the weblog of Alan Knox

Leaving the distractions without leaving the church

Posted by on Jul 2, 2013 in blog links, definition | 14 comments

Leaving the distractions without leaving the church

Last week, my good friend Eric from “A Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote a post called “Not Looking for the Perfect Church. Just Looking for the Church.”

In the post – and as the title suggests – Eric explains that he did not leave “the institutional church” in order to find “the perfect church.” Instead, he says, he was simply looking for church.

At one point, Eric wrote:

Many of the things that pass as the church today are not the church. I can list a few that we are all familiar with: the building, the worship service, the clergy, the tithe, the youth group, the sermon, etc. It is for many of these reasons that we left the institution never to return. We weren’t looking for something better; we were looking for something qualitatively different.

In response, a commenter by the name of “die” (I’m assuming that’s the German definite article…) asked the following question:

Can you list the distinctions between “The Church” and its less ideal institutional counterpart?

Eric pointer the commenter to some of the blog posts that he’s written in the past on the topic. But, Eric’s post and the commenter’s question swirled around in my head for a few days.

Like Eric, people have often suggested that I’m “looking for the perfect church” or that I’m “angry with church leaders” or that I just want things my way. Interestingly, none of those are true. Like Eric, I know that no group of people – however mature in Christ they may be – will be “perfect,” at least, no in this age. Also, looking back over my experiences, I’m not angry with any church or church leader or denomination or anything like that. Finally, the group that I meet with does not do everything “my way,” so that can’t be it either.

So, why do I prefer to meet in a way that is different from the way most traditional churches meet? Why do I define the church in a way that is quite different from the traditional definitions? Why do I seek to share my life (fellowship) in a way that crosses boundaries normally erected by “local churches”? The answer to all those questions is the same: maturity in Christ.

The things that Eric lists above – building, worship service, clergy, tithe, youth group, sermon – and other things like those are often considered to be part of the nature of the church. In fact, many could not imagine the church without many of those things.

But, to me, those things are usually distractions that hinder the growth of the church. According to Scripture, several aspects of our shared life with Christ and our shared lives with one another facilitates our spiritual growth and maturity: fellowship and mutual (“one another”) discipleship/edification.

It’s never my desire to separate from my brothers and sisters in Christ – even if they want to meet in traditional ways that I think are less healthy to they spiritual growth. Unfortunately, when people’s identity as the church is tied up in those activities that I consider hindrances, it limits our ability to share our lives with one another. So, while it may appear at times that I’m “leaving the church,” it’s really a desire to leave the distractions, never the people themselves (who are the church).

[By the way, in the image attached to this past, the line of text at the bottom – which is difficult to read – says, “Distractions can seem important at the time, though later you realize that it was what was around it that was important…”]


14 Comments

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  1. 7-2-2013

    This is a subject that I’m really struggling with at the moment. I don’t seem to be able to settle at a church and I struggle to separate what I see as the “established church” with the actions of Christians. It’s possible I’m not sure what “established church” means. At the moment I just see the church causing so much pain, I can’t bring myself to associate with any church.

  2. 7-2-2013

    Institution is just a word for endurance over time. Size and sociology will determine a need for any group doing anything significant to eventually have some form of organization. Of course it makes sense for churches to try and scale back some and remember that the purpose of the institution is higher than maintaining the institution. It is important to remember, though, that there are positives to both institutions and movements; it shouldn’t be an either/or dichotomy. Movements without some structure do not last, “organic” or not. This is explained well in a book from the Methodist context called Back to Zero by Gil Rendle.

  3. 7-2-2013

    Graham,

    I understand your frustration. My suggestion is to focus on building relationships and sharing your life with people whom God brings into your life – including other Christians even if they remain part of traditional churches.

    Drew,

    I think, in this context, “institution” means something like this: “an organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or program, especially one of a public, educational, or charitable character”. The focus is on organization, typically.

    I’m not that interested in movements. I’m interested in the fellowship that we have with one another in Jesus Christ. It is through these relationships that we can gather together in Christ without a fixed structure or organization and through which (the relationships with one another) that the Holy Spirit works to mature us spiritually.

    -Alan

  4. 7-2-2013

    Me too

  5. 7-2-2013

    This is a terrific distinction, that articulates my heart well. Thank you. In my own journey presently, I am wrestling with my (acknowledged emphasis on me) desire to have what I have come to know as deeper, authentic fellowship around the Life of Jesus, through His people – WITH dear certain Brothers and Sisters that are still very entrenched in IC. Not only do I not want to “leave” them, I want them to taste and see along with me! But, alas, as you’ve described, it is the distraction that distracts this from happening, for now. Thank you Alan (and Eric).

  6. 7-2-2013

    The distractions bring to mind the seeming obligation to be ‘part of’ the distractions.

    A regular struggle and sometimes quite awkward (in our opinion) when we have chosen not to join in for no negative reason other than we have had too many obligations to have time for relationships.

  7. 7-2-2013

    Thanks for the link Alan!

  8. 7-2-2013

    Randi,

    Welcome to the club. I’ll send you a membership form and an envelope for your dues.

    Brandon,

    I am encouraged that you are trying to share your life with brothers and sisters in Christ who remain attached to traditional, institutional church.

    Danette,

    I definitely know what you’re talking about. Unfortunately, if we set aside those distractions, we’re seen as not being a part of the church; but if we follow along with the distractions, then something that God has for us is set aside.

    Eric,

    Thank you for the great post!

    -Alan

  9. 7-3-2013

    We are not answerable to the dominant group as if the burden of proof is on the ‘other’. It’s been a long journey but I too feel much less need to explain anything unless I detect there is genuine interest.
    This is any more than a catholic believer should need to join up with a charismatic or mormon church if thats all that is available in their area.

  10. 7-3-2013

    Eli,

    I agree that “we are not answerable to the dominant group.” However, we are answerable to God about the way that we live among our brothers and sisters in Christ, even those brothers and sisters who remain part of traditional, institutional type churches.

    -Alan

  11. 7-5-2013

    I’m curious, Alan. How would you describe your involvement in the body of Christ? How do you encourage others to love and good deeds while saying no to the distractions? I’m very passionate about this subject and write much about it.

    Many blessings, brother!

  12. 7-5-2013

    Caleb,

    That’s a good question. I wish that I could give you an easy answer. But, I can’t. My “involvement in the body of Christ” depends on who among God’s children are around me, what we are going through, and how God desires to change us. I gather weekly with a small group of believers, but I also see brothers and sisters throughout the week.

    I wonder how Paul would answer your question… or Peter… or Timothy… or Luke… I would think their answer would depend on where they were, who they were around, and what God was doing there.

    However, I think there would be a commonality in all the variety: Always helping one another grow in maturity in Jesus Christ.

    -Alan

  13. 7-8-2013

    The more I think about this idea of the need not to limit preaching/teaching to one person, the more the novelty of it transforms into a rational one. The body of Christ is made up of people with diverse backgrounds of character, life experiences, spiritual gifts,etc, hence if we limit teachings/preachings to a single person whose background is of but a UNIT out of the diversity of THE WHOLE, that edification of the total will sorely be missed.
    Now, how do we go about reverting to this sound biblical idea of “mutual edification of the whole by the whole”?.
    I can imagine the expression on the faces of the congregation when the pastor announces on one fine sunny sunday……”Brethren I have decided to widen my pastoral duty to cover ALL in the church, thus wEVERYBODY will take part when it comes to it; on any given sunday we would allo 10mins. for each of us to minister to the congregation…….can I get an Amen!!!!?……..in response…..I can hear a half-hearted , mumbling undertone of a rather weak…amen.
    However if the pastor stays his course I can envisage an exciting time in the church each sunday…..for the first time in the history of the church EVERY MEMBER WILL START READING HIS BIBLE AT HOME. This idea is exciting and I am sure there are more interesting aspects to it that we can only discover IF we start it. Now I can see why this one man show is robbing us of the TOTAL spiritual food cooked by the Holy Spirit through the diverse gifts of the whole body of christ…for the whole body of Christ.

  14. 7-12-2013

    Franklin,

    The kinds of changes that I’ve been talking about work best when the church as a whole (including the leaders) understand and work toward the kind of mutual discipleship and fellowship that we find in Scripture. I don’t think we will see much change if it only comes from the leaders or from the non-leaders.

    -Alan