Donald Miller exploded onto the landscape of my life when I was in late high school. His book Blue Like Jazz came with a considerable amount of buzz and hype. Each book since then has generated even more excitement in the lives of peers. While I love his heart for storytelling and his fight against a mundane approach to life, I think that his view on one certain aspect of the Christian walk is eye-opening (yet wrong in my opinion).
Donald Miller wrote (albeit it several years ago, but there hasn’t been a retraction) that he did not find regular church attendance necessary, going so far as to allude to the church as a university that he had graduated from. He wrote that he looked upon the traditional church with fondness, but that he no longer needed it. His avenue to the Lord was personal and intimate and he was able to find community outside of the local church.
While few people have the reach in our current day and age as Donald Miller, I have heard this line of thinking hundreds of times from peers and other voices in the Christian community (i.e. – John Eldredge and the wild, rough around the edges view of manhood and faith).
I originally set out to write this blog as a critique against Miller. Instead I have felt God moving in my heart recently to consider why so many people are leaving the local church behind (while still respectfully disagreeing with those who choose to do just that).
To the Donald Millers of the world I believe that an apology is needed. Those who have left the church behind have been wounded by the church, or they have seen it as empty religiosity and unnecessary for their personal walk with the Lord. To me, looking at the Pastoral Epistles is the route necessary to see where we have gone wrong.
In his commentary, Thomas D. Lea has described the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus) as “helpful, insightful, and pulsing with spiritual warmth.” The book of Acts no doubt walks narratively through the practices of the early church, but these letters to Timothy and Titus shed light on what the church and church leaders should be like.
1. The church should be a family of faith full of mutual respect and love.I
I could rant about the need for intergenerational discipleship all day. But for the sake of time, let me just point us to 1 Timothy 5:1-2. When it comes to our interactions, conversations, and relationships, how are we doing as far as respect and purity is concerned? The church should be a family. Not a program. Not a machine. Not a business. It should be a family where everyone is treated with respect, regardless of age or honestly regardless of behavior. Someone in our churches deserves respect and pure love not because of their actions but because they are purchased by the blood of Christ just like us.
2. Church leaders should be full of humility due to grace.
That leads to this understanding. We see this in 1 Timothy 1:16, as Paul even late in his ministry continued to recognize his own personal need for grace, how grace was not something that he left behind. Our elders and deacons and Sunday school leaders and volunteers are most effective and most God-honoring when they understand that they are desperately reliant upon the grace of God each and every day of their lives. I am afraid many leave the church due to pastors and overseers who walk not in gratefulness for grace but rather as professionals, know-it-alls, dictators, or manipulators.
3. The church should prepare its people for the reality of life as a Christian.
2 Timothy 2:3 reminds us that the Christian walk is a battle. It is not easy to follow Christ. When our churches do not allow church to be a place where people can open up about the difficulties that they have been experiencing for living for Jesus, our when our churches preach a false gospel that is the American Dream dressed in a choir robe, people who are experiencing the realities of suffering feel out of place in the masquerade of the church. Let us be communities of faith where suffering is a reality we prepare for and walk through together.
4. Church leaders are to preach the Word with patience and instruction.
Believe it or not, many in my generation abandon the church for a similar reason as number three. They go to church and see pie-in-the-sky optimism combined with gimmicks, facades, programs and the like. What they don’t see unfortunately in many local churches is the preaching of the Word. Solid, Biblical, sound teaching of God’s Word. 2 Timothy 4:2 encourages the pastor to do just that. Many are leaving the church because they are getting carnival games and parlor tricks instead of the theological preaching that is necessary for the health of their souls.
So to Donald Miller and company, I apologize that our churches in the United States have failed in some ways to look like the church painted for us in the Pastoral Epistles. If you’re scary close to leaving the organized local church yourself, I urge you to not. With a right understanding of what it means to be part of a local church, you can find yourself being built up in your faith. I promise. No church is perfect because it is full of imperfect people. But it’s full of imperfect people that Christ died for.
We profoundly need each other. We are immersed in the Christian life together. There is no merely private faith – everything we are and do as individuals affects the church community. – Tish Harrison Warren
In His Name,