In 2003, I read “Blue Like Jazz,” the book that has become somewhat of a classic among disenfranchised evangelicals. It was my first encounter with Don Miller. Since then, Miller has written extensively and gone from fringe to popular culture, from Portland Pubs to Catalyst stage.
I’ve always admired his candor. I’ve given away many copies of Blue Like Jazz and at times made it required reading for staff. I preface all this because I’m a BIG Don Miller fan.
Recently, he wrote a blog post that got quite a lot of traction online. (Read it here.) He basically spoke of not attending church much, but communing with God in nature.
As usual, I resonate with the feeling. I increasingly am finding it hard to connect with God through singing. I’ve written about why I think the word worship is wrongly associated with singing. (another post). The things that I enjoy about going to church, even the extended times of praise, times of corporate and personal prayer times “at the altar”- if you know what that is- are being swallowed by 3 kids sometimes in 3 different ministry areas who need to be picked up and corralled. The sermons are sometimes engaging, sometimes, well, sort of repetitive.
There are 3 main issues I have with Miller’s thoughtful post, 1 practical and 2 theological.
1. Miller claims that he and other influential Christian leaders he know don’t regularly attend church. I’ll bet that those he is hanging out with are much like him. Either newly married or unmarried, and certainly don’t have kids they are trying to raise in the faith.
I do daily devotions with my kids. We try to instill in them our faith. But the local church has been a lifeline in that effort. We don’t pass the responsibility off to their teachers and the curriculum. But in the mammoth job of raising children to know and understand Jesus, some help along the way is critical. It’s why we’ve begun going to a Sunday night prayer service with the whole family. My kids need the community of faith and the lessons that come from being in those large and small gatherings.
I would love to commune with God and my fishing rod on Sunday mornings. Or engage with the spiritual majesty of the wonder of God in nature. But I’ve got 3 kids. And they will connect with God that way too. Consistently though, I want them having solid voices of other adults in their lives, helping lead them along the path to faith in Christ. Miller does great work with fatherless. he sounds like he’d be an awesome teacher for 5th grade boys. I know my 5th grade teacher touched my life.
2. The biggest problem I have with Miller’s statement is that same problem I have with the language that has unconsciously taken over the Christian movement worldwide. In current streams, we
*go to church
*join a church
*leave a church
*build a church
So you either are “in church” or you are “out of church.” You attend church or you don’t currently attend.
Which is a totally unbiblical way of looking at the issue. You cannot attend church. You are the church. The “ecclesia,” the community of faith in Christ, is what the movement is. Church is a group of followers of Christ together.
Don Miller can stop going to a certain expression of the local gathering. But anytime he and other believers get together, he is “going to church.” My fear with those who are not intentionally engaged in real community is that we can hide so easily and celebrate so little.
Finally, my last thought based on having lived in cultures that don’t have a similar worldview. But Miller’s approach is perhaps for the mature believer. It is also dangerous, because it borders on pantheism, that God is everywhere and in everything, at the same time and in the same way. Which, I know Miller doesn’t endorse. (BTW, I really wish I could call him Don, but I don’t know him as a friend, though I think he’d be a guy I got along well with.) God is known by nature, but that is more what theologians call “general revelation.” God reveals himself specifically in his word, and through his people. I don’t know much about God, but I am learning. And if I’m honest, I learn most from other people. Often when I’m serving.
The first time I read Blue Like Jazz, I wasn’t sure where Don Miller was on his faith journey. Yet still i resonated deeply with his writing. I still do. I’ll just take a wait and see, when maybe he’s had kids for a few years. And if he’d give me the chance, I’d like to be his friend. And together, we’d BE the church at that place in that moment.
let me know what you think over on our FB page.