Are pastors preaching in a sinking model of ministry?

Church buildings, historically viewed as unsafe spaces for minoritized and marginalized groups, have offended younger generations who prioritize truth over harmony.

They don’t join a church to take a program and find their seat. They don’t want to join the choir and simply find their key. They didn’t join this group for the rules. They came for a relationship.

They aren’t interested in the packaged deals of Christianity offered once a week with contemporary and traditional services. No, they drive to a church to get closer to Jesus, which is not to be confused with our cultural and denominational misrepresentations.

They don’t believe that the Christian faith is something you practice once a week. No, it will require daily engagement if they are to be any good at it.

However, church scandals and personal stories of abuse have them questioning what they really believe. Do I need to go to church to be a Christian? Where do I go when the church is getting in the way of me seeing Jesus?

A source of trauma, even the word “church” can be triggering. What do we say then to Christians who are in search of healing from these sacred buildings that were not safe spaces?

Don’t say, “God bless you,” “Have a blessed day” or “Pray about it.” Blame-shifting, spiritual bypassing or quoting scriptures to shame them into attending misses the point and the place where it hurts entirely.

They have been taught that they should not neglect meeting together (“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” if you memorized it in the King James Version of the Bible). But if there is safety in numbers, then Jesus said he’d show up for just two or three (Matthew 18:19-20).

This is not to be confused with a call for small groups or used as evidence of a new phenomenon. The religious institution was in trouble long before people claimed to be “spiritual but not religious,” religious “nones” and now those done with the church altogether.

They have found that the church is not synonymous with, or a substitute for, Jesus. However, church attendance has historically been viewed as the sole indication of one’s relationship with him.

In 2017, Barna released a report on Christians who “love Jesus but not the church.” The report found that “despite leaving the church, this group has maintained a robustly orthodox view of God. In every case, their beliefs about God are more orthodox than the general population, even rivaling their church-going counterparts.”

So, this is not a matter of Christians losing faith. Instead, those who have walked out of the church’s doors did so in response to strong convictions.

Many of us may also know someone who has been “run off” by church leaders. Expecting changes that reflect the church sign but not the condition of the church inside, Christians have their own stories of betrayal, manipulation and disillusionment.

Their eyes now opened wide resulted in an awakening. Unable to unsee the hypocrisy, they spoke up and made waves, raised questions that rocked the boat.

“To open any part of one’s faith, especially its prayers and holy words, to intense scrutiny is to know, even before the fact, that some things are going to change as a result. Some beloved concept will be slaughtered. Some startling and aberrant truth will push to the surface, making a rift in an otherwise smooth fabric of belief. Some treasured consolation will be snatched away as less than mature,” writes Phyllis Tickle in The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord.

What is the nature of faith if it is not actively seeking understanding? If faith is not something to be pursued but something that demands we not move or give an inch as it might undo our traditional positions, then what are we being asked to believe in?

Churches and other faith-based institutions should be safe spaces for persons made vulnerable by bigotry, misogyny, patriarchy and the capitalist machinery. If not, then Christians have every right to question what they have gotten themselves into.

They are often the church’s faithful critics, those prophets who walk alongside not to keep it afloat with platitudes but to alert it to sinking feelings. Get out of the building!

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