Today was Sunday. I didn’t go to church. Even though I’m a Christian, who has attended Bible College and seminary, actively following Jesus, and living in the U.S., I didn’t go. Why is that?
Practically speaking, my son had a hockey tournament. But even so, I’m probably not going.
The reasons are many. The reasons are deep. Usually, that answer is enough for people who ask me.
But others are actually asking for more of an answer. They genuinely want to know: what is the main problem in Christianity? What’s wrong?
Why would a guy like you, who takes your faith so seriously, quit going to church? And not just for a couple weeks, or even a couple months, but a couple years? Four or five years out of church? Why?
Well, my friend, buckle up and let’s go on a journey. This isn’t going to be all about airing out my dirty laundry or others’ dirty laundry. This will include personal experience, but it will also include deeper observations about the state of the church in America, the institutions and social structures, and the underlying trends and currents I’m seeing.
- Statistics & Trends
- What Happened to Me
- What Happened to My Wife & Other Women
- What We All Crave vs. The Current “Christian” Groups
- A Call for Reform
Statistics & Trends – 5 Main Problems
Let’s start with some basic trends, aka observations in the news. The first problem with Christianity may not be unique to the church, but it’s one that Christians must learn to adapt to if they plan to have any positive impact in culture:
- Most people have shorter attention spans, so sitting through a 45-60 minute “sermon” or “lecture” isn’t appealing. Source: Ranieri and Co
- Denominations across the board are experiencing declining numbers. Source: Christianity Today
- Big denominations have had lawsuits and scandals amongst their highest ranks, most recently the Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse scandal. Source: The Guardian
- Political bigotry and nationalism have hit new levels in churches. Source: The Atlantic
- Pastors are not seen as trustworthy, and people (including myself) are becoming more skeptical of their motivations and character. Source: Barna Group
On bullet point one, I can sit and focus for incredibly long periods of time actually, so I don’t struggle with that. What I struggle with is a trend toward fluffy sermons, unprepared sermons, and/or lifeless sermons. I want to know the pastor prepared, that he or she means it, that they live it with conviction.
On two, I struggle with pretty much every denomination, even the “non-denominational.” Too much human interference and red tape, or simply irrelevant.
On three, it’s atrocious. Gross and unacceptable.
On four, the same.
On five, yeah, I’m in the skeptical 24%+. Given the scandals of Hillsong, Ravi Zacharias, Bob Coy, and so many others, I’m not defaulting to trust when I meet a pastor.
Now, I have a couple friends who are pastors (or former pastors) and they’re great. But anytime I meet a new one or hear about a new one, I’m guarded.
What Happened to Me
I promised I wouldn’t make this all about airing my dirty laundry. I’m simply trying to answer the question of what’s the main problem in Christianity and why I don’t go to church, in more depth.
Here’s what has happened to me personally, in a nutshell (you’re welcome to stop reading anytime if you don’t want to hear it):
- My parents were lied to by a pastor when I was a kid.
- My sweet ol’ grandmother, who had a true giver’s heart, was taken advantage of by TV preachers doing the prosperity gospel tricks of the 1990s.
- When I went to Bible college in 2006-2008, I started reading “emergent” and “unorthodox” books. Due to my wide reading and desire to study broadly, the leadership refused to put me on staff and warned people to be careful in their conversations with me. I felt like I got excommunicated. Not burned at the stake, but definitely banished like a leper outside the camp.
- After I licked my wounds and recovered from that experience, my wife and I attended a wonderful church in Portland, Oregon for a year. Then, upon moving back to the midwest, we really struggled to find any place that was open-minded enough to settle into. Met some great Christians, some not so great ones, but it felt like we were just going through the motions.
- Eventually, a few years later, our family found a church in Ohio that we liked. We got plugged in. They needed volunteers. We volunteered for pretty much everything. Then, I burnt myself out on doing too much. Then, a couple controversies came up that made us cringe at what leadership was allowing. Then, something happened to my wife…
What Happened to My Wife & Other Women
I’m astounded that my wife will step foot in a church. She was harmed, threatened, mistreated, and abused “in Jesus’ name,” as a child and as an adult.
While I don’t want to tell her entire story in this article because it’s not my place and parts of it are already in a book, suffice it to say, it hasn’t been pretty. As a kid, she was raised in multiple unhealthy churches, along with an unhealthy family, and all kinds of unacceptable behavior in both.
As an adult, she had to step down from a leadership position because people in church were uncomfortable with how strong of a presence she was, how pretty she was, and how she lived and spoke with conviction when she was allowed to share in groups.
After she wrote her book, many other women began to confide in her that they experienced similar things. Again, not my place to share their stories, but I can say this in full truth and sincerity:
So many women have been abused in the church. Sexually abused, verbally abused, emotionally and mentally abused. Told they’re too much. Told they’re not allowed to lead or speak. This should not be so.
I won’t stand for it when I see it happening in a church, or even in the workplace. Women should be treated as the crown of creation that they are.
What We All Crave vs. The Current “Christian” Groups
I firmly believe every human, extrovert or introvert, craves connection. Even an extreme introvert like myself craves connection. I don’t want it with thousands of people and loud crowds. I want it with a few close friends, mentors, and mentees.
Deep relationships, a supportive & diverse community, and intimacy with my spouse. That’s what I want, and I’d venture to say that’s what you want.
Over the years, my wife and I have encountered many different walks of life in our friendships and relationships. Here are the patterns we’ve found: the “Christian” group has tended to be full of cliques, backbiting, hypocrisy, and pettiness. Not always, just often enough to be a trend. But…
The practicing pagans, the non-religious (aka the Nones), the agnostics, the Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhists have been the folks we’ve connected with on a deep and meaningful level. We have more authentic relationships, more honest conversations, and frankly, more fun. We smile more. We laugh more. We just enjoy these folks more.
So, I call these folks my friends. That’s my “church.” A community of misfits. A group of folks who know how to be real with each other, who don’t always agree, but always love to help each other out. I spend time with them on weekdays, in the evenings, on random Saturdays. When I read 1 Corinthians or Ephesians, this sounds a lot more like the type of group Paul was encouraging.
It wasn’t “Christian” groups that had polished Sunday services, with a mini-concert, perfectly timed transitions, shallow prayers, and self-help sermons with powerpoints.
Paul’s churches didn’t have coffee lines, their own radio stations, Christian hoodies and trinkets for sale, pastors wearing $10,000 watches, $500 boots, and designer shirts or suits posing on magazine covers.
Church was supposed to be a house of prayer and meeting people’s needs, not a house of merchandise. Jesus said something like that, right? When he flipped the tables?
When Jesus hung out with his disciples, it was a group of ragamuffins, searching and trying to find God, trying to live into honesty, integrity, love, joy, peace, and all the rest of it. Failing at times, but failing forward and getting up, not backward.
When Paul wrote his letters to the various churches, some were Jewish, some were Christian, some were pagan, some were seekers.
Misfits, on the fringes, but genuinely trying to seek and find God.
A Call for Reform
That, my friends, is why I’m seeking reform. I don’t know if I’ll post my own version of the 95 theses, like Martin Luther, anytime soon. But I’m not going to church, not in a modern, evangelical, American church.
I’ll try something distinctly different.
Perhaps older, more community-driven, less facade.
Maybe a new thing, a fresh thing, deeper and raw, a space that welcomes all.
That’s my type of church.