By Jesse Medina
Leaving the church is nothing new; Christians have been doing it since its inception. In the early days, it was usually due to heresy, an out-casting of sorts. Or sometimes, perhaps, it was the result of dissension: one person or group of people felt that their leaders or fellow Christians were off-base theologically so they split.
Today, so far as I can tell, it is due to one of two reasons: being hurt by the church and disagreeing with something about the church. For those of you who have been hurt I’m so sorry. You have every right to be angry. When Christians betray their faith, for whatever reason, hearts get broken and backs get stabbed it shouldn’t happen but it does. Nevertheless God never allows us to harbor bitterness. He always expects us to forgive not, primarily for the others’ benefit, but for our own. Often times, disagreement and being hurt go hand in hand when it comes to the church. But I hope to convince you that leaving the church is not the answer to either scenario.
Now, before I begin I first need to clarify what, precisely, I want to talk about. Most Christians make a distinction between the little “c” church (the local church down the street) and the big “C” Church (the Body of Christ universal, regardless of which local church they attend). For many, participation in one automatically results in participation in the other. However, there is a growing number of people for whom you can participate in one without the other. That is, you can be a part of the Church without any participation whatsoever in the church.
It has become commonplace, perhaps even trendy, to leave the local church while remaining a part of the Church universal. And by leaving the church, I don’t just mean going from one local church to a better one, but of ceasing to attend any sort of organized gathering at all. Even the concept of “organized religion” has all but become a curse word.
For many, local church gatherings have become outdated and irrelevant therapeutic practices that are helpful for the spiritually immature. To their credit, their critique is often true. Much of the church, sadly, as resorted to self-help techniques with the goal of teaching their congregations about how to lead successful and happy lives. This is not to say, of course, that genuine discipleship doesn’t lead to a satisfying life, but when such things become the end goal, our faith has gone astray. Even more troubling is the “seeker-friendly” movement that many churches have adopted which, among other things, essentially believes that the (typically) Sunday morning service is not addressed to Christians, but non-Christians. And so the teaching is generally very surface-y, very non-offensive, and altogether watered-down.
So, many and I’m just going to say this because it is true is most cases take the easy way out…and leave. They leave the local church because of its hypocrisy, because of its watered-down teaching, and because they are not benefiting from it. And instead they typically find security in books written by great thinkers in the present as well as the past people who have immersed themselves in Christ’s teaching, his disciplines, and found a unique and altogether transcendent relationship with Christ that they’ve never experienced. It’s a good thing, this relationship. Intimacy with Christ among today’s believers is sorely lacking and that is a comment on my life as much as anyone else’s. The unfortunate part about these folks leaving is that they are, quite simply, opting for the easiest way out, the path oft taken. Worst of all, they have fooled themselves into thinking that it is better.
If you’re reading this article and just became upset it was written to you and for you because there is something you need to know: You were not meant to do this alone. None of us were.
My guess is that you know that part already. Most of us say a hearty “amen” to that and go on about our lives as normal. Many of us (not all perhaps), will respond by saying something about finding community via information or vicariously living through the authors you read, perhaps even experiencing the same fullness of life they did by repeating their experiences. Sometimes, we even relate to God and others through podcasts and online communities. It is not that any of these things are bad, I often enjoy them myself, but Christ’s body was…and is…made of flesh and blood. Community universal is not good enough. If you are not sharing your life and experience with other people, in real life, you are not experiencing the kind of community you were designed for.
Messy and burdensome as it may be, getting involved in someone else’s life adds to our own life in some mysterious way. Rubbing shoulders with people in a local setting is how we reflect God, the Trinity, back to himself. Learning to forgive, to look past the flaws of others, to bear with those who are weaker or more spiritually immature, to remove the logs from our own eyes before noticing the specks of sawdust in others this is all glorifying to God and it inevitably forms us into the people we are meant to be. This is what he expects from us. This is what we were designed for.
And… it… is… hard.
Leaving the church is easy, but it is certainly not best. When you walk out on God’s people you are walking out on yourself. You may even be walking out on those who might need your beliefs and practices.
So, please, stop leaving the church. If you’re thinking about it, stop. It won’t solve anything. And if you already have go back. Even if you can’t go back to the one you left, find one to go back to. We need each other.
If you liked this article, check out: Confessions of a Church Hater
Jesse recently got some awesome 3-D shades after seeing Up. He is an amateur author learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Cassie whom he was lucky enough to convince to marry him. You can read more of his thoughts at his blog, Balancing Tension.