Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore

In 2004 / 2005, the Lord started speaking to me about some changes. He gave me this picture of fallen leaves, where the leaves were people and where trees represented churches. The leaves fell from all sorts of trees. They were different sizes and shapes, having come from different church trees. But they all had at least one thing in common: they no longer belonged on the tree. In some cases, the leaves were no longer attached to the tree, even though they remained on the tree for a period. The visions stretched out for months and were echoed in the circumstances of my own life in the church; I had become a “fallen leaf”. The visions stretched out, beyond the present to times in the future, some of which I see happening now, and some of which are yet to occur.

Now the fallen leaves in my visions did not fall to the ground, dry up and crumble to dust like the leaves we typically see. These leaves drew their nourishment directly from the ground, remaining supple yet turning coppery in color. They were blown by the Spirit through a forest of trees. A few trees were open to receiving the leaves, and the leaves entered the holes in trunks. As leaves filled the gaps, the trees grew to gigantic proportions, and these gargantuan trees stood unshakeable until the last days… which I can describe some other time.

I held onto the visions as I struggled with my own feelings of “not belonging”. Within church, my voice was silenced and my efforts were credited to others. I don’t blame anyone for that, and I believe it’s something the Lord wanted me to walk through. And I know that we shouldn’t take “credit” for what God does through us, and we should rejoice in what He does. But it’s frustrating nonetheless. It’s like a story I heard about missionaries that returned on a ship to their homeland after years of giving to the Lord’s work. An ambassador on the same ship was welcomed with a great reception, while they arrived without notice. The wife, knowing what her husband was thinking, reminded him: “We are not home yet.”

Now, I’m not home yet… and I need to be reminded of that fact. I need to be reminded of the eternal; I need to be reminded of the FULL truth so I don’t fall prey to the oh-so-effective lies of half-truths. I held onto the visions to remind me of the fact that God “works all things for good for those that love Him and are called to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28) As I’ve been on this journey, a friend and pastor introduced me to George Barna’s book “Revolution”. This book provided statistics and offered trends that supported the visions of fallen leaves that I had received. People are leaving traditional “church” in droves.

I also came across an Internet book-in-the-making called “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore?” This online parable has since been published and is growing in popularity. It paints a pretty ugly picture of church in America that is uncomfortably accurate. And while I encourage the reading of this book, I see some gaps and some potential spiritual flaws in it. First, it assumes that all structure is to be avoided. To my regret, I grasped onto this concept for awhile, discovering in the process that content requires a container. If water represents the spiritual content that is necessary in life, then we can imagine the need for a cup to hold this water. The size and shape of the cup are only important in its need to hold water. And, I’ve come to understand that if we don’t have a cup, we will eventually create one. These are the traditions and liturgies by which we live out the rhythms of our walk with God. As a “Roman-Presbo-Espico-Matic”, I’ve discovered that even the most “free-form” spiritual movements develop a set of structures to facilitate a walk with God. The problem is that our eyes are often drawn to the structure over the content that it was meant to hold. Our religious tendency is to hold onto the structure long after the content has dried up. But if we are truly free in the Spirit, then we stay focused on the content, which can be poured from cup to cup as fits our present need.
The second error I found in the book is of greater concern. The book equivocates freedom in the spirit with a lack of intentionality. My personal experience and observations line up with the wisdom of Scripture on this area. Both the old and new testaments are filled with encouragement to plan and take action, trusting in the Lord for the outcome and seeking His will in the planning. My own experience has shown that a lack of intentionality damages relationships. If we fail to cultivate relationships, they wither. “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9) I have found this to be especially true in my higher priority relationships with God, my wife, and my children. Without intentionality, the enemy will fill our lives with distractions and all sorts of “urgent” issues that pull us slowly away from each other. I need to fight for time with the Lord; I need to work out times to be with my wife; I need to make time with each of my children.
Sales professionals know the importance of intentionality when cultivating a relationship. They plan “touch points” with current and prospective customers to build trust and partnerships. When dating, we are joyfully purposeful in making this time for each other. But many marriages fail when the couple unintentionally discontinues this discipline. Children become estranged when we stop making time for them. We remember the early years of wrestling and bedtime stories as if they were yesterday, but they vaguely recall those moments as ancient history. And without a repeated and intentional walk with Jesus, we start to forget the beauty of God and become more attracted to the ways of this world.
So as a “fallen leaf” who has become disillusioned with the church in America, I understand why the leaves are falling off the church trees. But I also need to hold onto the truths that God has given me, remembering the importance of intentional interaction with other believers as I enter into these last days so I don’t grow complacent. It’s true, I don’t want to go to church anymore, but I desire and need to stay in community with other believers, whatever form that cup may take.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25
So I wonder… Would anyone like to “not go to church” with us?

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)