Noted communicator and Christian media star Rob Bell is on the move with his “Everything Is Spiritual” tour.

Having left a wildly “successful” ministry in the church, Bell’s is a voice to which those of us who continue to labour in more traditional expressions of corporate Christian faith need to listen.

Bell recently sat down with Catherine Woodiwiss at Sojourners for an interview that can be viewed at: https://sojo.net/articles/rob-bell-talks-spirituality-science-oprah-and-pure-joy#sthash.wTXbTg0w.dpuf\

In the course of their conversation Bell makes a telling comment that points to a serious potential dead-end faced by the church. Woodiwiss asks,

What can the corporate church learn from this spiritual hunger and from some of the things you’re discussing here?

Bell responds,

That people can smell from a mile away whether this is authentically, naturally flowing out of the lives of their leaders or not. A lot of systems are inoculated against actual growth. If the pastor were to have a new thought, she would be fired, because it’s not in line with the party line — there’s such deep propaganda.

There is a danger that institutional expressions of Christian faith crush the creative leadership that is their only hope for the future. When new initiatives are squashed because they do not fit “with the party line,” the future of the church is in jeopardy. When we govern by “propaganda” rather than Spirit, we have reached a dead-end.

Bell goes on to articulate the challenge he sees for pastors saying,

The thing about being a pastor is you get to join people in their most poignant moments of suffering. So you see lots and lots of heartbreaking things that have no answer. And it breaks you. So you … become bitter and cynical and just sort of forget it

When any community resists change and new ways of embodying the faith of Christ, bitterness and cynicism for leaders is one of the most likely outcomes. The stifling air of convention, familiarity, and “the way we have always done things,” is the death-knell of the church.

But Bell holds out the hope that there could be an alternative to bitterness and cynicism.

— or something within you pushes through to the other side and you realize just how holy and sacred and extraordinary it is that we have even today.

Jesus “pushed through to the other side” when he walked into the temple of his belief system and

began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. (Mark 11:15)

Jesus identified and overturned the obstacles the faith community had enshrined that were inhibiting people from experiencing the “holy and sacred and extraordinary.”

When the church clings to forms and structures that prevent people from finding the “holy and sacred and extraordinary” in our midst, we should not be surprised if spiritual seekers go off in search of these qualities in other places. The urge for the “holy and sacred and extraordinary” has not died. But institutional churches that resist adapting to the new realities in peoples’ lives may not be places in which it is likely those people will look any longer for a renewal of their awareness of the divine at work in all of life.

We must be willing to ask what we in the church may need to let go of in order to become again a place in which people may be inclined to seek the “holy and sacred and extraordinary.”  The things we are unwilling to let Jesus overturn, create an unbridgeable gap between the existing church and future generations of spiritual seekers.

Rob Bell warns the church that

Any system where people can’t actually grow and evolve and change and transform
will be left behind as people with a genuine spiritual hunger begin to find new ways of embodying their spiritual journey. We in the traditional church must open up or we will find that our churches continue to be shut up.  Future generations will not mourn the loss of Christian communities that refuse to respond to the real spiritual needs of our day.
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