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Dear Church Dear Church
Letters from a Disillusioned Generation

Sarah Cunningham
ISBN 031026958X (9780310269588)
Zondervan, 2006

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith

On Sunday 20th August I read part of this book to the congregation at our church, St Matthew's, Yiewsley. It's a book that, I think, deserves to be widely read, exploring the issues behind why there seem to be so few people in the twentysomething age group in most churches.

The author, a young woman in her twenties, presents us with a series of letters — call them love letters — addressed to the Church at large, in which she struggles to come to terms with her own and her generation's disillusionment with Church. As she writes she realises that the source of the problem — the reason she feels let down by the Church — is people... people like you and me, and yes, she admits, people like herself... because we don't live up to the standards we proclaim.

It's hard hitting stuff, which for me came as a direct blow to my heart, forcing me to look at my own life and ask, "Lord, am I a barrier to the Gospel message? Is my life standing in the way, driving people away from you instead of drawing them to you?" I find myself haunted by the words of Gandhi: "I love your Christ. It's his people I can't stand: they are so unlike him." Even as I write this I have to keep stopping as my eyes fill with tears and I can't see what I'm typing...

There are many, of course, whose lives shine as bright testimonies to the power of the Gospel, people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus, wonderful people who show the rest of us the way it should be. This book is for you, too, as one of the letters — Letter 9, "The Best Dirt I've Ever Eaten"— consists of a series of apologies written to you on behalf of the rest of us... open-hearted apologies to church leaders, to church leaders' families, to volunteers, to every church member, for the unrealistic expectations we've placed on you, for the pressures we've put on you. The only thing I would add to the apologies offered is, quite simply, my own: I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?

None of us is perfect and perhaps some of us have allowed our outlook to become jaded... perhaps we've allowed bitterness and cynicism, like poisonous roots, to grow in our hearts... If that's you, please join me in praying for forgiveness and healing. We have a God who longs to forgive and his heart is open, offering forgiveness to us... forgiveness that flows freely from him to us to others and around again and again, an inexhaustible river of love. Open your heart to him and let it flow.

And if you are amongst those who feel disillusioned with church, who feel let down and disappointed because the church doesn't live up to it's own standards: all I can say is, please don't walk away. We, like you, are only human. But if you do walk away from us, please, please don't walk away from Jesus. He's not a magician who will make all your problems go away, and I'm sorry if we have ever portrayed him like that. But if you'll let him, he will walk alongside you, face your problems with you and give you strength to face another day.

So then, whether you're a person who's disillusioned with church or a person who's brimming with enthusiasm for it, this is a book that, in my opinion, has something to say to you. Each chapter ends with a series of discussion questions: rather than just buy one for yourself, why not encourage a friend — or even a group of friends — to buy one too, then get together and work through the questions?

Phil Groom, August 2006

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

Previously published by St Matthew's Church, Yiewsley. Reused here by kind permission. meet the author, download an excerpt, write your own letter to the church...

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