It would be easy to come up with a million reasons to “leave the church.” A few include:
- Hypocrites hurt people.
- Stifling values enforced during childhood don’t line up with real world experience.
- The seemingly endless focus on issues on politics, sexuality and a weird ambivalence toward science in many churches.
- Some churches are boring.
- Some churches try to be exciting, but are still boring and end up feeling cheap or cheesy.
- Churches don’t seem to care about the poor as much as Jesus did.
These are all really good reasons, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Which begs the question: Why do any of us stay in church?
For me, it feels like I never really had a choice. The value of the church was pounded into me twice on Sundays, once on Wednesdays, and multiple times throughout the week.
By the grace of God, it stuck.
There’re some pretty unflattering reasons people stay in church.
One reason (that doesn’t make me proud) is that churches provide structures that make it easier to make friends. That helps me a lot. Some people probably stay because it’s a good way to network and get a job. Others might stay because it’s a good place to meet girls. Some people stay because that’s what’s expected in their families.
Some people leave the church in their 20s and come back when they have kids and a house.
Some people just like to feel religious.
Some people aren’t wired for questioning, and they never really doubt what they were always taught.
Some people had an undeniable experience they are haunted by the rest of their life. I know one man who left behind heroine when he heard an audible voice of God. He’s been in the same church for the last 35 years.
Sometimes I ask myself, “why are you still in church?”
The best answer I can come up with is:
1) I expect official Church institutions to basically have the same foibles as any other institution made up of imperfect people.
2) I’m obsessed with the idea of a contagious body of Christ that changes the world.
Churches are going to fail us. Organizations and institutions more so.
That’s okay. If we’re as sinful as scripture says, it’s to be expected.
When I read Jesus, he keeps talking about “the kingdom of God” and how it is “at hand.” He described in terms of yeast and mustard seeds. It was full of unscrupulous tax men, struggling prostitutes, the sick and the disfigured.
Jesus taught them how to live.
When they started to live out Jesus teachings, they had to do it together. They had to share their stuff. They had to feed each other.
They partied together. They mourned together.
They redefined family across social boundaries and ethnic lines.
They called themselves “The Way.” They were labeled “The Third Race.”
The only way to believe Jesus’s words “The kingdom of God is at Hand” is to witness it in a group of people living out the kingdom together.
I’m still in church. Sure, it looks very different than the one in which I was raised. To be honest, we still haven’t mastered this whole kingdom of God thing.
Perhaps my cohorts who have left the church have been expecting an institution to do something or be something, and they were disappointed. While I recognize the orthodox teachings of The Creeds and value the markers laid out by denominational traditions, that alone is not The Church.
God is always calling together a people. The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of God calling the children of Abraham to form the people of Israel. In the Gospels, we see this rebooted, a new people of Israel, formed around the person and teachings of Jesus. The remainder of the New Testament tells how they went on to form the Church, a people shaped by Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit.
Often, when you hear people talk about the church they participate in, they seem oddly removed. Women and men who are at church every Sunday talk about the community in the third person. They ask “what is the church’s stance on this or that?” When speaking of their own church home, they tend to repeat “why does the church do this or that?”
There is a “we-ness” missing in these questions. This is the talk of an attendee, a volunteer or a client. It misses the family language, the shared identity of a people called together, formed around Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit.
Why am I still in church? I’m still in church because the word church to me means “the people who want to live in God’s kingdom together.” I’m dying to give it a try.
Church is not an “it” that we agree with, attend or join. It’s a “we” that is constantly being defined and refined by an “us.”
I’m still in church because I want see that become a reality.
What about you?
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.