Last night I had the opportunity to hear Bill Lobdell speak, promoting his new book, Losing My Religion. Bill is a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a born-again Christian who lost his faith while covering the Religion beat.
To understand his journey, you should first read his personal story, an eye-opening account written for the Times and posted in its entirety here. Bill became a believer at a local mega-church, and believed he was performing an incredible service as an investigative journalist – covering horrific stories of molestation by priests in the Catholic church, and scams and outright lies perpetrated by organizations such as TBN. For his efforts, he received mountains of hate mail, and Christians who denounced this fellow believer as “Satan.”
During the Q & A, Bill was unfailingly respectful of the Church. He was almost reluctant to criticize, other than for the glaring failures mentioned above. He did mention that he felt the mega-church teachings “weren’t deep” and clarified that for him personally, it wasn’t corruption in the church that caused his faith to waiver, “it was the lack of personal holiness.” There was simply no accountability in the leadership of these organizations.
I’m afraid “a lack of personal holiness” may be the tragic legacy of the waning mega-church. We’ve been so focused on collecting converts, “I believes,” butts-in-seats and other numbers that we’ve utterly failed at teaching people the hard work of discipleship. We’ve sent thousands of people out into the tempestuous sea of life without any oars, or even the knowledge that they’re required to row. Discipleship is hard. It’s not ever going to be popular.
In an editorial in my local paper a pastor wrote of Lobdell, “You can’t lose what you never had.” This is the trite, simplistic, and dismissive viewpoint of some believers threatened by the thought of someone choosing to give up their faith. But the challenge is, if people like this “never really had it,” what church will be accountable for “never really teaching it”? You can’t count them in your impressive number of converts, and then discount them for not really getting it, as thought that’s somehow their fault.
I realize this is long and, um… passionate. I think I’m writing from conviction. Meaning, I’m convicted. While I haven’t yet read his book, Lobdell is obviously a gifted writer, and I’d recommend it based on his warm and balanced attitude in general. It’s really a valuable, eye-opening experience to be able to see the exact things you cherish from another person’s entirely different perspective.