I can tell you’re not sure if you wanna go
and really that’s most understandable
there’s whole a lot involved in where you place your bet
and all these reports? They’re a little suspect
• Bill Mallonee, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”
• • •
We interrupt our regularly scheduled Formation Talk for a personal wilderness update.
Another Sunday here in the wilderness wondering what to do.
I’m not feeling at home in church these days.
If it didn’t sound like a bad break-up line, I would march right in to the congregations I’ve been involved with over the past few years and tell everyone, “I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.”
But that’s the truth. I keep trying to identify the specifics of why “it’s me,” but that has proven rather elusive.
I don’t really have a problem with “church,” per se. Because I know God’s love in Jesus, I love the church.
I love church people.
I love using my gifts of preaching and teaching in the church.
But, from the very beginning of my adult experience with the church, my involvement has been tied to vocation. From the start, I was a pastor or engaged in some form of public ministry.
For 30 years, this was my life.
Then it stopped.
Vocationally, I became a minister at large, a hospice chaplain, one whose “congregation” is outside church structures. I have fallen in love with the work of visiting patients and families, collaborating with other professionals on a care team, and sharing God’s kindness with those who are hurting out in the world rather than within the confines of the institutional church. It has been a transformative “divine assignment” for me.
The unexpected gift of writing and leading this blog has provided me with another vocation. It has begun to fulfill a lifelong desire to write. The daily discussions we have here stimulate my faith and thinking in ways I never thought possible. It is a time-consuming responsibility too, but I am loathe to think of giving it up. As a result, the time I am able to give to a local congregation as an active member is limited.
Personally, I am growing older and have moved into a new season of life. We are now keepers of an empty nest, grandparents, on our way to being recognized among the “elders” of our clan. We are no longer driven in quite the same way to provide as actively as we once did for our children’s spiritual well being. They are finding their own paths as adults now.
You might say (and I know it sounds crass) that in many ways I don’t “need” the church as much or in as many ways as I used to. I am fed by Word and Sacrament. In my life right now, as far as what I “need” in a church, that’s it. Period.
Stop there. Before you say it, let me.
I know that’s not the only way or even the best way of looking at being a part of a local congregation. It is also about being a part of God’s family, part of God’s mission in the world. And I have always bought in to an “all hands on deck” philosophy of the church’s mission. “Ask not what your [church] can do for you; ask what you can do for your [church],” to paraphrase an inspiring leader. Along with each and every Christian, I have gifts that God can use to build up the church. I would be happy to use them in a congregational environment were I not expending time and energy to use them in other settings.
Is this a problem?
There are other concerns, some of which I don’t feel comfortable sharing in detail. Let me just say that I have also lost a measure of faith on the ground when it comes to churches in our immediate vicinity. I have no major beefs, just a lack of clarity and confidence. It seems whenever I receive something resembling an “answer” to a query I have, it ends up leading to more and more questions rather than to a clearer sense of direction.
I’m not sure what I’ll do on Sunday morning.
When my wife asks me, “Are you going to church today?” I’m not sure what I’ll say. I know for sure I probably won’t feel good in the moment about whichever answer I give.