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Announcing a New Non-Fiction Project!

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 MattersJesus 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!

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{ 54 comments… add one }
  • Rebecca LuElla Miller July 24, 2012, 11:15 AM

    Mike, I’m glad you decided to write this one.

    Another arm of your research might be into the views of others who believe as you do. Just recently Kevin DeYoung and co. wrote such a book: Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (Gospel Coalition the Gospel Coalition) by Kevin DeYoung, D. A. Carson, Ted Kluck and Russell D. Moore (Jan 6, 2011). I haven’t read it, so don’t know what approach they took. It may be material they gleaned from their site. At any rate, I thought it would be helpful for you to know there are others of like mind. From what you said, I take it Brandon is one also. Good. We need more voices to counter the abandon-ship bandwagon.

    Becky

  • Jason H. July 24, 2012, 2:07 PM

    Great project Mike, and I do think it is needed. I believe the “Chrurch-bashing” trend is unfortunately fueled by both sides.

    Certainly, Satan wants people to turn against God, and will happily use any and every person hurt by a Christrian to spread that message. However, experience has taught me that while many people are seeking truth and honesty (and I believe they are – God is calling them!), the Church has done great harm and driven people away by sinful attitudes and actions. In the US over the last 50 years alone, the Church as a whole has being exceedingly legalistic and arrogant. It has also gone to great lengths to conceal sin and arrogantly condemn others, rather than confessing its’ faults and re-alligning with God.

    I don’t believe we should bash the Church. The people of God are the Church, and Christ died for them. However, we can easily get into preaching the Church rather than Christ. Salvation is not in the Church – the Church is those who are saved. Salvation is in Christ. We must to confess to God – and demonstrate to the world – that we has His people have not lived up to our responsibility in the world. We are not perfect. We do not have all the anwers. We simply know the One who does, and we are anxious for others to search for Him with us.

  • Jason H. July 25, 2012, 8:04 AM

    Unfortunately, some church-bashing is based upon legitimate problems. I think the bigger issue is intent and presentation. Are we tearing people down or urging God’s people to come to their senses? (The answer may depend on who you ask!) I don’t agree with Church-bashing (capital C), but do believe that every congregation must be willing to uncover and change how they incorrectly represent Jesus to the world. Most “church-bashing” I hear (from insiders and outsiders) is born from anger with man-made religious burdens of belief and practice that are not essential to a right relationship with God. We must confess that something is seriously wrong when more time is spent in-fighting over non-essentials than meeting the spiritual and physical needs of our communities. We should not bash the Lord’s Church, but care enough about it to speak out honestly about problems that have gone unaddressed for far too long.

    I have been blessed these past 4 years to serve in an outreach program to international students of the major university in my town. We place advertisements on campus offering free study of the Bible (starting with Luke) to help improve conversational English. Each semester we are so overwhelmed with requests to study the Bible that we have difficulty getting enough Christians volunteers to study with them! (Another topic altogether.) So few of these students know ANYTHING about Jesus – they only know what they have experienced with churches. As you can imagine, their impression of Jesus based upon these churches is often different from what scripture reveals. I find that many people want to know about the perfect Jesus, but have been hurt by his imperfect Church. Unfortunately, I don’t know any way around this – imperfect is exactly what we are.

    Through all of this, my eyes have been opened to how many people have been converted to the Church rather than to a relationship with God through Jesus. They are converted to an imperfect preacher, practice, worship style or scriptural interpretation, rather than the perfect Lord and Savior. Consequently, when things turn sour in their group of believers (which it will), their faith can be more easily shaken.

    I can say from painful experience that the Body can deeply damage faith. However, my eyes must remain fixed on the perfect Head, not the imperfect Body. I will be hurt, and will inevitably hurt others. However, scripture tells us the Lord adds us to the Body, which means he has purpose in doing so – not only on the larger scale, but in our individual congregations as well. Certainly, some congregations are healthy, some are weak, and some are thoroughly diseased, and Godly wisdom will serve us well in our choices. This can be particularly hard for those who have been deeply hurt. However, the Body is a key proving ground for our faith where God uses and molds us. We are added to a presently imperfect family to live out our faith and practice the grace and mercy that God shows us daily. Why should we bash the Church – our co-heirs? After all, one day we will share eternity with these people who are just as imperfect as we are!

  • Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) July 25, 2012, 4:22 PM

    I met with a guy to talk to him about his book and he told me that he didn’t go to church any more. He met with some friends over coffee. I told him that people who don’t go to a church with people who are going to embarrass them are too proud. He laughed and wrote it down. But maybe I should have said something about people who are too hurt to go to church. I dunno. With a daughter who’s a wookie I’ve had lots of hurt. And sadly, sometimes I have been the giver of hurt (and not found out until years later when I could not remedy the hurt). Me, I’ve never counted on other people to be God. And churches are like families: sometimes you don’t like them. Sometimes they don’t like you. You’re still family.

  • xdpaul July 26, 2012, 9:43 AM

    Noooo! This is terrible! It means fiction delays!

    Yaaaayyy! This is wonderful! It means more unique, deep and meaningful Mike-atology to read!

    In all honesty, this is going to be a grueling and fulfilling project, and I can’t imagine it won’t have a deep impact on a lot of people, including me. I’m so looking forward to it. When is it coming out, tomorrow or next Saturday? Because I can’t wait until next Saturday. Thanks.

  • DD July 28, 2012, 10:36 AM

    While many of predicted the demise of the church for 2000 years, it has survived. Those doing so now come from different perspectives. The impression I get is that one of these thrusts is that many people criticizing the church are those who want to make it more like the world or more pluralistic. You know, just another feel-good, 5-step program or belief-system-of-the-week on a talk show. This dumbing down of Jesus and is message, however, is precisely what causes many to leave the church. If it is nothing more than another feel-good social club, how long will the feeling last? Not long, people move on. I’ve seen efforts to turn this back as in books like Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman or Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge.

    There is a lot of positives in the church and these are often clouded by our denominational bubbles. How many other churches do you all pass on the way to your own? They are Christians, too, but what connections to them outside of your church do you have? We know little about others – and what we think we know is often wrong – and unconsciously live like we are all alone. The one positive of all the denominations is it shows Christianity is the most diverse of religions, contrary to what some modern “reformers” would have us believe.

    There are a lot of issues in the Christian world, there always is, but few writers out there have effectively brought a majority of them together. Christianity always needs voices to keep it from straying, but we have to weed out the voices that throw what Christianity is under the bus.

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