As I mentioned in my previous article, “I Kissed Churchianity Goodbye,” there came a point in my life where I walked away from the traditional church setting, and as far as I was concerned at the time, it was for good.
I had legitimate frustrations with Churchianity, and although I was initially questioning things in a healthy way, it wasn’t long before my questions turned into accusations, and my tone became quite haughty – even mean-spirited.
Right at the apex of my irritation, I began attending a Bible study, started by a group of pastorless Episcopalians in Jackson, Mississippi. They started the Bible study after their church leadership had gone off the deep end, questioning even the most basic, central truths of scripture (like Jesus being resurrected). They had made the painful choice to part ways with what they had always known, and I therefore felt at home at their Bible study and decided to camp out in the wilderness with them until further notice.
Though most of the attendees at the Bible study were my parents’ age, they had hired a young seminary graduate named Mark Booker to serve as a part-time minister. Over time, Mark and I became good friends, despite the fact that most of our conversations consisted of me venting about how so much of church life just felt like a big scheme to make celebrities out of attention-hungry, type-A, alpha male pastors.
One day at lunch, I was a couple of bites into my burrito when I started railing on the establishment again. I was getting pretty good at articulating all the ways that Churchianity grated on my nerves, and I was sharing my theories with Mark, who listened intently while eating his burrito.
“So anyway,” I said, “I feel like a lot of these guys who call themselves pastors aren’t really pastors at all. They’re just preachers who show up to host the Sunday morning infomercial.
“They can call themselves pastors if they want, but the word ‘pastor’ means ‘shepherd,’ and I can’t imagine it being very effective for a shepherd to take a massive flock of sheep – the dumbest animals in the world – round them all up for 30 minutes a week, give them a pep talk, and hope they don’t walk off a cliff in the next seven days.”
“I think that’s a fair point,” said Mark, “but - ”
“Hold on, just one more thing,” I said. “I keep having all these people ask me why I’ve 'left the church,' but that just shows how much we’ve screwed up the idea of the church. That Wal-Mart sized building isn’t God’s temple; scripture says I’m the temple of the Holy Spirit.
“I can’t leave the Church – I’m literally a member of the body of Christ, so even if I’m just Jesus’ pinkie finger, He’s not going to chop me off. So I won't be 'leaving' anytime soon, you know. I mean, seriously, Mark. It’s all so jacked up.”
And on and on I went, continuing to list my grievances like I was the new Martin Luther. Finally, Mark wiped his mouth, raised his eyebrows, looked me in the eyes, and kindly said, “You make a lot of good points, Joshua, and I actually agree with a lot of what you’ve said. My only question is: if you could describe a healthier way for the church to exist, what would that look like?”
I had talked so much by that point, that there wasn’t much time for me to quickly brainstorm some constructive thoughts on the topic, which was good, because I didn’t have much of any. No, I was a flame-thrower, and I was too busy knocking everyone else to actually come up with solutions. Mark knew that, but he was patient enough to continue to pastor me along, somehow having faith that my frustrations would eventually mature into something more productive.
Around that time, I was preparing to move to Washington, DC, and the folks at the Episcopalian Bible study strongly encouraged me to visit a small, Anglican church in Washington, pastored by some guy named Dan Claire. I smiled politely and said I would think about it, but I later told Mark I had absolutely no intention of even visiting Dan’s church.
“You should at least go for a visit,” Mark said.
But like a man whose spiritual gift was being a jackass, I responded, “Going to an Anglican church, with all that ceremony, hierarchy, and authoritarianism sounds like a lame episode of Star Trek. No, thanks.”
It didn’t faze Mark. He, in his gracious, pastoral way just smiled and then politely recommended that I visit a community center in DC where a few anti-authoritarian Christians, some of whom he knew, worked.
A few weeks later, just after moving to DC, I visited that community center and immediately met a nice, young woman named Brooke. She insisted that I visit her church, called Church of the Resurrection, which had about seventy young people who attended.
I tried to talk my way out of the invitation, but when she wouldn’t take no for an answer, I finally told her that I couldn't come because I was supposed to visit the church of “some guy named Dan Claire” who knew friends of mine in Mississippi.
“Oh my gosh, that’s my pastor!” she said.
My mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding,” I replied, smart enough to recognize the bizarre coincidence as an act of divine, but humorous, providence.
I knew had to visit at least once after that bizarre twist of serendipity, and I did go – again and again and again – not just to church services, but to dinners, road trips, small groups, parties, prayer meetings, and on quite a few dates. To boot, Mark Booker even ended up getting hired to come work at Resurrection shortly after I moved to DC. The pastoring providentially continued.
And I, Mr. Anti-Churchianity, had met my match: a living, loving community of imperfect believers who were being pastored by men who knew them. These people, including the pastoral leadership, were the kind of people who personally kept their fingers on my pulse to make sure I was growing in the Lord, who had me over for dinner, who butted heads with me, argued with me vigorously, and apologized after we both ended up feeling like jerks, who allowed me to confess my brokenness and invited me into theirs. It wasn't as if I'd never experienced Christian community before, but I had never experienced it like this corporately.
Simply put, as a church community, we were all just loving each other in the Spirit of Christ, and it was melting my hardened heart. I don't mean that they or Mark changed my opinions about Churchianity (nor did they try, for the most part), but it didn’t matter. In fact, my opinions didn’t even matter as much anymore, because our life together was answering Mark’s question he had asked over burritos that day, months before: “If you could describe a healthier way for the church to exist, what would that look like?”
It would like the lives they were living; it would look like a family.