I recently had a chance to interview Richard Jacobson about his first book and here it is:
Keith: Before we dive into your book, Unchurching, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Richard: Gladly! My name is Richard Jacobson. I’m an artist, author, and animator. I’m also a former full-time pastor. I gave up pastoring (at least professionally) once I realized today’s organized church model contradicts the descriptions of the early churches we read about in the Bible.
Keith: You say you gave up pastoring once you realized there was a contradiction between the churches described in the Bible and the churches we attend today. Can you go into a little more detail about that?
Richard: Well, the churches described in the Bible were simple Christian communities that functioned like extended spiritual families. Today’s churches, on the other hand, are corporations. I mean that quite literally. And from everything I’ve examined, the way a corporation functions is entirely at odds with the way a genuine spiritual community is supposed to function.
Keith: Could you give an example?
Richard: Corporations are based on organizational hierarchy. Specifically, in a church corporation, a few people at the top perform all the real ministry, and the people at the bottom are the recipients of that ministry. The clearest example is the Sunday morning sermon. A pastor or priest puts together a message that’s intended to inform and edify the rest of the church. On Sunday, the congregation gathers to silently listen to that message. Supposedly, listening to such messages spiritually builds up the church.
However, nothing could be further from the biblical example. 1 Corinthians 14:26 tells us plainly that every member of the church is supposed to bring something to share during our church gatherings: a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, and so on.
Keith: Amen! But what would you say to someone who challenges that idea by suggesting that we can exercise our spiritual gifts outside the service? I mean, what about when we volunteer in various ministries or when we are in the workplace, etc., Don’t we have opportunities to exercise our spiritual gifts then?
Richard: Absolutely. However, one of Paul’s favorite description of the church is the Body of Christ. And he goes into great detail to describe a body where all the parts function together. How can we truly learn to function together if we only exercise our unique spiritual gifts whenever we’re apart? What are we doing to our churches, not to mention individual believers, if we don't allow everyone to share what the Lord has given them whenever we gather? According to Paul, we’re actually weakening the church.
Keith: So, if your true goal is to strengthen the church, can I ask you why your book is called "Unchurching"? That title seems to advocate walking away from the church. Or does it?
Richard: Depending on a person’s understanding of “church,” they might think that’s what I’m proposing. However, the reason for the confusion is today’s concept of church. As I mentioned before, the biblical concept of church is a simple Christian community that functions like an extended spiritual family. A genuine church is not something separate from its members. It’s not something you “attend” or “don’t attend”; it’s simply what you are. So, when I advocate people leave the “organized church,” I’m not suggesting they separate themselves from genuine church community.
The organized church model has absolutely nothing to do with genuine church community. The first believers wouldn’t even understand questions like, “What church do you go to?” They simply thought of church as a spiritual family, plain and simple. And you would never ask someone, “What family do you go to?” That would be a nonsensical question! As provocative as this might sound, for many believers, leaving the organized church might actually be their first real step toward finding genuine church community. Maybe for the first time in their lives.
Keith: How has your book been received so far?
Richard: The initial response has been mind-blowing. Currently, Unchurching has great reviews on Amazon, and great reviews on readers’ blogs. People have been posting lots of quotes, and photos of sections they’ve highlighted. Many have said they’ve already read the book two or three times. It’ll be interesting to see if the book continues to be this well received, once it starts to reach a wider audience.
But as of right now, I’m getting lots of emails and messages on Facebook from readers, thanking me for writing the book. Many of them have struggled with guilt because of their secret frustrations with the organized church, or struggled to find the words to explain their frustrations to family and friends. I guess this book has helped some of them.
Keith: Yeah, it sounds like your book really resonates with what some people are feeling right now.
Richard: Yes, I think that’s it. One of the recurring themes I’ve heard is that readers are grateful that someone has finally articulated what they’ve always felt.
Keith: Wow. I'm sure that must make you feel pretty validated as well?
Richard: It does. For one thing, I worked on this book off-and-on for fifteen years. That’s a long time to work on something, not knowing whether anyone will ever discover it, or even like it. So, it’s a bit of a relief to know that all that time wasn’t wasted!
Keith: What's your long-term hope for the book? What kind of impact would you like Unchurching to have?
Richard: One of my main motivations for writing this book is the mass exodus that’s happening in the organized church right now. Millions of believers are opting out, many of them due to the contradictions I talk about in the book. My concern is that far too many of them only associate church community with the organized church model; they might not realize those things are separate, that you can have one without the other. I don’t want to see them totally give up on church, when the real issue is simply the way we’ve been doing church; I hope to help them understand separate the two.
Keith: What about people who have already left the organized church and found the type of church community you describe in the book? Is there anything in Unchurching for them?
Richard: Absolutely. People who have been pursuing genuine church community, outside the walls of churchianity seem equally passionate about the book. Apparently, there are a lot of ideas in Unchurching they haven’t encountered anywhere else. They also love the fact that the book unapologetically asserts the organized church model is unbiblical, yet doesn’t come off judgmental, and doesn’t attack people who feel genuinely called to the organized church.
Keith: Your book is currently available on Amazon, in both printed and ebook versions, right?
Richard: Yes. It’s also currently available through Amazon Unlimited, which is basically like Netflix for books. So, if you’re an Amazon Unlimited member, you can read it for free right now.
Keith: What are some other ways people can connect with you?
Richard: On my site, unchurching.com, you’ll find links to all my various social media accounts. You’ll also find some of my animated videos and cartoons there, as well as a contact form and email address. I also hope people will check out The Unchurching Podcast.
Keith: Do people need to read the book before listening to the podcast?
Richard: Not at all. The book is basically a scriptural case for why the organized church model isn’t biblical, as well as a more biblical vision for what genuine church community looks like. You can either read it casually, or use the extensive footnotes to approach it like a Bible study, if you want to go deeper.
However, there were equally valuable things I wanted to share with readers that were simply beyond the scope of the book: personal stories, interviews, and practical insights from people who are already living in the type of church communities described in the book. The podcast if the perfect way to share those things. But no, you don’t have to wait until you read the book. You can jump right in.
Keith: I’ll make sure to share the link for the book, the site, and the podcast, at the end of this interview. Thanks for taking the time to talk!
Richard: Glad to. And thank you for spreading the word about the book!
Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, can be found on Amazon, in both print and Kindle versions. NOTE: From now until mid-November, all Kindle Unlimited members can read Unchurching for free.