Yesterday, Dad discussed the three kinds of people “lost”to the church (outlined by David Kinnaman in You Lost Me): Nomads, Prodigals and Exiles. Some quick definitions: nomads are people who have drifted away from church, but still consider themselves Christian, prodigals have outright rejected Christianity in favor of another religion or no religion, and exiles are people who may not fit in with their church community, but have a heart for practicing their faith out in the real world and in everyday life.
At times I have been a nomad, and others an exile. Because of my dad’s work in undergraduate and later graduate ministry, I’ve always had a model for Christian life both in the university world (and the real world careers beyond) and the church world. I tended to favor the former, enjoying trips up north to Cedar Campus, and later manuscript study and hour long expositions of scripture by thoughtful and in depth readers of the Bible. Faith and religion were something that could be approached with the same rigor as other fields of study.
But my traditional church experiences varied widely. Since I was five years old I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with my parent’s church. One consequence of summers spent up north, was that for years I missed the youth camps at Camp Bethany, and subsequently had a harder time fitting in with a tight knit crowd of people. I craved the same deeper experience of faith that I’d been shown in Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, but instead was served lighter fair that perhaps took a single Bible verse as inspiration, but then talked largely through illustrations that had little to do with life.
This is not to say that IVCF was perfect for me. By the time I got to college and actually joined an undergrad group of my own, I had a tougher time fitting in there as well. Some of this was an early emphasis on building leaders which I felt some pressure to participate in because of my Dad’s role on staff (none of that pressure was coming from him by the way), and some was the unusual makeup of this particular chapter. Because of this, and later a relationship that separated me from church and family for a couple of years, my first few years of college were spent thinking of myself as a Christian, but doing little to build my relationship with God. Choosing to end a destructive relationship, and being invited to reorient myself back toward God through another college ministry led to the series of events that now has me taking a more active role in my parent’s church, and also resulted in my meeting my wife.
I’ve been fortunate throughout that my parents have provided both a model and encouragement for practicing faith both through writing and through my profession. I’m doubly fortunate to have a pastor now who has a real heart for the community, for society, and for exploring ideas deeply. But I’ve seen the desire for Christians to withdraw within their own community, to reject the pop culture and music of today’s society, and while I haven’t experienced a lot of first hand questioning of my more mainstream desires of writing, I know it’s out there*.
I do feel we are called to practice our faith in all aspects of our life, to live and breathe scripture. How we do that can vary widely, an sometimes is as small as being a good example, of practicing love toward others rather than judgment. I’ve met many Christians who practice this in real life and am grateful for their example. I agree with the sentiment (repeated by Kinnaman) of us needing to be “in but not of” the world. At times I have been “of but not in” the church, and I do think that many of my generation are inclined toward a more non-denominational, or even non-organized religion stance. I still find little particular value in denominational differences and doctrines, what Dad might call “Jesus and”, but this is probably a subject for a whole other discussion.
Has your experience of faith put you in exile in your church community?
*You can read more of my thoughts on not being a Christian Writer, here.