What good is the church anymore? Do I belong there any longer? I find myself facing these questions a lot recently. Following on the heels of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference voting down a resolution regarding the ordination of women, myself and many I know are at a critical point in our lives as we ask “now what”. You can’t deny that a growing number of people have lost their connection to church and are struggling to find a reason to stay in it. One college student went so far today as saying “if the church doesn’t do something drastic about this my generation will be gone in two weeks.” And I believe them. More importantly, they won’t be the only ones. There are those who have been working for renewal and progress within the church for years, in the hopes of making it better for the next generation. They are equally angry and disenfranchised as the culture of religion appears to be no different than the rest of the world.
I’m one of those people who have been struggling with the church for years; and now as I see the organizational decision affecting many I know and care about, the questions are harder and heavier. When I began to resent going to church I knew I had to make a change. I had lost my inspiration and passion for sharing the good news. I no longer felt my spiritual gifts. Going through the process of deciding to leave the church wasn’t easy. It was months of agony as I prayed and consulted those close to me. Looking back I saw a path that ultimately led me to the crucial decision I had to make. Is it time for me to leave the church?
Step 1: I’m Just a Number
I recently stepped back from nearly all of my positions at church. Shortly afterwards one pastoral staff members asked “are you leaving the church? I hope not because the church is getting older and we need young people”. There it was. There was no visit to say thank you for service, to offer support, or see what they could do to keep me involved. It was all about the fact I had less gray hairs than others and that looks good on the books. I’m a number. Church is hard this way. It’s at this point that you realize you want to be involved and can’t find the right spot or even worse aren’t allowed. The good OLD boys have it under control, so just pay your tithe like a good member and let them do it. But you want more. You want to be part of community and perform service and give of yourself because when you do you feel this intrinsic value that makes you feel alive. To do anything else is soul crushing.
Step 2: I See Discrepancies
“I don’t believe in the church or religion anymore. It doesn’t want to do what Jesus told us to do.” The words came out slowly and carefully over a cup of coffee one afternoon. I had had many conversations with Sarah over the years and knew this wasn’t an easy or flippant decision for her. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I just want to love people the way Jesus did. Why doesn’t religion want to do that?”
Have you had that conversation? It’s a conversation I’ve had many times recently, and one I still have with myself. How can a religion so full of wealth and influence, ultimately do so little to change the world around it? I’ve watched as people who preach “the meek shall inherit the earth” use the Bible as a means to subordinate and manipulate others as they climb to positions of authority. You realize you are no longer invested in what the church is doing because you see too great a divide between the impact you feel called to make in the name of Jesus and the actual goals of organized religion.
Step 3: I Don’t Agree With the Church Anymore
This goes beyond disagreeing on which outreach the church should do this weekend. Every week you go to church and hear the sermon the pastor presents. However, you find yourself disagreeing with him more frequently. As you read your bible and become more mature in your faith you find that some of the things said, taught, and presented as truths aren’t as black and white as they’re made out to be. As I’ve studied (as every good Christian should) in an attempt to know the Bible and more importantly God better, I’ve found that I don’t interpret things the same way that my pastor or church do. Maybe you see some of the big things as not quite so big, or other little things that matter a great deal to you than the church makes them out to be. Now, don’t get me wrong, disagreements based on interpretation and implementation happen often without major issue. However, when you feel ostracized and disconnected because you no longer can find any common ground you have a serious problem.
Step 4: Church Isn’t Good for Me Anymore
I lost interest in church a while ago. Being too close to it for too many years had eaten away at my soul and church wasn’t good for me anymore. The music was flat, the sermons were just platitudes, and the greetings patronizing. I would go home frustrated and annoyed, fuming over the politics and inconsistencies. Church used to be my outlet, my break from the drama of the work week and my outlet for impacting others. Once it became hollow I knew I had to make a change.
What do you do next?
If you’re like me and you’ve never known what it’s like not to go to church, making the decision to leave is like deciding which limb to remove from your body. It’s frightening. Will you lose family and friends over the decision? Where will you go? What will you do to fill that void? However, if that limb has gangrene the decision is easier. My decision was extremely difficult and emotional, but looking back I don’t regret it for a moment. To clarify, I didn’t leave the church. I did however take a huge step back. It’s only in that moment that you can gain perspective. With perspective comes healing. You must find the balance in your spiritual life and what fills your soul to passionately seek God. Church is about God, not the flawed, sinful people who invented “church”. When you can no longer see or feel Him there, it may be time to step back. I did that and found myself inspired again; passionate again. Like getting a new prescription in your glasses and all of a sudden you can see the detail in the trees again.
Sarah still comes to church too. Although since our talk she has become a firm agnostic, she still comes to church every week. I look for her and greet her with the biggest hug I can every week. I let her know how much I love seeing her and how I miss our talks. She looks at me every time with a sheepish smile and says “thank you.” Despite her burden and differences in philosophy, she comes to church in the hope of finding that thing that makes her complete.
If you’re struggling with the decision to leave the church, I won’t try to talk you out of it. Leaving the church may be the best thing for you. I know that the organized structure of church is causing irreparable harm to countless individuals in desperate need of LOVE and GRACE. So I ask, what are you looking for and where will you go to find it?