I’m talking to a friend of mine at Panera Bread, a bakery café that has become my office. Panera’s has great coffee and pastries, and free wifi. But the best part of Panera’s is that the young ladies who work here give me free coffee! So, I arrive at 6:00 AM when they open and sit with my laptop, reading emails and writing, and frequently spend about fifteen minutes in conversation with my friend, Dennis.
Dennis is a former pastor, a committed Christian, and serves as the administrator of a local Christian school. An intellectual to the core, he always challenges my thinking and informs me of the latest, best books to add to my library.
Today, Dennis is contemplative … more so than usual. He sits down and says, “I am spiritually and intellectually lonely.” Once again, through circumstances we won’t go into here, he has come to the conclusion that the Christian church is irrelevant to his spiritual pilgrimage; irrelevant and ultimately detrimental. This is a profoundly difficult conclusion to draw for someone who has given their life to the institution.
My spirit resonates with Dennis’. I, too, am “spiritually and intellectually lonely.” And I wonder how many more of us are out there?
George Barna in Revolution notes that some 20 million people have left the church … and that number is growing.
Why? Why are they leaving and why do they have such a dim view of the established church? Well, I’ve been part of that system for more than twenty years and I can tell you what most in the church will conclude: These people are out of God’s will and living in rebellion; they are backsliders, and as soon as they rededicate themselves to Christ they will again see the importance and vitality of a local church.
Not so, counters Barna. These people are committed Christ-followers. They want to facilitate their spirituality, not neglect it. They have left the church looking for more of God, not less. Their experience in the church has left them “intellectually and spiritually lonely” and they have set out to find what in their hearts they know to be a reality … a vital faith.
Maybe you feel the same way my friend Dennis and I do … or maybe you’ve begun to wonder about your faith. As I see it, you have two choices: get busier with your church activity so that you don’t have time for contemplation and reflection, so busy that you don’t notice the growing emptiness in your soul. If you choose this option, get ready for those quiet moments just before you fall asleep at night when your restless spirit gets your attention and reminds you just how “spiritually and intellectually lonely” you are.
Or, you could decide to acknowledge your longings, affirm your questions, release your presuppositions and embark on a journey of discovery. What have you got to lose?