Yesterday at Scot McKnight’s popular Jesus Creed blog, he started a discussion about finding/losing faith. (Click here to read his post and the lively discussion that followed.)
It reminded me of something I read as I was up to my frontal lobe in research for The Church For Skeptics: A Conversation For Thinking People. It was a discussion about the stages of mature faith development in a person’s life, and if I’m remembering correctly, the work in question (a book, I think) discussed the crisis that must precede a mature, deepening spiritual life. Of course, I hunted through my bookmarks, and couldn’t find hide nor hair of the book’s title anywhere, though I seem to remember the essence of the author’s scholarly contention was that some of us simply outgrow the churches and practices that sustained us as young-in-the-faith Christians.
Read this the wrong way, and it sounds like I’m espousing a “gotta do what’s right for me” program of spiritual growth that will endorse unbiblical practice or celebrate spiritual smogasbord-ism in the name of capturing a renewed sense of spiritual momentum. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong.
But is it possible to outgrow a church?
Two brief examples in support of this possibility:
(1) When I was in high school, my parents didn’t allow me to attend church, but they did let me go to Young Life club meetings. These meetings were designed for “seekers”, and consisted of games, skits, songs (Pass It On, anyone?) and a short bible lesson. Meanwhile, I was sitting in my room at home, reading my bible, listening to Bible teachers on WMBI, and devouring spiritual life books as fast as I could sneak them into the house. A couple of years into my life as a Christ-follower, I began to get frustrated with the surface-y lessons at Young Life. I complained to a leader, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I think you’ve outgrown us.” He wasn’t saying it like I was an arrogant annoyance (though perhaps I was). He was simply stating that I’d gone farther than their particular vehicle could carry me. Though Young Life wasn’t a church per se, it certainly functioned as one for many of the kids there (including me) to some degree.
(2) Also yesterday, I spoke with an old friend I first met years ago at a Vineyard congregation. She now attends a liturgical congregation. She said, “I got tired of the pastor wringing his hands about what to preach about next. Everything was a sermon series, and we weren’t getting the simplicity of the Word of God.” The church she now attends uses the lectionary, and the service is shaped by liturgy, rather than weekly invention. She is still a third-wave Charismatic, but worships in a formal setting, and uses her spiritual gifts in other settings (prayer and healing ministries with which she’s involved.)
Do you think its possible to outgrow a church? Is this a Biblical idea – or just an accomodation to our church hopping culture?