Why I haven’t quit church

Last week, a popular blogger wrote a post on why she quit church. Not quit being a Christian, but quit going to church.

The post and comments forced me to think about why I, even when I was an undiagnosed bipolar/bulimic/beaten-down feminist/reluctant evangelical/college student, never left church. I had reason to, I think. I watched two churches split (one as an impressionable child) and I’ve been hurt, deeply hurt, by Christians and churches more times than I can count. Even now I have reasons to throw up my hands, despair of the bickering of fellow believers, and leave.

All that to say: I understand why people quit church. I understand how wounds from the hands of fellow Christians hurt. I understand the desire to run. I’ve been there. This isn’t a post designed to persuade or guilt-trip or berate the many hurting people who’ve quit church. I could be one of them.

But I haven’t left yet. Here’s why.

Because it’s easier to connect with God when I’m connected with other God-followers. Obviously, this doesn’t and shouldn’t happen only within a church context, but church is a logical starting point.

Because I want to set a good example for my children. There’s value in them seeing me stick with a ministry, even when it’s not going well.

Because I can’t expect things to change for the better if I’m not willing to work for change. At a recent conference I attended, visual artist and writer Makato Fujimura said, “The only way to twist back what is twisted is to be involved.” It’s hard to do that when I’ve been hurt, though; more than once, I’ve had to pull back or change churches because I didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with difficult people. But rejection in publishing has made me more emotionally resilient, so right now I have a little more strength to twist back than I did years ago.

Because I’m realistic and I don’t expect to get all my spiritual needs met there. Expecting that is like expecting my husband to meet all my emotional needs: it only sets me up for disappointment and disillusionment and the desire to seek fulfillment elsewhere.

So I don’t expect to have one particular church meet all my needs. For example, I’d love to say that I feel totally affirmed in my calling as a writer by the majority of people at my church; realistically, that isn’t true. (I simply don’t think that most people see the calling of a writer as being on par with other, more blatantly Christian, callings.) I also know that I won’t see a woman in the pulpit or as an elder, have my moderately-liberal political views openly embraced or various other things. At some point, I had to choose whether I’d leave over these issues; I looked at them, realized that I’m okay with not having my way on these particular points, and stayed.

This can be both frustrating and freeing. Frustrating, for the obvious reasons. Freeing, because I can look at other churches or organizations to fill the gaps. I go to a Christian conference and hear a woman minister speak. I read Christian blogs and magazines from different viewpoints. I seek affirmation as a writer from other places. And in all these ways, I meet other people who help broaden me as a person and a Christian.

Because I’m realistic enough not to expect my fellow churchgoers to be perfect. I hate having a standard of perfection imposed on me, and I enjoy the freedom to be open about my brokenness. So why should I expect perfection from others? Why should I expect them to be any less broken than I am? If they’re pretending to be perfect, maybe they need to see me being open about my brokenness; maybe it would be just the incentive they need to admit their neediness.

Because the troubles facing all churches are a chance to put faith into practice. It’s a chance to learn grace, extend grace, receive grace, in all its beautiful manifestations: forgiveness, reconciliation, peacemaking. A chance to lay aside my addiction to self, my sense of right-ness, my impulse to jump to conclusions, and embrace others, trying to see their perspective. A chance to learn when to use my tongue and when to hold it. A chance to love fully, even as I have been fully loved by God.

Because I’m fighting the darkness. There are Sundays that I want to stay home but I go to church anyway, because I don’t want to give any ground to darkness in my soul. I wrestle enough with depression, thank you, and I’ve been through far too many dark nights of the soul already. I’m not caving in, crawling under a rock, and hiding like there’s a nuclear meltdown in the sanctuary. I refuse to.

Because church isn’t all about me. I need this reminder more than all the rest. The minute I start making church about me and my preferences, my needs, my hurts, I lose sight of why I’m there: to connect with my fellow imperfect believers as we worship a perfect God.

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26 thoughts on “Why I haven’t quit church

  1. So many great points here, Laura. Two really jumped out at me:

    “Because I’m realistic enough not to expect my fellow churchgoers to be perfect.” I’ve come to the same realistic understanding, and every time I need a reminder that people at church aren’t perfect I look in a mirror!

    “I simply don’t think that most people see the calling of a writer as being on par with other, more blatantly Christian, callings.” And just what do those same people think Paul and John were doing? Those guys were writers for crying out loud, so you’re in good company when it comes to vocation, Laura. (Speaking of vocation, Aimee Byrd has a great post on it today: http://www.housewifetheologian.com/thats-not-my-name/)

    Nice job writing this post, Laura!

    Imperfectly,
    Tim

    P.S. If you want something on the lighter side, The Radical Journey just posted an article I wrote on what not to say to pregnant people and I’d love to get your comments on it if you have a chance to read it: http://theradicaljourney.com/2012/03/28/advice-for-those-married-to-a-pregnant-person/

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    1. Thanks for the comments and the links, Tim. Yeah, I look in the mirror when I need a reminder of the imperfections of church members, too. 🙂

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      1. You’re welcome, Laura. I love reading your stuff. (And I have to admit that linking my own posts is just blatant self-promotion. Since I have no blog of my own, I tend to rationalize that it’s not that bad a thing to do!)

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      2. Feel free to share any of your posts that you like, Tim. I’m sure there are other readers who will click through to them, too.

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  2. Yes! You’ve hit all the reasons (and a few I hadn’t thought of) that I keep going to church. A big one is expecting the church and the people in it to be perfect. Heavens, I wouldn’t want to go to a church like that–I wouldn’t fit in. It helps to keep in mind that the church is run by people who make mistakes.

    I especially like your point about finding other resources to fill the gaps. I subscribe to a couple Christian magazines, I read Christian books, I talk to fellow Christians who don’t go to my church. The point is to keep the focus in the right place–on our Lord and Savior, and everything he does for us. All that other stuff is secondary.

    Great post, Laura.

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    1. Hi, Diane, good to see you here! When I started writing this post, I was surprised by some of my own reasons for staying in church. I hadn’t thought about them consciously before; it was a good exercise in reminding myself!

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  3. Geesh. Alot of good reasons to hang in there. In a perfect world, this would be enough:
    “A chance to lay aside my addiction to self, my sense of right-ness, my impulse to jump to conclusions, and embrace others, trying to see their perspective. A chance to learn when to use my tongue and when to hold it. A chance to love fully, even as I have been fully loved by God.” It sounds like family.

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  4. As a person whose never been to church, although I have been an on-off Christian for 30 odd years, I try to understand how a person feels when they go to a church where there are personality clashes and where people are often just not getting on. I think that people get so wound up in their own importance and their own needs and rights, that they quite simply have little time left for anyone else’s needs and rights; we are all hurting in some way, and sometimes people who are hurting can hurt other people; by their indifference, or their arrogance or just plain thoughtlessness; we all have done it I think.

    In America I seem to think that church isn’t just singing hymns on Sunday, like I think it can be in England, more like a kind of traditional Christianity which I personally would find uninspiring, but I think church is also where you make friends and socialise too. With saying this, I think many churches fulfil this role in England too. As I said, having never been to church, for one reason and several, I can’t really comment on what goes on, I have only gone on what people have said about churches, and it’s usually, sadly, in the negative.

    You wrote: “…I, even when I was an undiagnosed bipolar/bulimic/beaten-down feminist/reluctant evangelical/college student, never left church.” For me, also a sufferer of at times severe depression, I just couldn’t have faced people with my brokenness and tried to be jolly singing hymns or listening to some sermon. Especially in a more traditional kind of church which is more about social respectability than it really is about a walk with Jesus on a daily and on-going basis.

    Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, we have to cut our losses and run; not out of cowardice but out of a kind of self-preservation. The irony of this post for me is that you are talking about sticking it out at church and I am slowly but surely trying to find a church to fellowship with other Christians! I’ll pray for you and hope that the situation gets better, and perhaps you can say a little prayer for me that, in my busyness, I can find a place where fellow believers meet.

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    1. Good thoughts, Tim. You’ve given me a different perspective to think about. See, I can’t imagine not going to church because it was so much a part of my growing-up years; in my family, it wasn’t social obligation that drove us there each Sunday morning, it was a combination of desire for God, desire to be with his people, and spiritual obligation. We did change churches at certain points, and my husband and I were in a bad situation at one church and left to come to our current church.

      we are all hurting in some way, and sometimes people who are hurting can hurt other people So, so true.

      we have to cut our losses and run; not out of cowardice but out of a kind of self-preservation. Good point. That was essentially why we changed churches; I was at a very unhealthy point in my mental illness (just diagnosed) and I needed something that that particular church couldn’t give. We knew we needed a supportive group of believers around us at that point and we found it at our current church. (Which is a wonderful church, by the way, in spite of the current conflict and such. As aggravating as the situation can be and certain people can be, I can’t help but love them.) I just hate seeing so many people leaving church (not just switching churches) and not ever returning to any church, and thus denying themselves (and other believers) a chance to know each other deeply this side of heaven.

      I hope that you can find a place to meet with fellow believers!

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      1. You’ve made some really good points Laura. I guess coming from a family background and community background that just didn’t go to church and basically didn’t, and don’t, really believe, I have missed out somewhat I think. I do wonder at times why I am a Christian and so many family and friends just aren’t in any way. But I think God has His purposes that go beyond this temporal life.

        I’m glad you are getting support at your church; that’s really good news. I think when I have completed a few assignments I need to do, I will make inroads into attending some church or group, just to get a feel of what it is like to be around other believers; I think it would do me a world of good!

        You wrote: “I just hate seeing so many people leaving church (not just switching churches) and not ever returning to any church, and thus denying themselves (and other believers) a chance to know each other deeply this side of heaven.” That’s it in a nutshell! Jesus is as much about life before death as He is when we enter the pearly gates! Thanks for the encouragement!

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  5. My reading from Deuteronomy 12 made me think again of your post today. We hear Paul often quoted as saying not to forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) as a Biblical instruction to “go to church,” but the roots are in the Old Testament, commanding us to go to church and why (bring offerings, rejoice, even tells us to eat!) Deut 12:5-7: “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” Enjoying the discussion here with your readers. Thanks!

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  6. It does my heart glad to see someone speak up for the church. If people said the kinds things about my wife that they say about the church, physical harm would be coming their way. Let us not forget that the bride of Christ is the church. God is much more gracious than I and allows said individuals to live after insulting her the way she is regardless of the conduct. Good stuff.

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  7. This is really good stuff. I especialy like your final point, church isn’t about me! At some point I/we need to be faithful to God’s wisdom in establishing His Church to carry the message of Christ to the world.

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