5 Reasons I Won’t Give Up on the Local Church

5 Reasons I Won’t Give Up on the Local Church April 16, 2015

The early 90s were awash in books explaining why Generation X was abandoning the church. In a similar vein, there’s been no shortage of blog posts, books, and conferences about how Millennials are leaving, too.

A portion of every generation has pushed the church to grow in areas of sin and weakness. From monastics urging the church out of the sinful cities and into the deserts, aggressive arguments over the sale of indulgences, fights for emancipation in Europe, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam, and so much more, there’s been a prophetic portion of the church seeking to realign the church with her purpose and role in the world.

And I’m sure there’s also been those who walked away from the church out of frustration for her deficiencies.

I don’t want to diminish this struggle. I know exactly what it’s like to wonder if it’s all worth the constant headache. For two years I couldn’t darken the doorway of a church; I was sure that I was done. Many of the issues that continually come up in the “why millennials are leaving the church” posts definitely played a part in my disenchantment.

But here are five reasons I am back and more committed to the local church than ever:

5. I’m a huge part of the church’s problem

The bride of Christ is a mess. Despite Christ’s prayer that the church would model a trinitarian-like oneness (Jn. 17:20–21), we’re fractured and set against each other. This isn’t just the church on a macro level—the local church models this behavior in similar ways.

I’ve gossiped, sown discord, manipulated events, fought for power, demanded my way, etc. And while it may seem like some sort of humble admission for me to say so, the truth is that if you’re part of the church, you have, too.

It’s been a problem since the church’s inception. This is why Paul had to warn the Galatians that, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Gal. 5:15)

These kinds of issues might seem small, but that’s because we don’t see the chaos theory at work in our little sins. We don’t see how our behavior affects the entire organism that is the church. I’m sure that if we saw the full effect of our judgments, selfishness, backbiting, and power-plays, we’d be surprised at how far and deep they reach.

4. The church needs prophetic voices

Despite glaring problems with Israel’s religious expression and exclusive behavior, Jesus started his reformation from within Judaism. In fact, that’s what got him crucified.

If I really want to identify with Jesus (and the prophets), I’ll continue to love the church from within while I push, cajole, and shout her into christlikeness. It would be much easier to leave.

Every voice that has called for reform (even the ones we celebrate now) experienced pushback, threats, and misunderstanding. Why would someone intentionally sign up for exclusion and loneliness?

There’s nothing more Christlike than challenging the church to be more sincere and full of grace and truth—even when you’re being crucified. If the church is going to continue reforming, it will be because of the ones who stay—and not the ones who leave.

The prophet is often an unwelcome and lonely voice, but it’s an increasingly important one.

3. I still believe in the church’s goodness

Jesus encourages us not to make a show of our goodness and promises us that the God who sees what is done in secret will reward us (Matt. 6:1–4). This means that many of the most faithful and hardworking people are doing good work that we know nothing about.

For every divisive news story about bakers who refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples, there are many serving on the streets, in prisons, in soup kitchens, and everywhere else there’s need.

For every televangelist encouraging his congregation to give money so that he can buy his ministry a jet, there are many sacrificing to keep people fed, clothed, and cared for.

I have a friend whose mother—a pastor’s wife from large evangelical church—has served for years at the Sean Humphrey House, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for low income people living with HIV/AIDS. No one does news stories about her because not enough people are tuning in at 11 to hear stories about people doing good.

News websites and TV stations make their advertising money on outrage and fear. If you want to see the good that’s being done, you’re going to need to look a little deeper.

2. The church has played a big part in my growth

There are many areas I wish the church-at-large would grow in empathy and compassion. But when I stop to think about it, it’s been people in the church who’ve been there for me in my darkest hours.

When I look back on those dark times, I’m tempted to count the names of people who’ve betrayed me or hurt me in one way or another. But I often neglect to remember the people who have been there, cared, sacrificed, and stood beside me.

Those people were there not only because they loved me, but because they loved Jesus. They were the church to me, and it’s disingenuous for me to ignore them to focus on the others (whose failures I am probably blowing out of proportion).

When I take a moment to think about it, I’m so thankful for the people who will meet me at a moment’s notice and encourage me, cry with me, share Scripture with me, admonish me, and remind me of what’s important. 

Sometimes they say stupid and hurtful stuff . . . but they’ve also loved me despite the stupid, sinful, and hurtful stuff I’ve said and done.

1. The church is a spiritual discipline

I have no doubt that I could abandon the local church, and cherry pick some friends to meet with regularly who would make spirituality and theological discussions deep, challenging, and fun.

But when I’m honest with myself, most of my growth has come from interacting with people I wouldn’t choose. By handpicking my social circle instead of submitting to a local community of believers, I’ll generally choose people who fall within my comfort zone.

I’ve grown in my ability to love by getting close to people with dumb opinions, different lifestyles, disabilities, and all sorts of issues I had not been previously been exposed to.

I need a multi-generational, ethnically and financially diverse community of people to mentor me and broaden my perspectives. I need people close to me who I can disagree with and challenge in a healthy way—while still loving and wanting what’s best for them.

There’s no question that the church has significant problems, and I’ve often daydreamed about quitting her. But I truly believe we need each other.

One caveat

I know that there are some reading this who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of the church. I don’t intend for this post to gloss over, ignore, or provide a glib answer to your legitimate pain. Sometimes there are people too traumatized by the church to jump back into that relationship.

If that’s you, I’m terribly sorry. I’m sincerely praying that you find healing and can come to a place where you are ready to give it another shot, but most of all I don’t want you to read this as condemnation for your experience.

I totally get why people would consider walking away from the church, but I think we desperately need each other.

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  • I will also not walk away from church. We have however walked away from the structured Sunday part of it. We believe when we as church meet everyone has a part to play and has to bring something. A word, a hymn, a question etc. We do however also have the firm believe that God is very much part of all Sunday services everywhere and we are very much part of the family of God. The good and the bad. We will always encourage believers to go to their congregations for the reasons you have mentioned. And for those who got hurt and left, there are people like us who will help to bring healing in the wilderness.

  • I’m glad you’re there!

  • Nice article, Jayson. As I explore the topic of the American church, I keep coming back to the same points you mentioned. We make it all about us, and not about God and the church itself. And to make it less about us and more about Jesus, it requires a deeper relationship with him. I just wish more people could see that. Thanks for posting.

  • Meg

    I’ve almost left my church multiple times along the years… A decade and a half in, I am very, very glad I didn’t. God has used these people, who I may or may not always consider my “friends,” to mold me into the person I am today, the person He wants me to be. And you’re right-no matter how many people in the church seem to be against you, there is always someone there who is willing to fight for you.

  • Belle Unruh

    I’ve thought about going back to church but I’m too embarrassed. I also have social phobia and rarely go anywhere. I do enjoy reading Christian blogs/devotionals, hearing testimonies and watching sermons. I guess my church is now online.

    You are right about not hearing about all the good work Christians do in the world. I’m sure it far outweighs the bad.

  • Belle,

    I am so thankful for your comments and involvement here. I’d love to know if you are finding some community beyond the internet? I suffer from crippling social anxiety, too. It’s hard when you’re pastoring. 🙂

  • Belle Unruh

    I only have my family, but that is saying a great deal. My mother is still living and we are close. I’m close to my husband, my two daughters and I see my grandchildren off and on. There is a lot of love.

    I quit going to church about 20 years ago, although I visited other churches off and on during that time. I quit because of the critical attitude and legalism of the older generation. I decided not to bring anyone to church again and then it came to me, “What are you doing here?”
    Later I had a mental breakdown and even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t.

    I admire your courage in not only being a pastor when you have anxiety but also just being out in the world. I wasn’t always like this; I was sort of normal until I hit 45 yrs. I was tempted to be bitter but God has shown me all the positives in my life. There are so many. I also remember Joseph who was a slave and prisoner and John who was exiled to Patmos. God never promised us a rose garden, but it is funny, no matter where you are with God it becomes a rose garden as you lean on him.

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  • James Price

    It’s been tough hanging in there at certain times over the past 65 years. But like you after licking my wounds and praying and thinking it through I hang in there because the pluses out weigh the minuses.

  • Evelyn Forbes

    It’s so encouraging to see other Christians loving the Lord and the church. The church is a living organism 🙂 just like God put Adam to sleep and pulled the rib out of his side to form Eve, his counterpart, so did God put our Christ to sleep and the church came from His resurrection. The church is wonderful, the church is glorious, and God sees no iniquity in it. Whe He looks at th church, He sees the New Jerusalem. He is God, He knows e exact situation of each local church around the world, and He promised that we would be His bride, His holy city. On the outside it can be so hard to love one another in the church, all we can see sometimes is the nastiness, the faults and whatnot. But actually under the covering on His wonderful blood, all God sees is the Christ in us. All we must do is continue to enjoy our Christ, continue to eat and drink of our sweet Christ by coming to His word in prayer daily, by calling on His name, by simply calling O Lord Jesus! We receive all the He is, and through all the suffering and even good times, we gain Him more and mor, until we are filled with Him and He will be ready to come back to us again. Praise the Lord! This is the purpose of our human life! The mystery of the ages! CHRIST IN YOU! lord we do love you.

  • John Williams

    Thanks very much for this article

  • Theresa Miller

    This is a great article and I agree with much of it, but what if, after much study, someone has come to the conclusion that the pastor-centric Americam institutionalized church is largely unbiblical? That is, the “pastor as CEO” model cannot be found in Scripture? Scripture seemed to limit the role of pastor to the equipping of the saints and edification of the body, not to run the Church. When 90% of a church’s budget is the “pastor’s” salary and overhead, are we really putting our resources toward redemptive work in our communities? I haven’t come to a final conclusion on these questions, but knows one who have and believe that they would be dishonoring The Lord by supporting a church, though would give their lives for those in the Church.

  • Ryan

    There is too much to address here in a single comment, but I’ll touch on the main point. There is one fatal flaw in your article, and the many, many others like it: you are not defining “church.”

    The current structure the majority of Americans are calling church is nothing to stick with. (Expensive buildings/maintanence, top down leadership from a single/small group of men, passive audience, etc.)

    Is that what you want people to stick with?

  • Yeah, I distinctly said “local church” right in the title. Thanks for the comment.

  • Jayson, you had me in the “not again, yet another cliché blog post on why people shouldn’t leave the church, with five irrelevant points, yada, yada, yada” mood, when at last, I read the “one caveat” section at the end. I would encourage you to make much more use of that point than the others.

    Yes, my family and I have experienced abuse at the hands of the church, but also serious levels of neglect, and one of the worst…indifference. These are forms of abuse, too, and far more widespread than I think most Christians could admit. I would gladly take a church full of stereotypical-in-laws-who-can-destroy-Thanksgiving-dinner types who disagree with me and challenge me and say stupid stuff. (I actually have in-laws like that) At least they care if I am even there. Not so with the half-dozen churches I’ve attended over the last 20 years. You see, there are many people out there who appear to “abandon” the church, when in reality it was the church who abandoned them while they were in their very midst. They simply realized their church’s [in]-actions.

    I am glad to see that you actually conceive of reasons why some people may not “go to church on Sunday,” having even quietly shaken the dust off of their feet on the way out the door.

  • My goodness. This is so good and gracious. I’m thankful to have found a site with such balance. I actually walked away from the church for quite a long time. I just wrote an article last week on “Why I Stopped Hating the Church” for Good Men Project. Thankful that His grace gives us room to wander and return.