Goodbye Church, Hello Wilderness

There's nothing like the freedom of being single and in your 20's. Or so I'm told. My 20's only lasted a couple months before meeting the woman I would marry. Unlike some, I count this as no great loss. Commitment has never scared me, and my wife has never made our marriage feel like a burden. But no matter how blissful the relationship (like mine), sacrifice and compromise still come with the territory. Whether it's a girlfriend, a job, even an extremely dependent little baby (like mine), we're always finding ourselves having to submit to a will beyond our own.

That's the consequence of not being a hermit or a drifter. Being around other people means being affected by other people and having to shape our decisions around how we will affect them. It's simple submission--laying down our desires for the sake of another.

Of course, you don't have to choose that life. Plenty of people live as drifters and nomads, moving from place to place, making life's journey their home. Increasingly, that's how many are choosing to do church and theology now that the internet has freed us from our spatial limitations. But I think the motive is more than sheer convenience; many are choosing a nomadic Christianity because the church no longer feels like home.

Events like last month's World Vision controversy have become totems of an impending paradigm shift in how American Christians see their spiritual lives. As Rachel Held Evans aptly put it, "evangelicalism is losing a generation to the culture wars." The younger generation, my generation, has grown weary of the Christian life model that is politically and socially "busy." We're tired of being the Righteousness Police for a world that isn't interested in righteousness. It makes us want to disengage, disconnect, and remove ourselves from the church and mainline Christianity. And so many of us have.

I've written before about how the church has let me down, personally. Trust me, that wasn't the only time. Almost all of the churches I've left have been for issues with theology and practice. I can't say if they've always been the best reasons, but I can say that I understand what it feels like to be out in the wilderness of Christianity. And I understand how tempting it is to want to stay.

Because every church will fail you. Every pastor will make mistakes. God's people will disappoint you time and time again, and yet every time, we're expected to submit. Just like we have to in every other relationship, we have to submit what we think is best to the will of our church leaders and family. Even when we think they're wrong. Even when they are wrong.

That's how relationships work. Even if you have the best parents in the world, I bet they made mistakes. Does that make them any less worthy of being your parents? Maybe (like me) your greatest possession is your marriage. I don't suppose you'd pretend that your spouse has never hurt you, sometimes intentionally. But I doubt more that you're going to give up because of it. And if you're really honest, I'd bet you've grown more from the experience rather than keeping your own counsel. It's kinda like it was designed that way.

Submission isn't just some artifact of an antiquated episcopacy or a word that feminists hate. It's part of everyday life--a visible expression of an attitude of humility. Without it, we become insular, myopic, and a wee bit nutty. And so does our theology. Don't let your theology go mad. Drop the locusts, come inside, and accept that submission isn't a defeat. It's just a really painful growth spurt.

I'll add one last word of caution. Not to you directly, but to the angels and ravens that sustained you while you wandered. These are the men and women you follow on Twitter, whose blogs you read daily, and whose spiritual insight has made Jesus real to you. To them I say: tend your flock. You may not have asked for it, but if your voice is being heard in the wilderness causing others to follow, you are now responsible for where you lead them. Jesus doesn't lose sheep. So don't be fooled into believing that he will suffer a poor shepherd.


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photo credit: Mathieu Bertrand Struck via photopin cc