On Leaving Church, Revisited

An article written a year ago which was just one of many penned by me on a daily basis has turned out to be quite a showstopper. Indeed, the reaction was a big surprise to me, as I really did not expect it would turn out to be such a hot potato piece with so much interest generated.

Given that most of my articles may get a handful of responses, this one has gotten plenty, and continues to do so. I refer to my article, “On Leaving Church” which I posted on December 26, 2014. It has become by far my most read, most liked, most shared, and most commented-on article of all time. You can find it here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/12/26/on-leaving-church/

Consider these statistics. Although the article has only been up for a year, it has had:
-over 426,000 views (the next most highly viewed article – on jihad in the West – has only 40,000)
-over 87,000 FB shares (that’s a lotta shares)
-294 tweets (whatever that means!)
-over 440 comments (with several hundred more, had people provided their full name as my commenting rules require)

Not bad for a small-time website like mine. These stats make it clear that this article has clearly been my most highly interacted-with article of all time. So it obviously struck a chord – or raw nerve – with many. Indeed, the numerous comments under the article – many by “dones” – were very revealing in so many ways.

church 13Obviously this is a massive issue and one which will not go away any time soon. So let me speak a bit more to all this. Of course entire libraries have been filled with books which discuss the issue of the church, what it is, what it means, what it is called to do, etc.

I certainly cannot enter into all of that here. Suffice it to say that there is the universal, invisible church, and there are local physical manifestations of the church wherever believers meet together to worship God, receive the teaching of the Word, partake of the sacraments, fellowship, and so on.

And even this minimalist description of what the church is and does will have some wanting to disagree in various areas. And disagreement aplenty can be seen in the hundreds of comments under my original article. That debate cannot here be resolved.

But let me state a few points. Some folks either did not read my article very carefully or misconstrued what I had to say. I never said that leaving church was just fine – I simply said it was happening and suggested some possible reasons as to why this might be so.

And I did clearly state that we must meet together for regular fellowship somewhere, somehow. I never advocated lone-wolf Christianity. Neither does the New Testament of course. We need each other and we are a Body of believers. It really is impossible to grow as a Christian without one another.

Let me offer just one quote here on this by John Stott from the preface to his commentary on Ephesians. There he eloquently speaks about the importance of the church:

One of our chief evangelical blind spots has been to overlook the central importance of the church. We tend to proclaim individual salvation without moving on to the saved community. We emphasize that Christ died for us ‘to redeem us from all iniquity’ rather than ‘to purify for himself a people of his own’. We think of ourselves more as ‘Christians’ than as ‘churchmen’, and our message is more good news of a new life than of a new society.
Nobody can emerge from a careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with a privatized gospel. For Ephesians is the gospel of the church. It sets forth God’s eternal purpose to create through Jesus Christ a new society which stands out in bright relief against the sombre background of the old world. For God’s new society is characterized by life in place of death, by unity and reconciliation in place of division and alienation, by the wholesome standards of righteousness in place of the corruption of wickedness, by love and peace in place of hatred and strife, and by unremitting conflict with evil in place of a flabby compromise with it.

Amen to that. Let me share a few more thoughts that other writers have offered in recent months on the matter of “dones”. Not only are plenty of articles being penned on this subject, but entire books now exist as well. Just one worth noting is this: Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why People Are DONE With Church But Not Their Faith (Group Publishing, 2015).

As one write-up about this research which I quoted in my first article says, “Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.”

Felicity Dale, also commenting on the research of Packard, ends her article on this subject this way:

While the Dones are not going back to the institutional church no matter how much it is “tweaked”, most of them have not abandoned God. In fact, some say that they have left “the church” to preserve their faith. And, the kind of church they are interested in looks surprisingly like the church portrayed in the book of Acts. Here are some of the characteristics of that church:
-All the churches in the Bible met in a home and functioned like a small spiritual family. The current institutional church, by contrast, spends a great deal of energy and money getting and maintaining a church building.
-The churches in the Bible were simple. We describe “simple church” as a way of being/doing church where any believer could say, “I could do that!” (“they were astonished that Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13).) The institutional church, by contrast, requires highly educated, highly schooled (seminary, etc.) highly creative people to be successful. (Think Rick Warren, for instance.)
-In the New Testament (NT) churches, everyone used their gifts. In institutional church, only a few, highly gifted people (worship leaders, preachers, etc.) use their gifts.
-In NT church, Jesus brought the agenda for the meetings. In institutional churches, a few, very smart people design the worship experiences.
-In the NT, churches were started in a few hours or a few days. Institutional churches require a great deal of planning and resources and take months or years to start.

Now all this can likely open up other cans of worms. I am not here to jump on the “let’s attack the institutional church” bandwagon. Plenty of others are already doing this, and I believe their thoughts can be a mixed bag. Indeed, as was to be expected, in the comments under my first article much was made of this.

This included those who mentioned, if not promoted, books like Pagan Christianity? (Frank Viola and George Barna, 2008). My intent is not to enter into that discussion again. Suffice it to say that whenever this particular volume is mentioned, I usually refer folks to an excellent, even-handed and nuanced review of it by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington: benwitherington.blogspot.com.au/2008/06/pagan-christianty-by-george-barna-and.html

Another article also mentions research done by Barna, this time on “what church-goers want preached from the pulpit”. The list – taken from a survey of nearly 3,000 active church-goers – is interesting:
1. Abortion: Beginning of life, right to life, contraception, adoption, unwed mothers. 91%
2. Religious persecution/liberty: Personal duty, government duty, church response, global conditions. 86%
3. Poverty: Personal duty, government role, church role, homelessness, hunger, dependency. 85%
4. Cultural restoration: Appropriate morals, law and order, defensible values and norms, self-government. 83%
5. Sexual identity: Same-sex marriage, transgenderism, marriage, LGBT. 82%
6. Israel: Its role in the world, Christian responsibility to Israel, US foreign policy toward Israel and its enemies. 80%
7. Christian Heritage: role of Christian faith in American history, church role in US development, modern-day relevance. 79%
8. Role of Government: Biblical view, church-state relationship, personal responsibility, limitations. 76%
9. Bioethics: Cloning, euthanasia, genetic engineering, cryogenics, organ donation, surrogacy. 76%
10. Self-governance: Biblical support, personal conduct, impact on freedom, national sovereignty. 75%
11. Church in politics/government: Separation of church and state, legal boundaries, church resistance to government. 73%
12. Islam: Core beliefs, response to Islamic aggression, threat to US peace and domestic stability. 72%

Perhaps if these sorts of issues were discussed more often in our churches (along of course with solid biblical preaching and teaching), we might have fewer people leaving. I am not calling here for some trendy “relevance”. Being worldly, carnal and compromised is obviously not a relevance I can support. But being relevant by speaking to some of the key moral and social issues of the day is I think quite different, and much-needed.

But much more must be said about the “dones” phenomenon. As to what can be done about all this (no pun intended), well, that is the stuff of another few articles, if not books! But some folks are making various proposals. Jon Nielson for example addresses this at least backhandedly in his article, “3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church”. Briefly, these are
1. They are converted.
2. They have been equipped, not entertained.
3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.

In that sense, prevention is certainly better than cure. If we are properly discipling people – including making sure they are genuinely converted in the first place – that would perhaps go a long way in cutting the number of “dones”. Many other suggestions could be offered here of course.

So forgive me already if I have again simply raised questions without giving much-desired solid answers! I confess to not having all the answers. I am not sure if anyone does. It is one thing to see a problem, and offer some possible reasons as to why that problem is happening. It is another matter to come up with clear answers and solutions to these problems.

But this is an ongoing conversation. My first article generated a huge response, and who knows, this one might as well. But at least we can have a discussion about all this. Indeed, we must talk about it. Simply doing church as usual without seriously and prayerfully reflecting on these problems will likely help no one.

At the end of the day all the research and polling and surveys and sociological analysis has a place in all this. But I would tend to want to fall back on more sobering and more likely realities: perhaps so many are leaving church because God no longer seems to be there. As another commentator said about more Barna polling:

The study also asked people 30 and younger who are no longer attending church services, why they have stopped attending. The number one reason? They “feel God is missing in church”. Another reason cited was the lack of relevancy. That makes sense to me: What is the MOST relevant aspect of a church service, if not God? If God is missing in a church service, that service is irrelevant!

Last century one powerful prophetic voice offered us a simple yet profound analysis of all this. He would have little time for surveys and sociological assessments. I quoted this in my first article, but it is worth ending with again. This is what A. W. Tozer put our problem down to:

“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-articles/177144-thom-schultz-rise-of-the-done-with-church-population.html
www.charismanews.com/opinion/53478-where-are-people-leaving-the-church-going
www.glennbeck.com/2015/09/23/christian-pollster-sheds-new-light-on-what-church-goers-want-preached-from-the-pulpit
www.churchleaders.com/youth/youth-leaders-articles/159175-3-common-traits-of-youth-who-don-t-leave-the-church.html
notforitchingears.com/2015/01/21/barna-study-even-christians-are-leaving-our-churches/

[1980 words]

36 Replies to “On Leaving Church, Revisited”

  1. More of the Dones are actually in mid life and older than many might think. Many many believers are done.

    But having said that, I believe pastors have never worked harder. I think that some pastors feel it is especially important now to stick to the bible and make sure their flock understand.

    The world sees to be falling apart at the seams in some respects, so how does a pastor begin to address all of this?
    He cannot. In Jesus’ day, how was all this addressed?

    I want there to be a group of people somewhere in the church whom I can talk to honestly about what the godly choices might be in situations I face as a believer. Church sometimes feels like it is back there in the 70s. We are living in days with many difficult questions to address. If and when I invite the homosexual couple to dinner how do I handle that? What do I say to the relative who had an abortion? How can I quietly help the child I know who is living in poverty? We live in a real world, but too often the church feels like a throw back to me.

    I stand by the importance of scripture, and the belief that at least for a series, that churches do well to cover an entire book of the bible, and let it speak for itself. But then in light of scripture, what to we do with all these fast balls coming at us as believers?

    We need deeper, honest fellowship, where we can, with scripture as our guide post, discuss how to live as holy people in an unholy world. And even how to be joyful in it all!

    Churches are still divided up a good deal racially, ethnically, and within the church by age, and whether married or single. We simply lack the ability to talk to each other.

    When I go to work, in what I do, I wind up working with all different ages, ethnicities and races. Going to church has begun to feel so irrelevant. It does not reflect the world I work in. It reflects a narrow sliver of the population – too narrow. It seems that mostly just the larger churches are able to gather in a diverse group of people.

    Unfortunately I now understand all too well why my unbelieving relatives feel church is irrelevant. Of course the unbeliever will not understand why the scripture is so important to a believer. But I believe more unbelievers would be drawn into the church if they saw real love expressed between people who are very different from each other, yet share a common faith in Christ.

  2. I’ve left the institutional church. I’ve also left our former mission agency (Pioneers of Australia) after being a missionary in Indonesia.

    One of my real life struggles is this (based on experience, observation and conflict): why are Christian leaders not actually any different from those who profess no faith? If the Spirit of God indwells us, why do we not act any differently? And I actually include myself in those questions.

    I couldn’t handle the hypocrisy that I saw and was asked to partake in (and did for a long while) Subsequently, I am now a ‘done’.

  3. John 6:60-70 explains what happens when a church preaches the truth, instead of compromising with the world. There is a stampede for the door, leaving a remnant.

    My own situation is that I meet with about a dozen people in someone’s home, where we sing, pray and study scriptures that prophetically highlight the signs of the times. We also pray about current situations, such as children being forcibly taken away by the state because the parents are Christians. In other words we raise issues that the institutional church does not want to talk about lest it loses its charitable status. As churches come more and more under the control of the government who want to know in advance what is going to preached and taught in the youth groups, it is going to be increasingly difficult for that church to act as salt and light.
    The sure sign that a church is walking with the Lord is if it is suffering persecution, for preaching Christ crucified.

    May I recommend sermons by Wayne Edwards of the Heritage Church. Scroll down to three sermons on The Apostate Church.

    http://www.theheritagechurch.org/#!archived-sermons/c1anr

    David Skinner UK

  4. Most churches in the US are not preaching the hard stuff because of their tax exempt status, not the church buildings, the donations.,so afraid their folks won;t contribute is they can;t write it off,,prohibited by law if an IRA;S tax exempt organization from, for instance, discussing politics. reforming small home churches or dropping the IRS status,,though I understand that is difficult, is what we have to do…thing is, I never knew anyone who gave to a church for the write off on their taxes…

  5. Biil,
    More great words….I understand you completely…in that you are simply trying to describe reality, rather than ‘taking a side’. “Leaving Church” for many of us has not been a ‘problem’ it has been a ‘SOLUTION’!
    Thanks very much!!!

  6. It is interesting that Bill’s original article on “Leaving Church” received so much attention. Clearly this is a subject that interests many.

    I have appreciated Bill’s thoughts and opinions. However, with all due respect to Bill (I mean no offense), it wasn’t so much just Bill’s original thoughts and opinions alone that have attracted me to his website. Rather it was the comments from others that have kept me coming back for so many months now. It is interesting that Bill’s initial article is relatively small in comparison to the volume of the comments submitted. It has been the thoughts and comments of everyone that has maintained my interest in this website. In addition to this, I have also been very appreciative of that fact that I too, a complete nobody, have had the opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions on this subject.

    If Bill’s website did not permit the comments from others, then Bill would not have had nearly as many viewers (Bill, no disrespect intended). It was the fact that Bill allowed others to comment that gave Bill’s website the success that it has had. If Bill had simply posted his article, without permitting others to share their thoughts and opinions, then I’m sure that the number of viewers would have been significantly fewer.

    There is a larger point here that I am trying to make. The fact that Bill’s website was “successful” was largely due to the fact that Bill permitted DIALOG. It is DIALOG that is so tragically missing in many of our churches and places of worship. I believe that many of the “dones” concur with me on this. They truly want to have to have fellowship with other Christians but they want that fellowship to include DIALOG.

    Many Christians have lost interest in their churches because no one really cares about their thoughts and opinions. Because they have not been “ordained” they are to remain forever members of the subordinate laity. Their role in their church is to come and listen but never to share something they may have learned and would like to share.

    Many have commented and have given reasons as to why so many Christians have been leaving church. My own opinion is that many of these Christians have become so discouraged with their churches in that they have little if any opportunity for DIALOG. Their opinions are deemed insignificant and they can only take this condescension for so long. I think that many church leaders would do well to examine Bill’s website on “Leaving Church”. I think that many church leaders would do well in recognizing that Bill’s website permits DIALOG.

  7. Tom hit it on the nose with dialogue. Honest dialog is lacking in the church. However, my experience has been that when the floor is opened up for dialogue, too many emotions become out of control, and opinion becomes “fact”.

    At increasing rate Christians around the world are suffering greatly and being martyred. America is now post Christian. We have a hard road ahead. Our dialogue needs to count for something and go somewhere.

    I struggle with all the elephants in the room that cannot be more than barely mentioned. There is now a thunderous herd. This is the real world, and while I love classic Christian authors and hymns and believe they have relevance, I feel the lack of a cultural corner from which to learn how to live in an upside down era. I go to work and visit relatives and experience the cultural extremes. I grew up in Leave It To Beaver era. I sometimes do not have a clue how to address the crazy things that come up. I need a smart 30ish person who is not churchy to shed some light on subjects that leave me perplexed. The elephants are not going away. They are breeding.

  8. The lack of relevancy is a huge reason many of us are dones, yes. As I think I noted quite a while ago, it was amazing to me that when the White House was lit up in rainbow colors due to the adoption of gay marriage, not one of the main evangelical churches in my area said anything of it. (This is based off of listening to each church’s sermons online following that monumental decision.) Nothing said at all? SURELY the pastors and church elders at each place had some leading or views on it from the bible but to say nothing only reconfirmed to me why we don’t GO to church anymore. It smacks of bowing to mamMon (keeping their tax exempt status and salaries) than actually being led by the Spirit to talk on something so incredible huge for the country (US).

    The above is just one example of avoidance from the church pulpits. What Beth Losch (Above) said is so true as well–the narrow slice of life more often than not represented in the church. Is it any wonder when the organized pastor CEO led church refuses to become relevant and change accordingly instead of preach yet another canned series from a decade ago or so. No thank you. WE can be church better than that.

    What would be truly enlightening to to have a pastor of one of these churches come on here and explain how they can continually avoid politics and in turn the moral issues of the day in all good conscience and yet still think they are being relevant and led by the Spirit?

  9. Hi Bill

    My own faith was given a gigantic jolt a few years back when I went to my first Biblical Worldview Conference with Dr David Noebel. He wrote a very comprehensive book “Understand the Times” on the 12 main worldviews of our time, how to understand the differences, and how to relate to people living by the different worldviews.

    I suddenly saw a wider picture than our experience and understanding of our personal salvation and individual giftings and ministry. I also saw how “having faith” and hope for eternity were just the beginning of how our Heavenly Father wants us to live, and how we are limiting how He uses in this day and age. It opened up my Christian world no end.

    Without the wider implications and challenges of our faith in the Lord, Church can be become such a personal thing that if we are not “satisfied” we will want to leave… but I would never put that label on everyone who is seen as “done”.

    In my estimation, people who are seen to be “done” with Church are viewed many times as backsliders in the eyes of Church-goers. But they can never really be “done” if they are part of the Body of Christ. Perhaps Mother Teresa was seen as a backslider when she began her ministry to the lepers on the streets of Calcutta 24/7….

    I know you would have never suggested this but …. Because they don’t go to a building at a certain time of the day, and meet with certain people, and learn to do things a certain way, doesn’t make them a backslider or a non-Christian. I’m sure Jesus in His day may have been perceived as “done” by those in the Temple. But He was following His Heavenly Father and completing what He was called to do.

    Humility goes a long way for all… and an openness of understand what we don’t already know.

    It’s probably not so much about whether the “dones” will “return”, but whether that’s where God leads them. Maybe the “leaving” is not as important to them, as where He is taking them……

    Bill I salute you for your ministry! Thank you so much for the opportunities to explore our faith further, and be challenged.

  10. Sue, Mother Teresa was a co -belligerent whose universalism I could not ascribe to. However, I once walked past a dying body, lying in the gutter in Calcutta, over forty years ago, yet she, like the good Samaritan, gathered up such people and showed them love in the last days.

    David Skinner UK

  11. As a Catholic, I find the existence and acceptance of an influential gay culture within the Catholic leadership unacceptable and, indeed, mind boggling. The growing exit to biblical Christianity or elsewhere is instructive but ignored by the Church; not so, I suspect, by the Holy Spirit.

  12. Another thing the Catholic church seems to have forgotten about is the devil, so at best we are only getting half the story; so to speak. But then what would you expect?

  13. Bill, the one thing I look for in a sermon is the sense the preacher has spent time with God and is sharing something fresh from him. That sort of preaching touches the spirit and changes things. Otherwise its just information!
    Best wishes to you and thank you.
    Jan Babington.

  14. I have to ask myself why it is that the church I attend is primarily under 30 year olds. That makes it about 8,000 out of 10,000 on four campuses. (We don’t call them churches because we are only one church).

    I would say that it is discipleship. Jesus said that we were to go into all the world and make people his disciples. In other words, they are signed on for life. That suggests that with modern day Christians this is not happening. In my church, there is always someone being taught by someone. Very few spectators. No time to get bored. No time to tune out. If you are too busy, the church will find something for you that you can do and fit it into your busy life.

    They never have to appeal for leadership because there is always someone in the wings who has been discipled. In addition you are not promoted to lead until you are ready to lead.

    The priesthood of all believers is far better and a more successful model that the priesthood of a paid few. Until the church comes to terms with this, it will languish in the boondocks.

  15. @Sue
    “In my estimation, people who are seen to be “done” with Church are viewed many times as backsliders in the eyes of Church-goers. But they can never really be “done” if they are part of the Body of Christ.”
    From what I can tell there are two different groups who have left church. The first would be the ‘nones’ who are totally apostate and have abandoned Christianity altogether.
    The second would be the ‘dones’ who haven’t left the faith but have left church for any number of reasons.

  16. Mark,

    My only problem with the assignation of the name “the dones” is that it is a label placed on people who may not be “done” so much as…. “for now” … for any number of reasons… It assumes they are “done” where they may not actually be. “Done” to be has a negative connotation which just may not fit what God is doing in some people’s lives.

  17. What would we call “dones” who are still faithfully attending church every week despite it all? “nearly dones?” “fully cooked”?

    I’ve just recently left a church I’d attended for 2 years whose pastors were happy to close their eyes to rampant Roman Catholic Church style pedophilia and abusive behavior at the highest levels of the (smallish) denomination. There are also serious doctrinal issues which concern the nature of salvation. Nevertheless the pastors are men I have respected. Yet I was the bad one because I brought up Scriptures like Mark 9.42.

    And none of this is heresay. It was published in major media outlets. Two of the perpetrators are in jail. Yet the denomination is silent. To discuss it is to bring shame on the church. Really?

    So I’ve been visiting churches. My heart continues to break.

    One church I attended half a dozen times. The music was so loud, and bad, and theologically shallow it became unbearable. This took up at least half of the service.

    At another church the pastor started looking furtively around when I casually asked what he thought of the churches confessional statement.

    There’s a church that looks good on paper I’d like to visit. Of course it’s 1 hour and 45 minutes away each way.

  18. Bill mentioned that he had not posted several hundred comments that he received on his original article. Many comments were submitted without a first and last name which he requires. This is a good policy on Bill’s part. If people want to share their opinion then they should being willing to do so without anonymity.

    There is probably more than one reason why a person would want to post their comment without disclosing their identity. However, I think I can guess one reason as to why some wished to remain anonymous. I suspect that some were afraid of the possibility of disclosing their honest opinion to a fellow church member that may not share their opinion.

    Many heretical denominations keep a close watch over the conduct and opinions expressed by their lay members. Without identifying any by name I think that we can all attest to knowing about various cults where the membership is very much afraid of ever crossing the leadership. The individual members are closely watched and monitored so that they never utter a word that might challenge a position taken by those in charge. To go too far could mean excommunication.

    In the relatively small non-denominational church I attend I have openly stated that my theology is not based on what is taught from the pulpit. I have made it clear that I believe only what I see in Scripture with my own two eyes. If I don’t see it CLEARLY in the Bible then I probably won’t take a dogmatic position on a given theological issue.

    Some in my church have a problem with my position. Fortunately, no one in a leadership position in my church (that I know of) has a problem with my stance. If they did then I probably would seek out a different church for fellowship.

    One member in my church has accused me of not submitting to the authority of the elders of our church. In his opinion my theology should be based strictly on the teachings of our church and its leadership. Now the truth of the matter is that I have great respect for the elders in my congregation. However, my elders do not tell me how to think. Furthermore, they do not censor me when I express an opinion that may be different from their own.

    I don’t want to give anyone the idea that we are free to make our own interpretation of Scripture. I take the word of God very seriously and I urge others to do the same. For every passage of Scripture there is only one correct interpretation.

    I may not understand every aspect of Scripture but I certainly will NOT believe that something is true simply because a so called “teacher” expresses his opinion in a dogmatic fashion. Now I have great respect for the objective Bible scholar. However, I have very little respect for the dogmatic teacher or preacher who portrays himself as an authority on all spiritual matters. To base ones theology simply on what your church, pastor or spiritual “teacher” tell you is true is often times a recipe for disaster and can often lead to spiritual bondage.

    I regularly encourage all my fellow Christians to studying God’s word on their own. The truth of the matter is that there simply is no more efficient and objective way to learn about the things of God then to study His word by one’s self. I consider it extremely important that all Christians know, based on their own knowledge of Scripture, the things they consider to be true.

    If you take a theological position that is contrary to that of your church and if you are afraid to openly express that position then maybe you are attending the wrong church. Maybe you should be looking for a place of fellowship that is not “led” by someone (or some group) that does not tolerate reasonable disagreement. There is such a thing as leadership that is overly domineering and excessively dogmatic. Christians should never be afraid to express their sincerely held honest opinions!

  19. Merry Christmas and many thanks to Bill for his writing on one timely topic after another, and for being willing to take comments.

    I guess I will eventually go back to a mid sized evangelical more formal church because the guidelines that guide such churches tend to keep things in check. I am glad for some people in the church to be well educated when they are excited about Jesus and curious students of the bible and the history behind the bible. I am especially glad when they are loving people.

    I know I need to be in godly fellowship. My gifts tend to be welcomed in the church. But I find myself serving and not getting to know people beyond surface level. I have experienced some great times in small groups, but one after another has had a fair amount of contentiousness. And pretty much contentious behavior for no real reason.
    Meantime, while there is backbiting about who gets to serve more on a music team, or who did not show up yet again to serve in an area of the church, real life is happening. I believe many churches want to encourage the flock to be in a joyful worshipful mode. And I want to be. But there is precious little real fellowship that happens in my experience. And I wonder if we as believers are not unknowingly being swallowed alive by the culture outside the church so that we come into the church little prepared to be builders of the body of Christ, and ill prepared to defend and share our faith in an increasingly hostile culture.

    I feel I have failed in many ways. So maybe going foward I can find a way to serve the church but not be churchy, and find a few willing to take the bible and current day dilemmas and discuss without contention what a Christian’s world view
    looks like. I believe Sue was talking about this.

    Are there any helpful conferences coming up this summer?

  20. This subject “On Leaving Church” has really peaked my interest. Now I myself can understand why some Christians have become disappointed with the traditional church. I can understand why some get tired of their conventional church role if it is primarily to sit in a pew and just listen. I do understand why some have decided to exchange this format of worship in favor of a format of worship where there is more dialog. I can understand why some prefer to worship in smaller groups where they sit around a table (or perhaps where they sit in chairs in someone’s living room) and where everyone has a chance to share. For some perhaps the subject of Bill’s discussion should really be changed from “On Leaving Church” to “On Leaving the traditional Church”.

    As someone who has posted quite a number of times on Bill’s website perhaps some of you are getting sick and tired of my comments. Nonetheless I have appreciated the opportunity to do so. I have also appreciated reading the thoughts and comments of everyone else. Now assuming Bill is agreeable here I go again –

    Although I consider Christian fellowship to be important I also regard personal Bible study to also be very important. I believe that every Christian should know, based on their own knowledge of the Bible, the things that they believe in concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    At the risk of sounding boastful and arrogant, which is not my intention, over the years of studying my Bible I have come across what I consider to be some very interesting and inspiring aspects to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now some of these “precious nuggets” have never been mentioned in any church that I have ever attended. I suspect that many of you that study the Bible on your own have also made your own interesting discoveries. I am referring to discoveries in Scripture that you may have made on your own but have never heard mentioned from anyone in the pulpit of your church.

    Over the last few years I have shared some of my personal discoveries with other Christians. I have shared what I consider to be “gems of truth” with other Christians like myself who have no significant status in the Christian community. I have also attempted to share these things with some very high profile theologians. Now generally speaking I have found that many other Christians really do not appreciate like I do (admittedly I am biased) the things I have to share. However occasionally I can detect that someone else genuinely understands and is inspired by what it is I am trying to share.

    In the years of my attempt to share certain discoveries that I have made in Scripture, I have made two very distinct observations. First of all I can attest to the fact that one’s status in the Christian community strongly determines how many others will listen. A well known and prominent theologian gets plenty of reverence. A popular preacher discovers that it easy to find listening ears. Conversely, however, a common lay person seldom gets much respect. Few are willing to listen to someone who has not established themselves as an important theologian.

    It is sad but it is absolutely true that many Christians truly are sheep. Now I am not at all suggesting that we can’t learn from others. However too many Christians are looking for guidance from an earthly “shepherd” rather than from the one and only heavenly “Shepherd” . Rather than studying the Bible directly and reading it for themselves many Christians choose to base their beliefs primarily on what some well known and well respected “teacher” tells them it says. This is unfortunate. Christians should know what it is that they believe in based on their own knowledge of Scripture. The theology of too many Christians truly is “second hand”. This is to say that too many Christians are relying primarily on what someone else tells them that Scripture has to say rather than learning what it has to say based on their own personal study.

    In my attempt to share some truths from Scripture with others I have made another observation. Now on occasion I am able to get a person, who like myself has no standing in the Christian community, to understand the things I am try to share. On occasion I will hear a comment from a fellow Christian something to the effect – “that really is interesting, I never saw that before”. Whereas occasionally I am able to truly share some thoughts from Scripture with another believer, this almost never happens with a high profile Christian. In fact sometimes I have gotten the impression that a well known “teacher” was offended that a nobody like myself was actually trying to teach them something (I should point out that I am referring to some but not all Christian leaders). They are the “teacher” and yet who is this upstart that is trying to teach them a thing or two. Their condescension at times was quite obvious. I have discovered that it is very, very difficult to get a well known “teacher” to admit that there could be a significant truth in Scripture that they might have overlooked.

    I hate to be judgmental but the truth is that there certainly are some “Christians” who think more highly of themselves than they should. No Christian should ever look down on any fellow believer. Christians should never display condescension of any kind. As the book of James points out we should treat all our brothers in the Lord equally. In John chapter nine Jesus has some very strong words for those who are puffed up with their own knowledge. No one should think more highly of themselves then they ought.

  21. Good post Tom. Way back, I was struggling to make sense of the church and the church I was in and in the midst of it all God told me to give church a break for two years as he wanted to get religion out of me.

    That surprised me as I did not consider myself as being religious as I was never afraid to say what I think. Being autistic was the main reason for this.

    That’s another story however. During the two years I did discover how religious I was. Even though I was not involved in anything religious, my thinking had a very religious bent to it and it affected what I did and what my responses were.

    Slowly I began to recognise the religious thinking and started to change it to non religious thinking. What this meant was that instead of assessing everything according to what religion taught me, I started to apply what the scripture teaches without any religious input.

    I had done this before but it was all filtered through the religion of the denomination I was involved in.

    Now, I can recognise religious thinking and I give it the old heave ho. Consequently I am now as free as a bird and I can tell you it is great.

    I do what I do because I believe it is what God wants me to do and if people don’t like it that is their problem. They get so upset that I don’t conform to religious dogma, read denominational mumbo jumbo which denominational leaders who I have dialogued with have admitted is not to be found in scripture.

    If they don’t believe it why should I?

  22. I think that many “dones” are leaving church because they are tired of sitting in the pew and listening to another pep talk. Most Sunday sermons at many churches are incredibly shallow, and there are a certain number of people in the congregation who are there to learn something. Unfortunately all they are ever fed is milk, and they aren’t learning anything to further their growth so eventually look elsewhere.

    I am not a “done” personally in that I still go to a church. However, I get all of my biblical meat and potatoes from my own personal study. The internet has been a blessing in that there are countless resources for growth to discover once one sifts through the junk.

    Shameful plug here – one of my favorite ministries out there is Mike Heiser’s. He has a weekly bible study called http://www.nakedbiblepodcast.com where you will learn more about your bible in a short time than you will learn in 10 years sitting in your church. You will even learn some things that you will never learn in church. I know that a large number of “dones” are part of Heiser’s audience and almost all of them are there because they were not fed at church and finally tired of the situation.

  23. Greg,

    Generally speaking I have no problem listening to the commentary of others. In fact I have learned a great deal from the thoughts and opinions of others. You put in a plug for Mike Heiser. Now I know nothing of Mike Heiser and I am not being critical of your endorsement. My only word of caution is that we as Christians should always be careful and cautious concerning the thoughts and opinions of any so called “teacher”. My other thought is that we as Christians should be careful that we never regard anyone here on earth as an authority on all Scripture.

    I am fairly frequently having conversations with other Christians whom I do not know. Sometimes I will hear them recommend a particular theologian whom they have very high praise for. After I do some research on the particular theologian who was being praised, I often discover that they are strongly endorsing some theological position that is highly controversial. These so called “teachers” often will take a very dogmatic position on a very controversial issue and they will be highly critical of anyone who challenges them.

    I appreciate a good Bible commentary. My advice to those who use a Bible commentary in their study is that they do not use just one but rather that they use several. Bible commentators often disagree with other commentators. Now we are all subject to bias. If we are only exposed to one side of any controversial issue we often become closed minded to objective information. For this reason it is important that we consider all sides to theological controversies.

  24. I posted on the original article that I was leaving my church, as the senior minister saw it fit to marry 2 people previously married.
    It has been a long, thoughtful and onerous return instigated by my 8 year old daughter
    She could not understand why we didn’t go to church anymore, nor could I adequately explain to her my reasons for leaving
    Strangely on my return, the welcome home was overwhelming and touching. An elderly lady confessed that she really missed my input and spirituality. This was encouraging, as I didn’t really see myself this way
    The question is, does God accept people who love him, being part of an apostate church? I have wrestled with this every day, realising my own shortfalls and sins. Will I be held to account for this?
    The thing that gets me the most, is that I have to suppress my emotions and feelings towards those in our church community who are living in adultery. (Multiple marriages)
    I would welcome feedback, but more importantly, your prayers for me, my family and our church

  25. Dameon,
    I understand your concerns with re marriage. I very much share those concerns. But there are all kinds of circumstances surrounding remarriage, and once in awhile a 2nd marriage is a godly thing.

    I used to feel very much as you do. But we are all sinners in so many ways, and all kinds of sin is very serious. It is serious to slight and ignore people, because it is very unloving. It is serious to look down on others as it is self righteous. No, pastors should not lightly marry people for the 2nd and third time. But even if th pastor doesn’t do this, couples who are remarried in a less than holy union wind up joining even their church anyway.

    A church certainly should be both loving and tough on sin. Pastors can sin, just like the rest of us. Having a gentle talk with your pastors about your concerns might be a good idea. Your daughter has turned out to be a wonderful little light shiner! We cannot let other peoples’ callousness to sin steal our joy or hope in Christ.

    I go to church, but am between churches. It stinks to be a not young divorced woman in the church. Now I am in the role of 2nd class citizen. If I married, that stigma would be gone. And so I find it hard to be in church because I am not married. But church is not about me. It is about glorifying God.

    So I would often like to be done with church, but know I cannot be. Church is about corporate worship of a Holy God. If the church were more like Acts, there would not be so many of us who feel done.

  26. It has been awhile since anyone has posted here. It looks like Beth placed the last posting almost two months ago. I am sorry to see the number of postings fall off as I have appreciated reading the comments from others.

    I will not criticize someone for leaving their church if they feel that they have had little or no opportunity to share their own thoughts and ideas with others within that church. Churches should be about fellowship. This is to say churches should be places where all members have a chance to share. Some people are content to just come and listen but others truly desire the opportunity to have dialogue. I can understand why some have quit attending their church if they have felt that their primary role was to just come, listen and donate money.

    I am less sympathetic to Christians who have not only quit attending church but have also stopped seeking out fellowship with other believers. If you truly have as your ultimate hope the gospel of Jesus Christ then why would you not desire to have fellowship with others who share the same hope that you have? Now some may wonder where they can find such fellowship apart from a formal church gathering. Such fellowship groups certainly do exist.

    Some people may be surprised to discover that there is Christian fellowship that takes places outside of church buildings. Although I myself do not attend one there are such things as house churches. A house church is a place where a few Christian families gather to worship the Lord. There is an unfortunate stigma that some have against house churches. Although I personally have had little experience with such places I believe that many house churches are wonderful places of worship.

    Other worship gatherings that take place outside of the four walls of a church building are neighborhood Bible studies. Some of these Bible studies are affiliated with a particular church (which is fine) and some are not affiliated with any church (which also is fine). During each week I attend three different small group Bible studies. Each of these studies also includes a time of prayer. One of these fellowship groups is affiliated with my church. Another is affiliated with a church that I do not attend. The other has no church affiliation at all. I greatly enjoy the fellowship that I have within each of these small groups. I would encourage all of my fellow believers to get involved with a small fellowship group. If you can’t find one in your area then maybe you should consider starting your own.

    I would like to conclude my comment by perhaps going a little bit off subject. We as Christians should never lose sight of our ultimate hope which is the bond that should unite us all. Our hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel message is very simple. About 2,000 years ago, Jesus, who is the only begotten Son of God, died to atone for our sins. It was because of His shed blood and through that perfect sacrifice that we can become reconciled to God. Despite our sin, which separates us from God who is holy and sinless, we have the means to be forgiven. This is through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

    This is the time of year that many Christians give special thought to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It somewhat surprises me that so few Christians are aware that Jesus did not die (to die was His ultimate assignment) on a random or arbitrary day. There was indeed profound significance to which day of the year He died. Now if you are wondering what I am driving at I’m not going to tell you. If you are curious enough to find out it will mean more if you look it up in the Bible for yourself. For the correct answer carefully read Exodus chapter 12 and then carefully read John chapter 18 and 19. To God be the glory!

  27. How and where we meet as Christians, is a big issue for me right now. What my wife and I will do over the next few months is an open question. Watch this space !

    Hi Bill, we met in about 1996 when I came over to Oz from NZ seeking to meet people who were speaking out about moral and social issues. You were speaking out strongly then and have done so for many years – thank you.

  28. This statement from the first article gives me great pause.

    “After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.””

    Granted there are ridiculous things going on in the Western “church” which could arguably be called worshiptainment. But not ALL of them in EVERY city is this way.

    When someone comes to the point of the quote above there is spiritual pride involved and a bit of “personal orthodoxy” that adds to scriptures of what is biblical. The street runs both ways I am afraid. It is a “both/and” problem not just solely “the church’s fault”.

    Another area at issue is failure to submit and serve quietly. There are some who think they are God’s gift to “church” and when their “gifts” are not recognized then all bets are off and that particular church will be ostracized in their minds. Those who serve quietly and faithfully ought to be eventually be lifted up into leadership. After all this is how Jesus lived. He did not puff Himself up, he served with humility.

  29. Wade mentioned the importance of being able to submit an serve quietly, which is very important. Earnest humility is important. We all need our noses tweeked from time to time.

    Love for God, and for one another is important. I am slowly searching out churches and asking God to search me. Maybe I am wrong, but I really do think it is tough to find a church with a healthy balance of truth and grace. There are loving churches that are not so wise. And then there are churches that preach great wisdom but are not so loving.

    It was not until recent years I finally started learning and thinking with some theological depth. It took a crises to wake me up. And I realized that while there were many good things about my church, it was clearly “worshiptainment” to coin Wade’s word. But even churches that teach well theologically and have a good number of believers who know a lot about scripture are prone to have issues of bad theology in the ranks. And I guess that is because we need to be led by the Holy Spirit in how we go deeper in God’s Word and how we connect with others.

    I probably am going to need to stretch myself. Church was not created to reflect me, but to reflect God. And maybe that is part of what messes church up for a lot of us. We may be expecting the church to be more of a reflection of
    ourselves.

  30. Sorry Wade but I cannot agree with you. The role and purpose of the ministries in the church i.e. Apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher is amongst other things is for the work of the ministry. That suggests the leadership is there to utilise and identify gifts and calling of OTHERS, so no one should be stewing in the pew if they are doing their job.

    One church I was in had a man who had been there 20 years and in that time had not been asked to do anything!! So much for the work of the ministry.

    If there is dissatisfaction and boredom in a church, it is the leadership’s fault as they are not doing their job. If a person doesn’t want to get involved so be it, but a person who does should be welcomed with open arms and utilised as soon as possible.

    Back in the early eighties I was involved in a church that put people to work within a few weeks of being saved.

    When you get a person involved you give them a sense of ownership of the ministry and that brings with it commitment.

    Take a look at the world. Do they employ someone and then get them to sit in the lunch room all day doing nothing?

    Everyone has a gifting from God and the leadership should be seeking to discover what it is and employing its use in the fellowship. No one should have to wait for ever and a day to be useful to the kingdom of God.

  31. In the case that anyone might still check these posts, I am happy to say it appears I found a church I can stick with for some time. It seems more like this church congregation found me! This is not a church I would have normally picked. It is smaller, simple in set up, no nonsense, scripturally based, and very accepting. The pastor is bent on praying for the lost. He wants the entire congregation to be thinking and praying this way. I think I found my church home. I am a minority white person- that makes no difference at all. I feel more at home and in tune with this congregation than I have felt in a long time. I will work to make this church work, whatever warts it may have. I appreciate the simplicity and the hospitality of a meal after the service each week. It feels like an Acts church.

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