Monday, August 26, 2013

Leaving Church Doesn't Mean Leaving Community

One of my very favorite writers, Rachel Held Evans, wrote a blog three weeks ago or so about why millennials are leaving the church. Everything she said was pretty much exactly right, and it brought to mind my series I wrote awhile back about my struggles with church and how I'd been on a break from it for awhile (you can read that here: part 1, part 2, part 3).

(As an update on my state since that series: I'm currently attending a church on a regular basis, but more as a matter of practicality and social expectation than out of anything I am able to get from or give to it. I feel as if I'm still on a break from church in my heart, as my view of God and my relationship with Him shifts ever further away from the church-based model in America. But back to the main point of the post.)

Evans' post got oodles of backlash, and then responses to that backlash, but as someone who has been struggling through and blogging about the purposes of church in my life, I wanted to respond to one specific bit of feedback that seems to be coming up a lot in responses to the post.

One of the biggest criticisms of the millennials leaving the church and pursuing their faith elsewhere is the idea that we need each other to grow, our faith dies in isolation, we need to connect with other believers and learn from them and encourage each other.

And I totally agree with that idea.

I just think church is no longer the best place to do that. Certainly not for me, and possibly for many other people around me.

To quote a bit from my earlier series on church:
  • I have so many people I would consider good friends, but I have not formed a single real, lasting friendship with anyone I ever went to church with.
  • My greatest spiritual mentors are people I didn't go to church with.
  • Church was home to most of the loneliest moments of my life.
  • I have felt true community many times. These times have all been outside of a church group.
Nearly a year later, this is all still true.

The model of most American churches is just not at all set up for me or my fellow introverts to make close friends. In many, the level of social interaction is constant enough to be draining for me and not deep enough for it to be enriching or encouraging for me. I come home with an odd combination of being completely socially drained and yearning for truly meaningful interaction... only now I'm too tired to seek out that meaningful interaction, and that need goes unmet.

Here's the point, though: The fact that I have stopped looking to church to supply my actual fellowship needs doesn't mean at all that I have retreated into spiritual isolation. Far from it. I have frequent discussions about spiritual things with friends via Facebook, text, or instant messenger. We ask each other for prayer and godly advice.

Most of the time, for me, I just hope I make it through social interactions at church with enough energy to have the truly enriching social interactions later.

Those who leave the church aren't always attempting to "make it on their own" on their faith journey. Very few are stepping out of community altogether. They may simply be replacing an unfulfilling community with a fulfilling one, a community of their own choosing.

For those who do find their church family to be a fulfilling community, that is fantastic. That is a blessing. You walk in that community and strengthen it and love it.

For me, my faith community is scattered across the country, everywhere from Texas to New Hampshire. My community grows a person at a time as I find people I trust enough that I can open up and share my spiritual struggles. Rarely am I ever gathered with them in person, but the spiritual encouragement we get from each other is more than enough to fulfill my need for fellowship, and I am happy and blessed for them to be the primary faith community of my life, rather than my church.

No comments:

Post a Comment