When I first became a Christian, I read an article by J. I. Packer that introduced me to the idea of the church as a hospital. The gist of Packer’s thought, as I recall, was that church is a community where we get well so that we can get back out into the world.
Oftentimes, what happens in churches is that it becomes an end in itself. We suck people in and then bleed them dry with activities that sustain the ongoing life of the church. We invent programs to get people ‘involved’, and then invent even more when it seems like people might be getting bored. While getting people involved may seem like a noble goal, I think we may want to consider what we are getting them involved in from time to time.
What if [people] were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church’s job was to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church? (222)
Probing questions like these should not go unanswered or untried. I came across an article about eight years ago in which an active church leader related the fact that he had quit everything at church so that he could finally get to know his neighbors and have a meaningful impact in his community. He was lamenting the busyness of his church experience.
Barbara Brown Taylor expresses much the same notion in her memoir. She says later the only way she knew to escape the internal rat race of ministry and church life was to leave it. She recognizes that some of the problems were her own, but she also does not deny that some are the church’s problems. I hope that those of us in the church still – whether in vocational ministry or not – can recover some sense of God’s mission for the church in this world before it is too late for us.
Leaving Church helped me to recover an image of the church, not as the destination, but as the way station in and out of the world or the community around us. It is a place to come to for blessing and healing. But it is also a place to go from with blessing and healing.