Leaving the Church

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Before I get concerned emails and comments from the Christans who read my blog, I’d like to say that this is not an announcement that I will be departing from my Christian faith.  This post, and perhaps subsequent serials, is simply designed to promote discussion, thinking, and reading about a topic near to my heart.  This post deals with one problem; subsequent ones will deal with other problems.

I believe that there are multiple reasons for leaving the Church.  Today we’ll focus on one that I have noticed rather evidently in my life.  I grew up in a family that was at our place of worship every time the doors opened.  Sunday school, Worship, Sunday night service, Wednesday night and any and all things in between.  As a teen I went to all of the youth events, attended a Christian camp until I was old enough to work at said camp and then worked there for four summers in college.  The summers that I did not work at camp I spent in foreign missions.  I don’t say any of this to brag, because I believe that all of those things can be extremely problematic and in fact have been problematic in my adult life.    That problem is Obligation.

Part of attending everything available to you is developing the sense that you have to be there.  It’s not so much that you think that nothing can go on without you and that everyone will be lost if you are not present.  It’s more that you believe that God wants you at events and at church activities and you begin to define your life around church functions.  Eventually though, this is not enough.  At some point you wake up, realize that you have no relationships to speak of, and instead are simply a good church person.  While it is not bad to be a good church person, it is a horrible way to live life.  Once you realize this, there are two options: fix the problem by waking up to relationship with Christ and hopefully other people or freak out and leave the Church because you have not found fulfillment in activities and obligation.

I’ve rarely considered really leaving the Church, but the few times I have, one of the reasons has been lack of relationship and a huge sense of obligation.  I’m not attempting to solve problems here because I don’t really have a good way to do that.  I’m simply posing an issue and hoping to create discussion.

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9 responses »

  1. Kristi, I see your point. Too often, we have been more concerned with our young people being involved in “activities” and far too little on just plain old fellowship and building relationships. I know, at our church, the teens, if they are to do everything, would cost them over $3000 or more a year. They always seem to be “doing” things. Now, while I think a lot of it good, I do know that the best times in my life were just hanging out at the local diner and talking and talking and talking into the night while sipping cokes. We were building those strong relationships. We were holding each other accountable. We were having fun. Now, whenever they get together, they have about 10 min to fellowship then they have to have a long Devo and then go home. You don’t have to have a devo every time you get together.

    Now, that being said, I am an adult now…and see the same things. At church, they have to sqeeze so much stuff in at worship (before and after) and during class that you again have no time to really fellowship. To build relationships. That is why I am a big advocate of small groups. Our lifegroup is wonderful. We share, we build each other up, we hold each other accountable. We don’t just have “activities”.

    You can really look like a good church person by showing up at everything but are you just a hollow shell longing to have a relationship with someone?

    On a side note but sorta along the same vein, I am so tired of churches turning into dramatic presentations during worship. it’s now all about how good you look, how much media (videos, powerpoint) you use, how much drama you present. Personally, I really have gotten to the point where I distain formal worship because it’s now all about looking/sounding good instead of just plain worship.

    I hope I didn’t hijack this at all and covered what you were talking about. 🙂

  2. The congregation I attend is relatively small, so we don’t have a lot of “programs/ministries” yet. We have small groups and I’m in one but sometimes it feels an awful lot like one more thing I have to be at every week. Sometimes I feel compelled to go on hiatus from everything and stay home and read my Bible on my own. I’m afraid that all the activities of youth groups turn us into adults who punch our time cards and make sure we look like good church people. On the one hand I think involvement is important and on the other hand I think too much involvement is dumb and foolhardy.

  3. I agree. The one thing you have to watch for, at least I do, is not getting lazy or caught in a rut. With our Lifegroup, we usually take the month of December off. With people out of town and holidays and such, we just take it off. Now, when Jan. rolls around, I sorta feel like “Well, it’s been nice staying home Sunday night, playing with the kids, resting up, reading a good book, just relaxing…I don’t want to go back to home church!” but I know that it’s good for me and I am just trying to resist getting out of my house. I do that with a lot of things.

    I think people sometimes do too much activity. They are constantly going, going, going and even though a lot of that is with church, they tend to burn out. God created the Sabbath for a reason. I think we need balance our activity with rest.

    Great post Kristi. I hope it spurs some more comments

  4. Hi Kristi. First, thanks for the comment. And thanks also for asking about me Sunday before last. Matt said you were very sweet.. I appreciate it. Things have been pretty hard here lately and I’ve kind of retreated away from everything for a while. Just kind of needed some quiet time. And besides, I HATE crying and blithering in front of other people, so my only option was to hide for a while. It’s a pride thing. 🙂

    And this post really struck home with me too. We should go to church or events b/c we want to, b/c it encourages our walk with God. Never out of guilt. I stayed away from church the past two weeks b/c I was having a nervous breakdown and didnt want to cry mascara down my face in the middle of communion. And I didnt feel guilty about it.

    And it seems to me that sometimes church and potlucks and classes and retreats sometimes feel a little ‘clubbish.’ Like a country club roster of events. I hate to sound skeptical like that, but there have been times in my life when I really and truly viewed church that way. Not as much since I’ve started going to our church.

    Anyway, we’ll be back on Sunday. Looking foward to seeing you.

  5. Great post!

    I had a remarkably similar childhood. Both of my Grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers and missionaries (to Japan). I grew up doing all of the churchy thing you’d expect, including: singing in the choir; camps; running events; and eventually being a camp councilor for about 7 years running (in summers); I was even a music instructor at a church for a time.

    All of this had its ups and downs. But, in my experience, they were mostly ups. At that time, the focus was not on activity, per se, but community and communion with God. We had activities, for sure, but I made a lot of friends, some of whom became close friends. And that was possible only because we had the fellowship time to make it happen.

    However, that was then and this is now. Currently, my fathers church is a joke. It is very much like what the rest of you have described. To me, it seems like they are trying too hard to compete with MTV and Youtube. My grandparents don’t even go to church anymore, because they can’t find one that is mellow enough. Everything is hyped and MEGA. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years church starts to look more like a Japanese game show!

    Now, in full disclosure, I’m an atheist. In fact, by the time I was 15 or so, I was starting my “fall” from grace. I’m quite happy with my stance on metaphysics, but I still miss church and church camps and (as a Southern Baptist) the choir.

    I’ve never been particularly spiritual (thus the move toward atheism), but I have always been religious, and that is where I feel the loss. The difference (to me) is one of focus.

    Spirituality is, I think, ones souls connection with God and with ones fellow man.

    Religious sentiment however, I think, is more about ones connections with the rituals of religion: taking communion; the Lord’s Prayer; the sound of the choir on Christmas Eve; the sound of a good preachers voice (my Grandfathers where both of the loud-powerhouse-kind); stained glass windows; the feel of a good bible in ones hand; and the act itself of prayer and meditation.

    So, for example, I’d say that Unitarians strive for spirituality at the expense of religion. And some Catholic congregations (certainly NOT all) strive for religion at the expense of spirituality.

    (As an Atheist, I can have all the communion with my fellow man as a believer, and I feel quite fulfilled on that front. What I can’t get back is the connection with ritual in that deep way only a believer can.)

    Certainly over time, the rituals of any religion change (we no longer sacrifice goats). Taday kids are growing up with power point slides in place of howling preachers; with rock-style church bands (my Dad’s the drummer in his) in place of “traditional” choirs; and a fast-paced go-go-go youth group in place of a good Sunday school discussion. For them, THOSE will be the rituals they get sentimental about (or lash out against). But, rituals they are.

    Using my definitions then, maybe churches have too much religion and not enough spirituality. People need more connection, less ritual. At least that’s how I read your post.

  6. Saij, there is a great book out there (although a bit dated now) called “How to be a Christian without being religious”. I thought of that book reading your post.

  7. Saij, I’m assuming your atheism is rooted in more than just hatred for pageantry and obligation. I hate it when people, myself included, let circumstances created by people ruin their view of God. That being said, while my congregation is not big on pageantry, sometimes it is remarkably easy to get lost there, despite it’s relatively small size. I also think that it’s important to realize that while I crave simplicity and, for lack of a better phrase, “ease of use” in a worship service/congregation, there are others that gain a lot from seeing others perform. Also, there are people that are gifted to perform and should use their gifts to glorify God. That being said, it’s the feeling of obligation that is so exhausting. I’ve determined to spend this year not teaching Sunday school or volunteering for anything that is a significant time commitment. Not because I don’t wish to serve God, but because I have spent so little time listening to him in the past two years that I have become unable to hear him.

  8. Kristi –

    It’s been a while. I hope that you’re doing well, and I just wanted to say thanks for your blog updates. Keep em coming!

    I also wanted to contribute just a few words. I think I understand pretty well how you feel. You know me, my background, and my attitudes/lifestyle at least up until a few years ago. We come from pretty similar situations and are dealing with similar issues here.

    I’ll admit that I too have taken some time to step back at least a bit over the past few years. After graduating and for the most part moving out of the RFCs, I knew that I needed a shift in my spiritual life or I’d quite possibly go insane or lose my faith altogether in the midst of a flurry of activity and obligation. I was always very involved in everything, and I am thankful for that involvement, as it has given me rich experiences, wonderful memories, and much to learn from. But now I am in a stage where my personal thoughts and values are changing somewhat. At times it feels as though I’m maturing in them, though there are plenty of times I feel (from that overwhelming sense of obligation and duty) as though I’m devolving. I don’t know for sure where God will lead me through this process, but I do know that it is a necessary process in order for me to develop a more genuine and realistic relationship with him. It reminds of God’s appearance to Elijah, not in the frenzy and noise as he’d expected, but in a still, small whisper. May he bless you with his whisper.

  9. I came back to this post in thinking about my own struggles with the church at times. I think we often times become so consumed that giving up a few hours of a Sunday is too much. For me, it is the struggle of identity and reflection. Do I believe what the rest of the congregation believes? Is it intellectual or just a program. A church’s ideology has an impact too. How open is it to the non mainstream — for example. Am I really comfortable?

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