Over the last month we featured here on Thinking Through Christianity several articles in a series titled, Why I Go To Church. You can read them here.
Read all the articles in the “Leaving A Church While Loving The Church” series.
I’m writing the last article on that topic and transitioning into a new one. The new topic will be, Leaving A Church While Loving The Church. I’m well aware this topic can leave many people with hurt or confused feelings. I hope to avoid this.
I currently find myself in the situation of leaving a church and finding a new one, so this is a first-hand account of my current thoughts and experiences.
I hope you’ll continue to read. I hope those of you who’ve given up on going to church will find some inspiration through this process. I know it’s hard. It’s hard to go again if you’ve stopped. And equally hard to transitioning even if you haven’t stopped.
A Church vs. The Church
Let’s be clear. A huge difference exists between “a church” and “the Church.” The Church, with a capital “C” is the fellowship of all Christian believers. A church, with a lowercase “c”, is a group of people from capital “C” Church trying to figure out this whole Christian life thing. The common bond of “the Church” is a set of core doctrines (see below) that we all share. But beyond that, everyone attending “a church” may hold very different views on most everything else.
Why go to a church?
I previously wrote an article titled, Why Have a Church Service? It’s almost the same question as why attend church, the topic we’ve looked at for the past month, but slightly nuanced.
You can read that article for all the details. But, basically, I contend that “…a church service’s primary purpose is actually for God to connect with humans, for God to dispense his God-ness to us and as a result of said dispensing we then choose to give thanks and praise.” Through communion, baptism, preaching of the Word, and fellowship with other believers church offers ways for God to connect with us and then for us to connect back with God that we can’t get any other way. It should be a unique experience from all your other experiences.
Attending a church also allows you to grow in your Christian faith through community, outreach and just generally being connected to people other than your best friends and family. (While, hopefully, still encouraging you to keep those other connections.) Ideally, through community, church should give you a safe place to grow in emotional, relational, and spiritual maturity.
Basics of a church
In the book Safe People by Drs. Cloud & Townsend they talk of three things that safe people, on a fundamental level, should do. I believe these also apply to any organization, such as a church.
The three things listed:
- Draws us closer to God.
- Draws us closer to others.
- Helps us become the real person God created us to be.
(Read this blog post for more details: What are Safe People?)
Now, if you attend a church that clearly does not do these things, you should definitely leave and find a new church. I start here because a church may have correct core doctrine but be emotionally immature or abusive. Unfortunately more churches fall into this category than most would like to admit.
Also, you should find a church that teaches correct doctrine. Start with the most basics. These are:
- The concept of the Trinity. (Read more on my views of this being the primary doctrine.)
- Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man.
- The spiritual lostness of humanity.
- The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
- The inspiration and authority of Scripture.
And again, if a church does not teach these things, then you should leave and find a new church. But, fortunately, most churches do teach these doctrines.
How to know when to leave or when to stay?
So one asks, I feel like I should leave because of this or that. How do you make that decision? The Christian-y answer is to pray and read the Bible. Which is great and correct advice, but I think God also gives us other resources beyond just those two tasks.
Ask questions. Ask your pastor questions about the issues you’re having. Talk with trusted friends and (if you have them) your spouse and children. Parents often have good wisdom on this type of thing. Read books or articles pertaining to your questions or issues. And don’t forget about that first advice I mentioned—pray and read the Bible.
Is this church for you?
In the study of missions Christians talk of contextualization. When a missionary goes to a new culture with the gospel they need to contextualize it. That doesn’t mean you change the fundamentals of Christianity, but all sorts of cultural norms exist in the way the missionary did church and lived the Christian life before they came to this new culture. These missionaries need to strip away what is cultural and what isn’t.
Honestly, most of the way we view church is cultural and not imperative. The music, the style of preaching, what people wear, how long the service is, whether we have potlucks or catered food…I could go on forever.
It’s hard to figure out what’s what sometimes. It’s important to know the differences between cultural issues and core issues before you make a decision on your church. Mind you, I’m not saying one is necessarily more important than the other, but simply that you need to know the difference.
Please keep reading over the the next several weeks as I’ll delve more into these issues and share more of my personal journey in the search for a new church. I look forward to it!