Sometimes people leave the church because they are looking for something that is not genuine Christianity. They want something more worldly, less moral, or less bound by Biblical guidelines. At other times, however, I think people leave the church precisely because what they are looking for is genuine Christianity and they simply don’t find it in the places that claim to represent it. This is not to suggest that it’s okay to try to pursue Jesus apart from His church, but rather it is to suggest that some churches need to think carefully about how they are presenting Jesus. Often, people leave the church because they are responding to misguided spirituality in such places.
There are many different types of spirituality which are presented in the modern church as the true thing. There’s church-growth spirituality, which associates healthy spiritual life with all the things that make the church bigger. As Michael Spencer has keenly observed:
Evangelical Christians have church-growth spirituality, where the experience of knowing God is shaped by the activities of making the church bigger and its facilities more impressive. Thousands of pastors are practitioners of the spirituality that is measured by attendance figures, buildings, and budget; all part of a spirituality that Jesus repudiated. (Mere Churchianity, 64)
When our view of healthy spiritual growth and Christian living is tied to the size of our church, the number of programs, or the attendance at events we have developed a very misguided spirituality.
There’s also the culture-war spirituality. In this particular approach to Christian living, healthy spirituality is tied to soldiering against political and cultural agendas. The primary evaluative markers of spiritual health are not how devoted you are to the Word of God, or how often you share your faith, but how well you can debate politics, abortion, and gay marriage with others. In this spirituality the church is more committed to a Kingdom of moral conservatism than to the Kingdom of God.
There’s also a worship-experience spirituality. Within this particular model of church life, everything centers on how well the worship experience was on any given Sunday. We connect with God best when all the right songs, perfect mood, and quality performances align. The style of music, the arrangement of the service, and the quality of the event can be manipulated to craft the perfect experience, generate the right emotional response, and thereby connect us most deeply with God. If these things don’t align just right, however, then God simply hasn’t shown up for church that Sunday.
There’s even a doctrinal-precision spirituality. I want to be careful in critiquing this particular model, because, after all, doctrinal precision is important. God calls us to worship Him in “Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The truth piece matters. Yet, often this brand of spirituality is more interested in parsing out the finer points of doctrine than in actually connecting with God. There is a way to use doctrinal truth which builds egos, inflates minds, and actually deadens hearts. Paul warns about this when he states plainly that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1). It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to know God, and have accurate doctrine – Paul speaks to that too (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13). It is, rather, a question of whether our use of sound doctrine drives us to big heads or warm hearts.
These are just small sampling of some of the common spiritualities found in even conservative Evangelical churches. There are countless others too, the list is endless. We haven’t even made mention of the spirituality of the American Dream, co-opted by the prosperity gospel preachers. Nor have we spoken of the spirituality of youth, co-opted by nearly every trendy young church planter. In each case Jesus is moved from center stage and made a pawn in a more contextually bound ideology. Often the foci of these spiritualities reflects something that comes close to Christian truth and practice, but without Jesus at the center it is actually an idol.
People come to the church because they are looking to experience God, to connect with Jesus. When churches build their view of the Christian life around some form of misguided spirituality they rob people of the very thing they are supposed to point to. Instead of pointing to Christ they point to these other spiritualities. People leave, then, because after a while they realize that what they want (connection to God) they aren’t getting at their church. They leave because they think they don’t belong, that they don’t fit in.
That is a travesty and shame! It is heartbreaking to think that our failure to focus on Christ might drive some away from Him. Misfit Ministry seeks to reconnect people with the church, but not simply with the church. We want to build bridges so that people will see the truth about Jesus within the community of His followers. We want all people to see that they do belong within the body of Christ, and that here they truly can connect with God.
Misfit ministry does critique the church, then, but not because it hates the church. Rather the critique is offered as part of a family meeting, a “let’s do better” pep talk. As I walk through this study over the next year I will be offering critique, commentary, and gentle rebuke to us, the Christian church. I will be asking questions and seeking dialogue. Not because I am against the church, nor because I am leaning liberal, or because I am “drifting.” But because Jesus matters, the Jesus of the Bible matters, and because He is the Jesus that misfits (and all people) want and need to meet. The church can do better than misguided spirituality. Misfit ministry presents us with an opportunity to think carefully, critique, and make Biblically faithful adjustments to keep Jesus at the center. Misfit ministry presents us with the opportunity reach those who are unsure about His church.