The following was begun 2 weeks ago.
I have a theory.
There are a lot of theories out there on why people leave the church and never return or return only much later in life and some of them are very compelling. I’ve never really bought into the idea that biblical illiteracy is the cause. Wishy washy doctrine surely doesn’t help. And my entire life as a youth pastor – trying to keep kids at least intrigued with The King and his Kingdom – was set like a flint on inculcating a Christian Worldview. Others set me on that path and I am thankful for them.
But I still have a theory taking this a little further. A theory too new in my own head for me to place my full weight on. A theory I am not too sure I could have had if my story of leaving the ministry and entering the business world were different. Apart from the difficulties, I might not have this theory at all.
Here is my theory – one reason why so many people, young and old, leave the faith is no one is helping them think about what the great majority of what their lives are made up of.
Christianity is given (sold?) to us, in the main, as a life of evangelism, morality and church activities. Evangelism is painful for most people. Morality is great but there are always unbelievers who are more moral. And church activities, even when profoundly helpful, are another spinning plate in already busy lives.
Honestly, I can’t help thinking this is not enough.
Sure, there are the gospel-hyphenated movements that get people to be gospel-centered, and these do some good in helping people see the big picture. But the big picture is not enough. It is not enough to see the big picture.
Our lives are made up of finely drawn details. Each day is full of countless ones. We do all these “little” things at home, at work, and in the marketplace and they just don’t get a lot of sermon time.
Evangelism gets a lot of press. Devotionals get a lot too. I mean, not from the Apostle Paul, mind you. But they get them from everyone today.
But let’s face it, outside of the Lutherans, who is talking about work and vocation? And every adult works at some level. The mom in the home, whose work is never done and all those who leave the house (or don’t) and work all day for a paycheck work hard in a land of minefields. Sometimes those minefields are buried deep below beautiful fields of green. Others are just below service and must be traversed with moment-by-moment care.
Usually, our work is seen as just a means of evangelism or make money for those doing the real work of the kingdom in other lands.
Course, we didn’t get that from anyone but ourselves. But what about work is like God and where is God seen in it? How do we know him better through it? Where does this work fit in the Kingdom and how does it reflect it’s values?
I keep asking these questions because I’m working. Everyday I go to a job I do not like just like so many others. We catch glimpses of the glory of the King and his reign but I long for more.
Mothers, day after day, well, mother. They cook and clean and some have to add work outside the home onto that.
This isn’t a request for pity. It’s a plea for meaning.
For all our talk about relevance. We are not very good at it. We think faux-hawks, untucked plaid shirts and references to pop music will do the trick. Men and women don’t walk away because of the way we dress. Who would give a rip about them anyway?
They walk away because we are answering the questions they are not asking.
They want to live and work (and play?) Christianly. And so we send them to an evangelism class. We have taught them to have a wretched urgency about the souls they work with. But we have taught them next to nothing about the soul of work.
Everything you just read I wrote a few weeks back in a fit of frustration. None of these thoughts are new on this blog and so I saw no real need to post them here. I was worried the words were not sound enough to be helpful.
But then two things happened.
First I heard from a few different people. They poured out their frustrations and were glad there was someone who was dealing with some of the same issues with work and faith and vocation and looking for some hope beyond and within it all.
Then Skye Jethani posted a quote by Dorothy Sayers that I could not get over. Sayers is the closest thing to a female C.S. Lewis we may ever have. She was a friend of his and has the same ability to cut through the fog of confused thinking with simple and eloquent language. The following is from “Why Work.”
“In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?”
So my theory may have some merit. I’m under no illusion this is the whole answer. But I sometimes wonder if we are really talking about the real thing.
I repeat, most often, the question, “Why work?” is answered with only evangelism and missions. Rarely, if ever, is there anything else to the answer. We hear nothing about God’s view of work and his creativity.
Shouldn’t we want the arc of the redemptive story to stretch over our lives and be the banner of the way we think about this 9/10ths of our lives?
My guess is the reason we rarely hear about these thing is that sounds like hard work. Evangelism and missions are easy for pastors and bloggers and writers. Those subjects preach well. And they are needed. We need to think and talk about those things.
And we need to talk about morality. In a world careening into darkness, we must.
But we should not be surprised when people leave if this is all we are serving them.