As of a little over a year ago, I was attending two church services pretty much every Sunday. I had one church I went to in the morning and another I went to in the evening. I had been involved in two churches at a time since around 2000, and had grown up going to church at least once every week. I was involved in church groups, bible studies, volunteered, etc. So with this background, it was surprising and disconcerting when I stopped going to church on a regular basis in April of last year. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. I couldn’t or didn’t go for a couple of weeks, and it turned into several weeks. But part of what might have been surprising to the outside observer is that I didn’t miss it. In fact, as time went on, I didn’t want to go back.
While it was still disconcerting, it perhaps wasn’t totally surprising to me. You see, I had been feeling uncomfortable in church on and off since around 2000. That’s perhaps a major reason I started going to another church while working at the church I had grown up in. The thing is, and one of the perplexities of the situation is that, unlike some people, I can’t say that I’ve had a particularly bad experience in church. I don’t intend to go into a history of my church involvement here, I simply want to provide this as background information, in order to describe the context of my writing here.
My not attending church was troubling for me for a couple of reasons. First, I was taught and believed myself that church involvement—being in relation with other believers—was an important part of being a Christian. The idea was never to go it alone. A second problem is that I had come to poor church attendance associate with people “back-sliding” (that is, not living like a Christian) or ceasing to be Christian altogether. Yet neither of these conditions seemed to fit me.
In Part because of this and partly due to other things I was wrestling with, I wondered if I was still a Christian. There were (and still are) many things about the de facto christianity here that I didn’t agree with and some which even repulsed me and made me sick. So this in combination with my alienation from church made me wonder what I believed and if I were a Christian at all. It’s taken some soul searching and other events, but I have concluded that I am trying to be a follower a Christ.
I was raised being taught to read the bible and that it was the basis of teaching on the Christian faith. Ironically, I did read the bible, but in a number of important ways, I came to different conclusions than those who had taught me. In fact, even many years ago I said that I felt 80% of what went along with the christianity I had been raised with was excess baggage.
Perhaps I will go into a bit of history of my church involvement after all—it may be informative. As mentioned, I started to work at the church which I had grown up in. It was an odd an uncomfortable experience in certain ways. With just a few exceptions, I the vibe I got from the majority of the staff was that they couldn’t care less about me. Perhaps I expected other christians in my church to be a bit more caring. But I don’t know exactly what bothered me about the situation. I couldn’t put my finger on it then and I’m not sure I could now totally either.
When I ended up attending another church at some friends request, I found a depth of teaching being offered that I hadn’t found in several years. I started attending services there and ended up attending a weekly bible study for five years. I have credited the teachers in this church for saving my faith at the time (thanks Rich and Kimber!). I feel that I learned much from them and was taught what I needed at the time. I worked at my original church for a year. About the same time that ended, I started attending a new church plant. It was more progressive and on the edge considering the conservative background we shared. I felt more at home and indeed it didn’t take long for me to get involved and connected there. I did feel at home and connected there for several years, though I also felt that I was still on the edge even in this “edgy” church. There were still some signs of problems however.
I don’t know if this is entirely related to this discussion, and I have yet to understand all of this, but I know that I haven’t really connected with praise music in years. Additionally, at times when I went to church I inexplicably felt worse and sometimes downright depressed due to attending the service. In addition to this, as time went on and unintentionally on my part, most all of my connections to the church were severed in some way. I was taken off the team I volunteered on, my small group was disbanded, the people I knew best were no longer attending, etc. Over the past year I’ve come to recognize that it felt like the church and I were going different directions. I was continuing on my journey, and it seems like they were getting more stuck in the church routine and becoming more conservative and traditional.
I think it came to a point where I recognized that I wasn’t getting anything out of church, nor was I being allowed to put what I had into church—I wasn’t given opportunity to use my gifts and pursue my passions. Looking at it this way, it seems like it’s no wonder I left church. Additionally, my continued growth, study and pondering led me to question church more. I have questioned for a long time about what being a Christian really is in essence and also what the gospel is. The answers I came up with didn’t fit well with what I see the church as being in practice. It is interesting to note that the majority of my friends, most of whom would consider themselves to be Christians, don’t attend church. I don’t believe this is because they are back-sliding or giving up on their faith either. It just seems to me that we are all sensing that something essential is missing from church. Church ought to be something that we all want to be involved in.
I had wondered recently when the church became about attending services and practicing rituals rather than about just living the life in the context of the community of faith. For a while the whole idea of attending church and all that church seems to be about just seemed something totally separate from what I see Christianity as. Then yesterday I ran across some information which just blew me away and made me think that maybe all I’ve been feeling intuitionally hasn’t been off. What I’m referring to can be found on this blog. Just a warning, this is over the edge and something I believe probably a majority of christians aren’t ready to handle, accept or even understand.
I think it’s a significant short coming of much of Protestantism that we have little to no teaching on church history. Up until a few years ago, I had no idea how we got from the book of acts to where we are today. Yet I think there are some significant events in history that we should know about in order to understand what has shaped what we currently know as christianity. It amazed me to find out how much of the beliefs of conservative christianity aren’t biblical so much as sprung from the cultural contexts and events in the nineteenth century.
So I have decided I’m done with the standard church we see here today. It looks too much like it’s modeled after business. I don’t believe that Christianity is about attending services. I don’t believe that our money should be going to just feed the institution. I don’t believe that Christianity is about simply just being taught over and over without ever putting much into practice. I don’t believe that Christianity is about building and growing an organization. I plan to write elsewhere about what I do believe, but these are the reasons I’m leaving church as we tend to think of it.
I still believe that church is important, and that we as Christians need to be in community with other followers. At some point during the past year, a couple of my friends and I discovered that we had started a routine of meeting every Sunday evening. We have come to see this as being church. It is a place where we are comfortable to be honest about where we are, what we are thinking about, wrestling with, etc. It’s a place which we are accepted and encouraged in our faith. We encourage each other to live out the life that Christ has set as an example, and to use our gifts and passions. So while I am trying to leave behind the institution of church, I haven’t ditched church or Christ.