An Open Letter to Church Leaders

If you are interested in a potential church member, here I am. My wife and I are prime candidates to be a part of your congregation. We are ready to be welcomed and put to work.

Both of us are experienced and quite capable. We were both raised in families where church involvement was at the hub of family life, and the subject of most conversations around the dinner table. I have served as a pastor for more than 15 years, and a church consultant for nearly 20 years.

Yes, I know you can do the math–that puts us in our mid-60’s. We might not fit the target demographic of your church, but I can assure you the problem is not with us. We don’t especially want to be a part of a senior adult ministry, and I think I am correct in saying that younger folks are comfortable with us so our presence won’t torpedo your ministry plans.OpenLetter

I will confess up front that you might want to accuse me of being too selective when it comes to church. I like to think it is because I have high standards. Either way, what I’m trying to say is I’m not interested in what you are doing simply because you tack the word “church” onto your legal papers.

For the past few years I have felt like we were living on an island all by ourselves, but I recently discovered I actually belong to a labeled category of people. Church leaders have long talked about the “unchurched.” Apparently there is another group of people known as the “dechurched.”

This term is used to describe those who have left the historic Christian faith. This group consists primarily of young people who grew weary of the church’s message that if you obey God your life will be blessed. They dropped out of church once they saw the fallacy of this message and began to experience the natural pain and sorrow of life. They were once a part of the church, but because their experience didn’t ring true with the church’s message, they walked away.

However, that group doesn’t accurately describe me either. I did not leave the church because of the message. In fact, I don’t think I have ever left the church. The problem is that the church left me. I have always been there, still plugging away trying to do the work of Jesus, but the church wandered off doing something else.

The church has been extremely busy doing politics. Not the kind of politics I was taught from my youth when we were encouraged to pray for our leaders and respect those in authority, but the politics that require allegiance to a set of dogmas. I have discovered that unless I condone specific political positions I will be treated like Cinderella by her stepsisters.

The church has also been about the task of judgmentalism. I was taught growing up that certain behaviors are wrong and should be avoided, but I was also taught that I was not the judge and jury of another. Consequently, our home, and our church, was open to whoever needed our hospitality. The stories of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ overhearing the prayer of the Pharisee, the open embrace of Zacchaeus, and other episodes wrapped up in Jesus’ words, “Judge not, lest you be judged” were planted deep within my conscience.

I remember the excitement buzzing through the congregation when the worst sinner in town would show up for a revival meeting. I recall preaching the funeral for a man in our community just six months after he stood in my living room threatening to beat me up even though he was unrepentant. I did my best to show mercy and compassion to his family. Now I find those who belonged to the same church with me standing on the street corner holding hateful signs and sharing disgusting Facebook posts. One of us has changed churches and I don’t think it was me.

The church also pulled away from me when it began to build fences rather than bridges. In fact, I wrote a book a few years back with the subtitle, “Building a Church Without Fences.” I’m not a fan of fences, yet it seems the church is in favor of them, whether it is along the Rio Grande border, a stigma given to those of other faiths, or an invisible barrier to separate those who don’t look like us.

The church also left me when the decision was made to become an entertainment venue, committed to competing with the best the world has to offer. I grew up with the understanding that most people did not attend on Sunday night because we could not compete with Walt Disney Presents on television. I don’t need the church to entertain me; I get cable. That is not the purpose of the church, but somehow the quest to offer the best has choked out the necessity of making disciples.

My complaint is not about the music or worship styles, but about the substance of the church. The church, by definition is unique, unlike anything else in the world. The church consists of followers of Jesus, those described occasionally in scripture as the poor and outcast, those who are not wise, wealthy, or powerful (see 1 Corinthians 1:26). If you seek those who will make your congregation powerful and influential then leave me alone.

But, if you are the leader of a church who wants a passionate follower of Christ, a careful student of the Bible, an experienced practitioner of the faith taught by Jesus, I’m available. But let me give you a head’s up: don’t come knocking on my door hoping that I will join your crusade to build a politically involved powerful organization that is striving to establish the kingdom of God in this place. All I want is a group of fellow followers of Jesus who want to be faithful to Him.

Sincerely,

Terry Austin

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5 Comments

Filed under Church, Evangelism, Ministry, Politics, Uncategorized

5 responses to “An Open Letter to Church Leaders

  1. The pastor who baptized me gathers his daily thoughts listening to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. And sadly, the churches around me are more into judgmentalism and inciting hate than teaching the Good News. My faith is stronger than ever, but it gets lonely at times.

  2. Gave a copy of your letter to my pastor. He’s also the attorney I work for. Politically we are miles apart, but he founded a home church dedicated to ministering to those who have been wounded by the local church. I have to drive 30 miles to get to his home on Sundays, we usually eat lunch together in a local restaurant and have good fellowship. Most of us are around the same age and around half are still very fundamental leading to a lively discussion at times. The church is about the Love of Jesus in all of us, not our differences. Over the last eight years it has been the best worship experience my wife and I’ve ever known.
    The home church movement is becoming the answer to the calcified local church and dehumanizing mega churches.

  3. Geoffrey D Bray

    Obviously it’s time for y’all to be back at Mosaic. We’re now downstairs so you don’t have to have your stair climbing wheelchair. We don’t have a demographic … or if we do y’all obviously fit. And you already love us. Seems like an easy choice. 😀

  4. Terry,
    Your letter has intrigued me! I have shared several of your thoughts and concerns. We are are in the process of establishing and maintaining a new model of church. I would enjoy the opportunity of sitting down and exploring your thoughts and suggestions on how to flesh out this model. I would be happy to dialogue through email until we can meet face to face. My email is drbp@earthlink.net

  5. Perhaps a clarification is needed. I’m not addressing individual churches. I know there are some churches doing a good job, but the problem is with the church as a whole. I have received invitations from several folks to attend their church because they are confident I will like it. For some, that is probably true. However, a few of the ones who have invited me are guilty of the things that disturb me. It is not always the pastor, but I know of several instances where outspoken members are enough to drive me away. The church in America has a problem that needs to be addressed.

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