Monday, January 17, 2011

Sometimes you feel like a nut... sometimes you don't

It is not uncommon for folks in congregations to cycle in and out of congregational life.  Some call it burn out and some call it eroding denomination loyalty and some decry it as the triumph of feeling over truth.  I had an interesting conversation with one such individual who had taken a brief but pronounced sojourn away from a Lutheran congregation where he had been a member for some time.  I had quizzed him for the reasons why he left, where he had been, and why he had returned.  We talked about a whole variety of things -- from his own situation in life to the parish and what was going on there.  He was a thoughtful person and not one inclined to spur of the moment decisions.  I had assumed he had thought greatly about this decision to leave and even more so his decision to return.  I was disappointed.  He left for no weighty reason and he returned for no weighty reason.

He left in part because, as he put it, he thought it was the thing to do.  Everywhere he read about the decline of the denomination and the rise of the non-denominational mega church.  After a while he because curious.  He had not great dissatisfaction with the Lutheran parish where he had attended and belonged for many years.  He simply began to wonder if, indeed, the grass were greener.  In other words, he left because of an angst that was pressed upon him by those who write for media and comment upon the state of the church in America.

He spent about 18 months away.  He wandered for a couple of months from place to place, unsure what he should be looking for and uncertain how he would know he had found it.  In the end he joined a non-denominational congregation that had received rave reviews both in the local newspaper and on line in various places.  They asked hardly anything of him -- not another baptism, not agreement with the doctrine they espoused, and not much in the way of financial support.  He spent about 15 months there and found the place thoroughly professional, but, fairly empty, in terms of content.  He marveled at the quality of the video and audio, the music was very professionally done, the facility boasted all the conveniences from coffee shop with wifi to child care.  He was impressed with the whole package except that it seemed to him to be rather, well, shallow or feeling oriented.  He began to notice that the bulk of the focus was on living well the present life, achieving goals and dreams, and being happy.  In the end, it was nothing that this congregation did that drove him to leave but simply the growing feeling that he did not belong there.

We did not get to talk for long but in the end he put it this way, sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don't.....  That was about as deep as it went.  He was happy to be back home.  It was where he belonged.  The place where he had spent the last 15 months was to him like a vacation.  It was someplace to go when you have gotten bored or tired of the way things are, when your normal reality gets to be too much and you need a break.  He felt like a lot of the folks there were there for the same reason he had just expressed.  When I thought but did not say is that I feared that most of them would not find their way home as he had just done.  Which would leave them wandering even farther away from where they belonged in search of nothing specific...

An interesting conversation... yes, indeed...


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Sometimes I fear that the Church has becomes too much of a home-y place, too much of a family quirk. We often think of Church in terms that revolve around comfort, rather than the profound mysteries that take place there in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

As Pastors, we are used to to thinking in terms of the profound, and thus, when someone leaves we want to assume a profound reason (even a profound rejection) - something deep, something which highly impacted them - a fierce argument, a harsh pain.

So often, it's just something much more mundane, and I think that is in part because the Church gets treated as such a mundane place.

Anonymous said...

The lure of the mega church is due
to the hype of the media and the
"Joel Osteen" theology of health and
wealth happiness. Many times these
mega churches will capture the fancy
of seekers. But after one or two
years these seekers want more content
and meat of the Holy Scriptures and
start to look elsewhere. This is
where a solid Christ-centered and
Bible-based Lutheran Church (LCMS)
can help overcome the shallow mega-