By Pam Hrncir, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
” thoroughly enjoyed How to Be a Christian without Going to Church. This book helped me begin to sort out the conflicting feelings I have about church. On the one hand, because of the institutional church, I came into contact with people who reached out to me and helped shape my faith. On the other hand, “going to church” is not meeting my needs to deepen my faith, build meaningful spirit filled relationships, or help me serve my community. More and more it appeared I could do more for my community by serving outside the church. Even writing “outside the church” is problematic. There should be no “inside” or “outside” the church. Our faith and understanding of faith ideally should be seamlessly integrated with our daily lives and community.
Kelly Bean affirms that I am not alone in my struggle with church and my faith. There are many, many people searching and wondering. Bean has done extensive research, quotes many authors (my book list is even longer now), and gives great examples of what Christians are doing instead of going to church. While reading her book, I kept thinking “how do I find one of these communities? How do I find people like me asking the same questions?” It is her epilogue that got me really excited as she envisioned what “if churches became home bases for many micro-communities of practice scattered around in neighborhoods and public spaces” (226). Her idea of using the church as a home base would help us to connect one another. The church becomes the hub of a network of faith-based communities. What if the church evolves from being a Sunday destination into a daily presence networking various groups to meet community needs insuring justice and dignity for all people?
One of the most important questions Bean asks and explores is “What the heck does the world need the church to be in this time?” (35) I have heard people say “how do we save the church?” or “how do we fix the problem of people not coming to church?” Bean passionately makes the case that the church needs to shift from “saving” and “fixing” the church to listening and responding to God’s call on the church at this point in time. What is happening to mainline church as we know it is not a problem but instead it is a transformation.
Bean understands that this transformation to “being church” rather than “being in church” does not mean abandoning “history, tradition, theology and doctrine (which) will serve as gate keepers and guides…Stories and traditions are containers to help carry us forward as we are part of the continuous story of church history” (36). Our past informs our future.
The final thing that impresses me about Kelly Bean is her honesty and transparency about her journey. Not just about her faith but also the personal problems her family has faced. She emphasized that her family was able to get through difficult times because of their faith community. Life is messy. Faith does not insulate us from life’s messes. Faith and community give us the means to discover redemption and reconciliation. We need to remember that our own struggles and faith journey can be used by God to reach out to others.
How to Be a Christian without Going to Church affirms that all my doubts and questions about God, the bible, doctrine are to be embraced and explored as the Holy Spirit will use my doubts and questions to mature my faith and reveal how to live out my faith in this world. Kelly Bean’s book has rekindled my passion.