SO YOU DON’T WANT TO GO TO CHURCH ANYMORE, Jake Colsen (Lifestream Press)
I think i want to write a proper review of this book – not sure when, what with one thing and another on at the mo. But i read this recently and was completely captivated for most of the 1st half and then immensely frustrated by the rest. I think it is one of those books that will make waves in churches (it came out in 2006) after a while as an internet ministry etc (check out the “author’s” website – http://www.jakecolsen.com/).
The author Jake Colsen is a pseudonym for the two writers – Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman, both pastors. It is written in a novelised form, but is clearly seeking to communicate theological truth. The story is powerful – Jake is an assistant pastor who is facing the agonies and frustrations of pastoral ministry. All completely udnerstandable and recognisable. A ‘chance’ encounter with a mysterious stranger called John leads to a series of encounters throughout the book (is he the apostle John who would never die? (cf John 21:23) – we never really know but Jake is certainly drawn to that conclusion!). The underlying quest and heartfelt cry is for reality and honesty with God – John helps Jake face up to what it’s like REALLY to trust God with the daily and mundane as well as the challenging and unusual. It is all about God’s overwhelming grace, his forgiveness, his love and above all his sovereignty over all the twists and turns of life.
When Jake’s daughter is in hospital with severe respiratory problems, John walks into the hospital waiting room to find Jake struggling with the agony of watching his girl in pain. Let’s pick it up mid-conversation:
‘…happiness is a pretty cheap substitute for being transformed into his image, wouldn’t you say?’ (said John)
‘I know! But this isn’t easy.’
‘No one said it would be. But you make it even harder on yourself when you think God is against you! What if you knew he was right in this with you, leading you to the life you’ve begged him for?’
I had to think about that for a moment. ‘Then i certainly wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.’
‘No you wouldn’t. And you’d still be able to enjoy his presence while he’s working this out. You’re missing what ever writer of the New Testament proclaimed – even though God does not orchestrate our sufferings. If you walk with him through it instead of pushing him away with blame or accusation, you’ll be surprised at what he will do.’
‘But i still don’t know how i’ll pay this hospital bill.’
‘But he does, Jake! He’s already working that out.The fact that you can’t see it yet doesn’t alter that reality.’
A CRY FROM THE HEART
So far so good – there’s lots of really helpful practical stuff in here. I think it is a cry from the heart of those who’ve been damaged or alienated by churches and church leaders. And i really appreciated this books honesty. It’s just that the big bugbear throughout the book is ‘institutional church’ with lots of form and programmes but no content or reality when it comes to God. And of course, this book is not written in a vacuum – in a way that is simply no longer the case in the UK, this book is reacting to American church-going culture, full of nominalism and ‘religion’ but without the reality of a relationship with God. Fair enough. But what is the alternative – it’s almost as if Christians need to be rescued from church. Well again, fair enough – churches can be a total nightmare, with spiritual competitiveness, judgmentalism, backbiting and even cruelty at every turn. It is not without reason that someone once said that the Church is the only army that attacks its own wounded.
BUT HOW DO WE RESPOND?
The problem is that Christians still need one another, still need to meet (however organised or not) and still need input, encouragement, leadership and direction. What emerges in the book is what i guess is a sort of Californian ex-hippy alternative church – which may well be appropriate in California. But my fear is that it throws too many babies out with the bathwater – of course it is right that institutionalised Christianity is dangerous to spiritual vitality. But i don’t know how you create an alternative without the potential of the same problems always being there. A Church that tries not to have programmes and leadership will (unless they’re acutely aware of the problem) invariably find that the fact of not having programmes will itself be the source of its dryness and deadness. The church is a fragile and fickle being – but God still seems to want to build one, in whatever form in whatever culture. Sure there is always the need for radical thinking – but let’s not kid ourselves that turning our backs on how things have always been done will necessarily create something better. So i enjoyed this book but was frustrated by it. So what do we do about it? If you’ve read it, please comment…
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Is there a disconnect between the average church member’s understanding of the local church and the church as Christ’s body? I’m often surprised by mature Christians who, whilst dedicated church members themselves, would say that it’s possible to be a Christian yet not part of a church (however that community looks) in principal, as though the outward nature of the church is entirely separate from the spiritual reality of the global community of Christ. In the student work at All Souls as we go through Ephesians and see that God’s vessel of salvation is the church (i.e. those “in Christ”), students quickly see the the implications for their service to the local church. They view the church as their family rather than just a place to sing songs they like or hear teaching that they consider good or whatever, though those might be good things too. We put up with family much more readily than a mere “service”. I’m not sure that this is taught very often, perhaps because there a tendency in the evangelical church towards being partners (i.e. a collection of individual Christians or groups of Christians aiming for the same goals) rather than members (i.e. interdependent parts of the one body). In the partnership model, if I feel that I can get on better on my own (perhaps some or all of the time) or I disagree with some of the ways it goes about things, I don’t need the church. In the membership model, I am a vital part, and the church is incomplete without me.
Just some ill-thought-out ramblings…
And nice blog by the way! I tried once and it died a quiet death!
So i enjoyed this book but was frustrated by it. So what do we do about it? If you’ve read it, please comment…
Lea Ann’s Comment:
I’ve read the book and would love to comment 🙂 Primarily, I think what the authors hoped we would “do about it” is place our walk with Him above ALL else (including our concerns about the form of “church”).
Another thing we could “do about it” is redefine our definition of church from “church” as it has become, to The Church as Jesus taught about it – and not get the two confused.
I think it is a cry from the heart of those who’ve been damaged or alienated by churches and church leaders.
Lea Ann’s Comment:
I did not get that feeling at all. It seems more to me like a warm encouragement for Christians to put their relationship with God first and see beyond what we traditionally thing of as “Church” to “The Church” as Jesus sees and is building it. He does not place a higher priority over any of these options: remaining in Institutional Church, leaving the Institutional Church, starting a Home Church, or any other “form of Religion”. He looks through and past all of that to THE CHURCH which we all know is the universal body of all believers.
He does admit, however that too often, the Institutional Church gets in the way of authentic expression of body life.
The problem is that Christians still need one another, still need to meet (however organised or not) and still need input, encouragement, leadership and direction.
Lea Ann’s Comment:
I found nothing in the message of the book that would prevent Christians from fulfilling their need for one another, meeting with each other, or getting input and encouragement from one another. All of these “needs” can be met whenever one or two gather in His name. In fact, I would posit that these “needs” are best met in small, intimate gatherings.
On a side note, regarding Christians needing one another, I believe our only real need is to have a relationship with God. But too often, that need gets confused with our need to feel approved of by others. God does love and relate to us through other people, but it is the “God in others” and to “see God in others” (whether they are Christians or not) that we need – not others. In other words, God is our only need, he often relates to us, however, through people.
What emerges in the book is what i guess is a sort of Californian ex-hippy alternative church – which may well be appropriate in California. But my fear is that it throws too many babies out with the bathwater
Lea Ann’s Comment:
I don’t think that an “alternative church” was proposed. I think the author tried to get people to understand what “Church” really is. “Church” is not denominations, or buildings or programs. Church is the body of all believers.
– of course it is right that institutionalized Christianity is dangerous to spiritual vitality. But i don’t know how you create an alternative without the potential of the same problems always being there.
Lea Ann’s Comment:
We don’t create alternatives. Jesus is and has always been building his Church. The Church already exists – Jesus is its head. All believers are priests and there is no intermediary between Jesus and His Church. We don’t need to create alternatives – just learn to see and recognize The Church as it already exists.
A Church that tries not to have programmes and leadership will (unless they’re acutely aware of the problem) invariably find that the fact of not having programmes will itself be the source of its dryness and deadness.
Lea Ann’s Comment:
Please forgive me if this comes across as sarcastic – I don’t mean it that way – but I don’t remember reading about any Church programs or church leaders in the Book of Acts and yet that Church was as “un-dry” and “un-dead” as it could be!
Since there is now no shortage of church leaders and church programs, why does there seem to be an inverse relationship between the vitality of Christianity in any given area or country and the number of churches with large budgets, buildings, and programs?
The church is a fragile and fickle being – but God still seems to want to build one, in whatever form in whatever culture.
Lea Ann’s Comment:
The Church is organic and as simple as the sum of all believers. That is God’s Church. God is building his Church in China by leaps and bounds and it’s mostly underground, in people’s homes. God is still “building His Church” within the Institutional Church to the extent that people are coming into relationship with Him.
Sure there is always the need for radical thinking – but let’s not kid ourselves that turning our backs on how things have always been done will necessarily create something better.
Lea Ann’s Comment:
I think it is only radical because we have come so very far away from Church as it was intended to be (as in the Acts of The Apostles).
Pagan Christianity – http://www.ptmin.org/pagan.htm
Hi Lea Ann
This is a great comment – thanks very much for taking the time and effort to respond so fully. Really appreciate it!
I’ll have a think over the next few days and get back to this.
I am ABSOLUTELY agree with these comments from Lea Ann:
– place our walk with Him above ALL else (including our concerns about the form of “church”).
– see beyond what we traditionally thing of as “Church” to “The Church” as Jesus sees and is building it.
– Jesus is and has always been building his Church. The Church already exists – Jesus is its head. All believers are priests and there is no intermediary between Jesus and His Church.
I for one (despite being a minister in a very institutionalised denomination) am very nervous of insitutionalised Christianity. And what i warmed to so much in this book was the total commitment to growing people’s relationship with God as first priority. It is something i yearn for in my own walk.
But i’ve still got a few niggling questions:
– The book of Acts – how much is it a model for church or an account of the birth of the church from which we should draw many lessons? And i can’t believe that the last 2000 years of church history are irrelevent – it is simplistic in the extreme to dismiss the way things have been simply because we need to get back to the church of Acts.
– When you say “We don’t need to create alternatives – just learn to see and recognize The Church as it already exists.”, i’m not quite sure that the NT would agree with the 2nd half of that – because the nature of the Christian life is change and growth. Yes we need to appreciate and recognise MUCH more what God has, is and will do – but you just have to read the combined profile of the church in Revelation 1-3 (ie the 7 letters which many commentators agree forms a composite picture of the church) to see that things most of the time are not what they should be. For that God in the NT raises up leaders, teachers and ministers who, in whatever ways, challenge and lead the chuch to greater change and Christlikeness.
– “Since there is now no shortage of church leaders and church programs, why does there seem to be an inverse relationship between the vitality of Christianity in any given area or country and the number of churches with large budgets, buildings, and programs?” Perhaps but i think this is quite a sweeping statement. I wonder though whether or not this is more of an issue in North America than Europe.
But on both sides of the Atlantic and even in Africa where i lived and worked (training pastors) for several years there is a real problem of NOMINAL Christianity. If this book helps to undermine and challenge that, i’m all for it. But i’m not entirely convinced that it knows where to point people who don’t want to be nominal.
I couldn’t have said it better myself! My relationship with God has become so much closer since I have left the institutionalized church. There was, and still is a lot of junk thinking I need to get rid of that I have been brought up with since the time of infancy (I also come from a Catholic background and was even in the convent at one time studying to be a nun). I am back to the Bible and my Father. A lot of head knowledge does not bring a relationship with the Father. He’s not impressed with learned theology. He wants a relationships!
On the other side of this, I don’t condemn anyone in the institutionalized church. I just know where I have come from and what my relationship with the Father is like now. People have to come to their own conclusions. There is life after “Institutional Church.” When I meet with another believer, there’s church. It only takes two or more to be gathered in His name. We do need each other to encourage each other, but who says that can only come from people we meet in a building for a couple of hours on a Sunday or an hour on Wednesday night? Relationships go beyond the meeting time, it’s an everyday, every hour, every minute thing.
Okay, enough babbling. 🙂 I could go on forever.
BTW, I gave my wrong website. This is the correct one. I have a section up there for the New Testament Church. My blog records my thoughts as I lean on the Father.
“Institutionalised Christianity is dangerous to spiritual vitality.” Not having a church is also very dangerous to spiritual vitality. And, uh, so is everything else under the sky…? Having a job, not having a job; having a family, not having a family. Being rich, being poor. Sex can help and it can hinder. Same goes for health. Hobbies can be dangerous; so can a life of no wonderment, or joy, or amusement. And so on.
In the end, I’d like to go back to the three biblical bugbears of the Flesh, the World and Satan and cut The Church As An Institution some slack. Even if the three evils do find their way into the church; and yet we’re storming the gates of Hell, if Jesus’ words to Simon Peter still stand after this while.
fair enough Julio – though we need to take the pains and complaints that people ahve seriously – must throw out the bathwater and hold onto the baby!
Certainly, Mark. I am just maybe a little frustrated with staying in church, dealing with the messiness of it (my part included, of course), and feeling powerless when I see others leave. So maybe I feel like glossing over the ugliness which is there? I don’t know. More food for my own thoughts.
definitely with you there!!