“So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore,” by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman (Jake Colsen–pseudonym). Published 2006 by Windblown Media. This review refers to the paperback edition.
So pastor Gary has been passing this book around the church for awhile now, and if you’ve read it before, you’re probably thinking to yourself that this is an odd book for a pastor to pass around his church! You would be right. I doubt that many pastors in our culture would be at all comfortable with what this book has to say. I know a few of the people in our church who have read it and don’t feel very happy about it. When I put the title of the book into Google to find an image for this post, I was not surprised to see that one of the suggested searches for this book was “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore HERESY.” Well, I didn’t dive into that, because I can well imagine some of the issues that folks might have with this book.
But what did I think about it?
Well first off, let me tell you a bit about the book. It’s a fiction book, a story. It’s not a topical study on why people don’t want to go to church anymore. Honestly I think the fact that it is just a story helps it make it’s points better in the long run. At any rate, it’s the story of a pastor named Jake who has become disillusioned with his life and role at church. The story is written in first person from his perspective. One day Jake happens to run into a man that he comes to believe is John, of the original 12 disciples. Over the course of about four years, Jake has 13 conversations with John that end up challenging many of his basic assumptions about church and Christian life. During these 4 years, Jake has a falling out with the senior pastor at his church, is eventually fired from his associate pastor type job, runs into major financial difficulty, and almost loses his daughter before things start to get better for him. John helps him keep his eye on Jesus and his trust and dependence in God through all of it.
The basic point of the book is this: if you’re using any kind of church, whether it’s a megachurch, your local congregation, or even a house church to substitute for a real, personal relationship with Jesus Christ then you’re probably going to eventually find yourself unsatisfied. Taken to the extreme, the institution of church can almost become an idol, something that is worshiped and used to meet your needs other than Jesus. It would be easy to suggest that this book is clearly anti-church, and anti-organized religion, and to be fair, the book spends most of it’s time outlining some of the things that can, and do, often go wrong in these settings. However, John makes a point on a couple of occasions to say that he still believes that God uses traditional churches and people in them for his purpose, and if you believe otherwise you’re limiting God. He also explains to Jake how if he’s not careful, a house church can take on the same shortcomings of the traditional church setting. The question is this: is your priority walking with God and living with him, or is it in the obligations we so often associate with Church? As John says toward the end of the book, discipleship comes before community.
I agree with that premise. I think you can be a Christian and never darken the door of a traditional church. However, I think the more God works in you, and the more you learn to walk in him, the more you will probably want to share that walk with others. Still, it probably doesn’t mean you have to be involved in a big church and be on a specified number of committees. Jesus says himself in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” (NIV). Church can happen anywhere. You don’t even need to have a formal order of worship or Bible exposition. In one of the last couple of chapters John mentions that Church is happening right in Jake’s own backyard, with people gathered together, having fun and fellowship, and experiencing life together. In short, it was fulfilling and there was nothing artificial about it.
Now, there were a couple of things that I didn’t really like about the book. A pretty big miracle occurs during one of the crises that Jake is in that solves a problem for him. To me it seemed like that didn’t really fit in with what the author was driving at in the rest of the book. Yes, we believe that God provides, but I wonder if someone reading that while going through a similar situation wouldn’t feel a little betrayed if they didn’t get the same miracle to solve their issue. Or would they perhaps feel like they were still doing something wrong if they weren’t given the miracle? So I guess to me the book seemed to peddle a bit of a theme that “eventually everything will come up roses for you as long as you walk with Jesus in this way.” I don’t think that’s true, nor do I think Jesus promises that in the slightest. Now to be fair, I might be reading more into than the author intended, but that particular theme didn’t sit well with me.
I also thought the book was probably a couple of chapters too long. To me, it felt like the last few chapters were largely just rambling over points that had already been made in the story. That’s when it got kind of “preachy” feeling.
The book is a good story and a pretty unique idea. It’s also a pretty quick read for the most part. I don’t know that it’s a life changer for anybody, but then again, maybe it doesn’t need to be. It will certainly challenge some of your beliefs about church and organized religion, and whether you agree with the premise or not, examining your beliefs is always a good exercise.