I have been working on a manuscript for a while now about my view on the modern western church. I was reading over the first four chapters again the other day just to see if I really wanted to pursue it any further. After all it may have been an exercise to get something off my chest and not really something suitable for publication.
Today, I saw a Facebook post regarding an article in The Washington Post on millennials and the church. It made me think of part of the text I had written several years ago. I am posting it here for you to read as well. It doesn’t deal with a generational issue in the church, but does deal with a general notion that aligns with the article.
Many years ago William Hendricks wrote an incredibly intriguing book he titled Exit Interviews. The book is a compilation of stories of real life people about why they are leaving the church. In one such story he interviews an upward moving business man named Vince, who had decided he was tired of how church worked.
Vince and Sharla were the perfect “customers” for the church. “…white, upper-middle class, Baby Boomers, early thirties, educated, two incomes, no kids, already converted, eager to grow, lots of non-Christian friends, looking for a church.” So why was Vince leaving? One large reason he gave, according to Hendricks, was the same age-old reason given by so many…..he was too busy. Hendricks illuminates, “’Don’t throw the programs at me!’ he told me emphatically. ‘Don’t inundate me with the programs and tell me “Hey, it might be good for you to be at this.” I mean, I’ve got a lot going on. I work fourteen hours a day. I’ve got too much going on to be at these other things.”
Who doesn’t, right? We are all busy.
Don’t pass judgment yet. Keep reading.
Vince looked at church much like his business. It was a cost-benefit analysis. And he found the church greatly lacking. Hendricks explores. “Unfortunately, when it came to the church he felt he was not getting a good return on his investment……’It was a production [Sunday morning worship service]. It was an incredibly well orchestrated production – and I didn’t like the orchestration….the preacher was part of the show…He basically…was the main act. I am slipping out of bed at eight o’clock in the morning to get to church to go through the introduction before he gets up there for twenty minutes. I’m worn out by that time, because I’m so bored with the people and the presentation….I’ve got better things to do.”
Do you know Vince? If you think long and hard do you see him every day in the mirror? When reading this sort of account I wonder to myself, “What if Vince was not met with shallow entertainment. What if he encountered genuine people who showed genuine interest in HIM and not his wallet or influence or prestige or social connections? Would that have made a difference? Would that have kept him plugged in to a smaller group?” Because, when you boil it down from what Vince experienced in church, his real longing was authenticity in both the congregation members and the pastor. For many in the church, they are like Vince, they “fake their way” through it every Sunday. They are there putting their time in, but not really engaging the body with real life. Perhaps because many of our churches have fallen in the trap of Vince’s church. We put on the production to woo the world only to find that the type of people we end up wooing never really end up showing a measurable change in their lifestyle when confronted with Jesus. Maybe because we are producing plastic people rather than obedient, bloody-knuckled believers who seek truth more than comfort.
But before we move too harshly at those attending our churches, perhaps the real fault lies with those of us that lead the church. After all, one can only judge a follower based on the influence of their leader. This of course is not a condemnation of many churches in the west. Many are hard working, others-centered places of worship that attract and train the brightest and most humble of people. Unfortunately, when this type of ministry occurs and churches grow, the ego of leadership stands front and center, pushing out the freedom of God to speak as He so chooses. And before long, in our growing, excited places of worship, worship becomes relegated to 20-30 minutes of singing on Sunday mornings.
If you have thoughts let me know. I would love to hear from you.
Until next time.