Yes, I’ve been a pastor before. I’ve even quit “for good” twice. I want to confess something to you that many “professional” clergy know, but hesitate to admit.
Why do we not enjoy admitting this? Many individual reasons, I’m sure. But likely it has something to do with the reality that our livelihoods so often depend on not facing this truth.
And here is the confession: the system of religion we most often refer to as “church” doesn’t have much to do with following Jesus.
Check out this quick video in which I expand that statement a bit …
Maybe you’ve been told you need to show up to worship services at a particular building with some regularity in order to follow Jesus.
No, you don’t. (What if we gathered with other people trying to follow this Way, however poorly or regularly, because we actually wanted to?)
Maybe you’ve been told you need to give money and resources to support the institution of the church in order to follow Jesus.
No, you don’t. (What if we shared with each other because that’s how we thought our love could be put in action?)
Maybe you’ve been told you need to officially become a member of the system by putting your name on the dotted line in order to follow Jesus.
No, you don’t. (What if we considered ourselves part of humanity first, and then as members of each other?)
See, it’s difficult to call a system “unnecessary” when our paycheck comes from that system.
That was my concern for quite a while. By the second time I walked away from being a professional pastor, I had a family of five to support. We had to eat. We had bills. We needed health insurance. If I wasn’t pastoring, how could my family survive?
Actually, the deeper concern we clergy types might have is this: if we are honest about the system, the system may collapse. Then what the hell do we do?
Here’s the thing: if we are honest with our words in confessing all that’s messed up about the system, the system won’t collapse. Instead, when more and more of us become courageous enough to be honest about the shortcomings of the church system, we might discover there is something beyond death.
It’s true, some parts of this whole church system thing we think we know may die. But the existential paradox of the Jesus story suggests that death is necessary for resurrection to happen.
Resurrection is powerful. Resurrection makes everything new. Resurrection takes what is and re-narrates, re-fashions, re-traditions it into something that hasn’t yet been. And that’s exciting.
Resurrection is why I’m recovering. Because the old in me is continually being made new.
The same thing is happening with the church system. We just need to be brave enough to admit it. When we do, I suspect we’ll discover that what hasn’t yet been is, in fact, just what we’ve always been looking for.
And it might look something like this:
Here’s one more confession: I see this future already breaking into the present in small places all around the fringes of the system.
Brian Niece is a former pastor, who was a former actor, and now a storyteller + artistic theologian + creative philosopher communicating to, for, and about outsiders. He hosts the Reimagining Podcast about rethinking ourselves, our culture, our faith … maybe everything. Find out more at brianniece.com. You can also find him on Twitter and YouTube.
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