I’ve been considering doing a non-fiction project for some time that would chronicle my personal pilgrimage away from and back to the Church and how, despite all Her faults, the Church both Universal and local, remains God’s chosen method to reach and heal the world.
Ever since I decided to turn my attention to writing, I’ve felt I had a story to tell. You see, I’ve been a part of the Church for most of my life. Raised in an alcoholic home, I attended nine (strict) years of Catholic school, only to completely abandon faith during high school. There, I turned to drugs, the occult, and mysticism. After a grueling existential quest that was punctuated by a horrible auto accident, I converted to Christianity and soon after, was ordained and began pastoring a small church. It was a bittersweet but brutal journey that eventually led, after more than a decade of blood, sweat, and tears (literally), to the disbanding of the church and my leaving the ministry. I wandered in the interim, struggling with cynicism, confusion, and bitterness. Why would God take me through so much only to pull the plug? I’d lost friends, made enemies, been emotionally bruised. Heck, I was once even threatened to be shot by an angry husband! (Ah, church life.) I had every reason to leave the Church, and for a while I did. Funny thing: Now I believe more strongly in the Church than ever before.
So what happened? Well, therein lies the telling.
Several things have made me feel unqualified to undertake such an endeavor. For one, it’s not a particularly glamorous story. There’s church politics, marital conflicts, baptisms, defections, scandal, tragedy and triumph, and collapse — you know, typical church life stuff. Another reason, is that I’m not a theologian and have no formal ministerial education. I haven’t started a foundation or traveled the world with a message. I’m not a “career pastor” seeking to expand my ministry. I’m no expert. I’m a layman. I have a day job, attend a modestly-sized church, struggle to build relationships, and strive to serve and stay involved. Just like most Christians I know.
But having blogged now for seven years, interacted with people, and kept a close eye on religious culture, I’ve watched what I consider a disturbing trend involving the Church. I’ve called it the “Bash the Church Bandwagon.”
Seems like every other week there’s a new book out about the decline of religion and the irrelevance of the Church. Books like They Like Jesus but Not the Church, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith, all share a simple, yet popular premise: organized Christianity is failing; it is corrupt, out of touch, and/or in decline. Postmodern and Progressive Christians are often highly critical of the American evangelical church, characterizing today’s spiritual seekers by their rejection of traditional religion and institutional affiliation. And, at the heart of this rejection — at least according to these detractors — is the American Church’s disconnect from Jesus and the real world.
Whether or not these individuals intend to bash the Church, it has that feel. But is the organized Christian Church really as bad as she’s being made out to be? Have we drifted so far out of touch, become so defiled by a love for money and power, become so beholden to politics, become so bigoted and hate-filled, become so detached from the real Gospel, that scrapping the old clunker is the only way to move forward?
After over 30 years of involvement with Christians, seekers, ministries and churches (big and small), and pastors of all stripes, I’ve concluded that The reports about the Church’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Finding flaws in the American Church is like shooting fish in a barrel. What we often conveniently miss are the success stories. Stories about how local faith communities have served and strengthened their cities, how churches have transformed spiritual landscapes, provided education and assistance, healed relationships, and offered support (physical and spiritual) during the darkest of days. As much as the Church has problems, it largely remains God’s answer to the world’s needs.
If anyone has a reason to bash the Church, I do. But I don’t And I don’t think you should. And I want to tell people why.
So I pitched this idea to my agent last week and she was thrilled. Frankly, this surprised me. But after much prayer and consideration, I think it’s time to embark on this journey. I’m currently wrapping up a fiction project which we’re planning to start pitching in a couple months. After that, I’ll dig into research for a book about The Church: A Pilgrimage of Return. Over the next few months or so, I’ll be picking your brain for ideas and opinions, and keep you abreast of my progress. Your prayers would be much appreciated!