Standing Outside the Stained-Glass Windows

The stained-glass windows look differently on the outside

The stained-glass windows look differently on the outside

As alluded to in a previous Bubble, I have an interesting relationship with the organized church. It could be described as “unresolved” or “conflicted.” Perhaps the best word right now would be…non-existent.

You see, I’m taking a break from church.

I’m not mad at anyone, though I will admit to be disillusioned. It’s certainly not a comfortable arrangement for me, since church was a major part of my life for so long—25+ years in the ministry, with 15 of those years as Senior Pastor for two congregations. One of my consistent messages was the importance of the church—not as a place, but as a group of people; not as a requirement, but as a resource. (I think I can say I was successful. In both of my pastoral experiences, we saw substantial growth in all those areas that typically indicate success.) That’s why it’s a bit strange to find myself in this current mindset.

Let me say in my own defense: I’m not anti-church. In fact, I love the church. (The quote I provided at the end of a previous post, attributed to St. Augustine summarizes it best for me: “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”) I don’t oppose going to church and don’t advocate the elimination of the organized church. I am trying to maintain the distinction between the church as an organization (and business) and The Church as a visible extension of the ministry of Christ in this world. While this is not the platform for a theological lesson in ecclesiology (the study of the church), let’s just say I’m having a difficult time reconciling the two!

As I read the accounts of the church in the New Testament, I’m always touched, moved and inspired. There was such power in the church. Healing. Restoration. Comfort and encouragement. Even with all their flaws and failures, their faith and fellowship was a testimony of their love and devotion. It was apparent they didn’t belong to an organization; they were connected to one another. That has not been my experience in recent years.

Do I love the church more in theory than in actual practice? Perhaps I'm expecting too much. Maybe because I’ve seen what the church can be (at least a glimmer), that spoiled me to artificial substitutes. <shrug> Regardless, I’ve put some distance between me and the organization in order to sort it out and gain some perspective.

I’m not sure at this point what this “break” entails—a short vacation, a hiatus or perhaps an extended leave of absence. I don’t think it’s permanent, though it has already been nearly a year now. Maybe it’s like a sabbatical, which is defined as “any extended period of leave from one's customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.” I admit to being in dire need of learning some new insights. And “rest” sounds good, too. But not the “rest” of sleeping in on a Sunday.

I freely admit that when I began this break, I was tired. I was tired of platitudes being substituted for genuine compassion. I was tired of rote and recitation that was somehow supposed to demonstrate devotion. The visible church makes many demands, then discards freely those who are not able (or not willing) to meet those imposed requirements. The church promotes the necessity of right beliefs, but refuses open discussion with those who dissent.

I realize this sounds cynical, and I know I’m speaking in broad generalities. I don’t want to summarily dismiss the entire church. Suffice it to say, this was not an easy decision, though I think it was necessary. For me. For now. And even as I type this, I can hear the voice of the preacher from my home church saying “We need a vacation from church like we need a break from breathing.”

So I reckon this is me, holding my breath.