It Doesn't Feel Like Church
I invited Javier up on stage to speak to the congregation about his experiences at City Church. I’d given him no time to prepare – I ran into him before the service and asked if he’d be willing to share just briefly during the sermon, and he’d said yes.
Here’s my favorite part of that interview:
Me: Thanks for coming up here, Javier. How long have you been coming to City Church
Javier: About three months.
Me: So were you a churchy person before you came?
Javier: (laughing) No!
Me: Well why in the world did you start coming?
Javier: I didn’t have anything else to do on Sunday mornings.
Me: You mean you were basically bored so you figured ‘why not?’?
Javier: (smiling) Uh-huh.
Me: So knowing that you’re not a very churchy guy, and now you’re coming every Sunday and even getting involved in groups – how does it feel to be into church now?
Javier: It doesn’t feel like church.
Maybe that shouldn’t be our goal – to ‘not feel like church’ – but I must admit I thought that was a remarkably generous compliment that Javier gave City Church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis, wrote about a new kind of faith that he saw dawning in the West. He called it “religionless Christianity” – a move away from church as an institution and away from God as a useful idea. In a letter written from a Nazi prison on April 30, 1944, Bonhoeffer described his thoughts about the state of Christianity: "You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions that they lead to... What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, for us today." I feel a lot like that. Others might be worried by my thoughts. I wonder what Christianity really is. I don’t think it’s what I’ve thought it is.
Bonhoeffer, again writing from prison, says that “Man has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the ‘working hypothesis’ called ‘God,’” the result being that “‘God’ is being pushed more and more out of life, losing more and more ground.” The ‘God’ he’s speaking of is the ‘God’ of religious Christianity—the God who makes great campaign slogans and coffee cup inscriptions, who demands flowery prayers and four-spiritual-law evangelism, and who can be found on Facebook posts and in the abstract systematic theologies of the modernists. Bonhoeffer rejoiced to see that ‘God’ fade. And he was hopeful for the rise of the religionless God, whom he saw in Jesus.
My spiritual director (basically, my mentor) was thinking this through with me and summarized it this way: “We’re so much safer when we’re disoriented. We’re so dangerous when we have all the answers and have everything nailed down.” I’ve been on a journey of letting go of so many of the answers I’ve had, seeking instead to find Jesus. As I’ve been de-religion-ifying my life I’ve found so much more freedom. And yet it’s also a real loss to not have those closed systems and neat answers to rely on and to give structure to life. Religious Christianity provided me so much security and predictability that it’s been hard to let go. But I’m trying to respond to the prophet, Garrison Keillor, who said, “Give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus.”
The end result, I hope, is what people like Javier are experiencing. It may not feel like church, but we’re getting Jesus.