Staying on in the institutional church.

April 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm 5 comments

In fairness, not everyone is bolting the institutional church, regardless of what George Barna says.  Why do committed believers stay in their churches even though they acknowlege the things I had to say in the previous post are true?  (By the way the comments on that post are terrific and diverse, worth a read)

I have gotten many off site emails on this topic and they reinforce some of the reasons I suggest for why people leave their church.  People afraid to post their excellent comments on this blog because they fear a backlash from the leaders of their church. 

So I want to start this post on why I think people stay in churches that frustrate them, with one such email: Ever since we were married…we have struggled to stay at XYZ church.  Many of our troubles with XYZ are typical…, many of which you noted.  Basically bored, dead corporate worship, not challenged or convicted, feel like the leadership is beyond reproach, sick of people bitching about the music…  Will we soldier on forever before surrendering and going elsewhere? Of course not.  We’ve been in this mode for several years now.  How much longer will we give it?  I don’t know.

Clearly people with a heart for God still permeate the institutional church even when they see the same broken system that some of the “leavers” see.  So why do they stay?  Here are a few reasons I hear from committed believers who are hanging on to what they’ve got:

  • We stay because we feel that what we get from our experience creates a passion for God that is greater than the political crap and abuse that undermines it.  In other words, we overlook the stuff we don’t like for the stuff we do.
  • We stay because we have a connection to other believers who live in our community.
  • We stay because we have found one or two others who are more focused on the Savior then they are on the junk that goes with institutional church.  We are hanging in-together.
  • We stay because we continue to hope against hope that the authority structures will change to look more like what we see in Acts and the life of Jesus.
  • We stay to learn from the Bible and from those who know more about it than we do.  We like the preaching or the Sunday School class or our small group or some other aspect of our church.
  • We stay because we believe God has told us to stay, even though the politics, the preaching, the lack of vision drives us nuts.  We stay because we haven’t been released.
  • We stay because, frankly, we don’t know where else to go. (I have heard this multiple times in the last few days.)
  • We stay because we believe (in error in my opinion) that Hebrews 10:25 obligates us to stay.

Certainly my list is not exhaustive and each of you has your own reasons.  Perhaps the main reason people stay is because they actually like it!  I don’t often hear that one very often,  but I am certain it is true for many.

Let me wrap up this two day post with a couple of thoughts and then I would love to read your comments.  Don’t be afraid to comment, do it anonymously if you want to but rip away at it.  I actually think there is a chance that this kind of dialogue can bring change.

We need to get real about church because the numbers don’t lie and they tell us that simultaneoulsy and spontaneously, believers all over the world are rethinking what it means to live in the life of Jesus, and how the Church expresses Itself in the world. People are weary of religious systems that permeate a whole lot of congregational life and so they are looking for alternative expressions they hope will be more effective.

It just isn’t enough, anymore, to recite Hebrews 10:25 as requiring all believers to be in attendance on Sunday morning in one of the institutions called church.  People really do know better than to buy that tired argument.  “Assembling together” is not attendance at a meeting but rather the joining of life together on a journey of caring, learning, serving and worshipping together.

It is not about the church, it is about Jesus.  When He has so captured our lives and His message and example drives our reason for existence, we will find ourselves in situations where church begins to break out around us.  We will encourage and support people to be real in our presence, rather than being forced to pretend for fear they will be rejected.  We will invest our energy in freeing people from guilt and fear rather than manipulating them to do what we think is best for them.  We will value and nurture relationships that bring the beautiful life of Jesus out in those around us, in ways committee meetings never can and we will have as our mission the privilege of equipping others to live this Jesus life, not managing cookie cutter programs for others to feel obligated to attend.

In this environment the discussion will not be about where we go to church or how we do church but about how we can better walk this journey together in wholeness and honesty, while encouraging whomever happens to be walking with us at the time to love the Savior as we do. 

This atmosphere where brother and sister, sister and brother walk along together, loving and serving the other with grace and mercy, focusing our energies, not on keeping the institution running, but on encouraging the life of Jesus in each other.  Buildings, visioning committees, self preserving leaders, programs, fund raisers, and all other institutional trappings we now call church will disappear in the joy of encouraging and seeing the work and love of Jesus in a sister or brother and once that glory is manifested we won’t care what you call your church or your expression of church, because we will be Family.

One of my greatest joys as a father is watching our adult children laughing, loving each other and growing together even in the reality of their many differences.  I suspect the Father enjoys watching it in His children too.

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Entry filed under: Christianity, Church, Culture, Faith, Friendship, Jesus, Revelation, The Father, Thoughts.

Moving on from the institutional church. The need-meeting center we call church.

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. tina  |  May 3, 2007 at 7:21 am

    Thanks for your insightful thoughts on this issue. These two paragraphs especially resonated with me:

    “It is not about the church, it is about Jesus. When He has so captured our lives and His message and example drives our reason for existence, we will find ourselves in situations where church begins to break out around us. We will encourage and support people to be real in our presence, rather than being forced to pretend for fear they will be rejected. We will invest our energy in freeing people from guilt and fear rather than manipulating them to do what we think is best for them. We will value and nurture relationships that bring the beautiful life of Jesus out in those around us, in ways committee meetings never can and we will have as our mission the privilege of equipping others to live this Jesus life, not managing cookie cutter programs for others to feel obligated to attend.

    In this environment the discussion will not be about where we go to church or how we do church but about how we can better walk this journey together in wholeness and honesty, while encouraging whomever happens to be walking with us at the time to love the Savior as we do.”

    Thanks,
    Tina

  • 2. renversgirl  |  May 2, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    just read Jon’s rant and he makes a very valid and what i find EXTREMELY frustrating point, every body is over ORGANIZED, we don’t take time to know each other, we just do the “how are you?”, “fine”‘s and walk away. I admit to having been guilty of this often, but for reasons of not being able to connect with people who have asked such a thing and even before you answered move on to the next person they should subject themselves too. It is frustrating.

  • 3. renversgirl  |  May 2, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    wow, i guess i never realized until i read this that He has kept me there, i have yet to figure out why, and was going to say that it was just not knowing where else to go, but that just RESOUNDED with in me.

  • 4. Mimi  |  May 1, 2007 at 7:20 am

    Maybe we should pray that our eyes would be opened so we can see the deception of the Enemy (Satan) of the Church (you and me). Then we could focus on knowing our Abba rather than our preferences (deception – it’s about me and what I think/want/feel comfortable with) and loving/caring for/accepting one another rather than programs (deception – we don’t need to walk by faith or in the power and leading of the Spirit. If the Spirit is working “this way” one place, He will work that way here, hence a program will be sufficient.)

    Maybe we ought to see what would happen if we each prayed the following prayer for ourselves, our families, our church family and church leaders and the lost.
    Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, we come to you in the name of Jesus. I pray that from your glorious, unlimited resources, you will empower us with inner strength through your Spirit. May Christ make his home in our hearts as we trust in Him. May our roots go down deep into your love and keep us strong. Abba, may we have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high and how deep your love for us is. May we experience Christ’s love, though it is too great to fully understand. And may we be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from You. Glory be to You, our Father, who is able, through Your mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Eph. 3 (When we fully understand how much we are loved, we will love others in the ways Jesus loved.)

  • 5. jonfeatherstone  |  April 30, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    1) A common reason I hear for people staying on is “No matter where we go, we will just find the same problems”
    2) I still get worked up reading posts like this. Towarsd the end you say “Its about Jesus” and then you launch into the familiar “brother and sister” family metaphor. Grrrrr. One the main raseons I left the church was because this is exactly what they preach, but not what they do. They talk on and on about this wonderful “family”, yet I know of no family that meets once a week, all sits in silence for 1.5 – 2 hours listening to a few warblers up the front, then quickly exchanges cliches before rushing home for lunch. My gripe is that ‘the church’ has over-organised their little flock to such a degree that there is no time left just to get to know each other.
    Sorry for the rant – Jon

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