The early 90s were awash in books explaining why Generation X was abandoning the church. In a similar vein, there’s been no shortage of blog posts, books, and conferences about how Millennials are leaving, too.
A portion of every generation has pushed the church to grow in areas of sin and weakness. From monastics urging the church out of the sinful cities and into the deserts, aggressive arguments over the sale of indulgences, fights for emancipation in Europe, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam, and so much more, there’s been a prophetic portion of the church seeking to realign the church with her purpose and role in the world.
And I’m sure there’s also been those who walked away from the church out of frustration for her deficiencies.
I don’t want to diminish this struggle. I know exactly what it’s like to wonder if it’s all worth the constant headache. For two years I couldn’t darken the doorway of a church; I was sure that I was done. Many of the issues that continually come up in the “why millennials are leaving the church” posts definitely played a part in my disenchantment.
But here are five reasons I am back and more committed to the local church than ever:
5. I’m a huge part of the church’s problem
The bride of Christ is a mess. Despite Christ’s prayer that the church would model a trinitarian-like oneness (Jn. 17:20–21), we’re fractured and set against each other. This isn’t just the church on a macro level—the local church models this behavior in similar ways.
I’ve gossiped, sown discord, manipulated events, fought for power, demanded my way, etc. And while it may seem like some sort of humble admission for me to say so, the truth is that if you’re part of the church, you have, too.
It’s been a problem since the church’s inception. This is why Paul had to warn the Galatians that, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Gal. 5:15)
These kinds of issues might seem small, but that’s because we don’t see the chaos theory at work in our little sins. We don’t see how our behavior affects the entire organism that is the church. I’m sure that if we saw the full effect of our judgments, selfishness, backbiting, and power-plays, we’d be surprised at how far and deep they reach.
4. The church needs prophetic voices
Despite glaring problems with Israel’s religious expression and exclusive behavior, Jesus started his reformation from within Judaism. In fact, that’s what got him crucified.
If I really want to identify with Jesus (and the prophets), I’ll continue to love the church from within while I push, cajole, and shout her into christlikeness. It would be much easier to leave.
Every voice that has called for reform (even the ones we celebrate now) experienced pushback, threats, and misunderstanding. Why would someone intentionally sign up for exclusion and loneliness?
There’s nothing more Christlike than challenging the church to be more sincere and full of grace and truth—even when you’re being crucified. If the church is going to continue reforming, it will be because of the ones who stay—and not the ones who leave.
The prophet is often an unwelcome and lonely voice, but it’s an increasingly important one.
3. I still believe in the church’s goodness
Jesus encourages us not to make a show of our goodness and promises us that the God who sees what is done in secret will reward us (Matt. 6:1–4). This means that many of the most faithful and hardworking people are doing good work that we know nothing about.
For every divisive news story about bakers who refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples, there are many serving on the streets, in prisons, in soup kitchens, and everywhere else there’s need.
For every televangelist encouraging his congregation to give money so that he can buy his ministry a jet, there are many sacrificing to keep people fed, clothed, and cared for.
I have a friend whose mother—a pastor’s wife from large evangelical church—has served for years at the Sean Humphrey House, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for low income people living with HIV/AIDS. No one does news stories about her because not enough people are tuning in at 11 to hear stories about people doing good.
News websites and TV stations make their advertising money on outrage and fear. If you want to see the good that’s being done, you’re going to need to look a little deeper.
2. The church has played a big part in my growth
There are many areas I wish the church-at-large would grow in empathy and compassion. But when I stop to think about it, it’s been people in the church who’ve been there for me in my darkest hours.
When I look back on those dark times, I’m tempted to count the names of people who’ve betrayed me or hurt me in one way or another. But I often neglect to remember the people who have been there, cared, sacrificed, and stood beside me.
Those people were there not only because they loved me, but because they loved Jesus. They were the church to me, and it’s disingenuous for me to ignore them to focus on the others (whose failures I am probably blowing out of proportion).
When I take a moment to think about it, I’m so thankful for the people who will meet me at a moment’s notice and encourage me, cry with me, share Scripture with me, admonish me, and remind me of what’s important.
Sometimes they say stupid and hurtful stuff . . . but they’ve also loved me despite the stupid, sinful, and hurtful stuff I’ve said and done.
1. The church is a spiritual discipline
I have no doubt that I could abandon the local church, and cherry pick some friends to meet with regularly who would make spirituality and theological discussions deep, challenging, and fun.
But when I’m honest with myself, most of my growth has come from interacting with people I wouldn’t choose. By handpicking my social circle instead of submitting to a local community of believers, I’ll generally choose people who fall within my comfort zone.
I’ve grown in my ability to love by getting close to people with dumb opinions, different lifestyles, disabilities, and all sorts of issues I had not been previously been exposed to.
I need a multi-generational, ethnically and financially diverse community of people to mentor me and broaden my perspectives. I need people close to me who I can disagree with and challenge in a healthy way—while still loving and wanting what’s best for them.
There’s no question that the church has significant problems, and I’ve often daydreamed about quitting her. But I truly believe we need each other.
I know that there are some reading this who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of the church. I don’t intend for this post to gloss over, ignore, or provide a glib answer to your legitimate pain. Sometimes there are people too traumatized by the church to jump back into that relationship.
If that’s you, I’m terribly sorry. I’m sincerely praying that you find healing and can come to a place where you are ready to give it another shot, but most of all I don’t want you to read this as condemnation for your experience.
I totally get why people would consider walking away from the church, but I think we desperately need each other.