It can be difficult sometimes here at Outside-the-Camp — my name for the location of all of us (a growing number) who belong to Christ and want to serve Him and His people, but can find no home in the institutions of American Christianity. (See Hebrews 13:13 for the source of the name.)
Not that I don’t see the pluses of my current location. For one, it’s where I believe God has specifically called me for the time being, so that’s big. There’s a great freedom involved — to seek Him wherever and whenever, to fellowship with Christians of all stripes, to do whatever one believes He wishes — without having to worry about the pressure of those who’d rather criticize others than follow themselves. I no longer have to sit through two hours (or more) of religious observances every Sunday that bear little or no relation to Jesus’ call to love God and our neighbor — that in fact give little opportunity to interact with, let alone love, either one — or really anything else in the Bible. When God told me to stop seeking a home in an institutional congregation, it allowed me to leave a LOT of burdens behind.
But sometimes I do miss being part of the crowd. It’s only natural; I did spend twenty years after giving my life to Jesus (and a dozen or so before that) in that crowd, doing pretty much what everyone else was doing. That’s bound to have an effect. Not to mention all the messages heard over the years about how we needed to be committed to the “local church,” to be “in fellowship,” to bring my tithes “into the storehouse of God,” and so forth. (I’m not using those quotes ironically; those were the actual phrases I heard from the congregational leaders over and over again.) All that preys on my mind, and every so often I wonder if maybe I’ve missed the boat and should get “plugged in” (lovely term, that — makes me sound like a home appliance) to an institutional group again.
And then something comes along that reminds me why I’m far better off spiritually where God has me, on the outside. In the most recent case, it was an e-mail that ran only one line …
I’ll refrain from naming the author of the epic that landed in our inbox a couple of weeks ago — suffice to say it was the head of the Sunday school department at a congregation my wife used to attend. Nina stopped going five months ago when she realized that the “ministry” in which the congregation’s leadership was engaged was adding nothing to hers or our daughter’s spiritual lives, while at the same time was also giving them very little opportunity to minister. A month before that, Nina had stepped away from teaching once a month in children’s Sunday school, having lobbied fruitlessly for over a year for the chance to do it more often. (That’s right — the congregation’s leadership wanted her to minister LESS than she desired, even though she’s been a devoted believer for over 15 years and works as a school teacher.)
Anyway, the e-mail was entitled “lessons and scedule”. Here are its contents — nothing has been changed; I just copied and pasted it:
pleast come by the large porable between services or after 2ed service you decide your lessons and scedule are ready to be picked up
That was it, the whole thing.
There’s so much to unpack from that one line, once you know the context. For one, just look at the thing. In less than 25 words, the author managed about a dozen misspellings and grammatical/punctuation/capitalization errors. He makes it obvious that either he doesn’t care about making his communication clear and accurate, or he doesn’t know how. And this is a Sunday school superintendent! I’m left to wonder how well he can handle the Word of God when he can’t even use a period or spell “please.” Or just doesn’t try. (Yes, I know there are many backwoods pastors who do a wonderful job of ministering despite a third-grade education. This isn’t one of those guys, and Stockton isn’t the backwoods. Besides, when my daughter was in third grade, she knew when to capitalize and use a period.)
But the messenger’s possible functional illiteracy isn’t the big problem. The big problem is that when this came to us, Nina didn’t need to pick up any lessons or a “scedule.” She was no longer a Sunday school teacher. She hadn’t been one in five and a half months. She hadn’t set foot on the congregation’s property in four and a half months, let alone dropped by the “porable.” (He meant the portable building where children’s Sunday school is held. At least, I think that’s what he meant …) She had not attended one of the services there since October.
And one of the leaders of the congregation, one who had previously been her supervisor regarding Sunday school, hadn’t even noticed she was gone.
What does that say about the leadership’s concern for the state of my wife’s soul, that this person of position never realized that she was no longer part of the congregation he’s supposedly responsible for? What does it say about their attention to the details of their ministry, that her name was still on their mailing list months after she resigned? What does it say about their entire concept of “fellowship” or “relationship” that this one line of mangled and inapplicable instructions is the only communication she has received in the last five months from someone who no doubt claims to be her “brother in Christ”?
If that is what Jesus has in mind for His body, His representatives on Earth until his return, then I’m the emir of Abu Dhabi. What this person displayed was not just the exact opposite of fellowship and pastoral concern (not to mention good e-mail management and proper English). It is a perfect illustration of why my lovely and compassionate wife, an intensely social person, simply gave up on both that congregation and the entire institutional religious system, threw up her hands in frustration and walked away.
She’ll never abandon Christ, I’m sure, not even at gunpoint. But the system of religious nonsense and time-wasting that occupies much of the American church is not Christ, and frankly has nothing to do with Him. She’s abandoned that, just as the folks who are devoted to that system (even at the expense of the people Jesus came to save) have abandoned her.
One final note: with Nina’s approval I did respond to the e-mail, with one line of my own:
Please remove us from your mailing list. Thank you.
I didn’t bother adding mine or my wife’s name. Why bother — they don’t know us anyway …