So I read this really good book by Michael Frost, called Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture.
It was really good. Not just in a, "Oh, that was a great book! So thought-provoking!" way, but in a "Holy crap! Now what do I do?" sort of way.
Personally, I would rather books take me out of my troubles and make me forget this world. It's so much more convenient, especially for a stick-in-the-mud like myself.
Frost's thesis is that Christendom is dead, or in its death throes (Christendom being the sort of societal, cultural Christianity where "Christian" values and institutions are the norm, and part of the state, politics, etc.) He does not think this is a bad thing. I'd tend to agree with him: speaking in broad stereotypes, where the state has sponsored Christianity, it has tended to become irrelevant and far from its founder's teachings. Where it has been oppressed and persecuted (the early church, China) it has flourished, and stayed vibrant.
Anyway, Frost argues that institutional Christianity is also dying: ie, institutional churches. Like the one I attend. This is demonstrably true: most of the major denominations are dying off in the US. Again, Frost doesn't have much of a problem with this (here we mostly part ways: me, probably more because I love my church. It is my family. However, I think his arguments are strong; I want to disagree with him, but have a hard time arguing).
He argues that churches are like little social clubs, little country clubs, set up mainly to benefit their members. Sure, churches do good, but much of their time and treasure is spent building themselves up--investing in big buildings, staff, and using the congregation's time in committees and church activities. So much so that if you're involved and committed in a church, you might never meet someone that doesn't attend your church (okay, people you work with--but if you're involved in church, you wouldn't have time to get to know them, anyway).
I wish this were not true, but it is.
If we are to be salt and light to our communities; if we're to engage with the world, and fight against injustice, poverty, environmental degradation, persecution, and the like, Frost argues, what are we doing investing most of our resources in big buildings? In sundry activities? In
He argues that more Christians need to break away from the structures and strictures of traditional churches and establish small, nimble communities that band together around issues of social justice and service. That we need to make "church" a verb, rather than a noun. That we should invest our time and money in the places they are most needed: in our struggling communities, in people that are poor and oppressed, and not in big churches, slick worship services, and hardwood pews. Because, really, who in our communities that did not grow up going to church would ever consider going in to those places? In fifty years, will there be more people that would consider it? Or less? Should we be content with allowing people to believe that Christ's message is irrelevant, rather than, perhaps, that only the institutions are irrelevant? Because Christ is relevant to the poor and oppressed; he always has been.
For example: I heard of a local business owner who has mostly been hostile to Christians he encounters in his business telling a pastor that he gets Christ--he just doesn't get Christians. I can't really blame him. I have a feeling he would nod at a lot of Frost's points, and say, exactly.
I wrote a letter to Myanmar this week as a result of this book, asking for the authorities to free some dissidents they've jailed. I want to start writing a letter a week to different places, for Christians and non-Christians jailed and persecuted around the world. I can't do a lot of volunteer work with a baby, but I can write letters. I'm wondering if anyone else wants to join me. Maybe we could all research this stuff, and help figure out where to write? Sadly, there's not a dearth of causes.
The problem I've been having with this book, is that being me, I have been having a hard time being in my church. I look at all the trappings of my wealthy suburban church, and wonder: is this where God would have us be right now? Is God pleased by this church ? If he were writing us a letter, like in Revelations, what would it say? Again, I don't deny our church does good in our community, that its programs meet a lot of needs and touch a lot of people. I just wonder: is it the best way to organize Christians to be salt and light? Is there a way to unleash the time and money spent on ourselves to truly help those who need helping? Should we lean less on organization and paid clergy and staff and do ministry in an active way?
I don't like feeling uncomfortable, suddenly, in my church. I don't like thinking these things. I would like to just feel happy feelings about my church family.
But good books are like that. They tend to yank the rug out from underneath you.