The other day I read the story of a former pastor, who publicly stated that he is no longer a Christian. After being homeschooled he became a pastor in his early twenties. Later in life he decided study theology. This was in many ways his first time outside the Christian bubble. (Studying theology, it was only a bit outside, but still.) And that experience must have shook him to the core. His faith just did not survive the contact with the “real world”.
Unfortunately this is by far not the only time I heard a story like that. It seems to happen time and time again, maybe not that extreme but still. The day to day version is kids from good Christian homes leaving the church, once they left their parents. The world is more attractive than God. Or, to be precise, than the church. The promises and character of God are hard to believe (they can feel too good to be true), but unattractive they ain’t. I’m afraid, the problem lies in what God is for them. What comes to mind, when they hear the word “god”.
Growing up in a Christian home, I know the transition these kids have to undergo. Even under the best of circumstances, God is a friend of their parents first. The children only have a indirect relationship. They hear about Him, but He is a bit like uncle Joe. They know, he exists. He comes over once in a while. They know some funny anecdotes. But they are not his friends. (Only when he comes bearing gifts.) My contact to my aunts and uncles became quite seldom growing up. And I don’t expect my nieces and nephews to stay in close contact forever. (Though I would be happy about it. They are great.) But the Christian life cannot be sustained on an uncle-Joe-faith. God has to shift from being a friend of my parents to my own best friend. And the mechanics of the church don’t help with that.
A friend of mine is a worship leader. And when her daughter was about five or six years old, she went on stage before a service and performed her moms whole act. As much as it was fun for us, it was very revealing for her mom. This little girl showed her, that she was caught in a routine. (She got out really fast and I never heard her repeat a single bit ever again.)
Routine works. That is why we have liturgy. (Yes, even you charismatics.) But we are so easily trapped in that carousel going just another round. And another. And another. A faith build on the relationship to the Living God becomes checking boxes. Worship? Check. Announcements? Check. Offering? Check. Sermon? Check. Alter call? Check. We do what we always did and miss to meet with our Heavenly Father. And all of the sudden people start to think, it is the checking of boxes that counts. (You know, which churches I’m talking about.) But it works for individuals in the same way. I know people, who are going round that carousel for decades without ever having an encounter with the Almighty. But when their ride finally stops, they wake up to the fact, that they do church for the sake of doing church. And now they have to make a choice. Do I try to find the God behind the routine or do I leave it all? Unfortunately most take the blue pill. They don’t want to see, where the Gospel leads them. They want to wake up in their beds and believe, whatever they want to believe. As long as the ride comes to an end. And we, as churches, are not doing a lot to stop that. Sure, liturgy helps. But when it stands in the way of meeting God, it becomes less helpful. (Not to say, it becomes really bad.) But this should be our goal. Meeting the real God and helping others meet Him. This way, they will not wake up one day realizing, they met the wrong one.