This is an old article, written by Rob McAlpine in 2003, which describes the process of detoxing from church. He looks at the outcomes of what can sometimes be a lengthy healing process, and demonstrates how for some Christians it can be an essential part of their journey to maturity in Christ.
For brevity’s sake, I’ve only quoted some worthwhile extracts, but the entire article is worth a look.
Brian McLaren, in his widely-read book “A New Kind of Christian”, has a small section in the prologue which details the progression from recognizing there is something not quite right with church as we’ve known it, going through a tunnel of disillusionment and disconnection, and finally emerging into a period of renewed vision for re-constructing.
In describing what I just referred to as a “tunnel of disillusionment and disconnection”, McLaren observes:
“An individual or group in this phase turns against the old paradigm and can’t stop talking about how wrong, inhumane, or insupportable it is.” (A New Kind of Christian, page xi)
It is this part of the process that I’ve labeled “detox” – the period of time where individuals and groups go through an intense season of feeling betrayed, confined, and to a degree, deceived by their previous participation in a church system that they no longer find attractive, healthy, spiritually invigorating, or even biblical. They can’t help but vocalize their disillusionment, and finding many people with the same feelings, they begin to realize that the problem isn’t just them and their opinion. And with the popularity and easy access of the Internet, they find many others on the journey, with the same pain, and with the same dreams.
It is during this part of the process – an extremely necessary part, in my view – that much of the current animosity between disillusioned postmoderns and the churches (and leaders of the churches) that they’ve left can trace its roots. And it can get, quite frankly, ugly. Big time ugly.
But what if we can view this as a necessary process (call it a tunnel or whatever) which, once it runs its course, can actually produce maturity and life in people and groups? How can we work with the process and not against it?
Sometimes, the only way people can adequately detox themselves is to completely step outside the system- usually ending up in a home group or house church that is wrestling through similar questions of what church is supposed to look like, and feeling the same sense of disillusionment, and even animosity towards, what some derisively call “institutional” churches.
It is important to remind everyone that at the bottom of this whole sense of detox are people who are in love with Jesus, and who want to be a part in the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. If they didn’t care, there would be no issues. They wouldn’t be upset. They would either leave altogether, and never again seek out fellowship with other believers, or they would passively go through the motions week after week and never give their spiritual state a second thought.
During my phone conversation with Bob Girard, one of the questions I had to ask was “after your church left its building behind, met only as house churches, and then completely ceased to exist four years later, what happened to the people?”
Bob related that, as far as he knew, all of the people ended up serving in a church, a para-church ministry, or in missions after they pulled the plug on the house churches. When I asked him if those same people viewed the 14 year history of their journey as a waste of time, or possibly even a mistake, he emphatically said that they felt that their journey together was absolutely crucial to their maturing as Christians.
Bob says that those he’s talked to have all mentioned that they now lead quite differently – with a much stronger expectation and practice of community and being Spirit-led – than they would have had they not gone through their journey with Bob and the church.
Perhaps the biggest task for established churches and newer, de-structured communities (house or coffeehouse), and individuals (like me) will be to remember that this is ultimately God’s thing. It’s His Bride we’re talking about here. God is fully aware of the state the Bride is in. He’s more proactive, loving, and desirous of Her being healthy and attractive than any of us are capable of being. The trap we need to avoid is to let this whole (very necessary) process of detoxing from inadequate models of church leadership and church structure to polarize and further divide the very Bride that we’re so longing to see come to maturity and health.
I think this is an interesting description of what many people go through. I like that Rob MacAlpine can see a good end to it, and recognises the time needed by many for healing, as well as the potential trap of longer term bitterness.
I suspect that forgiveness towards those we feel have offended us is one of the keys to detox, with God’s help where we feel it is too hard.