I saw yet another one today. Another notice from a maturing, committed Christian announcing she is “leaving the church.”
Facebook connects me about once a week to another Generation Xer declaring she or he is “leaving the church.” Somebody else who discovered Jesus is > the church, what they heard (or think they remember hearing) from the church as a youth was not what they now understand Christianity to be, and the church includes people who don’t practice what they preach (oh, no, you’re kidding).
The reasons repeat: The writer grew up in church and did not really understand/connect with/grasp the intricacies of Jesus’ love while attending children’s Sunday school or singing in youth choir, so the church obviously is not the place to be since she/he has matured so that agape finally is real.
Or there are way too many hypocrites in the church. (Yes, I love the analogy: Staying away from church because of hypocrites is like staying out of the gym because of fat people.) Or the writer feels the church has failed in so many ways, he/she no longer can be a part.
I am not here to fight, but those reasons do not—to me—justify leaving the church.
The fact we, as youngsters, did not grasp the depth of God’s forgiveness, the Holy Spirit’s power, the prophets’ wisdom, or Christ’s purity may have been the fault of our church or our youth group. But maybe not. It may have been because of our immaturity, our youthful inability to grasp how high and how deep is the love of God. I don’t think many of us blame our third-grade teachers for our failure to grasp calculus at age 9.
Throwing out the church with the bathwater
And even if your adult church has not shown Jesus as you think he deserves to be shown, it seems dangerous to throw out “the church” with the bathwater of particular failings in teaching, worship, evangelism or fellowship.
The fact you are in church with people whose religion seems false, or who do not act like you believe Christians should act, or who have hurt you is tragic. I wish every church were composed of nothing but repentant sinners who strive to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. My experience of over 40 years as a church member teaches differently. Even the best churches include many—maybe mostly—struggling, selfish people who often miss the mark and may even go days without thinking about the mark.
Truth be told, that description applies to me far too often. Should people leave the church because I am a failure at the Christian walk and yet still darken the door? I hope not. I hope people don’t blame the whole church for my error. I can’t handle that pressure.
Friends have left the church for one of these reasons and/or because they have been hurt by the church. They include ordained ministers. Their hurt is real, and the perpetrators of the hurt should be ashamed.
But I am not leaving the church. Here’s why:
• Scripture insists the church is the body of Christ. Yes, that can apply to the church universal, as well as to those who “do church” in “daily life” and who do not need a service “in order to go to church.” They may be able to function as a part of the body of Christ, but I cannot. I need the formal church. I am poor at being the arms of Christ to hug everyone who needs to be hugged on my own. I am a failure at being the eyes of Christ to see every need that must be met. I stink at being the feet of Christ, going where the gospel needs to be taken, alone. But as a part of my church, I can help the body of Christ accomplish those things.
• Charles Wesley was onto something when he penned “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” I need to stay in church because corporate worship is critical to my well-being. God likes it too, but I need it. I need to find many others who have experienced the grace of God and desperately seek more, and I need to join them in confession, praise, adoration, song and prayer. I need to see the symbol of baptism. I need to share communion with brothers and sisters, who hand me the bread and the cup and say: “This is the body of Christ, the bread of life. This is the blood of Christ, the cup of grace. Thanks be to God.”
• I know—because I am there multiple times a week—the church is getting a bad rap. Without denying hypocrisy, abuse, failure or hurt, I can cite example after example of good done in the world only by the church. Even the worst church I have seen reached out to help its community, to tell about the love of God, to share the gospel. Even churches going through splits look beyond their problems to seek the Creator. To leave the church would mean leaving the best vehicle to affect the world for good.
• I don’t think the church exists to make me happy. The church exists to make God happy and to reach the world. If my church is not tickling my fancy right now, so be it.
• The best way to fix a broken church is to remain part of it, to influence it from within as a caring, participating and giving member, not to walk away and announce “the church” is wrong and no longer is worth my time. Serious members may need to leave churches that move away from the gospel or follow individuals who abandoned their calling. That is a far cry from leaving “the church.”
I do not think any particular church or the institutional church (a) is perfect, (b) has a corner on God, (c) is doing even most things right or (d) does not repeatedly fail to be what God calls us to be. I do not judge those who do not believe they can continue to be a Christian in the church and thus have left or must leave.
But I cannot leave the church. It is where I met God, where I meet God and where God continues to speak to me.
Lyn Robbins is a Baptist, blogger (www.wlrjr.blogspot.com), author of In the Court of the Master and senior general attorney for Burlington Northern Sante Fe. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas.