Someone described me as a little boy sitting on the curb, crying, determined that his daddy was going to come pick him up, because he had promised. But Daddy was drunk and wasn’t coming.
That’s how I respond to organized church: I take all the promises about the body of Christ and expect them all to be true. When they turn out to be somewhat of a facade, I am very upset: sad, depressed, angry. I tell myself to lower my expectations. But each time I get sucked right back into wanting it all to be true. I am an idealist.
I think many of us ex-fundamentalists, or Preacher’s Kids, and Missionary Kids have this same impulse to want to believe all of the hype and advertising about what the church is. And then when it doesn’t live up to its image, we collapse in pain or rage in impotent anger, until we burn out.
I am noticing that several things trigger me: churches that beg for money (“I’m not begging for money but please give to my ministry”, churches that have a board and congregational votes on the budget (the church building is the biggest expenditure), churches that have classes on evangelism (How to have a phoney relationship in three easy steps), appointing elders (Shut up and do what I say), stair steps to become a spiritual leader in the church (Competitive Christianity), and on and on it goes. Anything that has the potential to promise me something that can also fall far short of its promise, sucks me in and spits me out the other end a cynical, sad, jaded child.
I remember years ago the assistant preacher asked me to “start the spontaneous singing” before church. We usually would sit and sing choruses before church officially started. I hadn’t known that someone was appointed or asked to start the “spontaneous” singing.
So I have started to take a break from organized church. Wait! I can hear you shouting: “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” Yes, I know the passage well. To the which I reply: I remember Tony Campolo saying to a group of teens: “I don’t have to do sex. I am sex.” I echo: I don’t have to do church. I am church. Everywhere I go I am church. Everyone I talk to, everyone I am in relationship with, everywhere I go, I am at church, in church, worshiping and encouraging (ideally).
For people who haven’t grown up with these unrealistic expectations, they can enjoy organized church just fine. It doesn’t trigger them. Great! Wonderful! I rejoice for them. I am not one of them. I have a different history, one that has sensitized me to the phony, the failing, the lying that occurs as people pretend to be the church.