Through an unlikely series of circumstances (which I find most series of circumstances in life to be), I ran across a Facebook page entitled “Local Church Escapees.” Having been a local church pastor for thirty-five years, I was fascinated by the title. While I had been aware that, for some at least, an escape is the only way out of various local churches, I had never given it that much thought (especially in those terms).
What ultimately drew me to the page was an article listing the reasons people leave churches. It was addressed to the church (of which I am obviously a part); so being the arduous pastor that I am, I dove right in. It was a well-written article with some points that were well taken. The point that grabbed me (and still haunts me), however, was the author’s statement that while we (the church) could argue with the individual reasons people leave, arguing is not the required response. The required response is to listen (and presumably learn). [By the way, if any of you knows the article and author of such an article, please let me know. I’ve totally lost that info and would like to attain it again.]
On that point (the one about listening), I wholeheartedly agreed with the author. We DO need to listen and hopefully learn. He was correct about us arguing and pointing out the flaws in the various reasons people leave the church. At the time, I found myself doing just that, and I had a pretty solid argument against each of his points. At the same time, however, I quickly realized the futility of the arguments. I just needed to listen (and learn).
I began to peruse the “Local Church Escapee” page and found myself in agreement with most (if not all) of the gripes these folks had against the church. Frankly, they echoed many of my own gripes and concerns. The big difference was, and is, they took some action. As some would say, they voted with their feet. They left (or as they put it, escaped). I was so moved by this discovery, I began a five or six month long series of sermons I entitled “Local Church Prisoners.”
It seemed to me that if people needed to escape, they must have been prisoners in the first place. I began to wonder about that. How many of us in the church are prisoners—prisoners of our own little rules, our own little traditions, and our own petty and personal beliefs. Do we erect bars that keep others out (and ourselves in)? I’m convinced we do.
And so, over the next few weeks, months, years, or however long it takes, I want to explore this topic with you. If we are indeed local church prisoners, how do we tear out the bars? Can we tear down the prison walls? Please help me in my quest to more consistently experience the church we should be and not the prison we may have become.