I have few influences greater than Donald Miller, both inside my “real life” and out. His works have certainly impacted me as a writer; you could’ve played a drinking game with all my Donald Miller references in Struggle Central (drinking milk, of course).
Beyond the mere sphere of writing, though, Donald Miller has impacted my very life. I owe much of my California journey to Through Painted Deserts, and meeting him at Storyline last fall was such a thrill.
Donald Miller is not new to controversy, and lately his blogs have taken some heat. The snowball started when he said he doesn’t connect with God through singing, further confessing that he doesn’t even attend church regularly. Connects with God and others elsewhere.
Needless to say, evangelical America pounced on him. A so-called “Christian” who doesn’t go to church? And an influential one at that?
I also probably would’ve blasted Donald Miller a decade ago, good little Christian though miserable little church-goer I was.
Well, I think I’m kinda with Donald Miller on this. I think I hate going to church, too.
Before delving any further, here are the three Donald Miller posts in question. He also did a fantastic Relevant Magazine video-interview to clear the mess:
I love the interview’s sarcastic start: “Don … what’s your problem with the Church, man?”
Y’all should definitely watch the entire interview. It’s worth it. As for this post, I’m going to focus on his three lovely blogs.
Going to Church: Are We Stalking Jesus?
For over twenty years, I went to church because my parents made me or because I felt I “should” even though my relationship with Jesus went nowhere. Forget that I also attended church disconnected and alone for most of those years.
Donald Miller described the endless tedium of going to church as such:
My friend Bob Goff says when we study somebody without getting to know them, it’s called stalking. Bob says Jesus is getting creeped out that we keep stalking him. He’d like us to bond with him in the doing.
I think Bob Goff needs to write a book called Stalking Jesus and sell a bazillion copies. I’d never thought about going to church as Jesus-stalking, but gosh, that fits.
It doesn’t fit for everyone, I realize. But for some, it does. That stalking image certainly fit me all through high school.
Isn’t it inane and borderline sad to attend church week after week only to see and hear of Jesus without actually seeing Him, knowing Him, doing stuff with Him?
So, let’s start there: stalking Jesus is not good. I would not recommend that sort of church for anyone.
Going to Church: Do You Like Singing?
Unlike Donald Miller, I certainly do connect with God through song. I’ve always thought this odd, considering I’m not musical. However, I once spoke with a musical person who said he connects more with God through sermons than singing. So, maybe I’m not that odd.
After high school, I branched away from my parents and found a church with awesome worship music. I loved it. After years of mindless ritual, I finally started connecting with God at church.
I just didn’t connect with God’s people at church.
Going to Church: More Than a Building?
Two years ago, I almost gave up on church. I’d moved to California and had been church-hopping for over a year. I was weary. I couldn’t do it anymore. I decided to give one more place a try. Turns out that was the magical place destined for me all along.
I loved the music.
I found a life group.
I got baptized with my life group.
I came out to my life group.
I hung out with my life group beyond our weekly meetings.
I loved my life group.
This was church, I realized. Not a building. Not an offering basket or rows of candles. Not even a message and amazing music.
People. Church was people.
I suppose I’ve “known” this simple truth my whole life. But I’ve always followed the “truth” with: “Yeah, butttt every Christian should still go to church.”
Yeah, butttt why?
Why do we “have” to go to church if that’s not even what church is? What does Jesus even have to say about going to church? Anything?
Going to Church: Are We Powerful?
In writing about church, Donald Miller also spoke about power and agency and how Jesus wants to work with us to “do stuff,” as Bob Goff would say. But are pastors and priests and popes the only ones who hold spiritual “authority”? Is that why we “need” church? Because we need them?
Is it sacrilegious that Donald Miller and his friends held communion with hot chocolate and cookies in a barn? What about the story where he baptized his friend under a waterfall despite not being any sort of “important church person”?
Two years ago, I received some unexpected reactions to my own unconventional baptism. “Oh…” read one text upon learning of my water park baptismal. When I told another that my un-ordained 24-year-old life group leader would be dunking me, I received an in-person eyebrow-raise.
But why? Why are we all so unsettled by the thought of church beyond a Sunday steeple?
Can’t baptisms and communion and singing and community happen outside Sunday, outside a building, outside Americanized rituals?
Why can’t “church” be people singing or not singing, inside or outside? Or painting together? Or watching Breaking Bad? Or serving the homeless? Or dancing? Or taking communion? Or baptizing one of their own at a water park on a Tuesday night without a pastor in sight?
Like Donald Miller explains, I don’t doubt that many find genuine community by going to church. It is how I originally found my life group, after all. I realize going to church can be a solid “starting point” for Christian community.
As circumstances have devolved in my life, though, I just don’t like going to church anymore. Maybe I’m not supposed to; maybe I was never supposed to. Maybe I’m also a kinesthetic learner like my hero.
Maybe it’s better to live church than attend it.
What are your thoughts on going to church? Do you feel obligated, or do you enjoy going to church? How do you experience “church” outside of church?