So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore

It’s not often I am mistaken by a fellow traveler at an airport for being a New Age type but the title of this book beside me led the person next to me to imagine that I would be interested in staying over at her retreat where I could engage in mud baths, reiki, card reading and massage. The book found its way into the cover of my newspaper for the rest of the trip before just in case someone else invited me to their establishment to get my fortune told and my energies re-centered. The last book along these lines I read was ‘Exiles’ by Michael Frost but this one is purely fictional. For many people, not wanting to go to church any more is not fictional at all. Read some sections of the book for a preview here. The sleeve reads:

What would you do if you met someone you thought just might be one of Jesus original disciples still living in the 21st Century? That’s Jake’s dilemma as he meets a man who talks of Jesus as if he had known him, and whose way of living challenges everything Jake had previously known.

So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore is the story of Jake Colsen, a youth pastor who gets a raw deal and is turfed out of his church by a corrupt senior pastor.  The book is his journal that chronicles thirteen conversations with his mysterious newfound friend over a four-year period and how those encounters turn Jake’s world upside-down. With the help of this enigmatic interloper, Jake has all his key assumptions about faith and ministry challenged, faces his darkest fears, struggles through traumatic events and comes out on the other side with a sense of joy and freedom he always dreamed was possible.

The book is a combined project by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman. Jacobsen according to the addendum,

“wanders the world helping people to sort out what Jesus really taught about life in his Father and in a relational community with other believers.”

Dave Coleman has been a pastor and hospice chaplain and has ‘lived as a brother helping others sort out the journey of life in Jesus.  He has taught extensively on themes of marriage and living in God’s grace and purpose, and has worked as a volunteer in alcohol rehab.’

If you’re tired of just going through the motions of Christianity and want to mine the depths of what it really means to live deeply in Christ, you’ll find Jake’s story will give you hope for your own. This book probes the difficult questions and offers some far-reaching answers. It just might turn your world upside-down as well!

These two authors are not great fans of church as most of us know it.  The conversations in the book between ‘John’ (Jesus) and Jake do in some cases to my mind set up a straw man, and they are the easiest to pull down.  Some of the exchanages are downright cheesy. Although the book is designed to encourage people into a post church existence it isn’t just a typical church bash.  There is a strong vision outlined for genuine Jesus centered spirituality. I found it helpful to read as someone committed to serving the church and helping it to connect with a lost world.  I can imagine though that the book may serve as fuel to the fire of those who are bitter or angry at there experience of church, further grist to the mill.

Some of the issues covered are:

  • The security that comes from being involved with and loyal to a church, and the subsequent trauma when things turn turtle
  • How a lot of aspects of church organization don’t really teach us true and right things about God, and in fact often teach the exact opposite
  • Why accountability doesn’t necessarily result in permanent changes and may be part of the problem.
  • How a focus on commitment is really potentially just a life of legalism
  • How church life becomes a substitute for genuine faith and an on-going encounter with with God
  • How church life often becomes a power struggle and maneuvering for control of others
  • Wanting to “fit in” to a church
  • How ethical lines get crossed “for the good of the church”
  • How a lot of aspects of church organization don’t really teach us true and right things about God, and in fact may be the antithesis of what it should be
  • Why accountability doesn’t necessarily result in permanent changes and may be part of the problem
  • How church institutions go from serving people to demanding to be served and serviced by the people
  • The disappointment of task-based relationships
  • How church life becomes a substitute for genuine faith and an on-going encounter with with God

This book is reminiscent of the classic by Charles Sheldon, ‘In His Steps’, first published in 1897 and then reprinted in the 80’s. This book may well be the new millenium equivalent.  At the end of the book there is a question-and-answer section with Wayne Jacobsen, where he answers self asked questions about his ideas of spiritual formation outside of organized congregations. This section is included on his website here.

His website contains lots of resources and he is clealry not just a bitter soul looking to tear down the walls, but rather he offers some concrete alternatives.  I for one don’t have to abandon the fellowship I am in to benefit from his thinking, and nor would anyone else.  If the conversation ultimately drifts back to Jesus then I’m ok with that.

Have you read it and what are your thoughts?