by Jake Colsen

The following is some excerpts from one of my Christmas-reading books … So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen (a pseudonym for the 2 authors – Wayne Jacobsen & Dave Coleman).

This is the story of a disillusioned minister who meets John (possible the disciple John still living) & has some life-changing conversations with him. I’ve extracted some of the quotes and conversations to give a glimpse of the book – but the book is still worth reading. (In the conversations I use ‘A’ for John, ‘B’ for the main character, and other letters for other people)

So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen (Wayne Jacobsen & Dave Coleman)

P 69 “.. that’s the problem with institutions …. The institution provides something more important than simply loving each other in the same way we’ve been loved. Once you build an institution together you have to protect it and its assets to be good stewards. It confuses everything. Even love gets redefined as that which protects the institution and unloving as that which does not. ….. Its love with a hook. If you do what we want, we reward you. If not we punish you. It doesn’t turn out to be about love at all. We give our affection only to those who serve our interests and withhold it from those who do not. … That’s why institutions can only reflect God’s love as long as those in it agree on what they are doing. Every difference of opinion becomes a contest for power.”

P71 “… our definitions of love get twisted when institutional priorities take over …. The problem with church as you know it, is that it has become nothing more than mutual accommodation of self-need. Everybody needs something out of it. Some need to lead. Some need to be led. Some want to teach, others are happy to be the audience. Rather than become an authentic demonstration of God’s life and love in the world, it ends up being a group of people who have to protect their turf.”

P73 “When we’re afraid we can’t make it without the institution, then right and wrong go out the window. The only thing that concerns us is our own survival. That kind of reasoning has led to incredible pain over the years of church history.”

P 73-4
A “Why do people go to your church?”
B “Because we’re supposed to have fellowship. We need it to be fed, to stay accountable to others and to grow in God’s life together. Are you saying that’s not right?”
A “So if someone doesn’t attend anymore, what happens to them?”
B “They should find another local church and get involved, or they will wither spiritually or fall into error.”
A “Listen to yourself. You’re using words like ‘need,’ ‘should’ and ‘supposed to.’ Is that the body life God’s called you to?”
B “I thought so”
A “Scripture doesn’t use the language of need when talking about the vital connection God establishes between believers. Our dependency is on Jesus alone! He’s the only one God wants us to trust and rely on for everything. When we put the body of Christ in that place, we make an idol of it, and you end up wrapped up in knots over the situation you’re in. Religion survives by telling us we need to fall in line or some horrible fate will befall us. We share body life together, not because we have to, but because we get to. Anyone who belongs to God will embrace the life he wants his children to share together. And that life isn’t fighting over control of the institution, but simply helping each other learn to live deeply in him.”

B “ … this will help win people to our side”
A “What side is that?”
B “You know! Those who oppose the false system of organized religion and are committed to following the New Testament model of house churches” (by this time in the story, the minister has become ‘ex’ & has started a house church)
A “That doesn’t sound like a side I want to be on. Have you heard me talk like that?”
B “You’re the one who helped me see the failures of organised religion”
A “It’s one thing to see through things and another to be against them. That’s the game – and I’m not playing. And I’m all for believers learning how to walk together in real fellowship, but we haven’t even begun to talk about how that might happen”
B “Doesn’t it (organised religion) always produce this very thing … men pretending to be leaders when they lie and devour others? I’m sick of it”
A “They are not all frauds. Not all groups become as destructive as yours. Those who treat leaders as if they have some special anointing are the most susceptible to being deceived by them. It seems people who assume or who are given the most human authority forget how to say no to their own appetites and desires. It is so easy for any of us to end up serving ourselves when we think we are serving others by keeping an institution functioning. But not all who do it end up so broken. Many are real servants who only want to help others and they’ve been led to believe this is the best way to do it. Always separate the failure of the system from the hearts of the people in it.”
“Any human system will eventually dehumanize the very people it seeks to serve and those who it dehumanises the most are those who think they lead it. But not everyone in a system is given over to the priorities of that system. Many walk inside it without being given over to it.”

A “ Jesus didn’t leave us with a system; he left us with his Spirit – a guide instead of a map. Principles alone will not satisfy your hunger. That’s why systems always promise a future revival that never comes. They cannot produce community because they are designed to keep people apart.”
B “Why do you say that?”
A “By keeping the focus on services or rituals, they make most people spectators. By holding up standards and motivating people to conform to them they only encourage people to pretend to be what they are not or to act like they know more than they really do. Questions and doubts are discouraged and people can’t deal with the things they are hiding. Thus their relationships become superficial or even false because they only let people see the shadow they want them to see, not who they really are. Feeling isolated they only become more focussed on their own needs and what others aren’t doing to meet them. They fight over control of the institution, however large or small, so that they can make others do what they think is best. It is a story that has been repeated for a couple of thousand years.”
“To keep they system working you have to obligate people through commitment or appeal to their ego by convincing them that this is the last, best, greatest place to belong. That’s why so may groups create false expectations that frustrate people and focus on each other’s needs, or even their gifts, rather than on the ever-present Christ”

“ … the more organisation you bring to church life, the less life it will contain.”
“ … focus your efforts on where they will bear the most fruit. Instead of trying to build a house church, learn to love each other and share each other’s journey. Who is he asking you to walk alongside right now and how can you encourage them? I love it when brothers and sisters choose to be intentional in sharing God’s life together in a particular season. You’ll learn a lot. Just avoid the desire to make it contrived, exclusive or permanent. Relationships don’t work that way. The church is God’s people learning to share life together.
P 123
“No church model will produce God’s life in you. It works the other way around. Our life in God, shared together, expresses itself as the church. It is the overflow of his life in us. You can tinker with church principles forever and still miss out on what it means to live deeply in Father’s love and know how to share it with others.”

C “Won’t people who just ‘follow Jesus’ live independently from the body?”
A “ Do you think that’s possible?”
C “You don’t?”
A “That’s the fear I hear all the time, but I don’t see it. People who are growing in their relationship with father will hunger for real connections with his family. He is the God of community. That’s his nature, and knowing him draws us into that community, not only with God himself, but also with others who know him. It is not our obligation. It’s his gift”

D “Do you really believe we’re good enough to hear God’s voice (individually, personally) every day?”
A “What a question. Of course not. None of us are that good. But I think you’re asking the wrong question. Let’s phrase it like this: Is Jesus big enough to get through to you every day? Do you think he is big enough to get past your blind spots, overcome your doubts and show you his way? Doesn’t that get a resounding ‘yes’? Share that journey together and you’ll experience body life more real than you’ve ever dreamed.”

P144 “Religion … is a shame-management system, often with the best of intentions and always the worst of results”

P 151 “The church thrives where people are focused on Jesus, not where they are focused on church”

C “If a church can be this simple, how do leaders fit in all of this? Don’t we need elders and pastors and apostles?”
A “For what?”
C “Doesn’t someone need to be in charge and organise things so people will know what to do?”
A “Why, so people can follow someone else instead of following Jesus? Don’t you see we already have a leader? The church gives Jesus first place in everything and it will refuse to let anyone else crawl up in his seat”
C “So leaders aren’t important either?”
A “Not the way we’ve been taught to think of them. One can hardly conceive of body life today without an organization and a leader shaping others with his vision. Some love to lead; others desperately want to be led. This system has made God’s people so passive most can’t even imagine living without a human leader to identify with. Read through the New Testament again and you’ll find there is very little focus on anything like leadership as we’ve come to think of it today.”
C “But there were elders and apostles and pastors, weren’t there?”
A “There were, but they weren’t out front leading people after their personal visions, they were behind the scenes … helping people to live deeply in Christ so he can lead them. Elders won’t end up managing machinery (organisations), but equipping followers by helping them find a real relationship with the living God. That’s why he asked us to help people become his disciples and why he said that he would build his church. Let’s focus on our task and let him do his”

P159-161, 166
A “… in the first days of a new group forming the focus is usually on God, not the needs of the institution. But that usually fades over time as financial pressures and the desire for routine and order subvert the simplicity of following Jesus. Relationships grow stale in routine and when the machinery siphons off so much energy just to keep it running, it grows increasingly irrelevant.”
A “Once people are in love with the program and grow dependent on it as the spiritual component of their lives, they won’t see its limitations. It cannot substitute for their own life in him and it can only produce and illusion of community because it is based on people doing what it takes to sustain the institution.”
D (another minister) “But couldn’t it (the institutional church) be better? I’m torn between the responsibility to reform it and the desire to leave it. Neither sound like good options. I doubt it can be reformed, or at least that I can do it”
A “People have been trying to reform it for two thousand years, and the result is almost always the same – a new system emerges to replace the old, but it eventually becomes a substitute (for relationship with God) of its own.
D “I guess the bottom line is that if I want to find an expression of church life that fulfils what the Scriptures talk about, I either have to change this organisation or leave it”
A “Or stop looking for it”
D “What? Are you serious?”
A “No institutional arrangement will ever contain all that the church is. Don’t look for it institutionally; look for it relationally …”
D “Are structure and passion polar opposites?”
A “No, they’re not. Not all structure is wrong. Simple structures that facilitate sharing his life together can be incredibly positive. The problem comes when structures take on a life of their own and provide a substitute for our dependence upon Jesus”
D “So I don’t need to look for the perfect church, or try to put one together?”
A “How you mean that, I’d say, no. but Jesus is putting together this church without spot or wrinkle. It includes everyone in this community and around the world who live in a growing relationship with him. It’s OK for you to look at how that church expresses itself every day in the people and events around you, Just don’t try to corral it into something you control. It just won’t work. Jesus saw the church as a reality, not an assignment for his followers to construct. She is growing, all around you. You just can’t see it now because your focal point is far short of her beauty and immensity”
D “How can I change that?”
A “There’s only one way – stay focussed on him. Where Jesus is given first place, the church simply emerges in wonderful ways. He will place you in the body exactly as he desires. And as those relationships grow, you may find yourself surrounded by a group of people who want to walk in intentional community together. That’s an amazing thing when it happens, but still you have to keep your focus on him. Even groups that start out centred on him are easily and quickly tempted to organize themselves to death. When Jesus ceases to be the object of our pursuit, our touch with his body wil fade into emptiness.”

P165 “… truth has its time. If you tell someone the truth before they’re ready to hear it, you can push them further away no matter how well intentioned you might be.”