…) and 2) I was incredibly hungry for a theology that gave me a God whose basic stance toward mankind is unchanging love, and rescuing us; I’ve found that only EO theology offers that, as well as a basis for the dignity of the human Person. (Interestingly, I believe Wright overlaps about 85% with EO. I’ve heard of others coming to EO after encountering his work.)

    From the time I was surprised by the discovery that I could actually be EO to the day when I was received into Orthodoxy was about two years. There were a couple of serious things I had to work through to satisfy my conscience. I was not interested in reverting to RC, because I could not affirm some of its important theological premises in good conscience – the primacy of the Pope, the nature of the church, the nature and consequence of “original sin”, the nature of life after death – all but the first of which are approached pretty much the same in the rest of the Western churches, but so differently in EO theology. I find the EO interpretation of scripture, in light of the 1st century Judaism out of which Christianity arose, to make the best sense to me. Am I guilty of “picking and choosing”, of consumerist religion, finding the system I resonate with most and then going that way? Maybe. But it wasn’t a change lightly made.

    My leaving RC was a deep disappointment for my parents; thank God, they did not allow our relationship to be disrupted from their side. I did not become anti-Catholic, and having left Evangelicalism I’m not anti-Evangelical. I’m grateful for all the ways God revealed himself to me along the journey. I do believe EO is the fullness of what Christianity was meant to be, but I won’t think less of you or call you names if you don’t think so. Like Winter’s experience, swimming the Bosporus was not easy, and I did it pretty much alone. My Presbyterian pastors wanted to understand; my husband didn’t, and still thinks I’m deluded. Another Orthodox friend and my Wiccan daughter and her boyfriend were the only people close to me who came to my Chrismation. But I am most definitely at home, and here I will stay.

    Dana

    • I love your statement about being flabbergasted that EO was turning out to be the open door, since it came out of left field. I think it’s those unexpected transformations that are the most genuine.

    • What helped? Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy” convinced me that God is good.

      Amen. Anything by Dallas Willard worth reading…

  34. I don’t know where I will end up spiritually. I grew up Catholic, did a stint in Mormonism and became evangeliclal where I was for 10 years. The problem for me is that I was singed deeply. I’ve ranted and raved about some of the experiences here, Pharises I dealt with, derailed career, etc.. In my case I’m stuck in this cycle of anger, rage, frustration, wreariness, cautious, etc.. And I want to know why? When your evangelical leaders teach you to follow God’s will and it backfires how do you listen to further advice? When you get hammered and disciplined for talking about lust by Pharises yet your accountability partner lived a double life for years of sexual immorality and porn who do you trust? When you pray to God for help only to receive silence especially when others are talking about how God answered their prayers what do you do? When the doubt is overwhelming (ie…why does an omnscient God who knows the hairs on your head [Luke 12:7], where you will sleep and lay [Pslam 139] and how your steps are numbered then allow a child to be molested and not stop it from happening I don’t know…The concept of God being in control looks beautiful until you consider the problem of evil) to the point that you don’t know if you can believe anymore.

    I’ve been stuck in this period of life for 2 years…and I have no idea where it’s going. All I want to do is avoid getting into harmful religious/Christian situations again.

  35. trust Jesus
    do not tust man

    Love God
    share the Love of God with others

    Forgive, as you have been Forgiven

    give all anger and hurt to God, and He will heal your heart.

  36. Count another one here who has found some rest and possibly an oasis in conservative Anglicanism. The 39 Articles, a permissive stance on both modes of baptism, the gospel-focused liturgy, and an emphasis on the “three streams” (evangelical, liturgical, charismatic) has ministered to my soul.

    Although I am not necessarily sold on every point of theology, I love the emphasis on what binds us (Jesus!) as opposed to what separates us. I love that every Sunday we pray together for the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church…and it really seems like most people mean it.

    God has been good to our family by providing us a place to rest on our long journey toward knowing him more.

    • “I love the emphasis on what binds us (Jesus!) as opposed to what separates us.”

      I like that, Nathan, and I like all of what you say in your comment. The place where you are worshiping sounds wonderful. I also like the way you refer to “three streams” (evangelical, liturgical, charismatic). That really sums up a lot of things.

  37. I currently have my feet firmly planted in the the post-evangelical wilderness. Or should I say, I’m floating in the middle of the Tiber . . . anyway, I feel alot of what Eagle is talking about. I was definitely singed.

    When people get hurt by the church they often hear the argument, “Well, just take your eyes off of people and put them on Jesus, people aren’t perfect, the church is made up of sinners, blah blah blah.” Well, I’m offended at the assumption that I have taken my eyes off of Jesus. It never was about taking my eyes off Jesus and putting them on man–I was seriously hurt by some people and their misinterpretations of the Bible at several churches over a long period of time. It would be no different than if I was hurt by people outside of church and needed to de-friend or take a break from them (or move to a different neighborhood, or find a different job). I have forgiven those that hurt me, I know the church is made up of sinners, I just don’t feel like going back right now. I still have healing to do.

    I’m afraid to go back because I’m afraid of a repeat of the past. My head knows that there is no perfect church, and that things will be better if I find a church that agrees with my newfound theology, but my heart doesn’t know that yet.

    I’ve been out of church for a year. It’s still so freeing for me, I don’t know when I’ll go back. I imagine I’ll go back someday; I can’t imagine not being a part of a fellowship forever. I am a PK, after all. I hear so many people here talk about the Anglican church that I checked out the websites of a few in my area. The idea of walking into a church gave me tunnel vision and heart palpitations.

    Yeah, not ready. Not ready at all.

    • Ouch. I know some of what your articulate. I did the church detox thing for almost 8 years. I engaged in a safer electronic website blog environment. I did much of venting in a few select message forums made of those that identified with the ’emerging conversation’. People of all stripes & walks of life freely shared both their personal horror stories, but also their dreams for what they longed for: a genuine Jesus centered faith expression.

      As with any dysfunctional relationship, staying away from a perceived toxic encounter the wise thing to do. However, there is no direct relation between your specific negative church experience & other faith communities seeking God in a healthier manner. I don’t think any one ‘brand’ of faith expression will be the best/better fit, but you are the one that must take some time to heal & then be willing to risk searching for an accepting, supportive faith community. It is my hope the Good Lord does bring resolution to the past abuses (not uncommon by the way) & strengthen you for a future reconnection with a safe church fellowship…

      • One of the hard things is interacting with past evangelicals. I had to sever a lot of contacts for a whole host of reasons, or some pulled back from me.

        1. The Pharises didn’t understand or know how harmfill their actions are, in the end they “thought” they were helping and not hurting. They also were too pride filled to admit mistakes being made.

        2. Others couldn’t respect my boundaries, I had some people I hardly know that came up to me or contacted me wanting to evanglize me. My reaction…”Who do you take me for a fool? And why is it that NOW your are interested in wanting to talk when most of the time in the past you could care less?” On the other extreme I had a couple of others who tested my boundaries. My former Crusade director called me about 3 times a day, every day for 6-8 months!! Yes you read that right. I thought I was going to have to change my number.

        3. Others I learned have a really shallow faith. No one wants to talk about doubt, or issues such as God and evil, or what happens to people who never heard of Jesus due to geograghic or historical limitations. They want their programs, music, babe (so they can get married…) and that “artificial smile” of everything is going well in life regardless. Man I’ve got to tell you I’ve encountered some evangelicals who would make great Mormons. Just go with the program, don’t ask questions, tell people that God is working in your life, project a good image, and update this reguallry in Facebook (or Christmas cards which is what I am still receiving…) (Where is a barf bag….)

        4. I’ve also been surprised by how many people have contacted me to tell me that they understand and can relate but that they don’t want to rock the boat, create problems with their freinds, etc… That was a shock for me.

        5 And the last and probably biggest suprise is that I have actually grown deeper with a couple of people through this. Also I’ve had a couple of people who entered my life who have been refreshing and encouraging. It’s crazy that I can be authentic with someone through Facebook and email, yet not in a guys small group.

        Eagle

        • It’s crazy that I can be authentic with someone through Facebook and email, yet not in a guys small group.

          Yeah, amazing thing. And some fellowship of the genuine kind not with other professing Christians, but people without pretense no matter their beliefs or lack thereof..

          I can relate to many of your experiences. And my biggest beef with Christianity is how some make it a mockery of sorts.

          Christians behaving badly. Yuck. Part of the reason for this blog bringing some of that hypocrisy to light in a way that makes all readers ponder its insidiousness in their own lives.

          I cannot with certainty ‘claim’ all issues will be resolved or God comes thru in that ‘happy testimony time’ soundbite that paints everything all better for you. You have experienced the reality of life that is far from some fairy tale ideal. I hope posting here has been positive for you & my response as well as from others affirming & not just another glib acknowledgment from strangers. If so, I apologize for my insensitivity…

          ~Joseph

    • well said, and I understand :/

  38. I’d just like to say I’m really grateful for discussions like this. I’ve read most of the comments and feel like I’m a better person for it.

    Nate

  39. donald todd says:

    When I was reading the very beginning of this thread, I determined that I had read a contradiction. Mr. Bell claims that iMonk was a happy Protestant and an unhappy Evangelical. Noting that Protestantism is much much wider than Evangelicalism, one is forced to ask why iMonk did not move to a Protestant Church more to his liking than the Evangelicalism he had determined that he was unhappy with. (My own perception was that he was on the way to a Lutheran type belief.)

    I was aware of iMonk’s difficulties with American Evangelicalism because I had read those threads at this site prior to his death. I would suggest however that one cannot be happy with Protestantism if one is unhappy with the Evangelicalism one is practicing.

    One might agree with the Protestant principle (whatever that is conceived to be) and disagree with one’s own denomination, but that would be agreement (concurrence) with one’s perception of the overarching belief/beliefs of Protestantism accompanied by unhappiness over the direction of Evangelicalism or one’s denomination.

    Agreement at a high level accompanied by unhappiness at how something is working itself out is much different than happy / unhappy.

    In any case, Merry Christmas.

    dt

  40. Raised Methodist by family since birth. Wasn’t confirmed in the Methodist church though as the pastor at the time (and the national church body) didn’t really care about confirmation. Personally accepted Christ while sitting in my high school’s chapel one lunchtime (yes, it was a church school here in Australia) & there was sowed the seed that is leading me slowly into the mother church of Methodism: Anglicanism.
    The Methodist parish I’ve been going to since 1993 is in reality a non-denominational church with a Methodist nameplate (I feel). So since 2005 I’ve been dual-churching at the Methodist parish (where I’m serving “behind the scenes”) while going to an Anglican cathedral parish (where I’m being spiritually nourished). It’s been a tough struggle, but I’ve managed to find a nice balance between both parishes so far. I will end up resigning my Methodist membership in the near future and be confirmed as an Anglican. But I’ll still attend the Methodist parish just to maintain social ties given my parents still go there. Being Anglican (of the Anglo-Catholic variety) is as close as I can get to becoming RC or going down the Bosphorus…