Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Leaving church? Or staying?

A friend posted a church-planter's provocative essay on Facebook today. You can read, "Dear Church, Here's Why People Are Really Leaving You" at I responded to the essay and to my friend:

Dear Kellie,

I agree with your assessment of John Pavlovitz's thoughtful essay and with many of his observations about how we, the church, are failing to relate to people and to relate people to God.

Faith in God is relational, I believe, and nothing can replace that primary relationship with God, however appealing it might be in the immediate.

Over my nearly 20 years as pastor of one congregation, I have seen many people come but, thanks be to God, many fewer people go.

People come to church and stay because they are seeking not excitement and entertainment, although I understand that some churches provide inducements to bring people into the fellowship of faith and there to nurture them, but people come to church and keep coming back because they are seeking an authentic encounter with the living Jesus Christ and wanting to learn how to be in community with Jesus and with other people. One does so in one congregation, not in a series of them.

Over the years here, I have observed that among the people who leave church, apart from those who enter eternal fellowship with Christ in heaven, some leave because they have grown bored, are restless and are often seeking the perfect church, which often comports with their specific definitions of perfection, including conformity to certain biblical texts, which are interpreted in one, usually literal way.

Some people leave because they want to return to the church of the past, which never existed, and which they hope will provide them the unshakable security they seek in an insecure, changing world (The only security in this world, I believe, is found in daily placing one's ultimate trust in God, not in institutions, including the church, regardless of denomination.)

Some people leave because they are shaken by the challenge of the Jesus of the Gospels--Jesus whose love, compassion, mercy, and justice extend to every human being, even to those who reject and crucify him.

Some people leave because they are distracted and diverted from the commitments and consolations of the Christian faith, including regular worship with other followers of Jesus, because of work pressures, family, Sunday morning sports, and the cares and pleasures of the world.

But what about the rest of us? What about people who stay in church and in one church? People who experience many of these same pressures, temptations, promptings? Why do we stay?

We stay because church--although imperfect and sometimes irritating, dull, wrong, disappointing--is our spiritual home, our family.

We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We need one another. We need Christ in our lives, and we find him with one another in that community called church, faithful and yet flawed.