Is Church Necessary?

What role does church play in your spiritual life? Do you feel it’s a necessary component of it, a natural but not necessary extension of it, primarily a social thing, an obligation you could do without, or what?

I ask because last night at a dinner party with maybe twenty people I was chatting with a Christian woman who is easily one of the most compassionate and honorable people I’ve ever known: she has given her life to caring for broken children throughout their lives. Just an amazing person.

In the course of our conversation this friend made a jokey little confession about how she doesn’t go to church as often as she used to.

“Well, I’m pretty sure God’s okay with you skipping church every once in a while,” I said. “Look at your life. You are church, basically.”

With a surprisingly firm grip she took hold of my arm and guided us a few steps beyond the hearing of others. In an urgent but hushed voice she said, “No, I mean I haven’t been to church in three, maybe four years. I just stopped going.”

Loud enough for her alone to hear, I said, “Wow! I’m so surprised. If it means anything to you, I never go. But you! I thought you went at least once a week. What happened? Was there one reason you stopped going, or—”

“I just didn’t want to anymore. Which is really weird since I’ve gone to church all my life.” With an expression of happy confusion she shrugged her shoulders. “And then I just stopped going. I thought it would be a temporary thing. I thought I would miss it. I thought my spiritual life would suffer.” She dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and closed the small gap of space between us. “But can I tell you something?”

“Please.”

“I don’t miss going to church. My spiritual life hasn’t suffered at all. It’s gotten better. I’m sixty-seven years old, and I’ve never been closer to Christ.”

“Great! Love it.”

“It is great. And it’s really made me rethink the whole concept of church.” She pushed up on her toes to bring her face closer to mine. With considerable gusto she whispered, “I’m not sure church is necessary.” She dropped back on her heels and regarded me matter-of-factly. “Why would it be? I have the Holy Spirit. I have the Bible. I have the people I love around me. I know Jesus. I pray, meditate, and read the Bible every day. My relationship with God has simply never been better. And it got that way without any church at all.”

So, whatcha think? Has it been your experience that Church is an indispensable component of the Christian life, or not so much? It seems to me that increasingly Christians I know or meet have stopped attending church. Some regularly pray and do Bible readings with their family, some do weekly prayer gatherings with their friends—small group without the larger church group, basically—and some simply go it alone.

You? Why? I’d love to hear.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kylie.arnold.16 Kylie Arnold via Facebook

    I personally think the people are the church. No need for the actual building in my opinion, it’s just a business. ):

  • Tom Blegen via Facebook

    it’s a great question! I think church is all about forming community and providing some rituals. Once all that is done it may not be necessary… except to be part of the community formation and rituals for others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/faith.nettletonscherer Faith Nettleton-Scherer via Facebook

    I stopped going because I couldn’t find a church I was comfortable with. But I do miss it. And, for me, I think it is important. It depends on the person. This woman sounds like she is doing just fine without it and I wholeheartedly support her. But like you said, she IS the church and that’s why I stopped going – because so few churches ARE the church.

  • Mike Huber via Facebook

    No.

  • Jill H

    If I believed regular church attendance was necessary for spiritual growth, I’d be in some serious trouble right now. :) It’s like saying relating to people suffers if you work from home or you live alone. Church or no church– it’s what you make of it.

  • http://www.oslcrolla.org Mark Kolbo

    There are so many variables in such a question, it is tempting to put out there as a yes or no, clear-cut issue. This may be a case of this woman having “grown” beyond the particular congregation she used to attend. There may be another congregation that could be a better match and challenge her spiritually. I feel that church may be very helpful, if indeed not necessary (a lot depends on what’s going on with parenting), during formative years. My experience is getting to be that often people do grow beyond where the congregation may be at a given time.

  • John Shellhorn

    For some people, perhaps church isn’t necessary… anymore.

    You said that she had been a church goer for all of her life, and she stopped going a few years ago. She told you that she still, for all intents and purposes, lives her faith and practices it. Where did she learn all of this? Did she just spontaneously acquire this knowledge, or did she learn it at a church?

    I would say that she has matured enough in her spiritual journey that she no longer needs the structure and support that church community provides. She has the tools necessary to “go into the world” and live her faith to its fullest.

    I think the role of the church is to be a place to learn HOW to be a Christian (or how NOT – depending on where you go!). I also see a church as a kind of “spiritual hospital” – people come for healing and, when they no longer need it, move on. Didn’t Jesus use this metaphor somewhere in the gospels?

    Is a church still necessary? I think so. For everybody? No.

    • vj

      This makes a lot of sense to me.

  • http://ingridspeak.com Ingrid

    Wow! I thought it was just me. John, mentioned several times that I left church wounded and kinda limping spiritually. After my wounds healed I’ve still been occasionally pissed when I see and hear the things that beat me up, but at the end of the day I don’t miss it. It was a social obligation and literally a job I went to. I will be 40 in 2 months and I know God, I am well acquainted with his mercies and I love him. To me church makes me feel like I have to prove this to someone other than the almighty. Those shoes don’t fit me. I go back for the occasional funeral or wedding, but I am perfectly content and happy to worship God wherever I am and forego the politics and indoctrination I used to experience when I was a faithful church attendee. I like myself better now and I think it give God room to work on me without the outside influences of this month’s fad interpretation of the word.

  • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

    I think it all depends on the church. I attend a church that is an intentional community of Lutherans and Catholics (http://www.motaspirit.org/), and it is an extremely important part of my life…not just because of the ritual of worship and liturgy, but especially because of the amazing people there. We’ve made such close friends there, and we take care of each other. The community is committed to ecumenism, social justice and progressive Christianity, and caring. If someone stops attending, others are concerned (not for the person’s soul, of course, but because they care for each other and would be worried). Our beloved Lutheran pastor is battling breast cancer at the moment, and she is being carried in prayer, meals, and caring. When my oldest son was born extremely prematurely 16 years ago and was in the NICU for 17 weeks, our church community’s hope and prayers were so important and carried us through. That’s what church is to me.

    However, if I were not a member of such a unique community and instead attended a large, impersonal church where few people knew each other, I would feel the same way about church. As Celie said in The Color Purple, “have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.” If you’re not a part of a church where you really experience God through that community, I don’t see much value.

    I feel very lucky to be enriched by my church experience, but I might be unusual for a progressive Christian.

    • cory gilliam

      I totally agree here. We need the Church as a form enrichment and support so we can carry our lower lights out to shine in the world.Unity,love and sharing aren’t things could or should do alone!

      • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

        Yes, and ideally church gives us an opportunity to be with other like-minded Christians and nourish each other. Otherwise, it gets to be awfully lonely and depressing being a Christian out there in the world, when so many Christians give us a bad name!! I feel grateful to worship and be in fellowship with other people who have the same vision of God that I do: an all-welcoming, inclusive God not defined by gender, countries, or rules.

  • Michael Davis

    I tend to agree with her. My spiritual life stays in good shape because I read and pray consistently, not because I go to church. Praise God for the in dwelling Holy Spirit which is what it’s really all about. In my opinion anyway.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Wow. What superb and thoughtful answers thus far. Really enriching stuff.

  • Sandy

    You have said what I have finally found about a year ago… In leaving a church format, I simultaneously began arriving at the individual responsibility to find and nurture my own spirituality. I’ve become my own leader, solemnly responsible for doing this, vs. dutifully, sincerely ‘following’ the corporate structures of other people. (That sounds ‘radical’ … yet my heart, soul and mind absolutely declare it abundantly healthy!)…

    My ‘God’ has absolutely grown in more than every way imaginable. I am finally sensing a greater link that unites me with others, vs. a ‘voice’ within that reminds me ‘our God is better than yours…’.

    It’s about seeing how different values and mores either build humanity up or tear it down. When I see the horrid conflict that persists between the three largest monotheistic groups on earth … I see the downside of “church” (and “mosque” and “temple”)

    To ‘get’ to this point (leaving church and publicly stating this) there is the reality of knowing others may and do disagree, and my decision will undoubtedly make me ‘less’ (an ‘unbeliever’?) in their eyes. That is the conundrum they must answer – can one be a Christian (or a Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or…?) and not be formally or informally linked to a church, mosque, temple, shrine or ???

    Is Christianity the outward conformity to a denomination’s doctrines or an inward/outward, ever growing and changing walk?

    What is the Ultimate Fear that ‘this’ (‘leaving’ the church) means for people ‘in’ the church?

    How can ANYONE … “measure” another’s spiritual walk?

    Is it possible that there are principals of living which can be agreed upon by all (or at least those who want to follow the Golden Rule?) Or is our own cultural spirituality the only Truth that matters around the world?

  • Lynn

    “Is Christianity the outward conformity to a denomination’s doctrines or an inward/outward, ever growing and changing walk?”

    THIS.

    • Elizabeth

      Bingo.

  • http://www.katesarabennie.com Kate Bennie

    I came to my relationship with Christ outside of a church. I was baptized by two close friends who are family to me and my journey began in wild and wonderful ways…but not as part of a congregation.

    Later on I would attend an Anglican church for 4 years and I really appreciated the traditions and rituals and in particular the community. We were blessed with a great minister, a beautiful 150 year old church and a relatively healthy choir. I enjoyed many things about this but I still have never connected as strongly with God as I do when I’m outside in nature on my own or with those friends that share this relationship…that are my family and community.

    Since moving away over a year and a half ago I have not found a new church…I have not really looked. I can not say what might come but NOT going to church has never been a prerequisite of my relationship with Christ.

  • Eliot Parulidae via Facebook

    This is something I struggle with. I love liturgy. I’ve read theologians who say that belonging to a community of faith is absolutely necessary. However, I have Asperger’s syndrome, a sort of social learning disability that makes it hard for me to integrate myself. I truly feel lonely around others and closest to God when I am out in nature. C.S. Lewis and Kathleen Norris would say that this is a moral failure, but medically speaking it’s not my fault.

    • Lissy

      Nature is the best place to be- in my opinion, anyway. Jesus spent a lot of time outside and alone, and if he felt anything like I do when I can be outside, I understand why!

  • Valerie

    My family has not attended church for probably about three years and honestly I feel that my kids are missing that exposure BUT I don’t want to expose them to some of the things I see coming out of churches these days especially here in our small Texas town. I don’t want them brainwashed onto thinking we have to hate anyone. I teach them love and compassion for their fellow man no matter who they are or who they worship.

    • Beth

      Hear, hear.

  • Alan

    Mine is pretty much the traditional take on the question, I suppose.

    I think that hearing the Gospel preached is a means to grace. It is important. I think communion is important. The word itself defines an act that can only be done authentically in community with others. (Yes, there are exceptions, shut-ins, etc., who receive communion privately, but it is still a community even conducted by members of the faith community.)

    A group of friends who can love, support, and nurture you during the tough times and celebrate with you during the good times. I would never want to give that up.

    As a gay man, I have come to understand the value of the family you choose, (either instead of, or in addition to the family you’re born into.) Church is a family you choose.

    There has been a lot of writing lately about the move away from the importance of community groups in people’s lives (churches, Lions Clubs, bowling leagues, etc.) There are plenty of opportunities for American rugged individualism….I think it is a good thing to temper that with opportunities for sharing in a community.

    • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

      I like that–church is a family you choose. If you are lucky enough to find a wonderful, supportive church family, it can enrich your life and your faith. If not, steer clear. :)

      • Jill H

        Bingo

      • Alan

        No doubt. The difficulty, as a recent post of John’s points out, is finding that community.

        It doesn’t have to be a group of people that all think the same way. The churches I have called home have always had people with a diverse set of viewpoints on particular issues, but they do all share the same core values of mutual respect, love and nurturing each other.

        If you can’t find that, then it isn’t worth it. Heck, I’m not sure I’d even call that a church; it’s just a building where some people get together every Sunday morning.

      • vj

        Yup, I definitely got lucky on that score – joined a church in my teens that has been such a wonderful support, encouragement, family to me. Through comments on John’s blog I have encountered stories of churches that are NOT like mine, and my heart aches for anyone who has been wounded in a place that should be the safest place on earth :-( I read about things that have been said and done in the name of Christ, and it just boggles my mind that such things happen…

        I suppose churches really are like families: nobody’s perfect, but if the prevailing dysfunction is damaging you, you should get out.

  • http://www.graceandgiggles.wordpress.com Rebekah Grace

    Oh, John! I came here via facebook and laughed at the tagline of your blog, first of all. But the question – it’s a doozie for me. I don’t think your comment section has enough space for my answer and since I can be so wordy, I’ll simply say this:

    I feel condemnation that church is not only necessary but required. But, condemnation doesn’t come from Christ. But, many Christians I have come up against (notice I didn’t say meet or have a r/ship with, but “come up against” (ick)) have validated that condemnation. One story, which is a blog post in itself, I was interrogated for my lack of church attendance and asked, based on such, who Jesus Christ was to me. Really? Jesus Christ can’t be my Savior if I don’t find my a$$ in a pew every Sunday? I digress.

    I am a prodigal (or was), I ran from God for 27 years after being saved in the church I grew up in and watching my family (pastor family) implode due to infidelity. Through the deep and dark murkiness of the muck and mire I fell on my knees to Christ in late 2007 (thought He was the Knight in Shining Armor and would fix all my junk in no time flat. THAT has not been the case (she said snarkily). I haven’t been to church in decades. Well, aside from the small start up church that was held in a church (no churchiness feeling there, you know?!?!) and got into an “argument” with the pastor because I felt safer in a large group (read Sunday morning service) and wasn’t ready for small group (read meet weekly in small, intimate and vulnerable groups). He simply couldn’t let me be where I was – for crying out loud sir, I haven’t been to church in decades, let me sit in the folding chair for a couple years if I have to and love me there. But, no, he could not. So, I stopped attending.

    That was a lot of words. The story, the wounds, the pain, the lack of trust – they run as deep as my DNA. But, Christ, He is with me and has taken me into His depths many times in these past five years. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Now, if I could stop the condemnation I’d really be going somewhere.

    Thank you for writing. I would love to meet that wonderful woman you wrote about!

    In His grace,

    Rebekah

    • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

      I don’t blame you for feeling that way. I tend to stay away from condemning people like that…but I’m also a rebel at heart, so if someone condemned me for not going to church, you can bet that I’d want to stay away…just to spite them! :)

    • Diana A.

      If my church had tried to push me into more than what I wanted, I would have been turned off too. As it was, they were smart enough to benevolently ignore me until I was ready for greater commitment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KristiOutlerByrd Kristi Outler Byrd via Facebook

    I’m currently struggling mightily with this. I haven’t been to my church in months. There are some wonderful people at my (former?) church. But my oldest kid is gay and that’s not going to be embraced there. Frankly, dealing with the dogmatic certainty if it all has left me weary. I think I just need a break.

    • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

      A lot of people have come to our church (we are an open and affirming congregation) because their children, siblings, or friends were condemned or at the very least, not welcomed, at their previous churches. These are the Christians who give the word a bad name and force people from church. Of course, many of them do not mind this (for example, the Catholic church).

    • Jill H

      Kristi, I’ve read some of your story you’ve shared here, and I just wanted to be sure you knew how I respect your approach to making sure your son does not feel ignored or judged. If your family’s church experience is one that doesn’t affirm and uplift you as a family, then you have done what was necessary to leave. But easier said than done.

      You need to feel God’s loving support when instead you are feeling weary. It’s incredible sometimes that we cannot receive that support through the ways we’re taught it should come. Then I say do what is right for you, and come get support here. :)

      • Elizabeth

        I heart you, Jill.

        • Jill H

          Right back at ya, girl.

    • Elizabeth

      Choosing a church and protecting an LGBT child in one must be exhausting. The Episcopalians generally welcome these children. The right-thinking Presbyterians can be found at http://www.mlp.org. Just a start.

  • Tuco

    If your question is “is Church necessary?” That only depends if you believe in the Eucharist. If you don’t believe in the Eucharist, then Church is not necessary to you. On the other hand, if you believe in the Eucharist, then you understand the necessity of Church even on a daily basis. If this leaves you wondering what I’m even talking about, then your real question should be is the Eucharist necessary? http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm

    • textjunkie

      nice point!

    • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

      I think this works only if you are from a liturgical tradition, in particular Catholic. In our community of Lutherans and Catholics, the whole point of the service for Catholics, at least traditionally, is the Eucharist. For the Lutherans, it tends to be the message, music, and grace. Lutherans have Eucharist too, but it’s not the main purpose of church.

      • Tuco

        Marie…Catholics are still praying for the day that we will all share in the same Eucharist. Until then we feel like some of our Christian brothers and sisters are missing from the Feast.

        God seeks leads us regardless if we are following or not. I’ve known many Catholics who left the Church due to the fact the Church have failed to teach it’s flock true Catholic teaching for the past 40 years. God has guided them to other churches to receive the nourishment of the Spirit they were lacking. But God will not stop there – they will plateau. Something will come up and they will feel a need or another desire in their hearts. That desire is God calling them to the Eucharist. All who have been chosen will seek the communion of Christ. God Bless.

        • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

          Most of the Catholics I know, love, and worship with (including my husband) have that same desire to share in the Eucharist…but the church hierarchy is most definitely NOT in favor of that idea.

          I’m just pointing out that for many people, the Eucharist is not the be all and end all of church. My husband’s pastor is Presbyterian, and he doesn’t really understand why we have communion every week. The Eucharist is a ritual for many, and that’s all. I’m glad you find greater meaning in it.

  • Tim

    I can understand all the comments above to some extent. My take, thus far, seems different.

    I don’t know why, but unless I have a church body to be part of my relationship shrivels up and dies. Part of this, I think, is that I am far too much the intellectual in the worst possible sense. I get distracted easy, thing long and deeply about absolutely nothing at times, and in general list back and forth spiritually when left to my own devices.

    the three bible studies and weekly church service I attend are annoying in various ways for various different reasons. I have to acknowledge that I am a doctrinal hybrid seldom seen anywhere let alone in a smallish college town in western kansas. but church and these other formal opportunities give me a community and an anchor that can prevent me from listing too far away from where I should be. most of the time I guess I wouldn’t need them, but then the storm would come. and it hardly seems rational or fair or loving to run back to church/study only when you yourself are in trouble.

    • Jill H

      I appreciate your experience Tim, and yet if my beloved friends do not come to me when they are in need– I would feel like a failed friend. It is quite reasonable to turn to someone you trust, lean on them, in times of sadness.

      Perhaps you’re referring to the ‘fair-weather Christian’ concept? The reality of what’s in our hearts becomes apparent– regular church or meeting attendee or not. A person’s sincerity cannot be judged by their physical presence in a church.

      • Tim

        I would be remiss to ask for help when I needed it and not be there when they need my help, is what I intended to say. it is at church, and at those Bible studies that these different groups whom have all anchored and helped me in different ways share what is needed. With me and the 3-4 other guys I spend the most time, it is a chance to be honest and open in a way that so few men I have met dare to be.

        I guess what I am saying is that my ritual and my regular pattern keep me honest and accountable for helping those I can help and to getting help when I need it.

        • Lissy

          Thank you for your view. I think many people feel the way you do.

  • textjunkie

    If you’ve been a serious churchgoer all your life, taking a few years off can be a wonderful experience. I totally burned out on church a few years ago, and after the better part of 40+ years of regular church going, I took what was supposed to be a summer off, and it turned into two to three years of sleeping in on Sunday. No harm done! Eventually the need for a Christian community and regular mass reasserted itself and I found a new spot to be happy in. Now if I want to go, I go, if I want to do something else, I do something else. It’s great to be there because I want to be, not out of a sense of “that’s what you do on Sunday mornings” or a sense of stress that the church has so many activities and ministries that it desperately needs all hands on deck all the time to make sure everything gets done (a common problem of successful churches ;).

    • Don Rappe

      I feel it’s better not to go unless I’m enjoying it, but I do enjoy it.

  • mike moore

    Many many late nights ago, just prior to Christmas and exhausted from having wrapped-up a tough contract negotiation, my 70-ish attorney turned to me as we parted company and wished me, “Merry Christmas!”

    I mentally stumbled for a moment, remembering that he is Jewish, and — being the nimble-minded guy that I am — I wished him a jovial, “Merry Hannakuh, Len!”

    He burst out laughing and said, “‘MERRY’ Hannakuh? Kid, do you have any religion at all?”

    “Of course, I’m Episcopalian.”

    Len’s laughing response, “boy, I hate to break it to you, that’s not a religion. That’s a country club.”

    I laughed as well, wished a him a “Happy Hannakuh,” and we each set off for our holidays. Over the next weeks, however, Len’s one-liner still stuck with me, having hit very close to home.

    Why was I still going to church? I’d tried other kinds of churches, each more off-putting than the prior. And, more to the point, I was far down the path of mentally chucking Christian theology. I weighed the pros and cons of The Church v. The Club: Church offers 45 minutes of uplifting spirituality each Sunday; the club offers golf, swimming, and a full-time bar.* Beyond that, I found I couldn’t discern much of a difference.

    (* and while it may well be the Devil’s Work, what’s a Sunday morning without an excellent Bloody Mary?)

    Church had simply become another club. Church was a ready-made social set with common interests and, sometimes, common values, as well as a solid philanthropic community. Not bad things, but not really, it seemed to me, the point of the place, either.

    I’ve since found spirituality can come from the most unlikely places, places which are often (usually) not churches. I miss the church in the way that I miss certain long-time acquaintances. It’s great to still cross paths every now and then, for sentimentality’s sake and to learn what’s new in their lives, but after the first hour or two, there’s not much left to talk about.

    These days I live in much broader communities. One of these communities is particularly fascinating, with conversation unlike any I ever had in church. In fact, today, we’re asking ourselves the question, “Is Church Necessary?”

    How cool is that?

    • Jill H

      Mike, if you find a way to combine my appreciation for a good bloody Mary and my desire to find an awesome church community, I will be forever indebted.

  • Andrew Chow via Facebook

    Church is not necessary for everyone all the time. It is needed for the poor in spirit, the young, the needy. It ought not be a bastion of dogma, but a well-spring of compassion. It ought not be judge, jury, and prosecution, but a community of friends with unconditional love. It ought not be a source of shame and guilt, but a solid and soft place to fall. It ought not demand fleece from the sheep, but binds up the sick and injured. It is not easy to be a church leader. If it is easy, it ain’t being done right.

    In good times, we need to remember the bad times when we need the support of a church community, and pay it forward.

  • Jeanine Acree via Facebook

    i need the socialization of church

    • Lissy

      I think many people do.

  • John Fitzsimmons

    I was filled with the holy spirit, coming up for twenty years ago.And became a very productive member of a charismatic evangelical church movement.I committed to lifetime covenant membership. Because I loved everything this church stood for. The worship the outreach to the poor and marginalized, the depth of brotherhood and sisterhood. And much more. I was in a leadership role. The importance of being part of the body of Christ in a local body was very foremost in our teachings.

    As the years past I began periodically struggling with my old addictions of alcohol and drugs. To the extent that my times at church were getting shorter and my relapses longer. I eventually decided I was not going back. And I started attending twelve step recovery fellowships, ie. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. After some early painful struggles I found freedom from my addictions. I moved to Glasgow in Scotland, my home town. And have tried at least a dozen churches here for a few months each.

    These days I don’t attend any church. My doctrines have been challenged by the miracles in peoples lives who have no doctrines but have god’s love. And who share that love with others. My relationship with God has never been better or deeper. My relationship with myself and others has never been better. And my service to others is more fruitful than ever.

    The thing I miss most is the worship. But I still get together with Christian friends to worship in our houses. I know I am in Gods will more than ever. And I have the amazing privilege of working with others who are in the bondage of addiction. I don’t feel the need to be part of a church because I believe I am part of something God is doing outside the established churches. I really struggle with most of the preachers today. I listen to good humble men of God on line: Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Carlton Pearson, etc. These guys are coming from the same place as me. Love your blog, John. Much love, John Fitzsy in bonnie Scotland.

    • Jill H

      Brilliant comment, John. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KJoyBunn Karen Bunn via Facebook

    Absolutely! I found Church to simply be another source of drama and an unneeded political construct dedicated to creating an internal pecking order. If I want that, I’ll watch cable news shows!!

  • Matt

    I don’t go to church. The only church I’d ever consider going to no longer feels like the home I grew up in anymore.

    I have my Christian radio, my Bible, my thoughts and prayers. I have my partner and family. But I do think part of the reason I can have a strong spiritual life on my own is because I was raised in a church family. I have such great memories of helping with VBS, mission trips, youth group and confirmation. I think that both in my secular education and Christian education, I had to have formal structure before I could really take things into my own hands. One day, I’ll definitely find a good church to bring my children to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.rohde.9 Jeremy Rohde via Facebook

    I’ve tried on a few occassions to go without attending church services. It never goes well for me. If I go more than a couple weeks without, I begin to feel lost.

    • Lissy

      MR. ROGERS!!! Sorry, got really excited when I saw his picture! ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/KJoyBunn Karen Bunn via Facebook

    Eliot–in many ways, your physical challenge is a gift. You will learn as much or more in your church than others do in theirs. You are an excellent writer and communicator even if you have a hard time in person with other humans. The world should hear from you.

  • Elizabeth

    I go to church as I need it. Sometimes I really need it. The ritual, the singing, shaking hands with the nearest person and saying, “Peace be with you.” It’s the best way to quiet my intellectual monkey mind. I walk out of the building and realize, for just ten minutes maybe, I was at peace.

    • Matt Muecke

      I wish I could find my personal answer to this. It’s hard enough to find a church that fits with ones self, let alone another adult and two children. I love Jesus but always want to be open to all religions and be able to coney that to my children. Being from a town of 100,000 people in northern Minnesota doesn’t currently leave a lot of options for progressive churches.

  • Diana A.

    I love church. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. That said, church isn’t for everybody. And finding the right church can be tough. I think it’s good to have a community with which to worship and/or fellowship, but I think some of these more casual gatherings (family, friends, on-line) qualify. Going it alone can be tough–but some of us introverts out here actually prefer it. Basically, if a person is only going to church out of a sense of obligation, maybe it’s better to skip it.

  • Mary

    I don’t attend a church. I come from a Fundie background & went to church twice a week for years. My parent’s attitude was,”if the church is open…. we’ll be there”. Our whole family life revolved around “the church”. In fact, “the church” came before our family. As a young adult, newly married & with young children, I continued to go. We went to two different churches during that period. When we moved away from the area, we had trouble finding a church that we all felt comfortable in. I slowly began to realize that I didn’t HAVE to go & that I was happier when NOT going. My Christianity has ALWAYS been important to me; however I have discovered that God can use us wherever we are. I know this is not for everybody, but it has been my experience.

  • Jill Hileman via Facebook

    Eliot, I second Karen’s comment. There may be plenty of people–scholarly, learned, religious–who are going to feel beholden to dictate what faith expressed should look like and sound. As I’m sure you already know, your relationship with God is your own. You may have already found that Asperger’s can allow you an openness with the divine that others wouldn’t understand. I’d say give yourself full permission to have that closeness in the ways you find it. You will find there are others who can support you in that.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Soooooooo best comments ever.

  • Melissa

    The main purpose for the structural thing we call ” church” is that it serves as a place to connect with other real seekers who are a relatively small group. Church for many is just a social club. For others it give them some sense of importance and their lives some validity. For a small group of people, however, it is a place where one can build a real ” body of Christ ” committed to worshipping Him, glorifying Him, and helping to usher in His kingdom. An Interesting survey done recently asked 1000 church goers the purpose of the church and over 80% said ” to serve the needs of me and my family”. 80% of their pastors answered that same question ” to glorify God”. The disparity is obvious. I go to church to worship. I need a faith community around me . The mutual love and support is indispensable to my life. I have found this real community within the formal structure. It is real , vibrant, and alive. Not everyone is as lucky. Some churches are really cold, dead, sterile, and at times, toxic places. Just like the world. Why should this surprise anyone?

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    I no longer attend church either. My wife goes to a large evangelical church that she loves. They don’t preach politics from the pulpit, they’re very outreach minded w/ an orphanage in Tibet, and a ministry to prostitutes i South America, but it’s just not for me, at least not right now. I think that church is basically defined as a community of believers, and isn’t necessarily defined by a building or meetings. If you have a group of friends who love you, and love God, then you can hang out over a few beers or coffee, or whatever, and that’s church. By definition, John’s interaction w/ his friend at the party is church.

  • Eliot Parulidae via Facebook

    Thank you. Many thinkers imagine that hatred of others and grand rebellion against the bourgeoisie are the only two possible motivations of the solitary person. There’s a difference between hating people and struggling socially, just as there’s a difference between hating church and struggling with the ecclesiastical scene.

  • Drew Meyer

    HI,

    OK, I have to admit that I go to one church because they pay me to play the organ. usually, I get out as fast as I can and run to my other church for the end of coffee hour and to find out where my friends went for our Sunday Lunch Out. I know, it sounds weird, but it works (it also helps that they are less than a block apart!) I have to admit that the organ church is more of a job than anything else….they represent the faith group that I left and my other church is the place where my heart is. I will leave the names out…it really doesn’t matter.

    I enjoy being at my church when I can be there. Since I came out of the Fundamentalist movement, I find that I am unable to read Scripture for myself…I just start to analyze and compare notes and and and…… However, when I hear Scripture read, it comes alive for me. So, in that case, even if I quit the organ church, I would still go to my home church.

    In addition, I have come to the conclusion that the “church” is just a man-made object and so when things get a bit dicey, I pull back for a bit and just wait it out. God usually finds a way to get to me.

    This is all so scatter-brained, but it is where I am now. I hope it helps someone.

  • Connie Jones

    My spouse (of 23 years, i hope and pray we can marry legally soon) and I started going to church 12 years ago because we were raising her grandson and wanted to give him a good faith background. As the years went by we became more and more involved with the church and we slowly developed a church family. We didn’t hide who we were but we didn’t go out of our way to tell anyone, but we were fine if and when they figured it out. We went faithfully every week. Four months ago we stopped going because the Methodist hierarchy decided to move our minister. Without bothering you with all the reasons why this caused us to stop going I must say that I miss that feeling of church family and the feeling of love, and for the most part, acceptance we felt there. My spouse is fine and happy not going to church. I kind of want to go to another church but at the same time feel reluctant to get hurt again. I’ll try some other churches for a while but I’ll be ok if I can’t find a new church family. I also have to add that I was having problems with how much money the church was wasting keeping up the building, and I loved that church building, but it didn’t seem like that’s where God would want us to invest so much of our time and money.

  • Don Rappe

    These comments sure make me think about the question of what is the Church and the churches. Formulaically, I think the Church, the Thing the Kyrios is doing among us, is the bearer of grace, including the means of grace. Historically, I think our little weekly get-togethers descend from the meetings the Jewish captives in Babylon held in their homes to remember and practice their common faith. I cherish the myth that a fire or lamp was carried from the home of the meeting on one sabbath to the home selected for the next meeting and that this light has never been extinguished. It still burns as an all week candle, or facsimile, in all our synagogues and liturgical churches. After the destruction of the Temple and disruption of the Levitical order of priests, lay leaders were chosen to lead in prayer, praise and prophecy. The question becomes for me whether I will bring myself into the presence of this light, or even let it burn sometimes in my home? I like church because I sometimes experience the presence of the Divine, with whom I believe I have entered into a gracious covenant, to walk with the Divine and along with Others. I feel a duty to teach this covenant to others, especially children.

    • Don Rappe

      It should be the nature of the churches to be refuges in what may be an alien land.

      • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

        How true! I stopped being a regular church goer when I was 15. It wasn’t that I was turned off by my church experience, I just wasn’t turned on. I loved Christ and liked that he went out among the poor and the downtrodden and that he healed the sick and befriended the lepers. I liked that he had no particular admiration for the rich and the powerful and that he loathed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. If there had been more of Christ’s passion at my then church I probably would have stayed.

      • vj

        That’s really beautiful, Don. How sad that for so many people, their church experience has been the cause rather than the cure for their alienation.

  • matt m

    I was a pastor for a number of years. I have a Pastoral degree. I haven’t been to church in 3 years. I’m still a Christian and I’m happier now than when I was a pastor.

    There are times that I really miss the connectivity that I had with other believers…that sense of having a church family. I miss opportunities for outreach and I miss being in a worship service, connecting with God at a deep and collective level.

    I don’t miss the misuse of tithes, and the pressure to tithe when you really shouldn’t. I don’t miss the underlying pressure that I’m never good enough, which contributed to an unhealthy self esteem. I don’t miss the unchecked mental illness that’s allowed to run rampant because they appear super spiritual. I don’t miss the fear. I don’t miss the guilt. I don’t miss being accused of being gay because I’m an artist. I don’t miss seeing my wife, who battled depression from a lifetime of spiritual abuse, be told to “suck it up” because “it’s ministry”. I don’t miss being asked to exclude certain people in order to keep the regulars happy. I don’t miss solving real problems in favor of routine.

    I would like to be in a church again. I tell people that my absence is temporary. But I don’t know when it will be. If I’m honest, I think I’m holding out for something different.

  • Beth

    Our family left another church mid-service this morning…too much weird, too little God.

    Growing up, church was everything. EVERYTHING.

    Now we haven’t been able to find one closer than 4 hours away that we like after trying for almost 2 years.

    I keep hoping, but also wonder if this is a transition into a new paradigm. I think “church as usual” is dying a well-earned death. Does that sound morbid? It’s not. Cutting mold off the cheese makes it better, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mdollah.sweet.Moolah Rising Phoenix via Facebook

    i dont think church is neccessary but i do think its important its a community base a family in faith thats there for support and growth and also a weekly remindrr message of wat we should be doing as followers of Christ some churches however are bad or js dead in the spirit

  • Jill H

    Well lovely people, I made it through my first Sunday service in about 17 years and didn’t weep copiously or leave in panic. Took communion for the first time in maybe 30 years. Only used 2 tissues, but who’s counting? They have been an Open and Affirming UCC congregation for about 14 years in a fairly conservative area, so it wasn’t awful. :) I plan to continue searching, but I will go back again definitely. Hooray for conquering fear!

    You all have been my comfort and courage in this process. Couldn’t have done it without you. Especially our kind & wise host. Happy Sunday!

    • mike moore

      you gave fear a big bitch-slap today. Congrats, beautiful.

      • Don Rappe

        The body of Christ broken for you. I still remember my first communion after a break of seven years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/csiegel Crystal

    I stepped away from a lifetime of church about 6 months ago. I can honestly say that I don’t miss it. I spent way too many years watching pastors fall and bringing down good people with them. I got tired of being judged and reprimanded for pointing out hypocrisies. I watched my son get shunned because he had blue hair and the youth leader allowed and encouraged it to happen. I got tired of getting scolded for my more liberal political beliefs (“You can’t be a democrat and a christian.” Whatever). I attend a bible study every week with five women who used to go to the same church I did. Only one of them still attends there. Our once a week meetings has been more church for me than a month of Sundays. It is a safe place where we can feel free to express our doubts and confusion about the church today. I feel like I am a better Christ follower than I ever was while attending the “church”

  • MK Gundlach

    I haven’t attended church for about 3 years now. Not angry with anyone, no big incident or issue. After my divorce it just got a little awkward. People kept asking how my ex was (I had a restraining order), where he was living etc. I never went into detail, but I pointed them to the pastor if they wished to keep in touch with him (he had his number). I explained we were no longer keeping in contact and left it at that. I did miss it and checked into a couple other churches. They were ok, pretty much standard as far as Bible based teaching and sermons, but pretty cookie cutter. Nothing seemed to go deep. It has just morphed into private study and prayer time and I have felt growth and understanding of God deepen so much! There is a part of me that would not want to share completely these most intimate of experiences. I am loving my alone time. I don’t miss the gossip and judgment. It was rarely extremely harsh, just got tired of it. After a while it gets to me like that woodpecker did when he wouldn’t leave the wall in the back of the house alone…

    I don’t pass judgment on those who attend, i think it is great that people go and worship, have uplifting experiences, etc. I just don’t agree that it has to look a certain way when we learn about, relate to, and worship our God.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      When I went through my divorce I started to feel a disconnect with the congregation I had been attending. I suspect that many churches are just not well equipped to handle members going through the steps of divorce. And when one is ugly as mine was, its even more difficult. We are in pain, wanting help, advice, shoulders to cry one, direction, but it can be hard to find it in a church setting. Its not always the case, but it was in mine.

      That is why I took a good six months off, reevaluated where I was emotionally, and where my faith was. The timing was perfect as apparently God had something new in store. I ended up changing denominations and perceptions about my faith.

  • Allie

    It seems to me church has been different things in my life at different times. I do think it’s important to be part of a community, because it’s simply not possible to carry out one half of the Great Commandment (do unto others) without others to do unto. But those others need not be fellow believers. And I also, separately, think it’s important to be with other believers, because they are like pools of fresh water to drink from. But those believers need not be part of a church.

    There was a time when my husband and I were very active in our church. We were youth group leaders. Ironically, being youth group leaders made us more aware of youth in general, which led us into work with abused children, which took up most of the time we had previously spent in church. Did we cease serving God because we helped desperate children make new homes apart from abusive families instead of organizing softball tournaments? I don’t think so. I think one led to the other, but they were the same thing, a seed and a tree.

    Since I’ve had severe health problems, I haven’t been to church much. I’m still a member of our church, which proudly lists itself on a list of Memphis churches which support gay rights. But when there are days when I literally can’t get out of bed, church is too likely to feel like yet one more drain on my resources, and it’s too important to be that. As Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So these days most of my community of spirit is found with my husband; we take turns reading the Bible to each other and discussing things. And of course, on the internet. And here!

  • Ulysses

    A friend asked me this very same question just last week. Here is more-or-less what I said then:

    It’s a circle.

    When we start out on the journey, I think we need some “establishment,” (church) some foundation, some guides. For the same reason children need parents to give them boundaries. Then we will reach a stage where we need to break out of whatever boundaries have been given us. We are spiritual adolescents and we need to spread our wings, make our own discoveries, and fall into our own pits. There will be those that try to stop us, just like our parents tried to stop us as teenagers. They have legitimate fears. There really is spiritual danger out there (as much as there is “in here”), and we feel so invincible.

    And then we grow up, and we find that we’re tired of going it alone, and going it alone isn’t good for us any more anyway. So we come back to the establishment – wiser, hopefully, than before. And so we can be in the “establishment,” and when others try to get us conform to something that doesn’t fit us, we can skillfully work around that without having to leave. We can continue to grow in new ways that we can’t when we’re on our own. And we can be open doors – allowing others into our spiritual space, and leave that spiritual space when they wish, without threatening or feeling threatened – which is to say, we become parents in the establishment ourselves.

    Anyway, that’s my 2c.

    • http://fairybearconfessions.wordpress.com Meghan

      This. I had some half-articulated thoughts along these lines, but you’ve brought them into focus. I currently do attend a church, and our message today was on John the Baptist’s testimony, first “I am not the Christ,” and then “He must increase, I must decrease.” It struck me that when we are beginners in the faith, it’s easier to make your church or pastor into the Christ, the way our parents are god to us as children. Part of the maturation process then necessarily involves recognizing that my church/pastor is NOT the be-all and end-all of Christ (although if it’s a healthy body of believers, they may sometimes be the hands and feet of Christ for me), and that my church’s/pastor’s influence must decrease so that Christ Himself can increase. This does always involve some risk and can feel rebellious even when it’s very healthy. The separation can be relatively gentle if it’s a gentle and healthy church, although if it’s an abusive relationship, then I think cutting all ties can be the healthiest thing for some people, just like some adolescent experiences are more traumatic than others. Then, when Christ has increased with us in a way that we need to share the overflow with others, we return as the hands and feet of Christ, whether to a congregation or some other community where we can give of ourselves. It’s not this linear, and I think we can cycle through all these stances numerous times, or have a foot in more than one at a time, but your descriptions of the stages as analogous to child/adolescent/adult really resonated with me. Thank you.

    • vj

      Oh, this is such a perfect description of my own experience! And I have found that true of life in general, as well as of attending church.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.bush.5872 Michael Bush via Facebook

    Community is necessary — but much of what passes for “church” is not. A college student said this recently to me, “I think we need church. I just don’t think we need so many terrible ones.”

  • http://www.oslcwpg.weebly.com Nancy Walker

    So that’s where are the former churchgoers are! Those of us who are left kinda wondered, “Where is everybody?” Actually, reading your comments confirmed my suspicions that God is doing something new in our society these days. I am a Lutheran Pastor of a congregation that is seriously dwindling on Sunday mornings (down to 13 this morning, including Pastor and organist). On the other hand, we are doing all sorts of things on other days of the week, such as quilting for refugees, Messy Church, Cubs and Scouts, KAIROS, home gatherings. Yes, financially we are in trouble. But we are opening up our building to share with lots of other community groups who pay rent, hopefully so that the building will pay for itself, and we are moving to more of a “Priesthood of all Believers” model of ministry, because next month I will be retiring, and not being replaced. We’re not sure what our congregation will look like in the end, but we trust that God is organizing this transformation.

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Lovely. :)

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    I think the answer depends on what one defines church to be. To me church is not a building, a denomination, or a group of people who adhere to a particular set of theological tenets. It is all of it, yet it is not. Church is all of us, it is the body of believers in all our forms, mindsets and approaches.

    Church and individual faith are sorta connected but not necessary to be so. Faith is personal, church is interpersonal. One is possible without the other.

    For me I am a member of a congregation because I feel that the weekly recharge is beneficial. I always leave with a sense of peace, and a mindset of knowing God loves me and I’ll make it through the upcoming weeks. PLUS I enjoy participating as a choir member and handbell player. But what keeps me attending is the friendship. The interpersonal part is what matters, the knowing I am cared about, and as a group help care for others. I could experience that, and have in other settings, including secular ones. Church…at least this aspect of church is not necessary for me in my life of faith, but I find it a nice benefit.

    • Lissy

      Nicely said, as always! When I was younger (and didn’t have CFS) I LOVED church. I loved seeing my friends, being in choir, etc. Since I got so sick I can’t even get to church, I’ve seen my faith skyrocket and have been quite surprised by that, as I was told church is a MUST. I do, however, miss that kind of support group. I don’t get to see friends very often and that does wear on me. But I finally found an awesome significant other (worth spending my very little energy on), and he has helped so much. He, on the other hand, feels it very necessary to go to church right now as he’s going through a rough time.

      I wonder how much being extro/introverted plays into taking or leaving church?

      • Beth

        “I wonder how much being extro/introverted plays into taking or leaving church?”

        For me, I think, a lot.

        • n.

          I’ve heard it mentioned even that AD(H)D can be kind of a big deal in the decision that church is not going to work out.

          • Lissy

            Oh, I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. Hadn’t thought of that. There are so many reasons why church can be hard for some people.

        • vj

          I agree! I am pretty much an introvert, and the pastor of my church is too – we seem to see the world in similar ways, and I find it easy to relate to his preaching – both style and contents. Recently, however, we had a guest speaker – the pastor of another local church, which is much closer to my home than the church I currently attend. I briefly contemplated what it might be like to change churches (not that I would, because of the deep friendships I already have where I am – as an introvert, it would take me another 20 years to get to that level in a completely new community!), but, as soon as he started speaking, I realized that it would just *never* work for me… He was very animated and bouncy and enthusiastic – way too much for me to cope with on a weekly basis (although he gave a very profound explanation of Jesus’ call to ‘all who are thirsty, come and drink’).

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        I should’ve read further down before posting. :) I think being an introvert makes going to church a huge effort, not at all a Sabbath rest.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

          Im an introvert, and can be reserved. But like many of my type, being introvert doesn’t mean I am shy. For some, large group settings can be a bit daunting, for others not so much. For us who like a bit of space, we usually can pick and choose how much interaction we need. I don’t mind it, but then a regular dosage of “keep people away” gives me time to recharge.

          As for worship/church settings being a restful experience, I do wonder in who’s universe that exists? I’ve never felt rested…at peace…yes..feeling like I belong, yes. Restful? Never.

          Oh wait…that must be cause I’m an introvert!!

      • Lymis

        This discussion has made me realize a distinction I hadn’t made before. I am an introvert – but one of those tiny percentages in the Myers-Briggs classifications that is introverted but not in the least shy, so most people assume I am an extrovert.

        I seriously wonder whether I was ever part of a community. I loved and valued going to Church, and did so weekly until well into my late 30′s, including a lot of participation in church activities like choir and teaching.

        But my spiritual experience was always very personal and solitary, even as I was doing it in church – I was interacting deeply with God in the company of other people who were interacting with God, not doing so as a part of a group doing it together – it was more like being in a group of artists or writers each doing our own thing around others who were doing their own thing. I’ve come to realize that most of those others probably wouldn’t say they were doing that at all.

        So when my church community pitched me out on my ass for coming out as gay, I assumed it was going to be a huge shock and loss, and it was traumatic, but it turned out not to be that much of a spiritual crisis – I’m still following God where God leads me, and he isn’t leading me to church these days. But since I never thought God lived in Church or that the church had the monopoly on access to God, it mostly freed up a lot of extra time rather than cutting me off from God.

  • Pat Hux via Facebook

    We are the church, and whether we meet together or don’t, we are still the church. Of course we like to find other like-minded people.

    But I have found that the structured church is not a place where people can be in real community and lived loved by God and each other. The structure gets in the way.

    • Beth

      “the structure gets in the way”

      YES! It so does.

      [random burst of divergence from the topic: For some reason this makes me think of the Star Trek aliens who had become so advanced that they were just disembodied brains...not a great example, since that precludes a lot of beautiful things (G & T's, walks in the rain, perfect scrambled eggs with buttered sourdough toast).]

  • Lissy

    Hate to break it to some of you, but John has allowed us to create quite a “church” here! Love, discussion, sharing, support… church! Thank you, John!

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      I agree. It is very difficult for me to find Christians who feel this way in my day-to-day life.

  • Dug

    A Christian can worship God on a golf-course, but do they? Through the baptism into Christ, we are called into a community of believers. It seems that should be plural, to help make sure that our understanding of God’s will is mediated through that community. “The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. … This is most certainly true.”

    • Lissy

      I need other believers to help me know God’s will for my life? Is that what you’re saying (trying to clarify)?

  • QK

    I do go to church. Every week. I am employed by the Anglican Church as a lay minister, working with children, teenagers, and their families. While I sometimes lament that I would like to have a whole weekend not broken in half by being required at church, so that I could take my kids away for the weekend, I am generally quite happy with the arrangement. I truly feel that God has called me to this work, bringing love, acceptance, and compassionate listening to the young people in my care. I also think that I challenge the notion of ‘church as club’, and hope that the other adults who attend are challenged by my openness, my love of God, and my love of life. But, like all relationships, this is a two-way street. I have been challenged by this community to examine the way I relate to people, and I have been nurtured by others in leadership roles. I am uplifted, week after week, by the singing of wonderful music, and I am spiritually fed each Sunday in our sharing of the Eucharist.

    Having said all of that, I would never impose my views on anyone else. Church currently works for me. It hasn’t always, and I don’t doubt that the time will come again when I need a break. Everyone is different, and God relates to each person where they are :)

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Do you take a weekend away every now and then to just be with your kids?

      • QK

        I get four weeks leave each year, so we go away then. I take about one extra Sunday off each year, usually to do some all-weekend training. I just try to put fun things on other days :)

        • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

          Oh, good. :) Sorry for being nosy…I just know there’s nothing better you can give your kids than time with you.

  • Carol VanderNat

    I think that denominational worship and classifications are declining because people are experiencing a spiritual awakening that doesn’t require that kind of organization. Like minded people are meeting in coffee shops, on Habitat for Humanity worksites, in pubs, in defense of a common cause, and in each others’ homes. The early church was a collection of small groups worshiping in homes, too…”organized” religion can very easily suck the life and purpose out of personal ministry and mission. Yes, we need community, but I’m wondering if the format of denominations will be the way to find it now….

    I belong to a wonderful congregation in the United Methodist Church. I love the people, and the spirit and heart of community there, but the UMC as a whole is a very small part of that for me. It is the people, the mission, the ministry, and the passion that I find there that makes a difference…you could put any name you wish on the sign outside….these folks are kindred souls on a common journey, no matter what that name is….

    • Lissy

      Wonderful.

  • Steve Mater

    “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

    Not that the church is the only context for this “meeting together”, but I know it keeps my motives in check to think why I would not go.

    • Lissy

      “I know it keeps my motives in check to think why I would not go.” What you see as a bad motive not to go would be a good motive for someone else not to go. Why do you think people stop going? ‘Cause they’re lazy? Would rather sleep in? I’m sure that is true for some people but not all of us. I hope you’re reading the various comments that talk about why some people have stopped going. Are these motives “bad?”

      “Meeting together” can be done at any time and any place, not just in the buildings we call “churches.” Some of the most spiritual times I have had was when a group of friends and I would be visiting, talking, playing video games and someone would break out her/his guitar and randomly start singing. When I was 18, a group of friends and I started singing on the beach without any accompaniment, and we continued singing as long as we felt led.

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

    Church never worked for me. I stopped going about a year or so before I stopped being a Christian.

    I am an introverted, PTSD-ridden abuse survivor in a city full of Christians that make conservative Christianity look mainstream. I am a person that needs years to work up to trusting someone in an environment in which being asked 50 million questions to a stranger was considered a proper way to greet someone. I’ve heard countless times from pastors that mature faith was being willing to confide in your “brothers and sisters in Christ” – even though I never met one worth trusting. I went to a church with a “healing ministry” which guaranteed that in 6 weeks you could have COMPLETE healing (my narcissistic, emotional abusive mother went to that. She’s now “completely healed.” She also is still abusive, but I guess as long as you say you’ve forgiven and moved on, nothing else really matters in Christianity.)

    But I never could really fit into that little box of “here is the exact things you need to do to be what God wants” and since not fitting into those little boxes was considered entirely *your* failing since obviously they were god-given, perfect boxes, I spent most of my time in church self-hating and feeling guilty and disconnected. Even if someone had managed to see my PTSD for what it was, I’m sure I would have been told that it was my sin that was perpetuating it. “Just give it to god” or whatever bullshit phrase would probably have gotten tossed at me.

    when I was a teenager the pastor once sat me down and told me that I was rude for refusing to hug him back (hugging a person with PTSD by surprise…yeah, no) and that I was sinful and needed to start engaging with people. Only once I was an adult did he finally start respecting my boundaries, probably because I now had some legal leverage. I pretty much have no respect for him. My mother keeps telling me how he loves me soooo much, and I just am creeped out and disgusted by that. That’s the thing that I hate about so much of Christian love. Who do you love? You can say you love me all you want, but what’s my favorite color? What’s my favorite band? Favorite book? And those are just the superficial things. How can all these Christians declare this love for me when they can’t even be bothered to know the first thing about me? I couldn’t handle the superficiality of it all.

    All I wanted was people I could connect to. When I became an adult I started going from one church to another, but it was always the same. Too many messages about giving to the church. Too many messages about forgiveness of abuse. My rapist brother has more love and respect and acceptance in the Christian community than I do. Than I ever will. All Christianity asks of my brother is that he is alive for them to show how much they forgive him. All it asks of me is that I destroy every part of myself to fit myself into the “healed and forgiving” survivor on *their* terms. I have to atone for the sins of my family that they get automatic forgiveness for. Nobody wanted (or wants) me. Nobody wants an angry, questioning, messy, unapologetically bitter person who saw the Bible entirely different from everyone I spoke with.

    The last church service at the last church I went to before I officially stopped going spoke on anxiety. I bet I don’t have to write the pastor’s opinion of anxiety. He managed to turn the sermon into one of giving to the church. I gave up at that point.

    The last Christian friend I had…I was friends with her for 7 years. Best friends. She told me she loved my opinion and perspective. She said loved that I wasn’t the kind of syrupy-sweet girl who’d accepted the message that Christian women’s role in life was to be an “encourager;” having a kind (and artificial) word for everyone. The last conversation we had she told me that I needed to be that encourager, that if it “meant the friendship” I could change, and that the reason she’d stopped talking to me was because she knew “how much I disliked scripture as an answer” (I told her that quoting Bible verses at an abuse survivor did not magically make everything better, and apparently that’s what she got from that.) She’d been waiting seven years for me to become the Christian she expected me to be. That was my relationship with Christians — they’d befriend me out of pity, and a want to help me, and abandon me when they realized they couldn’t make me into the boxed Christian that they wanted from me.

    I guess this is sort of a criticism of both church and Christianity….sometimes I think about going to the local Unitarian Universalist church now that I’m a Christian. I have nobody anymore, aside from one friend who I met through work. I wish for connections. But then I think about the performance of it all. The plastered smiles, the million questions. The need to take relationships slow around people who probably want to know my life story on day one or else they’ll give up on ever getting to know me. And I just don’t have the energy for that anymore.

    I need things that are organic. (Or maybe internet-based. I would be willing to attend online church – as long as said church was a UU in terms of accepting faiths and non-faiths). I need relationships with people who are willing to provide as much information about themselves as they attempt to take. I can’t fit into boxes. I don’t know anyone who really can, but I know a heck of a lot of people who are good at faking like they can. I can’t succeed enough at faking to pass as what other people want. I even tried the emergent “authenticity” side of Christianity. And maybe it’s just here, but there’s something about the structure of church that just requires you to be just so. It’s a club, with its own unwritten social rules and standards of behavior that I never could meet.

    I can’t say that if church had been different I would have stayed a Christian because there were far too many contributing variables as to why I no longer am one. But church itself never did anything for my faith except make me feel wrong, guilty, more alone and disconnected from others, and unable to reach god past a wall of behaviors and personality I was supposed to perform and be but failed at.

    • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

      whoa….sorry for the long, rambling comment.

      • n.

        pls never be sorry, especially when (don’t tell John Shore) the comment is even better than the original post.

        i never even had anything approaching those levels of awful done to me by church people but could still notice the aspects of most church culture that you describe.

        • n.

          Well, i didn’t notice them that much when i used to go. Because you’re taught “this is how things are supposed to be”…But now that you mention it i can remember the things that fit what you describe.

    • Lissy

      Thank you. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. I have CFS and struggle with the energy that being “personable” all the time sucks from me. I rarely see anyone but my boyfriend (only every 3 weeks or so), my parents (once a week), and my massage therapist (every 2 weeks) because I am mostly housebound. However, when I do get to see friends, there are only certain ones I can see when I’m really tired. The ones who don’t care if my house is clean, if I’ve taken a shower that day, etc. Those people are few and far between.

      Sorry, that wasn’t really about church. Except most people at most churches don’t seem to know what to do with you if you don’t fit into the “box,” act the way you “should,” or ask questions. It makes them uncomfortable. As someone who also picks up others’ emotions without even trying, I would always pick up when I was making people uncomfortable and that made me feel uncomfortable and highly alone. So I can relate to that somewhat.

      • Jill H

        Lissy, it’s the stories like these that truly make me respect the hard-fought battles people endure to sustain their faith in anything–church, God, humanity. I’m sure you can attest to those days when ‘Give Up’ would be a much simpler agenda item on the calendar.

        These are the things that keep my little boat afloat– to know we’re all sorting this humanity experience out, one challenge after another. But the strength of people when they say, ‘X doesn’t work for me, so I’m going to try Y! I’m gonna keep trying to connect with others, with nature, with God, with my own spirit’–whatever it is! I tap into that collective energy of resilience when I’m freaked or tired, and I do my best to give back what I’ve taken on loan. These stories out here– this is all courage and raw power. Grateful for it all.

        • Lissy

          And for me, it is people like you and somatic that make me know I’m NOT alone!

          And I love your statement: Survivors are potent SOB’s, aren’t we?

          VERY TRUE!

      • n.

        it’s practically the same for autistics.

        • Lissy

          I would imagine so, although I can’t come anywhere near to understanding.

          • n.

            the energy you have to spend *being personable* we have to spend *faking* the behaviors that are considered acceptable ways of showing friendliness. being around people wears us out for that reason and others (some sensory overload related).

            even trying to get up the mental/etc. energy to find and “try out” a church is pretty daunting, especially when you’ve been out of the culture for some decades and have forgotten the “scripts”.

          • Lissy

            I do have some sensory overload problems related to CFS- NOTHING near what autism provides, though, but just enough to let me know it’s HELL for you. That you even would consider trying is freaking amazing.

          • n.

            Eh, well, i don’t actually try. i mean i’m only asperger so some things are lighter than they are for many people (i also miss out on some of the cool really different things that some who are “more autistic” might be able to do/notice/feel) but after going to work all week, which i do work with people because i’m a college teacher… Well… I basically want to hide in my house most of the weekend. but i do know people whose sensory or processing difficulties make church pretty much impossible for them.

    • Jill H

      somatic, I’ve got nothing but respect for your obvious strength. Survivors are potent SOB’s, aren’t we? Your observations are brilliant, your intolerance for bullshit is awesome, and your separation from abuse is necessary.

      Only people that are strong enough to match who you are would be able to earn your trust. No one that fakes it, like you said, is strong on the inside, and no one that is strong inside can fake it.

      • Sandy

        When you mentioned ‘self-hate’, I thought of the book “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach, Ph.D….

        From the book jacket:

        “Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffer,” says Tara Brach at the start of this illuminating book. This suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork – all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled. Radical Acceptance offers a path to freedom, including the day-to-day practical guidance develped over Dr Brach’s twenty years of work with therapy clients and Buddhist students….

        The ***BIG*** thing that I personally found – is that learning about Buddhist philosophy of life s-l-o-w-l-y undoes what misguided “Christians” took away from Jesus’ message, Paul’s message … Buddhists were literally shocked and saddened when they learned the concept of “original sin”. Brach gets into this in her book.

        So when you walk away (an absolutely healthy thing because you are finally listening to your mind’s wisdom) … learn how you can listen to the wisdom within you. You already have done so in leaving what hurt …

        “Walking away” hurt so much at times … so many very strong emotions, memory fragments, what to believe and what to not believe, how society will judge me … It’s PTSD where each layer is like peeling an onion …

        I think that ultimately, the people you find spiritually safe and healthy and wise … will include people who read the Bible … who meditate … who pray … who take serious care of their bodies … who do many different things.

        I remember hearing “Nature worship” worshiped the creatED, not The CreatOR… Now when I read about this scientific discovery or see that photo, or ??? I remind myself of the incredible opportunity I have to have a mind that operates on the interconnections between 3,000,000,000 or so cells – and I am but a teeny fraction of what exists.

        So find a way to heal from your mother, your church, your experiences. Find someone who knows all about “complex PTSD”. Learn about ‘mind-body’ techniques – how the pain you have stored is literally because you couldn’t escape. “Healing the Tiger” tells of Dr. Peter Levine’s discoveries re: trauma. Learn about Yoga breathing (pranayama I think) … Know that you are on the right path to a life-long journey. Learn how “Traditional Chinese medicine” (where doctors were paid to keep you healthy – where you learned to be your own ‘doctor’ ) differs from conventional medicine (where compliance is a value).

        Find the compassion in your soul that led you away from what once hurt so much. That compassion will help you …

        • Lissy

          Ooh, thanks for the book suggestion! (I know it was aimed at somatic but I’m butting in! ;) ) Perfection and fear are my things. I’m slooooowly learning to retrain my brain and body but it’s HARD and so tiring!

    • Jaki

      Thank you for sharing. So often, what I see are either the “boxed Christians” that you mention, or individuals who believe the SPIRIT of Christianity and have gotten fed up with the hypocrisy and flat-out cruel, selfish nature of the church. I do not attend church at all; for many years, I was not a Christian. I have re-built my relationship with Christ largely because I came to the wonderful realization that church DOESN’T matter. The relationship between Christ and myself is, quite simply, no one else’s business. I don’t preach at others – although, if they ask for information, I am happy to provide my opinions. I am very strongly against mass conversions and evangalism in general, and I have major issues with most religious institutions – Christian or otherwise. It is simply too easy to make it into something dictatorial, political, mercenary, or a combination of the three. I am much happier surrounding myself with individuals outside the church who will help me grow. Hopefully things get better for you! Know that there ARE people wishing well for you, even if we haven’t had a chance to get to know you!

    • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

      Remember what Christ said, that “the way is narrow and few shall find it”? Just because someone calls themselves a “Christian ” and goes to church every Sunday doesn’t mean that they’ve found anything. Christ’s way is hard and it takes huge courage to follow it.

      Turn the other cheek and love your enemies? Who wants to do that? It’s so much easier to stay out of the fray and stand in judgement of those who don’t adhere to the same belief structure as you do. Sadly, that’s what so much of institutional religion has become.

      • Jill H

        And how well it has been for churches to use that verse for mind control: ‘The Way is narrow, and you’re on it if you’re sitting in this church. But no other church. And certainly not if you’re not here regularly.’

        So that makes singling others out a breeze. You don’t have to get to know someone, you don’t have to walk in their shoes, use your own mind and heart. The heavy lifting is done for you. See, look how faithful, and easy. Um, no.

        • Lissy

          “The heavy lifting is done for you.” Wonderfully said and true. No need to suffer, think, or challenge yourself… since Jesus never did that! /sarcasm

  • jack

    I wrote in a recent email to my sister that I no longer wanted to be employed by a ‘christian’ organization. In fact, I told her I wanted nothing more to do with ‘church people’. And no kidding, just this morning I was thinking about how the meanest things said or done to me, have been from people in the church! I’ve been in full time christian work since 1982, and without exception, the ugliest, most hateful people I’ve encountered have been people who profess to be ‘christians’. So church…I think I can learn to live without her!? Now Jesus, He’s another story!

    • Jill H

      Separating Jesus from all the muck done in his name– yeah, that’s a process I relate to. Finding the awesomeness in people of any faith, of no faith– that’s been the ‘blessing’ of distancing myself from church types for 20 years. Peace.

    • Sandy

      Jack, … I am ‘there’ (“… that I no longer wanted to be employed by a ‘christian’ organization…”) with PUBLIC education. (I also taught 21 years in Christian schools – past 19 in public, so…)

      The difference is with THE PEOPLE and THE POLICIES. I taught at one Christian school where – 10, 20, 30 years later – we stay connected to one another even though our paths have obviously gone many different routes. I taught at others that had no resemblance to having a moral fiber other than the ‘t’ on the front of the “church”) One place (where, we admit, the sermons were never ‘memorable’:)) rocked while others – stank.

      In public education right now, I see the “stink” but on steroids. Even though California education code PROHIBITS intimidation re: teachers with any concerns whatsoever re: special education issues, it happens boldly, consistently and effortlessly … it is the moral equivalent of having KKK members as Board of Education members at a segregated school.

      So, from 21 years in Christian and 19 in public … I would *never* encourage anyone to teach in public schools today. This, from someone whose LIFE = Teaching. The entire system is decayed and breaking down. If I had school age kids today, my first choice would be home schooling!

      Maybe what ‘we’ see in Christian churches, Christian employment … is indicative of a larger, deeper yet harder to recognize malady … Incivility, lack of compassion… While “breaking down” the foibles associated with religion today, we haven’t yet found a way to identify how to keep what is good. Jesus had awesome messages. So did Buddha. And probably countless unnamed people who influenced others’ lives throughout man’s history. Are we “throwing the baby out with the bath water”?

      How do we go “from” this …. “to” that ….? We need to name what we’re leaving behind and keeping.

      • mike moore

        Within my extended family, we have run the gamut with my nieces and nephews … private prep, public school, Christian schools, and home-schooling.

        In our shared experience, there is no question that private would rank top of the list, then public … then big drop in quality of education with Christian schools, and the poor kids whose parents decided to home school had so many gaps in their education that Jr. college was their only option.

        These are broad generalizations, but I’d never encourage home-schooling unless the parents themselves are well-educated and really know what they’re doing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.withee.1 Kelly Withee via Facebook

    I have found that my spiritual life is actually much better without church. I encountered a lot of unfairness and spiritual abuse in churches, so I just stopped going. I don’t feel judged or rejected anymore, and I pray, meditate, and read the Bible and other good books daily. I feel God in my life, and I don’t miss church at all.

  • http://facebook.com/richard.j.james Rick

    I believe that God wants God’s creation (by that, I mean human beings) to thrive mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually!!!

    For me, as a former pastor in a conservative church – which embraced a (sometimes toxic) religious culture as if it were straight from the gates of heaven – and now as an openly gay man, I have walked away from church.

    For me, it was a place of oppression, not a place where folk like me could thrive.

    “A traditional religious belief is that “grace builds on nature,” in other words religious life depends on a good foundation in human health. Therefore we can legitimately evaluate the validity of a religious belief system by its psychological consequences. Good theology will result in good psychology, and vice versa. Accordingly, bad theology will have negative psychological consequences. This is nothing more than an application of the biblical norm: “You will be able to tell them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16) If Saint Irenaeus proclaimed, the glory of God is humans FULLY ALIVE [emphasis mine], then clearly a belief system that results in the destruction of human health cannot serve the glory of God.”

    ~Dr. John J. McNeill

  • http://www.facebook.com/natalie.jones.3348 Natalie Jones via Facebook

    I’ve found my spiritual life is no different with or without church

  • KA

    Timely subject for me.

    I am having a hard time. After two start up churches in two years we attended closed, we are faced with some tough decisions. We have been visiting a church in our town for the past 9 months or so but do not feel right about it for several varied reasons. Yesterday, we got the “vote with Jesus” sermon about the ills of homosexuality, promiscuity, and voting those issues that are on “Jesus’s side”. Of course, they did not bring up the name, but I am having a really hard time. In fact, my kids were not listening early in the sermon and I gave them the “look” and my daughter put away her social notes to a friend and my son gave me back his paper he was making an airplane out of. As the sermon went on…I gave my son back his paper and told him to make a cool plane.

    I do not feel, for us with young kids, that not attending church is the right move, but rearing them in a conservative church (which is the least conservative in our town) may be worse. I am having a hard time with balancing this.

    I have a rule of thumb, if the church’s views bring me farther from God given attributes like empathy, grace, kindness, and mercy then that is not the doctrine for me. I believe that Jesus did not mention homosexuality because it was or was not a sin…I think he didn’t mention it because it was not close to as important as other things Israel faced, like pride, traditional, arrogance, unhealthy nationalism, racism, etc. Those are the “biggies” and we find ourselves today with the exact same “biggies”, yet concentrating things on what Jesus did not.

    I told a friend, I was looking for a single place where Jesus did not rebuke a disciple, person, or follower that expressed judgement on another. In fact, he even rebuked Peter and John in Luke when they wanted to “pray fire down” on the town that did not welcome Jesus and crew. In some translations they clarify the rebuke as them not knowing His heart. Since they were Samaritans, maybe Jesus understood their pain with the Jews of the day. Maybe He was saying that judgement is not designed for us.

    So, I understand the issue with this your friend. I am discouraged too. It is a item for prayer for me this week.

    Thanks for writing this article.

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      I don’t understand how parents think they need a church to rightly teach their children about God. Can you help me understand that, KA? I don’t have kids and I must admit, I’m glad I had a Sunday school upbringing because I know all the stories and stuff, but frankly, my mom could’ve taught me all of that.

      Why do you need a church to teach your kids? Please don’t take that as judgement, I’m honestly asking–because I recognize the assumption that “kids should be raised in church.” I think we need to question that.

      • KA

        Youth group social network. I think it is important but I readily admit I am struggling. My kids are 4th grade, 6th and 6th (the other ones are grown).

        For us, the social network is important but we are having trouble finding it.

        • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

          Ah, I see. Yes, that is a tough one to give up. I pray that the Lord leads you to the perfect place for you and your kids.

  • ryan

    I’m a little late to the party and trying to catch up so apologize if I’m repeating…

    Are we asking is church necessary or do I like any of the church options available? Seems like most of the answers are the second… given that I don’t like any of the church options available, it must not be necessary.

    If church was a Friday night Radiohead concert followed by a TED talk with a beer our hand, there would probably be a lot more people there – especially people who like Radiohead, TED talks, and beer.

    And then we would all say how necessary it is.

    I guess my point is we all probably say church isn’t necessary because church generally sucks. So, maybe church should just stop sucking.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Whoomp: there it is.

    • vj

      :-)

  • Russell Mark

    Imagine a Christian church community that is not invested in “brand-building or “brand-loyalty” at any cost; one that does not use coercion or even the implication of manipulation to achieve the slightest image of unification, because unification in itself is anathema. Imagine a church community that is invested in the total well-being of the individual, not the well-being of the institution. Think of a community that fully understands the healthy essence of “family” and “community,” where people come and go as needed, but stay connected out of choice, not obligation or pressure – not us vs. them, or the paranoid church against the world. That image is the church I want to belong to. A few of them exist. I suspect more want to exist but lack the leadership of progressive, free-thinking Christians to move them in that direction.

    I don’t have to tell this crowd that the politics and business of church has pushed so much of the church so far beyond what Christ had intended that Jesus would probably not be welcome in many churches today. But the fact is that if those of us who see a clearer, less brand-identified and more authentic Jesus don’t stay active in churches, how will the church ever reform? That’s the dilemma that our reformation ancestors faced. We can always take our bat & ball and find another empty lot to play in – and many of us have to do just that out of self preservation. Or we can stay home and play in our own back yards. Or we can try hard to get our friends to play a new game, a better game that has everyone winning. I apologize for the weak analogy, because this certainly isn’t a game. It’s our lives and the lives of every child of God we’re talking about.

    We know some people are addicted to pleasing others and will always remain in co-dependent relationships with their dysfunctional churches. We know sometime we all need a breather from the “churchiness” of our lives and history in our lives. But there is something uniquely wonderful, even awe inspiring about joining with a healthy group of fellow travelers, breaking bread together over stories of our journeys. We laugh, we sing, we sometimes cry together – but we feed one anothers need for community with love and support. We help to heal, advise and learn from one another. And let’s not forget the value of human touch. We have not yet achieved that virtually.

    We happy travelers have made it through or are making it through the wilderness of toxicity that infects so much religion. So to me the question is do I try to help others along their journey even as I seek assistance in mine? Online is one thing (as essential as it has become for me), but in person is something else all together. So my vote is to stick with church. Reform where we can. Start over where we must. Draw from it what we need and give it all we can.

    • Russell Mark

      PS…Church can be and often is just two coming together in the presence of God. We must define church for ourselves, not the other way around. So, if your community does not have what you are looking for, create it. It can be that simple.

      • Karen

        Russell, I agree. “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am with them.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Extremely well done, Russell. Thank you.

    • Paula

      I really like what you’ve written Mark, but what occurs to me is that “a healthy group of fellow travellers” is all relative, right? I think I’m a

      “healthy traveler,” but I’m sure there are other people who might say otherwise. Some of us are “healthy” some of the time, and under stress, we aren’t so much. It is the people who make our lives wonderful, and people who make it tough — so are we just supposed to isolate ourselves in the group of people we like (at the moment) and ignore the rest?

      • Russell Mark

        Paula, your point is very valid. “Healthy” can be a wildly relative term. I tend to look at the mental and spiritual health of the people I want to “congregate” with. Or as a friend says, “does their smile really touch their eyes.” True, none of us is 100% healthy all the time. I struggle with depression and use food as my anesthesia of choice. But I’ve learned to see the brilliance in and necessity of the community model that God created for us. I believe that none of us is intended to live our lives alone. In many ways, we are called to dependence upon one another – this is meant as co-dependence in the most positive sense. Family is one form of community; family-of-choice is another. Interwoven into all of this is that strange and wonderful divine calling to live as “children of light.” The very nature of light is to disperse, infuse and touch. I believe we are called to do all those things with people as the light of Christ’s Grace. But we must have the sustenance to follow-thru on that mission. So we draw energy from the people around us (given to us freely) and avoid the energy drainers. Amazingly, the more I am around people who truly fill me, I find that the “drainers” I encounter have less-and-less impact on me and the more “light” I have to share – perhaps even to energize them enough to continue on their journey.

        So, don’t isolate or ignore, but rather plug into those who feed your spirit, imagination, body and soul. Then go into the world and shine…cause Christ’s light is infinate!

  • Karen

    I stopped going many years ago. At first it was because I was trying to get away from my ex-husband’s idea of how his Christianity gave him the right to be abusive and his church condoned it. I stayed home and read and re-read the Bible in order to understand how ‘my’ church had let me down, and to give me ammunition to fight Bible quotes with Bible quotes. What I learned was, it wasn’t my belief in Jesus that let me down, but my belief in churchy people. To make a long story short, I was angry for awhile, I sought out other belief systems as well as non-belief all together. I have come full circle and am back to learning from my Bible and trying to live the words that Jesus taught, but I haven’t been able to find a church home. I know the fellowship and lessons from the pulpit are quite necessary and fulfilling for many of my friends and family, but I feel fake when I go. Going out of obligation doesn’t seem right. (and I sometimes get upset when I hear hateful interpretations of the Word.) SO, church is not necessary for me. I find more fulfillment and enlightenment by reading and sharing the Bible in impromtu moments and worshiping daily as I appreciate the beauty of our world and love the people in it.

    Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 36-39)

    I can do that, or at least try. Not by showing off how well I go to church, but how I live my life. To me, this seems more real.

  • mike moore

    this video came my way today, and it seemed worth re-posting here.

    Starting at 1:05, 16 yo Joseph says, “I don’t see why I should go to a church when God doesn’t even like me.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEt6zE3prNA&feature=player_embedded

  • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

    I haven’t read everything here, but I have noticed that some people crave that “community” or family to be around and be known by. I wonder, though, if this also has somthing to do with being an extravert versus being an introvert. Church has always been work for me (always a requirement, not a desire) because it take a lot of energy to be around a lot of people, even when they are beloved people. As an introvert, I recharge in solitude. Church has never been a sabbath “rest” for me. Sundays were always pretty much just another work day. Since I stopped going to church a couple of years ago, my Sundays have become true days of rest.

    • Jill H

      Couldn’t agree more. Institutions by default have a one-size-fits-all structure, so of course not everyone feels like they fit. I didn’t fit anywhere near church for a very long time. I’m still not a true fit for my introversion as well. Which may mean I may not find a community that accepts me for what I contribute, and that will have to be ok too.

      I’m doubling down that church is what you make it, and to put a finer point on it, I believe church is either an adjunct of faith or it is a roadblock to it.

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        Indeed!

        And congrats on your encouraging trip to church yesterday. :)

  • Frank

    I am almost embarassed to say I have found a number of churches in my area that I like, so much so that even though I am a member of one, I can’t stay away from the others. I go to a Wednesday Bible study at a different church and I went to the regular service there on Sunday after watching my church’s early service on streaming video. Even in the extremely liberal church I belong to, there is some degree of “spiritual abuse.” There is no perfect spiritual community, but I have had the good fortune of finding good people to be in communion with in a lot of places, some are churches and some are not.

    • Jill H

      You interloper. :)

  • Lauren

    There is no way to describe the lifelong search that my best friend and I have gone through in hopes to find a community

    I can relate. I’ve left Christianity entirely because of all the sad and awful associations it brings to me. I don’t deny I may have thrown baby Jesus out with the bathwater for now, but I just simply had to. My southern upbringing and abuse from the church on all levels was simply too much. Thankfully, I’ve not only left the church but have left that poisonous environment. What’s not so great is that I had to leave the person I love the most in the world behind- my best friend.

    I just got off the phone with her still in tears over things that her “new” church has been telling her. They are urging her to end her relationship with the man she is with because he doesn’t fit into their idea of who a Christian should be (which, might I add, he is a very intelligent, kind, loving, out-of-the-box thinker). She and I have both been through some pretty terrible church experiences together and I felt at a loss with what to tell her. She longs SO much for a community of believers that will show love and acceptance to her, and struggles with whether “forsaking the assembly” would be a sin.

    Little (if ANY) good has come from both of our lifelong church experiences. How do I encourage her? I don’t want to discourage her from finding community, but this is the south we are talking about. Anyone who is considered “Christian” there fits pretty nicely into that fundamental box, which I don’t want her being involved with. To tell her to stop going to church would be like telling her to stop having hope that there is a community of believers out there for her. But I cannot express the real… almost hate that I have when I find that she has been hurt and abused by the church and the religious community again.

    Any ideas?

    • textjunkie

      I have never lived in the South–is it really that uniformly committed to fundamentalism? When I check on Integrity’s website for congregations that are Believe Out Loud (http://congregations.integrityusa.org/) congregations, just to go to the extremes of non-fundamentalist, there are 13 in Georgia, a couple in Alabama, etc. It’s no Los Angeles or San Francisco, but if there is more than one Episcopal congregation to be found, there are probably other denominations as well? Hope hope…

  • Christina

    I’m wrestling with my personal answer to this question at the moment. Growing up we didn’t attend church. My parents were believers but my dad is not a fan of most preachers. I would attend various churches time to time with friends. In high school I got “saved” and attended church with a friend on occasion. Over the next 15 years or so I attended several churches from time to time but didn’t find one where I really connected. 5 1/2 years ago I was going through a divorce and was really in need of community and friendship. I found a church where I connected and my kids connected and for 4 1/2 years or so it was mostly a great experience and an important part of our lives. But even being in a church where the experience was good for us there were things that I didn’t like about going to church – the pressure to serve more, commit more, give more etc. There was a building campaign and after awhile it seemed like the building was very much THE focus. Then the beginning of this year, I picked a word for the year and my word was “devotion”. As my pursuit of being more devoted to God and seeking Him out more developed things started to come to the surface for me that were not in keeping with that pursuit. The pastor started recycling all his messages from 2 years ago. I was BORED which led me to read more and listen to sermons from other churches. I discovered that the pastor was mostly giving canned sermons from sermon starter series. I don’t necessarily think it is wrong for a pastor to do this but it bothered me that it was done without it being clear. As I read more and studied more, I became convicted that the position many in the church had on same sex marriage wasn’t necessarily correct. I started talking about the issue of same sex marriage and my political opinions on Facebook. Some people from church defriended me. Other people stopped talking to me. Then I had an issue with people gossiping and carrying tales. Pastors were involved in the gossiping. None of the people who were gossiping thought it was wrong. I took a break and other people started telling me stories unsolicited about similiar things that had happened to them. I had a few people personally attack me and basically suggest I should/might be shunned or ostracized for my opinions in favor of same sex marriage. I wrote a 5 page letter to my pastor explaining why I resigning my membership and he pretty much blew me off with a thanks for sharing and hope you’re blessed whereever you go. So I haven’t been to church in 5 months other than when I visited my granny. And I’m enjoying my Sundays a lot more. No more hectic rush out the door to church for service or to teach, no hectic afternoons cooking all day and leaving my kitchen a disaster to hurry up and get to life group for the evening. No more boredom – some Sundays I don’t do anything “churchy” – other Sundays I listen to sermons from a variety of churches online or read interesting books on theology and faith. I have a list of possible churches to try that are more progressive but so far I haven’t been able to convince myself to go check any of them out. I don’t know that I will never attend church again but I also don’t know that I will get involved and committed to a level where people want to place pressure and expectations on you again either. My inclination at the moment is that if I start going again I will be a visitor at a number of churches of varying traditions and denominations. But for the moment I’m pretty happy doing “church” on my own at home and via the Internet…

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    I loved my Episcopalian church, but the pressure to continue in the choir made me shy away. I love to sing and loved choir, but have too many competing obligations for me to be able to give enough of a commitment to it. I’ve never done well with feeling pressured, so I just started to stay away. I went to church with my husband for a while, but his church is a new-agey metaphysical loosely Christ-based group that didn’t feel that spiritually refreshing to me.

    I have always felt communion with God when I am listening to music and when I am in the outdoors. Often on my long commute I’ll listen to music I find spiritual and I will sing and pray and generally have a very wonderful time in my relationship with Christ. Similarly, when I’m outside on my horse or walking along the river, I find myself feeling very mindful of God. Those times can be times of gratitude or of healing, of comfort or solace or joy.

    In terms of community, early this year we became friends with a woman who is now giving riding lessons at our place. Our barn has become home to a constant flow of children and families and opportunities to love others. We have a group from the UGM’s women’s shelter that comes once a week and learns to care for the horses, and I have been giving lessons to a young manwho is a pastor at the Salvation Army. We have several families with children who we get to know while their children are taking lessons, and we have a few young ladies who dont’ have the money for lessons that trade chores for the chance to ride. To me, this is our church. We have community and an opportunity to help others as well as receive help and love from others. I don’t think it is necessary to go to a church to be a Christian. Whether you are in a church or not, your level of relationship with Christ is a highly individual thing. Lots of people go to church but don’t have a close relationship with God. As one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “Going to Church doesn’t make me a Christian any more than being in my garage makes me a car.”

    • vj

      A church where you look after horses and ride? My daughter would think it was heaven :-)

  • Susan in NY

    I love my church. But I have a chronic illness that makes me extremely fatigued. If I go to church, the rest of the day is pretty much a wash, as I need to sleep all day to make up for the effort of the whole going-to-church thing.

    I did not actually realize that it was my illness that was making church attendance seem overwhelming, until I started writing this comment. Realizing yet another restriction due to my illness – well it sucks.

    Anyway, the sermons are online if I choose to listen to them, so that is good.

    I like praying/meditating. I do so every day. So I guess that is what I will continue to do.

    Susan in NY

    • Lissy

      What do you have? Do you have CFS? I’ve had that for 15 years.

  • Hannah Grace

    Not going to church for years was great. Evangelical friends thought I would lose my faith, and to them, that’s what happened, because I stopped being ridiculous, fake and church-jargony. But I became a way better, authentic person. Recently found a fun, feminist, LGBT-friendly church that’s pretty run of the mill other than that it cares about equality and looks at the gospel in a way that shows that it requires respect for all people (lots of great liberation theology thrown in, which I love – <3 social justice and Jesus <3). It's weird to start going to church again, but kind of exciting – I like the blessing the minister gives us, I like the sermon, and I like the lovely old building too.

    The music kind of sucks, but I feel like it would be really picky to worry about that.

    But I don't think church is necessary, especially since if you have friends who support you and maybe are there to pray with you if you need it, you already go to church. Some years back, I used to have 'international church' in my small town when I was an immigrant, with the other immigrants. It was like 10 people, one of whom had a guitar, discussing things and singing on a sunday at someone's house.

    Church is supposed to support you and give you some structure so you can grow and have some worship time. If it holds you back, don't go! If it adds to your life, go. I feel like that's the 'freedom in Christ' that we have, when there's no law binding us.

    • Jessie

      I love this response – so freeing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/blaine.williams.77 Blaine Williams via Facebook

    I find mine is better, my relationship with god/one/universe is helathier and mor personal; and I don’t have to deal with the spiritual “white gloves” of other attendees. that said, church may be of service to those beginning life, spritual or physical.

  • Richard Lubbers

    I’m coming to think that God is doing some of the deepest spiritual work outside of churches. But then, that’s just me. Tammy and I have been to church once since our lives were called on the carpet by the pastor of the church where we prayed every Wednesday, served on Sundays, stood in for the pastor during his surgery, and gave a lot of our money a year ago last July.

    I believe that God is not so interested in buildings. People are the focus of Divine energy. Always have been; always will be.

  • http://jaredbowie.tumblr.com Jared

    John, I actually disagree.

    I truly believe that the local church is the hope of the world for Christ. You are right when you say that we as followers of Christ technically are the church. At the same time, the Apostle Paul spent years of his life establishing local churches in towns. In my opinion, the local church therefore must be important.

    Necessary though? Let’s let the Bible speak on that:

    “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25

    &

    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. ” – Acts 2:42-47

    They met in the temple and in their homes. In my opinion, the local church is what Christ himself established (via declaring Peter in charge of it and telling him repeatedly, “Feed my sheep”) as of utmost importance.

    • mike moore

      Many people here are saying is that they are not finding Christ in the church and have been unable to effect change from within the church.

      As I read many of these comments, many, many, people have found church to be counter-productive to the both the ideals and goals set forth in the scripture you quote.

      I doubt if anyone here would argue with the notion of “feed my sheep.” What you seemed to have missed in John’s writing, and in the comments here, is that many churches are, in fact, starving their flocks.

      • vj

        I had similar thoughts when reading Jared’s comment… If a particular congregation is not an encouragement to a person, then it must not be the right ‘church’ for that person to be part of. And if the congregation is not anywhere near to meeting the requirements of Acts 2, then is it really a ‘church’ at all? And if not, then *not* going to their meetings is hardly a violation of Hebrews 10.

        So, if what you experience in ‘church’ pulls you down instead of lifting you up, or if it bleeds you dry instead of filling you with life? GET OUT and find encouragement and a community of ‘glad and sincere hearts, praising God’ somewhere else…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You can’t be disagreeing with me, cuz I didn’t assert anything at all. I asked a question. And while I appreciate you saying, “You are right when you say that we as followers of Christ technically are the church,” I never said that at all. So … weird.

      • http://jaredbowie.tumblr.com Jared

        John,

        I’m sorry, you are correct. I simply meant to say that I disagree not with you, but with the point the lady made, “I’m not sure that church is necessary.”

        Additionally, again you are correct – you never said what I quoted. I was led to this conversation by a Facebook post of a friend of mine (he posted your blogpost) and had read through their comments. One of their comments mentioned that followers of Christ technically are the church. I had their thoughts still in my head and confused them as part of your blog post.

        All in all I’m simply saying that I truly believe that when the local church acts like it should, then it will lead people into relationships with Christ and help develop them into fully devoted followers of Him. I do not believe we should neglect the local church (which based on Scripture is important) because of its faults, but rather help build the local church into an even better image of what Christ wants it to be.

        Thank you each of you for taking the time to respond to my comment! I’m glad we are all one family in Christ.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Excellent. thank you, jared. I very much tend to agree with what you’ve said.

        • Shannon

          amen!

  • Paul

    As I understand it, Church is supposed to be a place where we encounter God as a community. Shitty art, boring muzak, a Tony Robbins-esque sermon with some Jesus-Tea-Party flavor, and a bunch of strangers just doesn’t do it for me.

    The most important thing is community. If a church were to welcome me understandingly into a community even if I don’t fit the mold, why not be a part of it? If that isn’t the case, however, it’s not just unnecessary. It’s toxic.

    • Shannon

      Hi Paul,

      I am sorry for your experiences with the churches that you have tried I am certain those were temptation arrows and .. I want to encourage you to continue to try and give them a chance.. Look for one in your area that reads straight from the word of God and recognizes Jesus as the one and only Savior… Remember that Jesus didn’t give up on us. He’s not giving up on you and others that have had similar circumstances.. I know that we all have a role to play in the body of Christ.. no church is perfect! Infact Jesus used perfectly imperfect people to do his work when he walked the earth and furthermore still turning around lives to this day. One of which is me. I want to encourage you to find out what part of Christ’s body that you fit into. I pray for you that you put treasures into your eternal salvation that Paul refers to. I can personally testify as a self proclaimed introvert that the Lord has shown me grace in so many ways and especially through the love of my church family. I want you to understand that your relationship with the Lord is the most important thing.. spend time in His word and your faith with grow stronger and thru conviction of the Holy Spirit you will realize that loving others( yes even the one’s in church) is easier.

      We are called to be in world shining His light, and not of the world..

      but sometimes we fall to temptation and ruin the witness( like the one’s you’ve experiences but it does’nt have to be permanent and let those negative experiences have power over you.

      In Christ

      Shannon

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    IMO, church isn’t necessary, but really, really helpful. It provides a place to worship; a community to love, celebrate, mourn, grieve, eat, and wrestle with; accountability, continuing education, opportunities to put my faith into action, and I love singing my heart out with our gospel choir!

    • Allie

      I’m glad someone said this. Someone made a disparaging comment about church as a “social club.” But the community functions of church are Godly too. The nicest wedding at a country club is missing something. There’s nothing more awful than a funeral at a funeral home, presided over by some preacher who never met the deceased. And (speaking as an Episcopalian, but other faiths have valid ways of doing things too) it’s sort of nice to have people who care that your baby was given a name, or that your child is old enough to make a decision to be confirmed. Ceremonies are important. Those ceremonies will be more important at different stages of your life – that’s why young couples planning to get married, people with small children, and old folks who know their friends are starting to thin and are becoming aware of their own mortality attend church more than people who don’t currently need the church’s services. At my church a certain faction feels a lot of rancor against young people who “join just to get married and then drop off the face of the earth.” I don’t see it that way. The church served them when they needed it. That’s what church is for, serving people. If they don’t feel a need for what the church offers when they aren’t about to get married, that’s the church’s fault, not theirs.

  • Heather

    I LOVE going to church. Now, I don’t socialize with anyone at my church. And the director of the children’s program is an incredibly difficult person to deal with. It is a relatively diverse group, as churches go — I would guess it is 20% gay couples, 25% elderly, 50% people like me (white, married, with kids), 5% African-American. And the minister is sometimes too intellectual. AND YET. The minister always starts the service welcoming EVERYBODY in the whole wide world, no exceptions, and he really means it, and communion is always prefaced with an explanation that it isn’t the church’s table, it is Jesus Christ’s table, and He is the unseen host of the feast. And most of the time, the sermon is relevant to modern life and inspiring, and the music is unbelievably good. I used to have a problem saying the Apostle’s creed (I mean, do I really believe in the resurrection of the body? Whose body? My own? And when? And is it really our bodies that are resurrected, or our spirits, or what?), but at some point I just happily shrugged my shoulders just like John’s friend in his post, and decided that the real point of the whole thing is that every one of us gathered there in that holy place trusts God. When I pray the Lord’s Prayer with all those other imperfect strangers we ARE community. In real contrast, reading the Bible on my own does almost nothing for me at best, and scares the hell out of me at worst. When I read the scary-Jesus-casting-people-into-outer-darkness-and-gnashing-of-teeth passages, I know its time to go back to church and hear about His love and compassion and intention to save the whole world. I don’t know if church is necessary, but it is necessary for me. And I think my own experience of church would be better if John’s friend were there, saying the Lord’s Prayer in the pew next to me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      This is so beautiful, Heather.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X