Special to The Standard – Saturday, April 5, 2014
Over the past few years, I've been inundated with stories, statistics, articles, books and documentaries chronicling the mass migration of people leaving the Church.
The response of "church loyalists" to this phenomenon of church abandonment has been all over the map. Some are angry while others are afraid. Some are in denial while others are grieving. Some blame contemporary culture, secular universities, the media, postmodernism or anything else under the sun (except themselves) while others desperately try to adapt and attract people to their church by incorporating more technology, pop culture and socially "relevant" issues and causes into their gatherings and programming.
Some churches are asking tough questions about the evolving role of the church in our new world and have begun experimenting with new ways of being church. Others are convinced the solution is found in getting back to the old "tried and true" ways of the past.
It seems the only common ground in virtually all churchgoing folk's response to the decline in Canadian church attendance, is that we need to — get people back to church. But this assumption might be causing us to miss the bigger picture. What is most important and most interesting in this unsettling season for Christianity, is discerning where God's Spirit is during this mass exodus.
In the Exodus story in the Bible, God calls Moses to liberate the Hebrew people enslaved and oppressed in Egypt so that they may worship God in the wilderness. I can't help but wonder if there are correlations here.
Are the millions of Christians who are leaving the Church abandoning God? Or is something else going on? Are these people rebelling against their Creator or embarking on a journey into the unknown and the unfamiliar in attempts to reconnect with Divine Spirit and renew their faith and spiritual life? Could it be that the Church has become Pharaoh and the oppressive ancient Egyptian regime for some people and the Holy Spirit, like Moses, is beckoning them into the wilderness to worship their true God? What a sobering thought. That God's Spirit might be saying to the Church,. "Let my people go, so that they may worship Me in the wilderness." (Exodus 7:16).
For many ex-churchgoers, the Divine Spirit has literally called them into the wilderness, into the healing beauty of nature, to be still and know God. Away from all the noise, consumerism and busyness of work, life and church. I empathize with this. As I get older, spending time in solitude, surrounded by nature, has become essential to my own spiritual wellbeing and sanity. Of course, equally important to my faith and spiritual growth is being part of a community, experiencing togetherness, spiritual friendship and serving others. But do we need "church" for this? I suppose that depends on how we define church.
So what makes a community a church? Do people have to sing together? Do they have to gather on Sundays? Does everyone have to beliei.re the same doctrine?
I believe many of our current versions of church will become extinct over the 21st century. As a pastor who makes his living through the current church paradigm, I may very well belong to one of these extinct versions of church. On some levels this concerns me but I hope my faith In God will give me the courage to let go of my desire for certainty, security and familiarity and kindle in me a willingness to follow wherever the Holy Spirit is moving. Even if that is away from Church as I know it.