The Prayer Of The Ugh-Churched

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned against You in my heart and thoughts. I have grown discontent in my journey towards You. I love you still and seek You fervently. In fact, this love for You and desire to grow more like You has fanned the flames of frustration. I want more than church programs. I want the church to live like family. I want to be challenged to grow more dependent on You, not on gifted teachers. I want to be equipped rather than rely on someone else for my spiritual development and I want to be engaged rather than entertained.

Many Christians say they want “real” and “authentic” community but the very structures we adopt for the local church tend emphasize intellectual growth over relationships. We have classes to teach people how  to live in community but we don’t actually expect anyone to be in such a community. In fact, we’re a bit taken aback when we do see it.

When we say “doing life together”, it usually means superimposing some sort of academic study on to people who may or may not actually grow the most from academic study. We approach the Christian life as if we were simply disciplined enough, everything would be better. We academetize everything to the point that we discourage people who have no business being discouraged about following Jesus. It’s great if you can tell me the declentions of a Greek verb but I’d rather know you were trying to love those in your path as best you can. We make people who don’t like to read books read books other than the Bible so that they will understand the Bible better. And if they won’t even pretend to like to read to appease their leaders, they are deemed as somehow less spiritual and not “leader material”. We ask people to take time away from their families so we can tell them to love their families better. We ask people to meet with other Christians to learn how to talk to people who aren’t Christians. Really? Is this what it’s come to?

I’m sorry but if we can’t talk to our neighbor about everyday life, we’re not going to talk to them about Jesus. And if that’s the only think we ever talk to them about we’re just going to seem weird and they’re going to think that we view them as a project rather than a friend.

We use verses out of context to promote our own agendas like the (hopefully) well-intentioned pastor using Hebrews 10:25‘s admonition to not neglect gathering together with other believers to say that you have to be at every worship service (I’d be happy to elaborate on this at some point, but for now, I’ll say that I’m pretty sure that the writer to the Hebrews did not mean that we should attend a production once a week where we passively listen to a speaker tell us for 45 minutes how to live while a band urges us to sing along to their performance.). We draw lines in the sand that don’t need to be drawn and we call it “inerrancy” (the Bible was not given to tell us the age of the earth and to believe in an old earth does not mean not believing the rest of the Bible). We major on the minors and wrongly divide (I have not applied to several churches because they require someone who believes a Pre-Trib/Pre-Mil eschatology. Yes, I think eschatology is important. No, I don’t think this is something to divide over).

Father, protect me that my frustration does not sprout into bitterness. Surround me with people who want more.

Help us, Father to own our weaknesses rather than pretending they don’t exist. Help us to to find a better way forward instead of retreading the same well-intentioned but dead-end paths. Surround me with people who believe that the church is neither a building and who believe that worship is not an event and certainly not a performance. Lead me to people who believe that growth occurs primarily in community and understand that you can’t program real community. Lead me to people who believe that growing in discipleship is not necessarily the same thing as growing in knowledge about the Bible, though the two are often deeply intertwined.

Father, help us to move beyond cliché understandings of words like “authentic” and “organic”. Fill my heart with love and patience. Teach me as a leader to equip others rather than make them rely on me. Please deepen my own love, not only for You but for your your people. May I come to understand my faith, not as an add-on but as a marinade for life.

May my frustration be an instrument of healing for others. May I never lead out of opposition but from joyful obedience. May my love for you increase and may I become more dependent on You. Grant me wisdom, fill me with joy, lead me to serve and surround me with others who want the same.

Amen.

 

An Introduction to the “Ugh-Churched”

ugh-shirtI am Ted Wiggins and I speak for the trees!

No, that’s not right. I am Brent Thomas and I speak for . . . well, I might not speak for anyone other than myself. However, I have the hunch that I speak for a growing number of Christians who are increasingly frustrated by American Christianity.

Discipleship is the primary task Jesus left His people (Matthew 28:18-20). This simply means helping ourselves and others become more like Jesus. This is the fundamental task of Christians and encompasses all of life including all of our relationships. We are publicly trying to live out the ways of Jesus and striving to help others (no matter where upon the faith journey they might currently find themselves) to see the beauty in doing so (This is different from evangelism. Evangelism is not a thing in and of itself but is a subset of discipleship. Maybe more on this later.).Many churches grasp this, using pithy, easy-to-remember phrases like: Make, Mature and Multiply (Disciples), or Gather, Grow, Go.

Few seem to argue the fact that the core of Christian Living is discipleship. Over the years, I’ve asked over a hundred people: How well do you think the American Church as a whole, has done at the fundamental task of Discipleship?

I have yet to have a single person tell me that “as a whole,” we’re rocking it. Several people have been able to point to specific times when they have been spiritually cared for and encouraged and seen significant growth but these cases seem to be the exception rather than the norm. No one has argued that, “as a whole,” we’re doing well. There was one guy who was adamant until I realized that he was arguing that Young Life did a great job of discipling, not the church.

93434191-einstein-tongue_custom-36fb0ce35776dc2d92eda90880022bf48a67e192-s6-c30And yet it seems like just about every church is doing the fundamentally the same things. You remember how Einstein defined insanity, don’t you? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That seems to be the current predicament for American Christianity. Sure, the flavor might change but nearly every church seems to have the basic, Sunday-driven, education-based, program-driven structures. Two or three songs, a sermon and some more songs. Some churches are showy-er about it than others. Some churches have different emphases within those parameters but nobody seems to question the basic. passive, education-based approach.

But there is a growing number of people who believe that the Christian life is more, not less than the modern church experience. Many people sincerely want to follow Jesus and find a divide between how we see that suggested in the New Testament and how it is largely practiced here in the United States of 2016. Drawing from researchers like Thom Rainer and others who discuss the “pre-churched,” the “de-churched,” the “un-churched,” etc., I have come to think of this group as the “ugh-churched”.

The “ugh-churched” as I understand them, are not abandoning their faith nor do they want to abandon church participation. Much ink has been spilled rebuking people who say that they love God but feel no need for church. These are not the ugh-churched. The ugh-churched, if I may speak for a category I’ve just made up, believe that the current model is lacking at best and broken at worst. The ugh-churched believe that so many modern churches rely on programs because real relationships simply don’t exist.

But it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? Many churches see the New Testament’s expectations that we will “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1-2), that we will rejoice and weep together (Romans 12:15), that we will speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:25), that we will live as family and so we create programs in which these things are supposed to occur but these things do not occur in programs because programs are not relationships. People oftentimes don’t know how to have these types of relationships because they’ve been caught in programs. A growing number of people have become disillusioned with the current approach and long for Christianity to be lived out in the context of meaningful, challenging relationships. Though there’s lots to do in the American Church, it just doesn’t always seem worth the time and energy and many are left wanting more.

As my friend April recently said:

I’m at a point in my Christian faith where I don’t want to go to a church with a “tag line” or catchy mission statement. I’m so over it, like way way over it. I want to go to a church that really wants to be the Church and not some cool kids club, that strives to be relevant, or hip, or urban, or progressive, or liberal, or seeker sensitive, or “down to earth”. I’ve found that there’s a lot of flavor out there without a lot of substance (kinda like Doritos). Hoping God will bring us into a community of believers who want to do honest, raw, life together for the long haul. Keep our family in your prayers, and keep me in your prayers that God will show Himself to me in his people and that I would be encouraged.

The problem is that we’re left with cliché’s like “authentic”, “genuine” and “organic”. They sound great but have largely lost their meaning in the current church context because every church uses these terms but seems to mean something different by them and the result is has simply become a standardized approach to how we “do church”. This is why many of the ugh-churched feel increasingly disenfranchised from the American church; they want more, not less. They want substance over performance and they believe that following Jesus is about more than superficial slogans like “Win at Life”.

This means that we must stop doing church the way we’ve always done it. Far from being threatened by the ugh-churched, we should revel in the desire for deep and meaningful community faith. This is an exciting time for the American Church. We are faced with an identity crisis and we have reached a tipping point. How will we emerge? Will we embrace the growing desire for simplified schedules and deeper relationships or will we create another church program?