More and more people are just plain tired out from being a Christian. They feel a change in their world. They are uncomfortable about adapting. I think they are feeling a nostalgia for a time that may have never existed: “Christendom” — a time when the state and the church had some kind of joint rule of the society. (If it ever really worked like that, it was a LONG time ago). The privatization of the church accelerated after WW2 when science took over truth at government expense; now the day of the church being consulted about society is over. I am not sure I feel that nostalgia, since when I became a Christian I changed my allegiance to the Kingdom and didn’t worry about how I fit into the “public.” But a lot of people did not see their conversion like I did, so they are hurting. Here are some reasons they are tired — and why you might be tired of being a Christian, too.
Leaders are fighting to fill the post-Christian vacuum
Regardless of how it happened, the church as an institution in society is not as important as it used to be. (Of course we have always thought that being a mere institution under the umbrella of “society” was wrong anyway!). I celebrate the end of the unholy alliance — it marginalized Jesus and distorted the Gospel. But the end of it does leave a cultural vacuum – and a lot of Christians spend a lot of time getting sucked into the debates over ideas, theology, and the relationship between faith and a changing culture. If they are Americans, they tend to think their culture is crucial and their ideas extremely important. So their leaders talk about what to do now all the time (like I am) and get them to fight for the soul of nation (like I hope not to do). Conflict makes people tired. Any time there is some kind of cultural vacuum being flooded with a mixture of new and old ideas, there will be conflict. We hate conflict. It makes us tired — tired enough to switch on the tube and binge again — or something.
- Christian tribes are splintering and dying
Christians have been breaking off into tribes since the early days. Early disciples had debates about whether to follow Jesus or John the Baptist (John 1-3), Paul, Apollos or Peter (1 Cor. 3). 1500 years later the Church experienced the magisterial and radical reformations. Since that time, the Church has splintered off into somewhere around 40,000 denominations. Even broad categories such as “progressive” or “evangelical” even Mennonite are now seeing an emergence of splinter tribes who often shoot their own people for aberrant views. People tend to take their thinking from the present democratic philosophies about identity that is creating tinier subgroups every day which then get hardened by niche marketing. This leaves many people feeling like there’s no place where they can just exist and wrestle in emotional safety – most of the time they expect to get shot so they just become masters at hiding. It is tiring to be on the run.
- With another presidential campaign looming, despair is rising.
When the first presidential candidate officially kicked off the 2016 presidential cycle, some people wanted to cry. It seems like the last election just ended a few days ago. Some people care about this circus and some people decidedly don’t. The people in the middle get squeezed from both sides. Christians join right in with the quadrennial feast of lies and judgathons and judge, ostracize, and write-off other believers on the basis of which candidate they prefer. Politics married off to Jesus divides his people – the people called to live in unity and love. It is tiring to feel judged.
The current of Christless culture is getting stronger and most people are not used to swimming upstream.
One of my acquaintances posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Two days ago we were walking down 40th St and walking towards us is a young Dad and his maybe 6-7 year old daughter, and as we pass each other the little girl turns to me and says, “Hey sugar.” Then yesterday at work our customer’s special needs daughter told me I looked like Jesus Christ with tattoos. I don’t know what else to say besides, Yoga?” Hot AND beatific – and all due to Yoga. He was being funny (since he just started Yoga). But it is a new era.
Life in much of the Church was so tied to the old, modern culture that it was never counter to culture. Now that it is essentially excluded from hyper-modern culture, people don’t know what to do. They used to own the culture and bought the false belief that somehow Kingdom priorities were aligned with the priorities of empire. Not so. Passionate Jesus followers who want to live and be the words of Jesus are finding themselves at odds not only with much of the dominant culture, but at odds with the church, which has spent almost 1800 years trying to make the world work as part of the government. Counter cultural faith is beautiful – but it can be tiring. Most Christians don’t have much stamina built up for going against the current, in their brains, hearts or habits.
- Authentic, real-world relationships and community are hard to find… Virtuality doesn’t cut it. Consumerism is boring.
Being countercultural and at odds with both post-Christian culture and institutionalized church, leads to isolation all around. Some Jesus followers are finding churches who are doing wonderful Kingdom things and who are refusing to collude with empire (I hope we are one!). Others are not finding churches like that and have to settle for “online” community because they’re often ostracized from a local body of believers. Unfortunately, for whatever benefits one gets from an online community, they are hardly a replacement for real world, show-up-at-your-door-with-food relationships. Live this way long enough, and it’s a straight shot to Christian burnout.
Are you feeling like any of this? What are the things that are leading you to how you feel? What suggestions do you have for easing the trouble a radical Jesus follower might face?
[Much of this was suggested by Benjamin Corey]