Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Shaking the dust from their feet?

Regardless of your position on the role of women, the departure from Churches of Christ by Katie Hayes and her husband Lance Pape, is a sad one. It is, I think, a sign of something larger, a more deeply rooted problem that is facing our churches.

I can think of three instances where people who have been raised in, or been long-time members of, Churches of Christ have parted ways.

The first one is a man I know who didn't believe that we (I'll use this term to refer to "Churches of Christ" from now on) would ever be able to see past the "homosexual issue" and accept him as a fellow traveller on our mutual journey. Because of his perception of us (which, sadly, is probably accurate in too many places), he chose to leave us and begin worshipping with another faith family. Regardless of what we might believe about homosexuality, we should mourn his leaving.

The second one is a guy I knew in college, a pretty talented musician. He grew up being applauded for his musical gifts, putting them to use in various forms. He was encouraged to develop his abilities, but never for use in what he believed was their highest purpose: the praise and worship of our Creator and Savior. So, he took his musical ability and left our ranks, choosing instead to find a church home where his gifts and abilities were valued and used. No matter our personal beliefs about instrumental worship, we should be saddened by his departure.

Katie and Lance are the third instance that comes to mind. Because the majority of our churches refuse to accept Katie's speaking ability and giftedness, she and her husband are leaving us, trying to find a place where she can use her gifts. I know these are just three examples, and there are probably thousands of others like them; people who have chosen to split, rather than to stay and try to help us change, or at least learn from them.

In the case of the first guy, his departure has robbed us of his voice, calling us to be Jesus to people who need it. Calling us to accept people for who they are, and not expect a certain level of spiritual perfection before they dare darken our doorways. He has taken his ability to help us learn how to interact with gays and lesbians, to learn how to minister to them, to befriend them. His voice, once that of an insider, is now that of an outsider, which automatically decreases the volume of said voice, and the lowers the level of credibility attached to it.

The second guy, the music man, has stolen from us the conversation partner with which to discuss matters like tradition, the nature of worship, the use of gifts to build up the body. Whether or not he could have affected wide-spread change thoughout our fellowship, we'll never know . . . but now he's on the outside, speaking to us, asking us to look at his new ministry, and many will tune him out because he's an outsider.

And the third case, by shaking us from the soles of their shoes they have removed a large, powerful voice, one that might have influenced us greatly in the coming years and decades. Sure, the changes might not have been as numerous or as rapid as they had desired, but I predict their influence on us (as a whole) as outsiders will be much less than if they had remained.

So, there's the problem I see . . . over the past few generations there has been increased freedom to question traditions, or at least attempt to reinterpret them for today's context. This examination of our "sacred cows" has led some of our members to decide that there are some that are out-dated or just plain wrong. And so they have taken their leave.

Personally--and granted, this is the voice of a twenty-six-year-old semi-theologian--I think that it is impossible to bring about change from the "outside." Yes, there are many things I would love to see change about this fellowship I have been immersed in since I was ten days old. But the answer to the problem is not to run away, and yell loudly from the boundaries that "You people should change your ways!" (Not that any of the three examples I've mentioned are attempting that.) I think the quietest whisper from an insider ("We should think about this in a new way . . . ") is much louder than the loudest screams from outsiders.

I think I have laid out the problem, but I am a little stuck when it comes to offering solutions. Hopefully we can think up ways to creatively increase "member retention" (if we want to give it a nice modern label). One thing is clear, we need to realize that people are leaving, and that we as a body suffer because of this exodus.

One possible solution (and I am thinking of my family here), is for the church to act more like a family, and less like a country club. In my family we can disagree, we can argue, we can spit and scream and scratch . . . but leaving the family, breaking those bonds, is unthinkable. But in a country club, if I don't like the new members, or the greens are getting a little rough, I can always take my dues and find a better club that suits me more, or I can push members out or bar others from getting in.

15 comments:

Keith Brenton said...

Greg, what you've posted goes right to the heart of the question of "ethic:" Are we called to be primarily inclusive, or exclusive? To unity, or division? To love, or to insist on our own way?

If I insist on being aboard a fellowship of only people who are perfect by their own merit, I eventually end up adrift in a boat with just me and Jesus aboard.

And after a while, I start looking at Him suspiciously.

Greg Kendall-Ball said...

I think you're right about the "ethic" part. Like I said in the post, this is just a sign of some deeper-rooted problem. I think attitudes of selfishness and self-centeredness are at the core. If I don't like the way this church does them, I'll find another one. I think it was Dr. Cox at Harding who first introduced me to the phrase "ecclesiastical vagabondism." It definitely got its start in the individualistic, modern worldview. Hopefully, as the emerging postmodern paradigm begins to take shape and gain some ground in our churches, the values of the movement (community, belonging-ness, etc.) will be fleshed out more. I'm not sure if this just a reaction of post-modern people to a restrictive, modern mold, or if the problem is broader and deeper than that.

Keith Brenton said...

There's another route for the dissatisfied that is perhaps even more destructive, though: ecclesiastical revolution. "I don't like the way this church is run and by heaven (or not), I'm gonna change it to my way!"

I'd sooner leave than cause division in the body of Christ. (Think Paul in Romans 9:3.) And there have been far too many who have felt that way as well ... and felt there were no other alternatives.

Fajita said...

This tension is powerful. I remember Lynn Anderson writing in Winseskins a few years back about why he is staying in the Chruch of Christ.

My first response to the article was, "Why is Lynn Anderson writing this?" I had several hunches, but one of them was that there are C of C people who needed to hear that one of their leaders has some of the same thoughts they are having, wrestling with some of the same questions, and noticing some of the same blind spots.

It's been while since I read the article, but I do recall his reason for staying had nothing to do with correct doctrine or the closest thing to it, which has been one of our fellowship's (and many other denominations) reason for being who we are.

There seemed to be something more redemptive in it. Something like, "we are some of God's people, and I know these people well. They are my family. I'm more familiar with their faults than the faults of any other family, so at least I know what I got. I love my family!" (Forgive me Lynn if I didn't get the point).

At the same time, God is not limited by the Church of Christ or any church or the entire church. So, what feels like a loss, might be more like a family member who moves across the country or to another country. We're still brothers and sister no matter the geography, the language, or culture.

What is troublesome is when people leave the chruch, lose their faith, and just disappear. That's the real tragedy.

Jen said...

A question and thoughts for you, Greg KB, from one whose glimpses of exodus linger in my peripheral vision:

What if another church outside the c/c would be your full sponsoring congregation? What if they were in line theologically and missiologically with your vision and view of missions? (Granted that "the perfect” sponsoring church may not be out there.) What if your ability to do what you feel called to do hinged on leaving the churches of Christ? For some, for me the choice to leave seems to be a choice between the two.

As a college minister, who happens to be female, my allegiance is firstly to Christ and not a denominational heritage. I have been raised my entire life in Churches of Christ, for which I am thankful and owe much. I have worked with campus ministries in this heritage on the campuses of two state universities and on one private Christian university. I received my MA from ACU’s Graduate School of Theology.

College ministry is something I have been called to do. It is not something that I sought out to do, but rather something I can’t run from. If you ask me to explain it in more words I can’t, at least not in a format like this.

As I look toward the future to where I will minister next I have to face a truth – that with a very few rare exceptions (many of which are underpaid, overworked, short term internships/apprenticeships) this ministry to which I have been called may not exist inside the heritage in which I was raised. The choice I face at this point is between the ministry I have been called to and the heritage in which I was raised. I feel that I most responsible to that which I have been called. For as long as I am able I will continue that ministry within my heritage. But my burden to my call is greater than that to my heritage.

For those of us who see exodus as the only answer left, it is not an easy choice. It is not something that we do running towards at full speed. But something we do with much prayer, after much time, with many tears and at great cost. It is a decision that is made in order that we might continue to be able to use our gifts for kingdom business.

David U said...

Greg, as always you presented us with some deep things to consider. Thanks for sharing the three stories of those who have left "our" fellowship. While I hate it, I also understand why they made that choice.

I think one hurdle we are going to have to try and get over is this view that since they left our fellowship, they are no longer a part of "us". It's part of our heritage to think that way, but that is a link in the chain we need to take out before we pass it on to the next generation. So, we can be selfishly sad that these people are not going to bless us in our assemblies and our ministries, but they are still our brothers and sisters. Like you, I wish they would stay, but I rejoice that they will be a blessing to some other fellowship!

Milton Stanley said...

I don't know the details of why these brothers and sister left -- the homosexual, the musician, the woman and her husband. Whatever the precise reason, it is indeed sad that they left us. Their leaving is no small matter, and you are right to point that out.

It would be right also to point out (if, as you seem to imply, it is the case) that their positions on certain issues ran counter to the church's teaching. That's no small matter, eiter. If we can accept that issues like homosexual practice, instrumental music, and women preachers are matters of individual conscience, as in Rom. 14, then the church needs to repent of forcing these people out. If however, these doctrines are more than merely individual choices, then members need to conform to the teaching of the church (which is, or at least should be, a reflection of the Word of God).

We do well to see the human issues involved in these loses. It is never right to rejoice over someone leaving the church. People matter. But in our efforts to be compassionate and to overcome our legalistic heritage, let's not forget that doctrine matters, too.

Lance said...

I’m not sure that “selfishness” or “self-centeredness” or “country club mentality” really do justice to the motives behind our decision to leave. I think those who have known us well could bear witness to our love for and loyalty to this small part of God’s Kingdom these many years. This is where we were both born and raised. This is the place that taught us to love God. This has been our family in a very real sense. However, family is not my deepest value.

Jesus (not the unambiguous advocate of “family values” that some assume) taught and lived the truth that allegiance to the heavenly Father trumps loyalty to earthly family. This was true in his own family and it was true for many who followed him. Being a disciple sometimes requires the prioritizing of loves.

Knowing Katie as I do, I count it a victory for the Kingdom that she is finding a way to continue in ministry. Katie’s charisma and intellectual gifts are formidable. At the age of 17, she leveraged a second-rate small town high school education into an acceptance at MIT. While at MIT she experienced a profound call to ministry through her relationship with the Brookline Church of Christ and an experience that took place during a medical mission trip to Haiti. She was the valedictorian of her class at Yale Divinity School, graduating summa cum laude and receiving the institution’s highest prize for preaching. She is currently pursuing her D.Min. from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has 11 years of ministry experience. My point is: when we move to Atlanta should she leave all that behind and become a librarian? She needs to continue to answer God’s call to ministry. I don’t know if that is good or bad for the Church of Christ. I no longer think that is the most important question to ask.

On some level I understand (sociologically, if not theologically) why it is necessary to close ranks when someone leaves. Perhaps it is too much to ask, but it would be nice if you would practice charity of interpretation when you try to make sense of those who leave. We’re doing our best and trust that you are doing the same.

Greg Kendall-Ball said...

Lance,
First of all, I want to apologize if any offense has been given by this post. This was not intended as an attack toward those leaving the church, more an attempt to get our church members to see the results of our often closed-minded, legalistic practices. It was my hope (and I feared it would not happen), that this little article would help us discuss more how to change ourselves, how to expand the worldview of our churches, to expose the massive hole that will be left by yours, and others "exodus."

I noticed someone made the comment that leaving "us" did not equate leaving God, or "the church." Rightly so. I wrote this partly out of frustration that it is the attitude of our churches, not necessarily that of those leaving, that is causing this exodus to occur. Like my pal Jen pointed out, sometimes leaving is the only option left when a spiritual calling is in conflict with a particular faith tradition. It is my frustration that our particular "small part of God's Kingdom" is causing this conflict...that people who feel gifted and called to ministry are not given the freedom to do so.

So, Lance, Katie, Jen, Music Guy, Gay Guy, I hope you will understand that this post is more about the churches, the attitudes that forced the exodus, and not so much about your leaving. I did not intend to imply that these decisions were made lightly, or with anything other than a love for God and His Kingdom in mind. If I have offended, I ask for forgiveness, and I pray that this will open doors to more conversations as we attempt to "redemptively unsettle" each other.

Greg KB

Anonymous said...

I have never been, and will likely never be, of the "Church of Christ" denomination. But, that aside,I have left churches over doctrinal issues. I can tell you that I did not leave the churches I left for any selfish reason.

When the church refuses to reach out to the lost (homosexuals, sinners, prostitutes, among others), when the church gives preference to the rich regardless of conduct (how many people in your congregation charge interest to the poor on a daily basis?), when the church refuses place to the poor and downtrodden (how many of your deacons and elders live below the poverty line?), when the church declines to answer theological questions with sound doctrine but instead with church tradition (Psalm 150 comes to mind with respect to the Church of Christ), when the church answers the questions about Jesus' teachings with platitudes and human reasoning (how can you love your enemy when you're shooting at him?), it is time to leave. The denomination has lost God's presence.

You have made an error, however. It is a fairly fundamental one.

his departure has robbed us of his voiceThe CoC was not robbed. The CoC rejected him.

The second guy, the music man, has stolen from us the conversation partner with which to discuss matters like traditionHe stole nothing from you all. You rejected his gifts as not from God.

they have removed a large, powerful voiceThe CoC rejected the God-given gifts of a woman solely because she was a woman.

They left because you all rejected their God-given gifts. The only reason for a church to reject the gifts of a person is if they think they're not given by God.

And if they're not given by God, who were they given by? Now, Jesus mentioned a sin - an unpardonable one - of ascribing to the devil the work of the Holy Spirit.

Where do you stand? What is the purpose of God's gifts? And who gives them? What are His intentions?

I do not accuse - I only point out that the Church of Christ rejected these three before they left. So nothing was robbed, stolen, or removed.

All of their gifts, and they themselves, were THROWN OUT.

Tod K. Vogt said...

While I concede that Lance & Katie may be right about the future of Churches of Christ, my sincerest hope is that they are wrong. And while saddened (for them as well as for those of us who remain) by their departure, let us remember they are leaving only one small corner of the much larger Kingdom of God. Often we assume our (Churches of Christ) significance on the religious landscape to be much greater than it is. We are barely a blip on the nation spiriutal radar.

My prayer for you Lance & Katie is that you are indeed following the leading of the Spirit, sharpening the tools God has given you & sharing the beautiful & terrifying Word with those God puts in your path. I also pray that the door between the corners of the Kingdom not be shut (from either direction). As far as I am concerned (and I believe many others), we will continue to walk together as fellow travelers, struggling for authentic faith. As your journey takes you to other corners of the Kingdom, I pray your journey will continue to be genuine and your vision clear. I bid you a warm-hearted "bon voyage". Please return occassionally to share your travel tales and strengthen those of us who remain.

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brother (and sister). Amen"

Greg Kendall-Ball said...

Anonymous,
Thank you for your reply. I am not sure how to respond to your ideas, but I appreciate your participation in the conversation.

First of all, I'm not sure about your familiarity with "churches of Christ" as a whole. In case you weren't aware, one of our main tenets is that of "Congregational Autonomy." Basically, each family of believers gets to act independently of each other, and any central organizing body. While this leads to a wide variety of practices and interpretations of Scripture (not to mention a lack of uniformity, and sadly, unity) it does provide freedom for each group to decide how best to "incarnate" the church for their particular contexts.

Because this is how we are organized, it is impossible to speak about "churches of Christ" as a whole. I realize I did so in my writing, but perhaps that was my error. I talked about "churches of Christ" like I would talk about Major League Baseball as a whole suffering if Bobby Cox chose to coach football instead. Yes, the Atlanta Braves organization would be the most directly impacted, but the baseball world, all of its teams, would be diminshed without him. It was in this sense that I was speaking about us as a movement, as a collection of faith families from a similar tradition.

So, all that was to say this: I don't think that any of the people who have chosen to leave were rejected or forced out. In fact, I am pretty sure that in none of the three examples I mentioned were people asked, told, encouraged, etc. , to leave our fellowship (or their particular congregations). While their gifts and talents and life situations may not have been openly embraced and honored, I think there is a big difference between "rejecting" and "not accepting." I may be splitting semantic hairs here, but I do believe there is a difference.

I really appreciate all the interest in this article, and in this problem facing our fellowship.

Anonymous said...

I applaud all the questions and answers! I refer back tot he first article on whether the church is a cruise ship or a battle ship. Much of the tension is the result of the cruise ship struggling with whether or not to embrace battleship mentality. While the struggle ensues souls are jumping ship. The tension and the struggle must occur. Which one will you sail on?

CBP said...

Well, there are two questions that come to mind for me.
One, is it that bad that someone leaves our fellowship? They aren't leaving their salvation or love for God. Perhaps it could be a good thing?? Another step in their journey?
But Two, is there anything that people should leave over? Do we accept anything...everything? Can't people leaving be a good thing? Can't it be pleasing to the Father when we choose NOT to accept sin or false teaching? Do you believe there is sin or false teaching?
I don't really know anything about any of the three situation except the little bit that Kendall-Ball mentioned, so I have no comment on these specifics.
But just because someone is leaving doesn't mean the congregation is doing something bad, it could be just the opposite.
I pray for each of the three families. I hope they continue to seek the Lord and submit to His Holy and Awesome will!

Sunnie Rhys said...

This post and the comments are all very difficult reading. Some comments are exhausting, others liberating.

....of your three examples, the first is the most difficult for me to consider...

You weren't specific on exactly what part of the homosexual issue the gentleman left over. Did he think the church should accept homosexual behavior? Did he think the church should do a "don't ask don't tell" policy?

The bible has some clear teaching regarding homosexual behavior. Most churches of Christ are also clear on their view of Romans 3 and other passages. [i.e., they think it is wrong] So if the person believes differently, isn't he correct in leaving? What is the alternative? To confront the majority of people and attempt to persuade them differently? In that case, it's likely he would be called "divisive"....

I left a church once. It was hard. It wasn't a church of Christ. I left because my belief system simply could not be reconciled with the majority of the teachings of this community of believers. Maybe I was wrong. But I was in turmoil while in the church and have some peace outside of it.

Do any of us know when it is the proper time to leave or stay?

I was part of a church recently where one married couple disagreed with about 90% of the people. AFter a year or so, they finally went elsewhere when they could not persuade others to their point of view. It seemed like the right decision, really. Now they are in a church where most of the people agree with them. Isnt' that what we should do?

There are some types of 'sinners' that are very difficult for me to spend time with. Some types of 'sinners' have the same theme of temptations that I have and it isn't good for me. Maybe I'm hiding behind Galatians 6:1, but I'm afraid of falling into things that have almost destroyed me in the past. I might be exclusive.

This is a difficult subject.