Luke Larner reflects on disillusionment with church and how to deal with it.
I love God, but I really struggle with His fan club sometimes.
I remember writing words to that effect on my MySpace page many years ago in a moment of desperation.
Since that time, my wife and I have worked through some of our disillusionment with established forms of Church, and have found joy in joining one locally. That said, there's still a little itch in the back of our minds that there must be more. We've spent the last couple of years scratching that itch – and discovering that we're not alone.
Our first experience of a fresh expression of church was visiting Zac's Place in Swansea, and a lot of stuff started making sense after observing the beautiful chaos of the place.
My wife and I have been walking with the poor, marginalised and excluded in Luton for a number of years now, and something of Richard Rohr's notion of being on the 'outside edge of the inside circle' resonates with us. As we journey with our friends on the margins, and we see God working transformation in the most desperate of situations, there is one major stumbling block we regularly come across:
We so desperately want our friends to become part of a community of Christ-followers, and are so regularly disappointed when they don't make it. This shouldn't come as a great surprise given that we have struggled with this journey too. 'Severe multiple disadvantage' is a term often used by statutory bodies to describe some of our friends, and it describes quite well the situation of their relationship to Church. It has a totally alien culture, requires the ability to sit still and silent for long periods of time (described as 'my life's aim!' by one of our friends), and as the old saying goes, often answers questions people simply aren't asking.
So what is the solution? I recently undertook a group theological reflection on the subject with a variety of local Christians (including a Bible college lecturer), and was quite surprised at the results. Despite the open-mindedness of most of the participants, they came to a pretty unanimous decision: we need bring change to the institutional Church. This shocked me, as like any good research gatherer I tried to point them in the direction I had already made in my mind (starting a fresh expression), but they just wouldn't bite. They could only see change in terms of what they know as 'Church'.
Much has been written about what we could do differently to improve the status quo by the great minds of folks such as John Drane, but this degree of change isn't going to happen quickly. Rome wasn't built in a day and it won't be unmade overnight. This leaves us with some questions:
- what do we do for now?
- what about those whose faith and life is hanging by a thread, who are falling between the cracks?
- do we love them enough to step out into the unknown?
If you have any ideas, let me know…
Luke Larner is a 'Ragamuffin Chaplain' in Luton and is studying for a Diploma in Theology, Mission and Ministry with the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course.