Sunday, July 11, 2010

Michael Spencer's "Mere Churchianity"

I had planned a blog post on a different subject. But I’ve spent most of the last week reading and re-reading Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. The title is a nod – perhaps more than a nod – in the direction of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. But Spencer’s subject and thesis are very different – that people are leaving the church to find Jesus.

No, this is not a treatise in favor of the “emerging church.” Spencer experienced all of the ways one leaves the church –from belonging nowhere to considering Roman Catholic and Orthodox, to emergent and house churches and all the other possibilities that exist within a Christian context. And he doesn’t advocate not attending church.

Instead, he speaks to those who have left or are considering leaving the church, he explains why this is happening, and then he takes great care in pointing to a different way.

We attended a church for 15 years that – with great sadness and feelings akin to divorce – we left. Worship had begun to resemble entertainment; Bible study had been replaced by discussions of popular books; and success was measured by numbers. We weren’t the only ones who left; we were , in fact, at the tail end of an exodus that left the church financially strapped and spiritually depleted.

We joined a very traditional-type congregation. And then the same elements we had fled began to creep in. We’re still there, but there’s now this sense of having to deal with this all over again.

And then I read Mere Churchianity. It is perhaps the most hopeful work I have read about North American Christianity in more than a decade. That’s an odd thing to say about a book that basically says the North American church has replaced Jesus with …something else. But it is hopeful.

From 2000 to earlier this year, Spencer blogged at Internet Monk. He died from cancer in April, and several friends are continuing to carry on his work. And they should. What he did was and is important. It’s also very personal – for Spencer himself, for the people he wrote this book for, and for me. I’ve been profoundly affected by what he’s written.

I’ll be posting a few blog posts on the book and my own thoughts, beginning late this month and into August. I’m also working on an extended draft of a post for Christian Manifesto, which will be posted first.

For now I will say this: Michael Spencer knows what I’ve been going through for close to a decade, because he’s gone through it himself. He knows the pain and the isolation, because he’s lived it. And he cared enough about the rest of us to write this book.


n. davis rosback said...

well, after reading this post, i decided that i would give it a read and just ordered it.

Kathleen Overby said...

I desperately need this book. It is very hard to attend even sporadically like I do. Sounds encouraging. Thanks.

H. Gillham said...

Churches have changed exponentially in the last two decades --- and the type of church that I went to as a child, I don't believe exists anymore.... hymns, choirs, revivals, and reciting the liturgy.

The church has always had to compete with the world, and some churches are desperate to come up with "ways" to do that. Some of them perhaps have gone too far.

I have left church twice -- and both times were due to church direction and focus.

Since then, I have learned a valuable lesson -- my relationship with Christ is my responsibility -- not the church's. My husband and I are in a church that is "new," but its focus is spiritually solid.

I'm blessed that my church seems cemented in the Word.

I encourage all of you who are disappointed in your church to evaluate exactly why ---- :)

Too preachy for a Monday morning?

I hope not -- I was just speaking from experience.

Thanks for the suggestion and the synopsis -- it helped me remember my own decisions about church.

Maureen said...

Our little Episcopal parish is having a difficult time of it but not for some of the reasons you note here. It's simply not nourishing spiritually and its membership is greatly depleted as many elderly parishioners have died and there is no one to make up the numbers. I make no apologies for saying I need to be part of a community that recognizes the world beyond church doors, and so am looking for a place to belong. Having not been baptized until reaching 50, my decision to join the faith was deeply considered and I feel tested to hold onto it through an institutional hierarchy that fails to practice its own motto that "All Are Welcome".

MP said...


This the second review I have read for this book, and the most helpful.

I also am sorry for what you have had to experience. As a future pastor, this is something that angers me. (Not you leaving, but the abandonment of the Holy Spirit in the church)

Peter preached the Word & thousands were saved...there is something to be said about that.

Tammy@If Meadows Speak... said...

I'm intrigued about the book from this post. Having went from denomintional church, to non-denominational then to house church only, to land back again in a non-denominational church balanced with a Bible/prayer home group. One of our hardest things is finding balance between attending and connecting, not only with community but in our relationship with Christ. In other words, a heapload of attendance isn't the element in growing in Christ but our friendships in Christ is an element to help us grow. Tempered with our own personal, quiet time rounds it all out. This book sounds interesting. Thanks for point it out. said...

My church has steadfastly resisted any shifts towards entertainment, casual and contemporary stuff mixing in with worship. We are Presbyterian, and a little heavy on the liturgy side of things. In fact, it's the most catholic-type of church I've ever attended in it's attention to congregational responses, liturgy and the order of worship. It is not perfect, but we are strong. We have thought once in a while of visiting other churches for more exciting worship programs, but we never actually do. Because we are fine where we are. I'm sorry to think that this is now an anomoly. (Maybe more folks should give the presbyterians a chance!:))