An Olive Branch for Spiritual but Irreligious People


This post is an olive branch to folks who want little or nothing to do with the institutional church. Consider it a peace offering from religious to irreligious people.

When I say, “irreligious,” I’m thinking to anyone who says or thinks the following:

“I love Jesus, but not the church.”
“I’m spiritual, but not religious.”
“I’m into God’s Kingdom, not the institutional church.”

If this fits you (or anyone you know), please keep reading.

Full Disclosure

Since this post is semi-randomly coursing through the Internet, many readers don’t know who I am. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m deeply embedded in the institutional church. An ordained Lutheran minister, I’ve served the past twelve years in the denominational bureaucracy.

I realize this could easily cause you to dismiss this post. Please don’t. I witness, sometimes daily, some of the issues you have with the institutional church. It gives me a certain appreciation of your point of view.

Common Ground

More importantly, we share some common ground. I’m unabashedly “Generation X.” Our generation was the first to abandon en-mass institutional loyalty. Institutional trust is a foreign concept, an artifact of days long passed.

I’m also a political Independent. There is a price to pay for political free agency. In most states, we can’t vote in primary elections. There is also a benefit. It provides a connecting point with religiously unaffiliated people.

At my core, I believe Christianity is about relationships. It’s about Jesus bringing people into a personal relationship with God. It’s about God teaching us how to experience healthy relationships with each other. As we learn to love God and love one another, we learn to love people outside our communities.

Shared Beliefs

  • I’ve found Jesus is still hugely popular with spiritual people. This drives some of my fellow church folks bat crazy. Personally, I resonate with what attracts irreligious people to Jesus.
  • Jesus took an alternative path into ministry (Mark 1:9-15).
  • Jesus stood up to the religious establishment (Matthew 21:12-13).
  • Jesus’ best known sermon wasn’t delivered in a synagogue, but proclaimed on a hillside (Matthew chapter 5).
  • Jesus had radical teaching for his day (John 8:58-59).
  • Jesus stood on his principles (John 6:60-66).
  • Jesus sacrificed everything for his beliefs and convictions (Mark 15:37-39).

I can see how one could equate the religious leaders of Jesus’ day with religious leaders today. By taking a stand against the institutional church, you may feel you’re simply following the example given by Jesus. More on this later.

My Story

Given these confessions, it’s fair to ask why I remain in the institutional church. The answer is Jesus.

There was a season when I didn’t attend a church, but did participate in a weekly small group. This forced me to look at Jesus for who he is, not as I was taught by a church or pastor.

I was already on board with Jesus as an outsider when we started reading through the Gospels. The more I read, the more I developed a nagging sense I was missing something. It took a while, but I finally put my finger on it.

The light came on reading Luke chapter four. In this chapter, Jesus is in synagogues four separate times. We’re even told this was Jesus’ regular practice (verse 16). In Jesus’ day, synagogues were very much like local churches.

How could the great counter-cultural leader go to church every week? I tracked down Jesus’ teaching related to the institutional church. It was soon clear that Jesus’ core teaching about fulfilling the law (Matthew 22:34-40) was a summary of the Ten Commandments.

I was confronted with Jesus not only participating in church, but teaching people to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, a day of sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:3).

As Jesus’ went through his public ministry, he was increasingly conflicted with religious leaders. Yet at the very end, Jesus was still in leading traditional Jewish worship (Matthew 26:18).

I could no longer separate loving Jesus from participating in a church. If I loved Jesus, I would follow his commands (John 14:15). Going forward I would be spiritual and religious, an advocate of the Kingdom and the congregation.

Worth Considering

I penned this post because there are far too many icy relationships between religious and irreligious people. Those of us who participate in churches too readily write off or confront people who see no value in organized religion.

It’s my hope that, if you are spiritual or irreligious, you have a better understanding of why some of us participate in the institutional church. More importantly, this will move you will take a fresh look at Jesus.

If you want to dialogue, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

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