That sounds really bad, doesn’t it? But the fact is that lots of people are leaving the church, and they do have their reasons. Maybe we should have a look and see if we can figure out why? First, let me tell you why I left (and took my family with me). Then maybe you’d like to tell me your feelings; why you left, thought about it, why your friend/sister/neighbor told you he/she left, etc.
When I say “church,” I’m talking about an organization which occupies a special church building, has a pastor/leader who is most likely paid a salary, perhaps a youth pastor, music minister, or other volunteer or paid staff members, a board of elders, deacons, etc., prints programs, solicits funds, and advertises in the phone book and the newspaper’s religious section. That’s what we left. We didn’t leave the fellowship of the saints, the ekklesia.
My daughter and I were responsible for the children’s church and each of us taught a Sunday school class, she the youth and I the elementary grades. We enjoyed it and put a lot of effort into it. We attended the pot-luck dinners and other social opportunities, Wednesday night prayer meeting, etc., and invited people to our home. Some of them even came. We stepped in when help was needed, started a ministry helping elderly members with home repairs, and participated in a women’s bible study group. We never managed to become a part of the family. We’ve put forth a similar effort at other churches. After a while, you start to think you’re weird and unacceptable in some way, and you start to lose hope that you’ll ever find a place where you fit. Maybe if my husband had been more involved? But no, I don’t think it would have made a difference.
I was asked to lead a women’s bible study, and there were several ladies at the first meeting, one person besides the hostess at the second meeting, and then only the hostess and I and my daughter. I realized I had no idea how to do this, so I asked the pastor to hold a training class for small group leaders, and he seemed excited and said he would. Only it never happened. We were supposed to do some ministry with a nearby native American church in their children’s department. Never happened. Mission trip to South America? Never happened. There were many other things. After a while, you just get discouraged.
Next step? Books on how to lead a small group, and I can never buy just one book. By the time I’d finished reading two or three of them, I had begun to wonder why one needed the “big” church. We started reading about the church in China and some of Watchman Nee’s works and I actually went through a period of wishing we could go somewhere like China, despite the persecution, just so we could be part of a genuine expression of the body of Christ. And then . . . BING! It hit me . . . could there be house churches in the US? Surely there must be.
Someone on-line suggested I read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. I’d heard of it, but the title put me off. Still . . . I ordered it. We read it together as a family. Somewhere about this time we stopped going to church. Despite all we had been doing, as far as I can tell, no one except a few elderly saints even noticed. It was a relief. I was glad not to have to explain. People in South Dakota are loathe to hurt one another’s feelings, and yet I knew if I were asked I’d have to tell the truth. But no one asked. No one cared. Okay. We were free, much more easily than I’d ever expected.
Pagan opened our eyes on so many matters. I was ready to be contentious, to argue and refute, but I couldn’t. The author was right. I could argue that some of his scenarios didn’t apply to us, only I knew they did apply to others. But this was just the unimportant stuff. In one chapter, he completely turned around my belief about tithing, in another, my ideas of hierarchical authority in the church, and on and on. I cannot tell you what a shock this was to find all my deeply held beliefs to be absolutely unscriptural and so easily deconstructed.
That’s the story of our leaving. But of course, leaving’s only half of it. People do just leave and wander alone, but that’s not God’s best. Leaving Egypt or Babylon is a good start; the trek through the wilderness is inevitable; but there needs to be a destination. More on that later.
So, what’s your story? I would love to hear it.