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.