9 Real Reasons to Leave a Church

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Blog posts are sometimes great, sometimes okay, and sometimes just plain terrible.

Well, yesterday, I clicked on an article that very quickly showed itself to be fluff.  It was on reasons why someone should leave a church, and I found all of the reasons to be superficial and lacking any real depth.  Not only was I disappointed at the tropes that it presented, I felt inspired…

Immediately, I opened up a file and chose to write down my first thoughts as towards what are some of my own reasons to leave a church.  I have been in church circles since childhood and have worked in churches for the past 15 years, and so as a result some of these reasons I have listed come from firsthand personal experience.  You may notice the absence of Christian or church “lingo”, previous posts have shown that I am very aware that such “lingo” carries an enormous amount of baggage.  Thus, I try not to use them.  Without further ado, here they are, in no particular order other than the order they came to me.

So here we go, my reasons to leave a church:
  1. Growth is encouraged, but only in words and not in reality.
  2. The church is apolitical.
  3. No hopeful critique of the world.
  4. Vulnerability and self-reflection are not given space.
  5. It is uncomfortable with theological tension.
  6. It is more focused on what you say than how you live.
  7. It revolves around one person rather than the community.
  8. Uniformity is more important than unity.
  9. Dysfunctional relating style.

Now, before I dive into each of these 9 reasons that came to me (which by the way, more have come to me even as I write this), I have something quick to say.

To me, a church is any assembly of 3 or more that come together around an interpretation of the Christian Scriptures in alignment with the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed (and perhaps even the Chalcedonian Creed for good measure) and freely gives both Baptism and the Eucharist to the assembly.

Note: there is nothing in that quick definition that says a sermon must or must not happen, there is no mention of music style either way, and certainly no mention of a set or recurring location.

So, at the risk of repetition, let me restate those 9 items in addition to a short commentary on each.  Remember, they are ordered in sequence according to inspiration, not importance.

  1. Growth is encouraged, but only in words not in reality. – Meaning, go belong to a church that is comfortable with you not having the same view of God as you did when you were 4 years old.  Heck, to that point, if your church demands that you keep the same fame of mind as you had back in your 20s and now you are in your 60s, then you’re church need to come around and see the importance of always re-evaluating your faith.  This isn’t to say that your 4 year old perspective was faulty, just that a new perspective of God may be “more adequate.”
  2. The church is apolitical. – Meaning, go belong to a church that does not shy away or blush in the face of politics.  This does not mean that the church has to have a set position on everything, but it does mean that it will at least name the political tensions out loud.  For instance, if your church said nothing the Sunday after the Las Vegas shooting, or the plight of African Americans in the school to prison pipeline, or the danger of acquiring political power to “help advance the Kingdom of God,” then it is time to move on.  It is impossible to “love your neighbor” and not care about the policies and laws that fall short of justice.  To quote the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
  3. No hopeful critique of the world. – Meaning, go be a part of the church where they take the prophetic role of a Christian seriously.  Be a part of a community that prays with its eyes open, its arms elbow deep in fixing the world, and speaks hopeful critique.  Many churches just lament or condemn the world, don’t do that.  Belong to a church that looks honestly at its own zip code and imaginatively offers a hopeful response to its own researched critiques of the world.
  4. Vulnerability and self-reflection are not given space. – Meaning, go be a part of a church that does not seek to impress one another.  Go be a part of a church that is constantly encouraging its members to reflect, to journal, to talk to one another about their deepest motivations for their “good” deeds and their bad deeds, to confess their past and current mistakes and the places where their hearts are still bleeding.  I believe that vulnerability has a nearly sacramental character to itself, and when a community values vulnerability in such a way, it is a beautiful thing.
  5. It is uncomfortable with theological tension. – Meaning, go belong to a church that isn’t hellbent on giving all the answers.  The church assembly should not necessarily be a place people go in order to get answers as much as get better questions.  There is a mass number of denominations, it is okay to hold theological positions, but be a part of a church that seeks to have humility in its theology rather than certainty.
  6. It is more focused on what you say than how you live. – Meaning, be a part of a church that focuses on living out the virtues of Christianity rather than making sure it sounds Christian “enough.”  Again, a previous blog post is about this topic.  Click here, to read that one.
  7. It revolves around one person rather than the community. – Meaning, go belong to a church that doesn’t give into pastor-worship.  Many churches focus on following a pastor rather than following the teachings of Jesus.  Trust me, I have seen this happen and it can be utterly disastrous.  Pastors are frequently in the top 5 positions for narcissistic personality disorders depending on the study.  There are some churches that love the way their pastor shines, and there are some pastors that love others to see them shine.  Belong to a church that focuses on the community rather than the person(s) up in front.
  8. Uniformity is more important than unity. – Meaning, you deserve to be a part of a community of faith that values you for your individuality more than the “sameness” of its people.  The Trinity is the archetype for community; diversity in community is the mantra of every good church.
  9. Dysfunctional relating style. – Meaning, go be a part of a church that holds people accountable and openly communicates well.  Dysfunctional systems (be they families or organizations) tend to over-functioning in some of its members that then symbiotically enable under-functioning in other members (and vice versa).  In addition to that, beware of churches that tend to communicate in triangles (the technical term for this is triangulation).  Direct communication is always better than getting a third person to relate information between two others.

That’s all for now.  This is really just a blog post, and possibly could be treated in a more academic way.  Feel free to share, to leave a comment, add to, or debate anything I have said above.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi there

    Thank you for your post. I find it very thought provoking about a whole host of organisations..I found point 9 especially relevant especially the one about over functioning individuals and this enabling in a symbiotic way under functioning ones. I have come across similar concepts in different literature but just wondering is there a specific book or text you were thinking of?

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    1. Check out anything written by Steinke on church/community dynamics. He studied under Edwin Friedman who was a champion of looking at communities as systems.

      Like

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