Dear Donald

I don’t typically write “open letters” to other Christians, but your recent blog post made me want to reach out to you. Your follow up post offers a lot of clarity to your first thoughts. I especially love your thoughts on the “not about you” section. This quote was amazing,

But this is a much larger issue. The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?

Thanks for pointing that out. You have no idea how often I’ve had the same thought.

Your first post resonated with me, largely because the reasons why you don’t often attend a “traditional” church service are the same reasons why I don’t often attend conferences. I find sitting in large rooms for hours on end, while an endless litany of people tell me how excited they are, to be emotionally traumatic. The fact that conferences typically break up the endless litany of speakers by putting on faux rock concerts doesn’t do anything to make them more palatable. Like you, I’m an introvert. Noise followed by louder noise does produce fond feelings in me. One of my most common thoughts during a conference is, “Make the bad man stop.”

Unlike you singing does produce an emotional connection with me, but in a much different setting. Also unlike you, I enjoy a good lecture – provide I both know beforehand I’m attending a lecture and I know there is a clear ending time to the lecture1. We have different tastes. I’m pretty much ok with that and I’m sure you are as well.

Other than to tell you how much I resonate with your thinking I wanted to reach out for some other reasons.

First, as a pastor, I wanted to apologize for all the righteous bloggers who read2 your blog and attacked. When people who depend on a particular institution see the institution questioned, the questioning voice needs to be silenced or discredited. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is. I’ve experience similar attacks in my lifetime. They are rarely direct, and hurt deeply. For the wounds inflicted by fellow Christians, I apologize.

Second, I wanted to encourage you. Run away from “traditional” Evangelical worship as fast as you can. If it just leaves you exhausted, numb, or even hostile – it doesn’t matter what the production value is, the spiritual damage it can do is just not worth it. “Traditional” Evangelical worship has turned worshippers into audience members. They are there to give emotional energy to the band, sit quietly when appropriate, and provide the audience track for the sermon. In fact, a lot of the same people who reminded you that worship is “not about you” need to be reminded of the same thing3.

You wrote this in your first piece,

I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow.

That is simply amazing, and it explains why the “traditional” Evangelical worship-service leaves you feeling blah. The audience model of worship turns you into a combination recipient/emotional-prop. You want to work, which is exactly what worship is supposed to be – service to God. The “weekly fill-up” mentality of Evangelical Christianity has got it backward, worship isn’t a service station for congregants and leaders. It’s a temple through which we render service to our Savior4.

I do hope you find, however, a community which deliberately and regularly gathers to serve Jesus. Filled with people who have the same conviction to serve, but who experience God in a way which is different from you. These folks help us see our own blind-spots, help protect our weaknesses, and give us space for our strengths to bless them as well. Being regular isn’t only good for the physical realm5.

Third, I wanted to invite you to come and worship with the little church I pastor if you happen to find yourself in the Philly area. We are in South Jersey, not too far from Center City. You don’t have to announce you’re coming, you don’t even have to let me know you’re there6. I don’t offer this as an, “this will convince him he’s completely wrong about going to church” un-vitation. We probably do a lot of things that would leave you banging your head on the wall. On the other hand, I think you’ll appreciate the eclectic nature of the group. Folks are goofy, fun, and think it’s funny when people take themselves seriously. I think you’d have fun.

  1. Also, lectures aren’t usually filled with people telling you how absolutely wonderful the event is – over, and over, and over, and over. I’m sure these people want to get out of there as much as I do, but they are contractually obligated to sell the product. 
  2. Or at least read other blogs which quoted your blog and wanted to chime-in. 
  3. I also need this same reminder, just in case you were wondering. 
  4. I’m a mystic, so it’s pretty easy for me to embrace this idea. Worship, as far as I can tell, is the act of stepping into the throne-room scene in Revelation. 
  5. Yup, potty humor. I went there. 
  6. We’re small, so we’ll all know a visitor has joined us, but I won’t recognize you, trust me (if that hurt your feelings feel free to borrow my metaphorical wiffle-ball bat of doom and give me a good wallup). Heck, even go by your middle name if you want (don’t give a false name, lying is a sin and then you’d have to confess and give your real name and it would kinda defeat the whole purpose). 

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