I remember a decade ago when Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” came out. I was 40 at the time, so I was perhaps on the edge of the generation with whom he really connected. But I appreciated the book, he was wrestling with themes and ideas with which I had wrestled both as a father and a pastor. In later years I have greatly appreciated his work helping people uncover the story God is writing in and through their life. Good stuff.
Yesterday on his blog, Miller started a conversation about church. You can read it here. He started by revealing that he doesn’t connect with God through singing (worship music at church). Then somewhere in the midst of the blog he revealed that he doesn’t learn best through lectures (sermons at church). Finally at the end of the blog, he revealed that he doesn’t attend church much.
As someone who attends church much (and yes, sometimes I wouldn’t attend if I wasn’t the pastor! :) I just thought I would share a few of my thoughts related to his blog. By the way, it would probably be more helpful to read his blog before you read this… Read it? Okay here goes…
1.) I appreciate and agree with Miller’s declarations that everyone doesn’t experience God best in the same way. Gary Thomas did a good job of discussing this in his book, “Sacred Pathways.” I do believe that some will connect better with the songs of creation than they will with the songs Redman. Some will connect better in one on one dialogue than in a large group, monologue. Some will connect better when they serve than when they sit.
2.) I appreciate the fact that Miller connects with God well, perhaps even best, in his work. I can relate to that. Early in my Christian walk I was told repeatedly to never confuse sermon prep time with my devotional time with God, yet the reality is that I often hear God best and most, I often connect with God most as I work on a sermon. I believe God has wired us for a unique calling and when we dive into that calling we feel his pleasure. (Cue the Chariots of Fire music.) By the way I think God is going to use Miller’s Storyline conference to help people discover their calling. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there is singing (worship) and lecturing (sermons) at that conference. :)
3) I appreciate Miller’s willingness to start a conversation about and question our model(s) of church. I think we need that…and perhaps we have to expect that the best questions sometimes come from those who have found a particular model to be unsatisfactory.
4) On the other hand, I wonder if Miller really has such a limited view of church. Admittedly it’s hard to tell from one blog and a book or two, but if all I had to go on was this blog, I would characterize Miller’s ecclesiology as “church is an event whose purpose is primarily to foster an intimate experience with God and secondarily to teach you something.” My ecclesiology is broader than that. Church is more than an event and it’s purpose is deeper and broader than experiences and information. Church dives into the reality that Christ is present in our togetherness in a way that he is not in our isolation. Church is the formation of a people, not just a person. It involves authority, submission, discipleship, servanthood, persevering relationships and so much more. I stopped attending church the moment I realized that we are the church.
5) While I agree with the concept of being wired for a unique sacred pathway, it is still God’s right to declare and define parameters of worship. All through scripture there are examples of worship that God did and did not accept. Cain’s worship, even though it fit his calling, wasn’t accepted. It seems that there are elements/forms of worship that Christ and scripture emphasize, for example corporate song/music, communion, baptism, etc. In other words, while God has wired me in ways that will shape how I worship, it’s okay for God to ask me to worship in ways that don’t seem to fit me.
6) While Miller seems to indicate, in multiple ways, that traditional church is okay for some. I’m not sure he really believes that. When he talks about graduating from church and evolving, it seems apparent that he feels that he has found a better way, not just his way.
7) In a follow-up blog post Miller clarifies some of his thoughts on church. Reading it made me wonder if Miller has really stopped being part of the church, or if he has just changed or exchanged the model of church he grew up with for a different model of church. If that is the case I think he could have been more clear in his writing.
8) Perhaps my strongest objection to Miller’s two blogs comes more from the follow-up than the initial blog. Miller paints a broad stroke of the “traditional” and “evangelical” church and then expresses little hope that that church will ever change, partially because of the high need for job security (of pastors). I don’t think Miller has a very good grasp of the breadth and depth and uniqueness and willingness to embrace change that can be found across the sweep of those churches he paints with one stroke. It’s too bad, he’s missing some amazing stories.
9) Finally, I love innovation and change, but sometimes we think that the best innovations come when we throw off all the limits. We call it out of the box thinking. I would suggest that without limits there is no true innovation. Actually it is the limits, the box that forces us to innovate. Christ has given us some parameters, some limits, a box he is building called the church. The greatest innovations will come from those who dream inside the box given by Christ. It would be interesting to hear Miller describe what he views as the box.