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 driveâ€”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 readersâ€”
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.