Church Anywhere and Everywhere?

Donald Miller

Last week I blogged a couple times about why I haven’t regularly gone to church. I’m hoping both blogs were good conversation starters. I’ve gotten some flack, but honestly very little. I’ve found most people were incredibly kind and gracious, even those who disagreed with me. The blogs presenting dissenting opinions are to be expected and completely understandable.

The hardest part about the ramifications of those blogs involved the relationships I have with pastors.

I’ve many close friends who are pastors. I actually went to a church service Sunday night to hear a friend of a friend preach and enjoyed it very much. But even I felt that deceptive polarized pull of “Wait, are you supposed to be here? Aren’t you either in or out?” Which is something I hadn’t felt before, but how the blogs were received. I consoled myself by reminding myself I’d never left “the church” just simply didn’t attend many services. Still, I wondered whether people thought I didn’t like them, and specifically, I wondered whether pastors thought I didn’t like them.

After the service I grabbed dinner with my pastor friend and asked “Are we okay?”

He told me we were, that our friendship had nothing to do with my opinions. He also expressed some disagreements and then we had a great conversation about church, what it means, why it matters, what it is and so forth. One of my favorite lines of thought had to do with a question “If the holy spirit were pastor of a church, what would that church look like?” I thought it was a great question. Perhaps, somehow, theologically speaking, He already is the pastor of a church. Not sure how that works.

Regardless, though, the vision I got was of a pastor who sees his or herself as a pastor to pastors. What I mean is, a pastor who spends sunday equipping the congregation to be pastors themselves, that is to baptize people through the week, perhaps in their home swimming pools, to guide people through communion, perhaps around their own dinner tables, to teach the Bible to their friends and neighbors, to sing together in their homes, to make meals and share them with the sick and so forth. Then, on Sunday, “pastors” could gather to encourage each other and share stories about their own “churches” in the world. I even imagined buying a bunch of little sheriff badges so a pastor could “deputize” their congregations as priests in God’s kingdom, answering to the Holy Spirit and doing the work of Jesus directly.

Some of the most significant spiritual moments of my life have been when I’ve stepped into the authority God has given me as a priest in His kingdom.

I’ve not done it often, because it feels strange, but I’ve done it and it’s been great. I remember pulling over on the side of the road with friends, climbing into an old abandoned building that we thought looked interesting and doing communion on a loading dock using hot chocolate and cookies. We prayed together, remembered the Lord together. It was a fantastic bonding moment between us but also between us and God.

*Photo Credit: Johan Larsson, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Johan Larsson, Creative Commons

And I remember another time when some friends and I were climbing around behind a waterfall and one of them, my friend Adam, turned around and asked me to baptize him. Are you being serious, I asked? Yes, I’ve never been baptized. So right there in the roar of the waterfall we gathered together and prayed and we baptized my friend Adam. Then we baptized more folks who’d not been baptized before. We raised our hands up toward the waterfall and felt the power of Jesus slide down off the mountain.

The thing about those moments, though, is they remind me Jesus is sharing agency with us here on earth.

He’s sharing His power to love people, to bond with Him and to be “priests” in His church.

To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently. I’m creative and I’m a risk taker. I realize a mistake I often make in my writing is assuming people are wired the way I’m wired. They aren’t. Most people are looking to “do it right” and play by the rules. This saves them from the trouble I often find myself in. They’re smart to do so. But I think there’s a place for people like me, for people who read Hebrews and scratch our heads and wonder whether God has given us more agency than we’ve accepted.

I think He has. And I think in a decade or so, it would be beautiful if a shift happened in our cultures, where pastors played more the role of Gandolf or Yoda (I’m not new age! Don’t attack me!) and saw their congregations as young, struggling heroes, scared to death but with a massive responsibility to be priests in the kingdom of God. What if we really were called to that kind of adventure and at church we were being equipped to do pastoral work, to have authority and agency?

The reality is, life would get messy. To let the church know they have much more agency than they ever realized would open a can of worms and there would be theological arguments left and right. Even Calvin believed it was only the Apostles who were supposed to baptize. One of those rare occasions I disagreee with Calvin, by the way. He proposed that because when Jesus said “Do as I have done” he only meant that for the apostles because those were the guys he was talking to. I don’t believe that. That seems like a stretch and one of the rare occasions where Calvin grasps for a little bit of power.

Still the motives are pure. Letting just anybody perform the sacrements could create chaos.

And yet I see an awful lot of organized chaos in the book of Acts. I wonder if we’ve not lost the stomach for that kind of adventure?

Here’s the thought from John Calvin on the matter. He would certainly disagree with me. Hope this continues a healthy conversation, though. What would it look like if next Sunday, every pastor released their congregation into their own agency? What would come of that chaos?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • bb

    I’m with you regarding institutional church attendance. We take one verse about assembling together and make it into a whole bunch of things it was never intended to be.
    Regarding pastors as pastors, I think most of them would be afraid to send anyone out until they had completed 60 hours of “equipping” classes and passed the exam to prove that they believed correctly, rather than teaching people how to hear from the Holy Spirit themselves.
    Speaking of pastors, BIBLICALLY what exactly is their role? From my understanding the Bible mentions them, but that is about it. I think this may be another example where we add a whole lot of tasks to the definition that were never originally intended.

  • jonathantony

    I find it strange how Jesus said “Pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers out” and we spend so much time and money trying to bring people into a building. I actually like going to a church on Sunday and believe in the good in it, but God forbid, literally, that Sunday is the last time I do church in a week. God is clearly a God of diversity and the Kingdom comes in more ways than one. The charge Jesus gave us is to preach the Gospel and love each other. Do church as much as possible, and whether or not you need stained glass is up to you.

  • Christine Lee Smith

    I agree. Great thoughts, wonderful ideas, and a hopeful (but not pie in the sky) goal. However, looking at human hierarchy of needs, we need security before we can receive love or power or identity. So I wonder, how can we begin to cultivate a culture of healing and grace, empowering congregations, when many pastors are leading from unhealed inner wounds guiding their own inner narrative, apart from living into their reality as Christ’s beloved?

  • Jeremy Survivor Kessler

    I see where this is coming from and am excited where the idea can go. Im starting a wilderness survival based small group in a month or so to get out of comfort zones, teach some outdoor skills and connect with the Father and Son in all their nature’s glory.

  • Alex

    Donald Miller! I have been a fan of yours for years now. Your book Father Fiction blessed me tremendously a couple years ago. I really appreciate your creative thought and quest to live an authentic Christian faith. I have found that the Catholic position has been the best appropriation to what Jesus intended “Church” to be in the sacred scriptures. On speaking about the Church, I suggest we look a little farther back than Calvin and Luther and look into how the Christian faith was lived out in the early days of the Church. If we are looking to live the same faith as the Apostles, or for that matter Jesus, we should pose questions such as: What did Church look like in the 2nd and 3rd centuries just two or three generations removed from Christ? Who were the Christian characters and heroes for the 1500 years (nearly 3/4 of all Christianity) that carried on the traditions of Christianity up until the 15th and 16th centuries?

    Every serious Protestant scholar today references the Church fathers, because they are the best experts on understanding our faith that we have available; these men were brilliant, well-educated, extremely pious (mostly to the point of martyrdom), and remain our most proximal sources to Jesus, His disciples, and the authors of the New Testament as we have available. Indeed, these men’s testimony are the most ideal resource we can imagine in furthering our own understanding of a 2000 year old collection of letters and books.

    If we look into the faith of the early Church Fathers, we see that Christ
    intended Church to go far beyond a song and sermon. When we look at the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” (the Bible “alone” being the only supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and dogma), we, necessarily, have to look at the landscape of Christianity today: we see over 40,000 Christian denominations today deriving separate ideas and inspirations of what “Church” is from the same source, our Bible. We then have to think, was this what God intended? Did Calvin and Luther really reform the Church? We find in the Catholic Church a voice
    of Christian unity that has been carried up until today and dates all the way back directly following Christ’s death 2000 years ago.

    Your website inspires thousands of people because you encourage others to live a “good story” with your life. I am inspired by this and have found the stories of the early fathers of the Church to be some of the most heroic and incredible I have ever read. A book that captures some of exhilarating characters is called, When the Church was Young: Voice of the Early Fathers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jruGVptNZsI).

    I urge you (or just for fun, dare you) to check out a local Catholic Church nearby and see for yourself one Sunday. You’ll find contained in a normal service, from start to end, a service wrapped up completely in scripture. Above all, you’ll see a service based on the same tradition that gave us the canon of the books that are in the Bible and that have codified and defended Christianity up until today! Wishing you the best, Donald and I hope you would be open to even “consider”
    some these thoughts.

    God Bless you my brother and I am certain to see you in this life or the next!

    In Christ,

    Alex Boshart

    • CJoy

      Wow. This is so beautifully articulated. Regardless of all our differences, you have approached this with so much wisdom and love as a united Christ-like family. Every Christian should strive to understand our early Church Fathers to better understand how to live our faith now.

      Much love to all.

  • Terri

    Man, I love this post/blog (whatever we call it now). Don, I love how you push the envelope in an honest way. It’s got me thinking …..