Q & R: “A conscientious objector to the hierarchical nature of the church …”

Here’s the Q:

I am a 22 year-old newlywed who grew up in the Southern church. After moving to the Midwest and working in a church for 16 months as an intern and preacher, I grew theologically to the point that I became what you could call a “conscientious objector” to much of the hierarchical nature of the church. My wife and I are on the same page, so we stopped going to a church building entirely about two months ago. We felt immense guilt for a couple weeks, but that wore off as we began to enjoy uninterrupted Sundays and the freedom to say and think what we want without the brooding nature of the church to filter it. Yet, a feeling of emptiness has crept in as we find it hard to connect with others our age. We feel like we are in theological terra nova, so to speak, and trailblazing has its many blessings, but constantly being on the forefront of what feels like something new and exhilarating can be exhausting when you don’t know where you’re headed exactly. So we feel a tug to go back to what’s comfortable, even though we’ve outgrown it, because we don’t know where to go from here. Can you speak to this?

Here’s the R:

In my travels, I’m meeting more and more people who share your experience – both the desire to take a sabbatical from “going to a church building” and the sense of lost connection once they have done so. Some find a solution to the problem by joining a house church or “simple church,” a path I have some experience with myself; others discover that with or without bricks and mortar, “the hierarchical nature” can live on. I believe the long term solution (actually, solution isn’t the right word … “response” is better, as I don’t think these problems of human dysfunction can ever be fully solved) is being born in and among us, through our frustrations and experiments. My hunch is that as we trace the symptoms down to deeper causes, we’ll end up focusing not on church structures alone, but on our deepest theological assumptions – especially our beliefs about what the biblical narrative really is. (This is why in A New Kind of Christianity I put so much emphasis on that question.) When churches go through that kind of narrative-paradigm shift, they’ll become more hospitable to folks like you (and me, and thousands of us). In my experience, this is not just a matter of comfort (although that can be part of it): it’s a matter of fit, of space, of welcome, of honesty.
I think a part of the response (a large or small part, I don’t know) will be grass-roots ecclesial communities – communities that share a lot in common with the early “base community” movement in Latin America, communities that are running on the same or similar track to the New Monastic movement. Something I’m working on (more on this down the road) is creating/assembling resources for these communities – liturgies, litanies, lectionaries, songs, chants, rituals, homilies, and so on. Perhaps you and your wife can invite over some friends and together you can help field test some of these resources?