In her article, “The End of Church,” Diana Butler Bass eloquently states her case for the end of the conventional church as we know it. In her closing paragraph, Butler Bass states:
“The end of conventional church isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Christianity after religion, a faith renewed by the experience of God’s spirit, is closer to what Jesus hoped for his followers than the scandalous division, politics, and enmity we have now. Will there still be Christianity after the end of institutional religion? Yes, there will be. But it is going to be different than what Americans have known, a faith responsive to the longings of those who are expecting more spiritual depth and greater ethical integrity rather than more conventional church. Indeed, I suspect that the end of church is only the beginning of a new Great Awakening.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this article from the Huffington Post; and I am also looking forward to reading Butler Bass’s latest book, “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.” As much as I agree with her points, however, I would like to speak from the perspective of someone who has had several conversations over the years with people who have those “longings” Butler Bass mentions in her article.
For these folks, a question I often ask is, “OK. If you aren’t getting what you need here, what are you looking for?”
Most often the responses to my question are not so much about seeking a depth of spiritual growth, integrity and service they see lacking in institutional religion, as much as it is about personal preferences regarding things like music, the order of worship, social activities, and the like. And believe it or not, even a few liberal religious people really do want to be given the “bottom line;” that is, they want to be told the path of least resistance that leads to sweet seats in the afterlife.
There are, however, people who really are longing for a depth of spiritual growth, integrity and service in their lives; and unfortunately what they experience are communities of faith that are–as Butler Bass says–“caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions, institutional maintenance, unresponsive authorities, and inflexible dogma.” Still, when I ask these folks what they are looking for, most often the silence is deafening, or I hear a quiet, “I really don’t know.”
This statement is an honest response; and I think it is one church leaders should honor and simply let be while gathering other such seekers for some intentional, honest conversations about not only institutional religion, denominations and associations, but also about what it means for their particular groups to “offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world” as Butler Bass mentions in her article.
Now, here’s a question to ponder: “Do we really want to have these conversations?” What if those conversations led to a decision to eliminate Sunday morning worship in favor of feeding hungry people, working at the local homeless shelter, or performing some other act of service and social justice? What if worship meant gathering in small groups for discussion, socializing, prayer, meditation and communion, rather than coming together once a week to pay our respects to an empty cross hanging on the wall, drop a few bucks in the offering plate to pay the bills and catch up with our friends’ lives?
I’m not saying traditional/contemporary/mixed–whatever–Sunday morning worship is wrong, either. Good things happen in worship services every week all over the planet. And as someone who is a church leader (and pastor), I’m all in favor of paying the bills. What I am saying, however, is if we are serious about spiritual transformation, if we are serious about following Jesus (or the other prophets of our faith(s) of choice), we must be willing to put everything out on the table for honest and respectful discussion.
So, do we really want to be transformed?
Just something to think about…