Listen, I’ve been there.
I’ve been hurt by church more times than I care to admit.
Because even with all of that hurt, past regrets, and painful memories... I still love the church.
Now, I don’t necessarily love denominationalism. I don’t necessarily love giant church buildings. I don’t necessarily love over the top programming.
But I do love community. I love people. I love the opportunity to gather together with people who love God and who want to worship God.
People who truly want to “do what is fair and just to [their] neighbor[s], be compassionate and loyal in [their] love, and [those who] don’t take [themselves] too seriously” (Micah 6:8 - The Message [annotations mine]).
Unfortunately, this is a horrible time for the church. Let me make it clear, it is the church alone to blame for its maladies, not those who have been victimized by the church. Megachurches and their “celebrity pastors” are falling left and right. Denominations are splitting over how to love their LGBTQ neighbors. Other denominations and churches are caught up in sex abuse scandals.
At this rate, why do we as Christians blame those who are not Christian with their resentments and their skepticism about the church?
Furthermore, why as Christians do we blame other Christians for why they leave the church?
It’s clear, with as many reasons as I could give about why you should be in church, there are just as many reasons why you should not be in church.
So I will give some reasons on why you should not leave the church and why you should leave the church.
Let’s start with why you should not leave the church:
1. The church isn’t perfect.
Well, sorry there, but the church isn’t meant to be perfect. Because you are not perfect and all of those in attendance are not perfect. You will not find a church that will completely agree with what you believe, and vice versa. You will not find a church that will cater to your every need. You will not find a church that “has it all.” But there are many churches who do the important things right and you can find that.
2. The church is changing.
Changing how? Is it becoming more diverse? Is there a change in leadership? Is there a change in programming or in how monies are being allocated? There are a million reasons you can leave a church and most of those reasons are self-centered and are focused on the reality that people don’t like change but change is inevitable, especially in the church. Most changes are good, even if you don’t agree or are not comfortable with it.
3. The church is unenjoyable.
The purpose of the church is not to entertain you. I know we live in a culture where it is tempting to try to compete with the things the world offers. Believe me I’ve been there. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. But the church is not meant to take the place of sports, games, concerts, plays, etc. The church is meant for worship and for the strengthening of the saints. If you can focus on what your “why” is for going to church, then you can find peace and enjoyment in God.
Now, let’s go with why you should leave the church:
1. The church is committing crimes.
As I have referenced before, there are many churches in the spotlight due to pervasive, systemic, and unaccounted crimes against the innocent. Sexual abuse is a major problem facing the church. Greed is a major problem facing the church. Unaccountable pastors are a major problem facing the church. If you are in a church where you are seeing unethical, immoral, or illegal behaviors and actions; then not only do you need to leave that church, you need to report these crimes to the police and to the denomination (the police first for legal crimes because the church/denominations have not done a good job reporting such things).
2. The church is unsafe.
This dovetails from the first point but this point goes a little further and more broad. I know there are many who poke fun at the term “safe space,” but there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting a space where people gather to be safe. I know that unfortunately there are many who have been hurt by the church. While it may not have been on the level of a crime, they have been hurt emotionally, mentally and spiritually by words and actions said by clergy and by laity. If you or someone in your family is being bullied, constantly saying they don’t want to go back, or that they are scared of something or someone; you need to listen and be sensitive to that. Don’t revictimize and retraumatize yourself or your loved ones for the sake of “being faithful.”
3. The church is not living out the gospel.
This is a tricky one, because the word “gospel” has different meanings for conservative and progressive Christians alike. Look I get it. I know that Christianity is a diverse, wide-ranging expression of faith. I know that many differ greatly on a whole host of issues. But if we are going to remain relevant, we must come together on one sure, true, and right thing: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the gospel. Without Jesus, we don’t have a Christian faith. Let us truly learn to live like Jesus, love like Jesus, provide hope and healing like Jesus, pursue the hurting and lost like Jesus, and share about the good news of God like Jesus. If the church you go to makes no mention of Scripture, of Jesus, of the gospel; are you really going to church at all?
So look, I get it. You might feel that the church has become embroiled in controversy, entangled in unloving acts, and entreched in damaging dogma. And you would be right. But God calls us to do life connected to God’s Spirit and in community with those who profess the same.
So even if you can’t do the “institutionalized religion” form of going to church; gather with some friends in you home, or in a coffee shop, or in the park... wherever you want to meet: as long as you are gathered in worship and living out your faith...
You are doing and being the church.