Leaving Church Is Not OK

short term mission groupThere’s been some buzz on the Internet this past week because of an article at CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why millennials are leaving the church.”

The idea is, church is this way and it really should be that way, but pastors aren’t getting it, so millennials are leaving. There have been articles rebuffing the conclusions, notable from
Trevin Wax
via the Gospel Coalition and posted at ChurchLeaders and Brett McCracken at the Washington Post.

Last I checked Scripture, though, severing an arm from the body would only make things worse, not better. So why are millennials leaving the body to which they belong? Are they so selfish that they have no interest in fitting their gifts into the whole or have they been so poorly taught that they don’t realize their withdrawal is harmful to others and to the whole? Or are they not actually part of the body to begin with?

I suspect it has more to do with teaching than anything else. I suspect there’s a certain portion of the millennial exodus that is nothing more than fad chasing. At one point the author of the original article said “church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular,” then she explained that liturgical services are more authentic.

Excuse me? How does that make sense? What is more performance oriented than a scripted service with everyone playing his part? But if the conclusion is true–millennials are choosing liturgical worship over evangelicalism and calling it more authentic–then I suspect it is little more than following a fad.

According to the author, millennials want an end to culture wars, but she also says they feel their church makes them choose between compassion and holiness and that church should be a place where their gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender friends feel welcome. In other words, millennials don’t mind choosing between compassion and holiness if they get to choose their version of compassion.

What millennials need to hear is that it is not compassionate to allow people to live according to the dictates of their own heart rather than according to the standards of our sovereign God. What millennials need to hear is that God has answers to their questions and that they need to search the Scriptures to see what things are true. What millennials need to hear is that believers form a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

The Church is not a club you can quit. It’s a family, a body, a temple, a bride. We have a head and we have a a role we are to fulfill. We have gifts we’re to use as good stewards to build each other up.

Quitting? Do Marines quit because they don’t like military food? Or the Sargent in command over them? Or the soldier lining up next to them? Or the early hours they must keep?

Millennials are not children. They can decide, just like any generation, whether or not they will take up their cross and follow Jesus. If they don’t see other people in their local church following Jesus, perhaps they can be the trail blazers. But leave the Church?

That’s simply a way of saying God has messed up. His plan to put together a people to represent Him on earth isn’t a good one, and we are going to go it alone instead.

Does Church have to follow a certain Western model? Of course not. The Church existed in the East before it existed in the West. And it exists in the Far East today where there is no freedom to worship as we can in the West. What does the Church look like there? Not much like gatherings of believers in the US, I’ll bet.

Is one right and the other wrong? Not at all. Church really is about substance, not style. That’s something the author of the article got right. The substance, however, includes Christ living a sinless life, leaving us an example to follow in His steps. So the Church is tasked to be both compassionate and holy. It’s not an either/or proposition because Jesus wasn’t compassionate and not holy. His example was both/and.

In the end, millennials need to be told the truth. If they have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, if they believe with their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He died once for all, the just for the unjust, that God raised Him from the dead, and as a result that Jesus nailed their certificate of debt to the cross, then they are living stones being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, well-pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.

In other words, they’re in.

If people are leaving, they need to be evangelized, not accommodated.

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Published in: on August 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm  Comments (16)  
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16 Comments

  1. Yes, yes! I wrote something similar using the same reference in I Cor. 12, although my post is not as thorough as yours. There are so many wonderful, more importantly, biblical truths about your post. It’s becoming increasingly unpopular to tell the professing Church it’s *not* OK to leave the church (local assembly included.) But what many do not get is this whole notion of leaving church is so foreign to the New Testament that, as far as I can see, the model for leaving a church is never even addressed. Appreciate your thoughtful, biblically-minded voice in the midst of all of this kerfuffle. 🙂

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    • Thanks for your thoughts, Kim. I do think we need to look at Scripture to guide us in all these matters. I’m wondering, though, if there wasn’t some of this “leave the church” mentality even in the first church. I’m guessing that’s why Paul thought it necessary to admonish believers not to quit (forsake) assembling together. Also, I believe Hebrews was written primarily to address this issue–some Jews were wondering if they got it wrong and should go back to Judaism. In each instance the point was clear: don’t leave, don’t try to go it alone.

      I’d actually intended to get to those points–which I think are the strongest argument because they are Biblical–but I ran out of time.

      Becky

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      • So true, Becky. In terms of Paul’s admonishment in I Cor. 12, the idea of “have no need of you” had more to do with church order, I think, than the actual absence of bodies but the principle is still the same. The fact is, the first century Christians didn’t have a north or south church to attend–there was just one church in Corinth–so the idea of leaving church was probably only tied to an apostate condition; not transferring churches at the rate we do today.

        I agree. I quickly snagged the Hebrew’s verse in my post and agree the writer of Hebrews seemed to have people leaving the church for other idolatries–but again, I think it’s the actual leaving of church and not just the church-hopping that is common in our church culture today. The funny thing is Trevin Wax addresses a similar problem in his blog post, Are You A Part-time Church Goer. Although different problems are addressed by the Holy Spirit in Scripture, the principles and commands still apply today. Grateful! 🙂 I enjoy your thought-processes and am learning quite a bit! Thank you.

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        • We’ve definitely added a layer to church leaving with our church hopping. It’s essentially wiped church discipline out of our theology. Kinda makes one question the whole denominationalism thing, doesn’t it.

          I’m not clear whether Rachel Held Evans is saying millennials are leaving their local churches or the Church. I thought it was the latter. That’s the part that I object to the most, but moving from North Church to South Church is also a serious problem, in my opinion.

          Thanks again, Kim, for interacting on this important subject.

          Becky

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  2. I’m a millennial. I haven’t read that CNN article yet. I’ll probably get around to reading it sometime, but I’m really not all that interested in reading yet another generalization of other millennials’ problems. That won’t solve mine.

    I love my local church, and I don’t think I would ever leave it. But I strongly dislike all the outward of Evangelicalism.

    Excuse me? How does that make sense? What is more performance oriented than a scripted service with everyone playing his part? But if the conclusion is true–millennials are choosing liturgical worship over evangelicalism and calling it more authentic–then I suspect it is little more than following a fad.

    I do long for more liturgy and ritual. You don’t seem to understand that modern Evangelicalism has stripped away everything that even appears to be remotely “religious” out of worship, leaving a culture that feels shallow, frivolous, and embarrassingly emotional. The previous generation of Evangelicals must have invented the slogan about Christianity not being a religion, but rather a relationship — religion is man’s efforts to earn salvation, etc., etc. But that doesn’t work anymore, because almost everyone these days claims to be “spiritual but not religious.” The whole “religion is evil” thing sure caught on with the world. I’ve think we’ve had more than enough of it in the church. The term “religion” doesn’t have to be defined as human works. I don’t think the word was used that way a hundred years ago.

    And “performance” worship services really are a problem in many Evangelical circles. Have you ever been to a modern college campus worship service? Have you seen heard the blaring noise that drowns out singing, seen the fancy lighting effects on the concert stage in the darkened theater? Have felt the insincerity of preaching that calls the people congregation to put on an emotional show in front of each other? Is that really any less hypocritical than people reciting memorized liturgy?

    I know liturgy and religion can easily become dead and hypocritical; the Western church has proven it. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve solved the problem with any other form of outward worship. I long for the solemness of unchanging ritual structure. Religious ritual gives us a sense of belonging to something vast, ancient, and mysterious — far greater than ourselves. You want us to remain in the church, but I can’t feel that I’m really a part of God’s great plan for the ages in the midst of the Evangelical hollowness.

    Quitting? Do Marines quit because they don’t like military food? Or the Sargent in command over them? Or the soldier lining up next to them? Or the early hours they must keep?

    You’re right. Duty comes before preference. Millennials who are Christians are called to serve the church whether we like it or not, and many of us have gotten that wrong. Still, the fact that duty trumps personal happiness doesn’t take away the fact that I am unhappy. It’s fine to tell the soldier that he has to eat those bland rations, but don’t try telling him that those rations are really fine cuisine. Don’t tell him that his Sargent is really a friendly person to hang out with. Admit the truth — that Evangelicalism does taste bad to us, for legitimate reasons. The Evangelical church cannot be perfect. The church has never been perfect. To tell those who are unhappy with its flaws that it is not flawed is to invite defection.

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    • I’m not a Millennial, but I agree with a lot of what your saying, Bainespal. I was saved at 25 and now at 40 I’m still at the same church. We are a non-denominational church with a Baptist bent. For much of my Christian walk I’ve never experienced anything besides an evangelical service. Over the years, through funerals and weddings, I’ve been exposed to different services from other denominations.

      I remember my grandfather’s funeral service at the Catholic church he went to since the late 40s. I was surprised at the comfort that the liturgy and rituals gave. I can’t say I enjoyed it, because of the obvious, but I appreciated it. Since then I’ve been able to experience the rituals and liturgy of the other denominations. With that being said, I could never be a Catholic or Lutheran, or many other denominations because of theological differences, but I appreciate them.

      About a year ago or so there was a video that went viral “Why I Hate Christianity But Love Jesus” . It was a good looking, hip, young guy saying a poem to some dramatic background music. It was very well done. My evangelical friends went crazy over it. It didn’t sit well with me though. I’ve always thought Christianity was a relationship with God with the religion being the structure. These are may thoughts on that (if I may) -http://www.shanewerlinger.com/2012/02/religion-and-jesus-coexisting.html

      One more thing I’d like to touch on that you mentioned is “duty before preference.” The problem I’ve seen is that people don’t even give duty a second thought. Once someone gets upset a little bit over the color of the bathroom or something minuscule, they leave the church. Many people have the “it’s all about me” attitude rather than the “how can God use me” attitude. I have heard people say, “I’m not being fed anymore so I’m going some where else” (which many times they end up just not going to church anymore). I think that’s a cop out.

      My pastor tells us to study on our own, not depend on his Sunday sermon. If you’re not being fed at your church, maybe God wants to use you in a different way to minister to someone else. After 15 years of studying the Bible, I better know a lot. Therefore most of the Sunday sermons I hear are usually affirmations of what I’ve learned over the years. It’s more of a light snack than a feeding. But I do get to minister to people and be ministered to when I need it. I think it’s about balance and once you become a mature Christian it needs to be less about you and more about what God wants for you.

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      • Thanks for taking part in the discussion, Shane. Good thoughts. I agree that we have become self-focused in our worship. I also think our churches have become too much like corporations. We have to come up with new ways to “meet the demands of our market.” I’ve never heard someone say this, but honestly, I think that’s what too many of the “programs” have become.

        One of my online friends has been involved with a group of people going to a park near a housing project, I believe, and holding “church” for whoever wants to show up. The first day they passed out fliers to let people know what they were doing, and then they just started sharing Christ. There’s a lot to be said for doing church like that!

        But there’s also a lot to be said for church whose pastor preaches from God’s word faithfully. God’s word is a mirror, James says, and it is by looking into it that we can see what we are supposed to do. May churches that hold up the mirror increase.

        Edited to add: I agree with you that we’ve almost forgotten what “duty” means. We would all have a more meaningful church experience, I think, if we thought more about how we can give value to others rather than take. That’s something I want to think about more, especially considering how that concept fits with the worship aspect of church.

        Becky

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    • Bainespal, I agree with you about the generalizations. As a matter of fact, the two rebuttal arguments were both written by people who claimed to be millennials. Clearly Rachel Held Evans does not know or speak for the entire generation. But it’s a shortcut way of writing, similar to your “previous generation of Evangelicals.” I often object to this way of communicating, and I think you’re right to bring it up.

      Emotionalism has not now, nor ever, been an aspect of worship that my church cultivates, so I’m certainly not inclined to comment much on your remarks about that aspect of worship. Rather, I’d say the “it’s not religion, it’s a relationship” slogan is actually true, at least if “religion” is understood as a system of worship. God gave the Jews a system of worship, but Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of that system. We no longer have a system of worship. We have a Savior to adore, a God to praise, a Spirit to enjoy, and a family of believers to edify.

      No doubt much of evangelical worship is just as scripted as the liturgy in a high church tradition. If someone finds that they can praise God more completely through a more formal service, that’s fine.

      I have a little trouble, though, with the idea that these high church traditions that also only loosely believe the Bible or that put church tradition as a higher authority than Scripture, are feeding a large number of millennials in a way evangelical churches do not. Of course there are evangelical churches and there are Bible-preaching evangelical churches. There is a difference. The latter is anything but hollow. But here we are again, talking in generalities.

      Admit the truth — that Evangelicalism does taste bad to us, for legitimate reasons. The Evangelical church cannot be perfect. The church has never been perfect. To tell those who are unhappy with its flaws that it is not flawed is to invite defection.

      I’m not sure why you think other generations believe the church is perfect or that unhappiness is the sole possession of millennials. There was a time I considered leaving my church because I thought it was too white and too rich, especially considering where it’s located. I didn’t leave and now, some years later, we have growing ethnic diversity and an amazing ministry to our community–one that seems to expand with every new idea, one breeding another. I’m sorry to say, I didn’t play a part in that change. I saw the need but did nothing about it. Others saw the need and made a difference.

      That’s the way I now understand God’s design for the Church as Paul laid it out in Scripture. We are to be salt and light to the world, we are to represent Christ to our neighbors, we are to love each other in such a unique, winsome way, others will be drawn to Christ. This really needs to be an “all in” effort because we have different gifts. If someone withholds his gift from the body, he loses out and the body won’t be as healthy or as fruitful as it could be.

      Becky

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      • Thanks for replying.

        God gave the Jews a system of worship, but Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of that system. We no longer have a system of worship. We have a Savior to adore, a God to praise, a Spirit to enjoy, and a family of believers to edify.

        Hmm… I thought Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. The Law was perhaps much more intertwined with the ancient Jews’ religious system, but I don’t think Christ took away the practical every-day need for signs and acts of devotion. I don’t believe that rituals ever helped earn righteousness, even for the ancient Jews.

        I’m not sure why you think other generations believe the church is perfect or that unhappiness is the sole possession of millennials.

        I don’t. Sorry to imply that. I don’t think that personal happiness is important or very relevant to church life, either. In an ideal world, we would all be happy and blessed, but this is a broken world, and we have to hold to our duty to each other.

        I do think that refusing to hear complaints from disaffected millennials (or church-goers of other generations who have become similarly disillusioned) is a demonstration of unintentional arrogance, or of blind faith in the institution of Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism isn’t Christianity; Evangelical culture isn’t necessarily right. That’s why I capitalize the word. I think of Evangelicalism as just a movement that has swept through Protestant Christianity, a movement that has gone too far in ways and possibly outlived its usefulness. The Gospel was preached and believed long before Evangelicalism, and if Evangelicalism ever dies, the Gospel will continue.

        This really needs to be an “all in” effort because we have different gifts. If someone withholds his gift from the body, he loses out and the body won’t be as healthy or as fruitful as it could be.

        Exactly. That’s why I think Evangelical churches should listen to disillusioned, broken, depressed people who are vulnerable to the temptation to cut themselves off from the fellowship. I think every Christian sees an aspect of God’s truth that no one else can completely understand. If someone is disillusioned, it may mean that they see a real problem, one that the Evangelical system has been blind to. The ultimate fault probably does lie with those who leave. If they had stayed and persevered with humility, they would have eventually gotten a voice. If enough millennials remain in Evangelicalsm, and if they really do tend to have similar beliefs and similar personal problems with some of the elements of Evangelicalism, then Evangelicalism will change. It will probably change enough for the next generation of miserable young Christians to find faults to rebel against.

        Evangelicalism works for some Christians, but it never really worked for me, because I can’t look at a pleasant Bible study and see God’s mystery packaged within the commercial study guides and in the interactions of the group sharing coffee and gossip. I can’t accept that I was saved by the work of praying for it, and I’m so disillusioned with trying to be certain of salvation that I shut down at the concept of a “testimony” of coming to know Christ at one point in time by saying a prayer or making a resolution.

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  3. WELL SAID! We need to stop being an emotion-driven Christian and use our heads and hearts together. People leaving church do hurt the church. And of course they choose to take their anger out into the public so nonbelievers think church is bad.

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    • I agree, Nikole. It’s next to impossible for someone outside an organization to initiate change in it. But it’s also opposed to what God tells us to do. You’ve pointed out that it’s not only unhealthy for the church but it allows unbelievers an opportunity to defame Christ’s name. Thanks for your insights.

      Becky

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  4. I’ve now read the column on CNN. I found that the same author contributed another column, balancing her opinion: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/08/02/why-millennials-need-the-church/

    For fariness’ sake, her second column should be considered before condemning her as promoting departure from the church. The second column makes it clear that she is not.

    Who exactly are you criticizing? Those who actually leave the church, or those who question Evangelical tradition?

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    • I hadn’t really thought about a target for criticism, bainespal, but I’ll be interested in the other article you linked to.

      I felt in the one I was responding to that Rachel Held Evans was giving reasons why millennials were leaving the church, and it was incumbent upon pastors to sit down and listen to their complaints. My post was primarily a counterpoint saying there are no good excuses for a believer to leave the Church. I didn’t spell this out in the post, but one of Kim’s comments brought it up–church hopping isn’t any better than playing Lone Ranger. God created His Church to be a temple of living stones. A stone lying off by itself is hardly helping with that construction, but one flying from place to place in the building isn’t any better. 😉

      Becky

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  5. “Quitting? Do Marines quit because they don’t like military food? Or the Sargent in command over them? Or the soldier lining up next to them? Or the early hours they must keep?”

    I agree. The food, commanders, fellow soldiers, and hours kept are not reasons a Marine would leave.

    However, a poor commander giving poor, unlawful, or meaningless orders, food that is poisoned, toxic fellow soldiers and an unproductive, meaningless mission might give a Marine pause to consider why they are there, and whether he or she wants to continue their career.

    Granted, we speak in hyperbole, but I think some Millennials, and others, leave their churches for just such reasons.

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  6. […] Read the rest of the article here. […]

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  7. Great post! Church community is hard to stick with. We know that! Yet how can we communicate to these younger ones the benefit – the “it is worth it’ aspect of belonging to a body of believers! I want to be that voice.

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