This Church Probably Doesn’t Exist

I want a church where sermons focus on applying biblical teachings to daily living. I can see motivational speakers outside of church and fear mongering is counterproductive.

I want a church where biblical study is open for everyone to participate, ask questions, disagree, and learn from each other. Discuss what it actually means as a group instead of letting the pastor tell you. This is how scripture was studied when Jesus walked the earth.

I want a church where musical worship is a communal activity. Anyone can play an instrument (bring your own) and everyone sings. Together. Take the attention off the stage and focus on God. This was Paul’s instruction to the church in Ephesus: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” Musical talent shouldn’t matter; after all, the psalms tell us to make a joyful noise, not a pleasant one.

I want a church where dancing is viewed as a method of worship just as King David danced when the arc of the covenant was returned to Jerusalem. Even if it is undignified.

I want a church where grief and mourning are accepted as an act of worship. One psalmist wrote “the sacrifices God desires is a broken spirit and contrite heart.” Elsewhere the poet told us the Lord is close to the broken hearted. I want a church where people can openly and honestly lament without being told to get over it or move on.

I want a church that prioritizes care for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. The Bible often instructs its readers to care for orphans, widows, and foreigners - going as far as calling it a religion that is pure and undefiled. From Levitical law, through the gospels, into the New Testament epistles, this is one of the most commonly repeated commands. These verses also include other maligned groups - impoverished people, hired workers, prisoners, homeless individuals, and more. Serving what Jesus called “the least of these” should be of greater value than serving ourselves.

I want a church that embraces social justice. The book of Jeremiah tells us to do justice and righteousness. Deuteronomy tells us those who pervert justice will be cursed. Micah says God requires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

I want a church that understands Christianity is not an American thing. We should recognize the oldest church buildings in the world are found in Syria and Egypt and the oldest Christian communities are in Armenia and Ethiopia. Even the first convert into Christianity (according to biblical record) was a man from Ethiopia. God’s covenant is for all people of all nations and there is no biblical basis for thinking America has a privileged relationship with or unique protection from God.

I want a church that isn’t offended when someone says “Black Lives Matter” and isn’t scared to talk about critical race theory. Paul tells us there should be no racial discrimination in the church, declaring both Jewish and Greek people are equal because of Jesus. As long as racism is rampant in America, I want a church that fights for reconciliation, supports minority communities, and amplifies voices of POC leaders.

I want a church that sees the feminine in the divine, not limiting God to exclusive masculinity. Genesis says both male and female were created in God’s image so the personhood of God must be simultaneously male and female.

I want a church that values and promotes women’s rightful place in leadership. God chose a woman to bring the Messiah into the world; Jesus chose women to be the first to preach the gospel; and Paul calls out Pricilla, Julia, Junia, Phoebe, and Chloe as partners in ministry. Women were active in and essential to establishing the early church and they must be allowed the same roles today.

I want a church that affirms the LGBT community. The first Christian convert from Ethiopia was also a eunuch. Such people were considered sexual deviants and were not allowed to enter the temple. If the early church welcomed those rejected by established religious traditions, we should do the same thing today. If all people are created in God’s image, then all bear God’s image regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I want a church that isn’t afraid of foul language, skeptical attendees, uncomfortable questions, provocative conversations, and taboo topics. I want a church that supports public education, believes in science, protects the health and safety of their communities, and realizes the most qualified people to provide counseling are licensed therapists.

I want a church who takes God’s command to Adam in the creation story seriously – to work the land and take care of it. I want a church who realizes earth’s resources are limited and we must be good stewards of the environment. We cannot continue to strip God’s creation in the name of human progress.

I want a church who calls nationalism, prosperity gospel, and capitalism what they are: idolatry. I want a church that eschews the ideals of consumerism, white supremacy, jingoism, and collection of wealth. I want a church that abandons teachings rooted in colonialism, American exceptionalism, patriarchy, classism, ableism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

I want a church where anyone is safe to express their reservations, their hopes, and their fears. I want a church were anyone regardless of their background, personality, existing beliefs, or economic status can walk through the doors and feel welcomed. When someone says “I have my doubts,” I want a church that says “So do we.”

Maybe a church like this doesn’t exist. Perhaps this is asking too much. I can dream though.


Deconstructed Church

(This post is the second in a series. If you haven't read the first post, please click here and do that now then come back to this.)

I need a deconstructed church. Wait, what?

The modern church - as it is in America, especially for conservative white evangelical America - isn’t working for a lot of people. Many people do need and enjoy it. Kudos if that is you. Or good luck. Or as my southern friends would say, “bless your heart.” Aside from the devout, there is a growing population of exvangelical people going through deconstruction.

On the other side (or in the midst of) detangling their faith they’re discovering a lonely landscape. Sure, they’re connecting on social media, but if the Covid pandemic has taught us anything, we’ve learned how online spaces are great but still a substandard substitute for actual in person communion. People are biologically wired to crave human contact - to drink and laugh together, to hug and high five, to cry on a friend’s shoulder or make love with our soul mate. Former youth group kids might give up on God but still miss the comfort and camaraderie of hanging out with their peers inside of a church.

Religious elders, clergy, and administrators have looked at the data of dwindling attendance numbers and the decline after kids reach adulthood is disturbing to them. They’ve been on a quest to find the cause and fix it once and for all. This inquisition has been ongoing since I was a teenager (and probably longer than that) so obviously, their efforts have not been successful. However, there is more to the study than pure numbers of people walking through church doors every Sunday. For reasons I’m unable to explain, the rest of this data has been ignored by church leaders.

This is the information that intrigues me, after all, I’ve worked as a data analyst and my analytical brain craves facts and figures.

The study showed what we all know to be true: the percentage of churched Americans (meaning the number of citizens who regularly attend religious services) is shrinking. This number is the lowest it’s ever been in American history. Conversely, the Public Religion Research Institute shows “unaffiliated” to be the largest religious subgroup in America.

image courtesy of PRRI

When questioning people who claim to be unaffiliated, we see some curious trends. For those leaving Catholic, Mormon, and Protestant churches, the majority still believe in God. Many still practice regular prayer and/or meditation. Scripture is still a part of their lives. The most peculiar result I found was a small percentage of people who say they pray more and read the Bible more after leaving the church than they did when they were active members in a church.

The data doesn’t show how those studied feel about these results, but I bet they think they’re the only ones experiencing isolation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re surprised to see so many other unaffiliated Christians. I guarantee they feel alone and abnormal. Why am I so sure of my assumptions of their emotions? Because I’m one of them.

Ive faced so criticism for believing the way I do. Ive been told I'm backsliding and leading others astray. When I meet other Christians locally, they're usually the "Trump is awesome" variety, not the "it's complicated" type. I feel like a weirdo in most religious circles. I miss attending church but every time I go back I’m faced with this overwhelming sense I don’t belong there. Where can I go to escape the legalism, hypocrisy, and bigotry rampant in the evangelical world? Where can I find God without the baggage of the religious right?

This is why I want a deconstructed church.


Another Kind of Divorce

There’s been a lot of chatter about people like me in evangelical circles and most of it is unjustly spiteful. Matt Chandler called deconstruction a “sexy thing to do” and inferred real Christians aren’t capable of deconstructing. Those going through this process are looked at and often treated like heathens or apostates. I was once told to go to Hell because I refused to take a gospel tract. Earlier this week, a simple tweet from Lecrae stirred up a surprising amount of controversy and hateful replies.
image courtesy of Lecrae

At the heart of it, deconstruction is a search for truth. Many of us have discovered the Sunday School lessons from our youth don’t match the teachings of the Bible. Or we suffered abuse that conflicts with the morals we were taught. Or we found a discrepancy between the teachings given and the actions of our teachers. Or we were given a revelation that the modern church is more like Egypt and Babylon than the Israelites fleeing captivity or the first century recipients of Paul’s letters. Or maybe we are fatigued from seeing mainstream Christians kneeling at the altars of power, pride, and politics. Whatever the igniting spark, we’ve come to the conclusion what we always thought was true might not actually be true.

Over and over again, I hear the criticism about deconstruction as a quest to abandon God or feel better about our sin. Neither assumption is accurate. While it’s true some who embark on a deconstructive journey do lose faith, just as many find their faith in God strengthened through the process. They’re abandoning corporate churches because they’re seeking God and not finding God in Evangelical buildings.

For as long as I can remember, religious leadership looked at the statistics of young people leaving the church. They could see young adults fleeing organized religion in droves and grasped at any possible reason in hopes to fix it, to be the next big thing to resolve the post-youth group attrition plaguing white evangelical churches. It’s been the same thing since I graduated high school. We’re not relevant enough. We’re not entertaining enough. We’re not this or that. Programs were created and TVs installed. Worship bands got bigger and louder. Youth pastors got younger and trendier. What was the result? Young people kept leaving the church and leadership kept wondering why.

But now we know why. The exmo and exvangelical communities are clear about why they’re leaving. They’re vocal and not afraid to share their reasoning and logic. Open TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, or any other social media outlet and you can easily locate outspoken users processing deconstruction in the public forum. The rationale is laid bare and the people in charge look at it and say “Naw, that can’t be it. I know, let’s have a laser tag night at youth group again.”

While my deconstruction is a product of my late 30s and early 40s, I can trace the foundations of my doubts back to my younger years. I’ve been asking the same questions for three decades and found nothing but pushback, rejection, and condemnation. I questioned the divine and fell more in love with God. I questioned my faith and discovered something deeper. I questioned the church and realized it doesn’t love me.

Deconstruction has reminded me a lot about my divorce. It was uncomfortable and stressful. I second guessed my identity and self worth. I never knew if I was doing the right thing or not. I made a lot of mistakes and learned from all of them. In the end, it was the best thing for me. I was able to crawl out of the mire a healthier and happier man.

So I guess you could say I’ve gone through a second divorce - just a different kind of divorce. Much like my first marriage, I didn’t leave the church, the church left me. This wasn’t an easy process. It was uncomfortable and awkward, making me second guess all of the things I once valued. I learned a lot but accepted the fact that everything I believe could be wrong. It was the best thing for me. I’m now a healthier and happier man more deeply in love with Jesus than ever before.

I’m not done yet. The work continues. I’m in the ongoing process of deconstruction. It is beautiful, but (sorry Matt Chandler) there’s nothing sexy about it.