One might say that I have a love/hate relationship with the church, and the last few years have only exacerbated that tension in my heart. The word “hate” borders on blasphemy, so let me explain.
I love people and have devoted my life to helping people see the beauty and supremacy of Christ over all things. I cherish the Bible and love spending hours a day understanding its meaning. I love hanging out with Christians (most of them, anyway) and having deep, meaningful conversations. I love experiencing the various ways in which the church reaches out to the poor, marginalized, and anyone who’s been shunned and shamed by religion. I believe that the Christian story as revealed in the Scriptures is true and good and more beautiful than all other stories that try to make sense of the world. I do believe that when Christ-followers of different ages and ethnicities and socio-economic statuses gather together and sing praises to Yahweh’s Son, we have the power, through the Spirit, to turn the world upside down. Church—a truly counter-cultural gathering of exiles subverting the ways of Babylon—I love.
So what is it that I “hate” about church? I hate it when modern, non-biblical (or a-biblical) forms of Christian gatherings turn people away from the beautiful discomfort of entering the presence of King Jesus. When capitalism, individualism, consumerism, or patriotism drowns out the radicality of worshiping a middle eastern Jew crucified by the state for treason, this elicits a kind of disappointment. When Christians shuffle in and out of church services (performances?) week after week without having a disruptive encounter with the risen Lord of creation, this creates cynicism in my heart. When church budgets drive the church’s mission, rather than the other way around. When Christians cover up deep pain and loneliness in their hearts with Christianeze verbiage and plasticky smiles, and leaders don’t seem to know or care. When the lives of Christians and the values of church don’t look very different from our secular culture. When pagans at a dive bar are more likely to know my name than people at church. Some modern, western expressions of “church” do make me wonder—have we gotten this whole church thing right?
I really do love the kind of church I read about in the New Testament. But if we went back in time and attended a first century gathering, would it feel like a different religion?
What is the future of church? Should we keep doing what we’ve been doing? Should we change a few things? Revamp a lot of things? Or scrap the whole thing and start anew?
This is one of the conversations we’re going to be having at this year’s “Exiles in Babylon” conference here in Boise, Idaho, and I could not be more excited about this conference! Our opening night will feature several speakers addressing questions related to the future of the church. I’ve selected speakers from different ecclesiological backgrounds to speak into this, so that we avoid the proverbial echo chamber. Matt Chandler will be speaking from the perspective of being a pastor of a more traditional church in Texas. Michelle Sanchez has been a discipleship leader in the Evangelical Covenant Church since 2015 and will shed light on our question from a denominational perspective. Kevin Kim co-founded and continues to co-lead (with Francis Chan) the “We Are Church” movement in San Francisco and will be talking about the future of the church from the perspective of a more radical ecclesiology where buildings and salaries are relative. Street Hymns and Eli Bonilla will also challenge our hearts and imagination as we think critically and humbly about the future of the church.
Join us live or virtually in March for the second annual “Exiles in Babylon” gathering. And prepare to be disrupted.