It was a few weeks ago now that TGC posted the article “The Most Important Time to Go to Church.” The most important time to go to church, according to the TGC author, is when you don’t want to, because “covenant commitments” are made for the hard times, not the good times. On Facebook it was Liked or Loved almost 2000 times and was shared almost 1000 times. So it appears that the conservative evangelical world thought well of it.
Someone sent it to me (which is how I see pretty much every article I see), and after I read it, I posted this comment on their Facebook page, here:
This article acts as if all the reasons for staying away from church are petty. It makes no allowance for spiritually abusive churches, of which there are many, churches that are essentially cults. It makes no allowance for the fact that many people are experiencing genuine traumas that others in their churches are telling them to “get over.” It makes no allowance for the fact that there are churches in which there are predators, and some people have tried to alert the leaders to the predators, but the leaders ignore them and tell them they’re just bitter and unforgiving.
There are many good reasons to quit going to a particular church, but this article acts as if no matter what has happened at your church, you should be there. That is frankly hogwash.
There are so many wounded, So. Many. Wounded.
And The Gospel Coalition gives only petty reasons for leaving a church?
I posted it on Facebook, and the ensuing twenty-page discussion ended up giving me the fodder for a blog post. (The fact that I’m only just now posting it shows how behind I am, lol.)
Reasons he says you don’t want to “go to church”
- You have no sense of connection.
- You don’t want to see the ex.
- You have no desire to be there.
- Your church has grown unsatisfying.
- The worship team didn’t pull their song selections from your Spotify playlist.
- The pastor didn’t have the time and resources to craft a mesmerizing sermon with a team of presidential speechwriters.
- The membership doesn’t have the perfect combination of older saints to mentor you, younger saints to energize you, mature saints to counsel you, hospitable saints to host you, and outgoing saints to pursue you.
- All the stars didn’t align.
- The service wasn’t planned just right.
- Everyone didn’t smile at you with the perfect degree of sincerity and handle the small talk seamlessly and engage you with just the right depth of conversation that’s neither too personal nor too shallow.
- The songs or prayers or sermons or Sunday school classes didn’t touch your soul right where you needed to be touched.
There are very legitimate reasons for leaving the organized church meeting for a time, sometimes for a very long time. But the only reason he gives above for not “going to church” that is even close to legitimate is “not wanting to see the ex.” The fact that he’s lumping it with those other so-called reasons indicates to me that he thinks it’s petty and doesn’t understand that some exes can intimidate with a certain look or gesture or a single word. Every other reason is devised specifically to make someone who leaves a church sound petty and nit-picky.
Reasons he says you’re supposed to “go to church” (shorter)
- You need to “hear the studied voice of your own shepherd teaching and comforting and correcting you.”
- Covenant communities hold us up when we’re faltering and pick us up when we’ve fallen.
- Covenant communities encourage us when we’re weary and wake us when we’re slumbering.
- Covenant communities draw us out of ourselves and call us to our commitments and responsibilities.
- Covenant communities invite us back to the garden of Christian community, where we grow.
These can be true in a healthy and true church. But there are many, many “covenant communities” (not a Biblical term, by the way) that are actually spiritually abusive. He does not allow for this possibility even a tiny bit.
Honestly I’ve known of so many I can’t even count them all and I’m so weary, who have seemed like glorious “covenant communities” with “unctuous” preaching and fervent singing that have acted like the devil himself when it comes to a victim of abuse trying to get help. Their true colors haven’t shown (to most people) until then.
Reasons he says you’re supposed to “go to church” (longer)
- That tabled bread and wine represents the crucifixion of the worst sins you could ever commit and the worst realities you’ve ever experienced.
It was our Lord Jesus who was crucified, not our sins or “realities.” That’s a really important point to keep straight. Also, I have a friend I regularly share the Lord’s supper with who is actually a “church goer” but who is in a church where the people do not know the pain (and “realities”) she is carrying and wouldn’t know what to do with it if they did know. So that to say, we can share the Lord’s supper outside of the Sunday meeting context.
- The church gathers every Sunday to remember the death of Jesus for our sins and the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and that’s precisely what we all need to remember and celebrate, regardless of what else is going on in our lives.
Good mixed with bad here. Yes! We do need to remember the Lord’s death and resurrection. But some churches don’t gather for this purpose. They gather as cults—you may be surprised how many churches have great evil within the leadership—and of course the people are unsuspecting, because who in the world is going to join a cult on purpose? In the audience for which a TGC author is writing, many churches fall into the category of which I am speaking.
- The gathering of the saints is a means of grace established by God for edifying his people.
I very much disagree with this, though I know it’s almost Scripture, coming as it does from John Calvin. I believe that the only “means of grace” is Jesus Christ Himself, by faith, through His Holy Spirit.
- The God we’re worshiping has instituted our gathering as a main way he matures and strengthens and comforts us.
Our Lord actually never says this about the Sunday meeting. Saints should surely encourage each other, challenge and comfort each other, but as I hinted earlier, most of my such interactions take place outside of “going to church.”
- God builds up his people through our meeting every time, in every place, without fail, no matter how we feel.
This is so baldly and obviously false that I think this is where I flipped out and declared the whole thing to be hogwash.
Things he says you need to be doing “at church”
- You need to be pursuing others and caring for them and reaching out to them. Other people need your spiritual gifts and “gospel partnership.”
Church leaders ought to have the understanding that this isn’t the way it works. There are those who are strong (able to help), and those who are weak (needing help). Jim Wilder in Joy Starts Here recognizes that the weak and strong need to be together, because that’s the way a healthy church functions, but they can’t all be building each other up at the same time. Some people are not ready to pursue others and care for them, because they are in a place of crisis. This author didn’t even allow for the desperate need in that place of crisis. This is what I wrote about in this blog post.
- The pastor is hoping you’ll be a good listener.
This one sounds a bit pitiful to me, like we’re all in elementary school. I have to say, when a preacher teaches me something I didn’t understand before, or helps me understand an old truth in a new way, or encourages us, I don’t usually have any trouble paying attention. I could get into a discussion of whether or not the sermon should be the central focus of the church gathering, but I won’t go down that trail.
- You can’t do any of these things if you’re not present.
By this he means “present” at the Sunday meeting, the weekly gathering. This is absolutely untrue. It’s possible to pursue, care for, and reach out to others and use our spiritual gifts and “gospel partnerships” (whatever those are) outside of the Sunday gathering. Most of the time other settings are far more conducive to this.
Reasons he says you shouldn’t ever think of not “going to church”
- A body that’s never together is more like a prosthetics warehouse. A family that never has family dinners or outings or reunions won’t be a healthy family.
BUT we can get together outside of the regular meeting and have very meaningful times of prayer, worship and fellowship together outside of “church” as this man is defining it.
- Covenants are made for the hard times, not the good times.
Church covenants in the TGC tradition have been known to be used against people who are being abused in their homes. There are churches that have required members to sign church covenants that have been known to use those very (benign-sounding) covenants to be spiritually abusive to their members.
- You’re gathering to anticipate a greater marriage than the one you hoped would happen later this year.
Not sure what this means.
- The stone trapping you in the cave of depression can be rolled away in a night, and once God does it, no Roman soldier or Jewish priest can stop him.
This kind of miracle does happen, but it doesn’t have to happen “at church.”
- You need to let God pick up the pieces of your heart and stitch together the kind of mosaic that only gets fully crafted when saints stay committed to God’s long-term building project, when they speak the truth to one another in love.
This often happens someplace other than “at church.”
- It doesn’t matter how you’ve been treated.
These are the words of an abuser or an abuse enabler. Seriously? It doesn’t matter how you’ve been treated? It doesn’t matter how you’ve been treated?
So you were raped, just hush your mouth. It doesn’t matter.
Your husband beat you up and treated you like a sex slave. Be quiet.
It doesn’t matter.
- This isn’t really about you.
This one also breaks my heart and again shows the cruelty at the heart of this way of thinking. What I hear from it is, “You are not really all that significant to God.” It reminds me of the pastoral rant I heard years ago: “You don’t come to church to GET! You come to GIVE!” That’s the kind of thing that will create shriveled dried-up Christians who cannot possibly truly help others. If we don’t GET from God, how can we possibly have anything to give others? In order to have the living waters to pour out to others, we must receive from the Lord.
Yes, it’s about us, every bit as much as the psalms are about David. David used first-person pronouns a whole lot in the psalms.
Paul used first-person pronouns a whole lot in his epistles too.
Yes, it’s about us. Yes, it’s about me. It’s about you. It’s about the people in our lives. We are very precious to our Savior.
Legitimate reasons for leaving your church (my list, not his)
What if you find out that an underage teenager in your church was raped by a member of your church, and your pastors want to handle it in house and they tell you they’ll take care of it? Is it all good? Should you just trust your pastors, because “covenant communities invite us back to the garden of Christian community, where we grow”?
What if you find out that your pastor is preaching a false gospel, a gospel of works? Should you stay and endure it because you need to “hear the studied voice of your own shepherd teaching and comforting and correcting you”?
What if you are in an abusive marriage and can’t get the help you need because no one will listen or believe, or they tell you that the suffering will be good for you? Should you just submit and obey while you die a slow painful death, not just emotionally but physically, because “covenant communities hold us up when we’re faltering and pick us up when we’ve fallen”?
What if you find out one of the leaders of your church has been visiting prostitutes, but the other leaders won’t listen to you, other church members won’t listen to you? Should you just submit and obey and keep your mouth shut? Should you continue to join this “gathering as a main way [God] matures and strengthens and comforts us”?
What if one of the leaders of your church is lying to you and about you and no one else will listen to you, but of course everyone is listening to him? Should you stay because “covenant communities encourage us when we’re weary and wake us when we’re slumbering”?
What if you’re watching the leadership of the church become an elite boys’ club (with or without one or two token women) who don’t listen to the lowly church members because they’re so busy listening to each other? Should you keep going because “covenant communities draw us out of ourselves and call us to our commitments and responsibilities”?
What if you find out that your pastor is a sex trafficker? Should you leave your church? Should you keep going because “God builds up his people through our meeting every time, in every place, without fail”?
You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not.
These reasons for leaving a church aren’t really all that similar to the list Gundersen gave under the first heading. But I’ve never heard anyone give his reasons. The reasons I’ve listed here . . . well, every single one of them is a story I’ve heard. Because of the circles I run in, the majority of these stories I know come out of churches that would love The Gospel Coalition and would repost this article.
I’m a “church-goer.” But the vast majority of the interaction I have with Christians and others who are seeking Christ is outside of the Sunday church meeting. Here’s a blog post I wrote some time ago about “church attendance.” As one of my Facebook commenters said, “A certain church may not be helpful at a certain point in life. This does not mean the Christian is unfaithful to God.”
Sometimes these so-called houses of God are hiding absolute evil—you might be surprised at some of the things I’ve learned—so when the people sense that they are in a spiritual wasteland, it’s exactly the right thing to do to get out and get as far away as they can. God has living water for you, but it isn’t in a cultic authority-exalting organization.
They want to say church is all about “community,” but when that “community” stabs you in the back, they’ll say, “Why were you looking to man instead of God? After all, it’s not about you.”
I pray that the Spirit of God will bring a great shaking to the churches and that the true people of God will recognize, yes, it is possible for evil to infiltrate our churches, imagine that, and yes we have been blind to it. God help us. Lord, have mercy.
Wise comments from others
(These were made on my Facebook post of the article.)
- I’ve heard Scripture twisting for many years, attempting to guilt me back into any of the local churches. They blatantly don’t care when I mention the sexual perversion and spiritual abuse that is being tolerated … to which they reply, “Well, there’s no perfect church.”
- Putting a sign saying “church” in front of a building doesn’t mean that it is truly a place where God is. Any wolf can put a sign saying “church” in front of a slaughter house.
- “Assembling together” doesn’t mean we have to participate in a counterfeit church. History is filled with periods in which a powerful organized “church” became corrupt and true believers met in secret.
- It sounds like leadership trying to control their people.
- It’s like when leadership says “do you talk about your leaders like ‘them’ or ‘us’?’” Guess what? If it’s one tiny group of people calling all the shots who appoint new leaders who think like them and look like them, and who hold on to power and maybe don’t like bringing in new voices because they like to be in charge and can’t be called to account or into question- this is not a good place to be at. It’s ok to move on.
- Yes you absolutely can attend another church for a little while or switch for good. The body of Christ is not a tiny box. You can’t cheat on your church with another church! There is only one body and you are free to move freely in it!! . . . This is not a marriage covenant.
- Being minimized over and over again is exhausting. Being listened to is empowering, and the church is definitely in need of emotionally mature people who do not have the need to manipulate others’ feelings. Very tired of intellectual Christianity.
- Do some people use bad reasons to leave a church? Undoubtedly. But there are also many bad reasons to stay in a church. I did the latter for far too long.
- My husband and I stayed too long in a bad church because we believed all this stuff about being obedient and how God wants us there no matter how we feel. Taking wounds every single Sunday, thinking it was God’s means of grace. Seven years’ recovery has been *almost* long enough for me to try to attend church again. So I didn’t even read this article, because I knew it would be like a repeated kick on the still-tender places. I’m done justifying myself to those who hold the institution of the church over the spiritual health of people.
- I just wrote a letter to the pastor of the church I’ve been part of for the last eight years, telling him I won’t be coming back. I’ve tried and tried and tried to eke out spiritual sustenance from what I’ve come to realize is a spiritual wasteland. Part of me wondered if that was even a legitimate reason for leaving because “it’s not about me,” right? But reading through these comments has helped reassure me that this is good. I need a community where I can grow, and it’s not selfish to look somewhere else for one.
- And this: “If your church believes the Bible and preaches the gospel and practices the ordinances and serves one another . . .” . . . Show me one of these churches that actually stand up for and serve the weak and vulnerable, and then we’ll talk about how convicted a person should feel for not attending.
- I get so frustrated every time I see the memes that say some version of “If you quit going to church b/c of something someone did, you had your eyes on people instead of God to begin with.” That’s totally oblivious to the fact that for some of us, leaving the church was absolutely necessary so that we can see God Himself more clearly, not through the distortion of human toxicity!
- I am going through this article now. One thing noticeable to me is poor citation of scripture. For example from the article: “But I also know the church is marked, known, and enlivened by its regular, rhythmic, ordered gatherings (Heb. 10:24–25).” However when I look at the verses, they read, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” . . . “Ordered” implies compulsory; it also implies an ordered service that is designed by a few and followed by everyone. But the qualities in the verses are freely given between those who truly care about each other, such as “provoke unto love and good works,” “Not forsaking,” “exhorting.” These qualities don’t come from a command for “ordered gatherings,” but Christ’s command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” I wonder if this is where much of the church is confused today.
- In two churches that I attended a new pastor came in and rewrote the church constitution/covenant a few months later when people were still excited about their new pastor. The first pastor had previously been a youth pastor at Piper’s church. He ended up splitting the church. He stated that anyone who did not sign an agreement indicating that they were loyal to him would not be allowed to minister. People who had been members for as many as 30 years left after he preached that “The train is leaving the station and if you are not on board you will be left behind.” The second pastor had it written into the constitution/covenant that “all ministries were under the pastor’s umbrella.” He then controlled and micro-managed every single ministry. Women could not lead the singing when men were present or speak from the pulpit. He even insisted that the woman leading the women’s Bible study submit her lessons to him for approval before she taught them–and later he insisted on reading the study books himself and wrote the lessons for her to teach. Both pastors at first appeared to be godly men and the wording of the church covenants appeared to be very spiritual. The congregation trusted that these men were godly and never dreamed that they would rewrite and use the covenants to further their own agendas. I think that it is true of most Christians that until they experience these things, they don’t believe it could happen and they see these documents as good. I mean, what Christian thinks they should be on guard against leaders who claim to follow Christ? Christians need to heed warnings and be cautious.
- What these people don’t consider is that many sheep are leaving because they don’t hear the familiar voice of the Shepherd. “After taking out all that are his own, he goes on ahead of them; and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They never follow a stranger but will run away from him, because strangers’ voices are unfamiliar to them.” (John 10:4-5)
YES!! THIS kind of truth and clarity, testifying against the ACTUAL state of much of the visible church, IS very edifying to believers and glorifying of God. Thank you.
“The most important time to stop going to your church” is powerful because it is UTTERLY TRUE.
Hebrews 4:12-13 come to mind.
From a pastors wife who spent 30+ years in the trenches.
Thank you for applying the gifts God has given you to this topic, Rebecca. 😀
Indeed, been there and done this. “This is so baldly and obviously false that I think this is where I flipped out and declared the whole thing to be hogwash.“
Thank you for this post.
I am a member of a church that has members sign a covenant. I admit it was daunting at first, and the only way I could sign it in good conscious was to state plainly to the pastor and congregation that I would keep the covenant as the LORD enables. I advise others to read their church membership requirements carefully and discuss any items you’re uncomfortable with to the pastor, leadership and members. Also, please remember God is not going to hold you to any covenant (or contract) that requires you to be under abusive authority or one that others have broken. A covenant for church membership should go both ways; they have a responsibility to nourish and help grow your faith; if it becomes abusive, leave with a clear conscience. They’ve broken covenant – not you.
Oh, the things I could say . . . but then, I imagine you have heard them all. Because the abuses by churches are not limited to sexual impropriety, but include all manner of abuses of so-called ‘spiritual authority’.
Take the sad story of a woman going to the pastor, with much trepidation, to admit that her marriage to an elder was on its last breath, and that she secretly wondered if it would be best to just kill herself, then rushing to say that of course she wouldn’t. And never getting any sort of follow up, any call of concern or suggestion for counseling, no mention of the conversation to her husband. Almost as if he cared more for the reputation of the church than whether her marriage lived . . . or if she did.
Or perhaps the story of the homeless person ushered into the ‘body’ by the pastor, who either did not know, or did not tell, of the man’s long history of alcoholism, arrests and unhealthy behavior that caused his own nearby family to refuse him help. Who did not mention to the elderly ladies who brought him food and welcomed him into their homes, or the mentally impaired, trusting man who was left as his chauffeur when the elders grew tired of shuttling him, or all the people who gave money to provide him food, clothing and an apartment, that an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a felony prevented him from getting his license or a job. Of course, since all these things were pointed out to the elders by an outsider, a woman, they were ignored. ‘The elders were in charge’ of the situation – despite few of them knowing this information. This woman felt compelled to remove her family from this ‘church’ and even the community, to protect them when the pastor and elders refused to provide the congregation appropriate information to allow wise precautions.
How about the proclamation, heard by a congregation one fine Sunday, that ‘When I speak from the pulpit, I speak for God’? Of course, they all knew the pastor couldn’t possibly mean that individuals had no right to think or interpret scripture differently than he . . . except for the elder’s wife, who confronted him directly. And who ended up leaving the church she and her husband had helped start when she was told that to disagree with his interpretation of scripture was ‘to be in rebellion’. You might not be surprised that this was not given as the reason they left the church, and that only intervention from higher up kept them from being excommunicated for breaking their ‘covenant’.
Ah, yes, those fine covenants, which allow any individual or family who question or disagree with the pastor, elders or the direction of the church to be ‘put under discipline’ and bullied into silence. Need I say that when I got one of those ‘letters’ I was not frightened by anything they might say or do to me, but went my merry way? Who do these men think they are? It makes you shudder to think what these churches would be like if we lived in a country that didn’t at least assure our basic rights . . . the very rights these churches seek to curtail.
I saw this shared in a response to a Beth Moore twitter that it was ok to not go on Mothers Day if that day was too painful, so this rubbed me especially wrong.
>You don’t want to see the ex.
This is a GREAT reason to change churches. And in abusive situations, probably says something bad about your church that your ex is even welcome there.
It seems to that from his list of things a ‘covenant community’ does for you, if your church *doesn’t* do those things, you also have a good reason to leave?
I saw this posted in response to Beth Moore saying you don’t have to go to church on mothers day if it hurts to much, so I found it especially terrible.
My daughter left her wee church just this month because they had been counting her missed Sundays. Her missed Sundays were due to illness, and an out of town visit to see her sister.
The female pastor said to her “don’t get too comfortable missing church”
She quit. They all assume she has backslidden. Many have texted to get together for coffee.
Ha! She just goes to a different church.
The thing I don’t like about all this nonsense is the assumption that if you don’t attend church God has no otger way of contacting you.
Yah. The guy who created the universe cant contact you because you don’t attend church.
Is this church covenant thing an American thing? The church I grew up in just required baptism to be a member. What gives with this stupid notion?
It’s a 9Marks thing, I think. They were trying to get people to take church membership more seriously, I believe, but it went awry somewhere, or maybe it was awry from the beginning.
All of the reasons he gave for going to “church” were things I very much believed when I was young but over many years came to realize were myths. They’re just guilt trips to keep people there, putting that cash in the offering plate. I’ve had so many negative experiences in church, I finally had to face the fact that it isn’t a healthy place for me. I could write a book about them, I don’t know whether to make it a tragedy or comedy… I cannot tell you how much better I feel since leaving. It’s taking time to untangle God himself from the image he was presented as but it gets better and better. Church is not the only place Christians can fellowship with and encourage each other, in fact, it seems to not be the best place, as friendships there are very dependent on church things and tend to be conditional. When you leave a church, how many of those “friendships” hold up?
I could never fathom what value (temporary or eternal) there an be in sitting in a pew, time after time, being ignored, or worse, belittled and demeaned; in a church community which does not accept you nor want you to be there. We go to a church type enviroment to seek God and be nourished by His Word and Spirit, first of all, but also to find fellowship with other believers. If neither is happening, why bother? Why seek Living Water from empty and dried up cisterns?
Oh, the covenant memberships… This is how many churches turn cultish. The member is required to take a kind of oath, which places a heavy burden on their shoulders and demands almost a marriage-type commitment. It only serves as ammo for the pastor, who can then throw the oath back at your face, if you ever dare to speak your concerns or question the direction that church has taken. Membership oath does not seem to be that binding to the leaders, as they can do as they please without any concern for the well being of their congregants. Members are for the leaders, but leaders have no accountability whatsoever.
Anything – any promise, any oath or a vow – that tries to come between an individual believer and God, is a bondage and a false yoke. ‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light’.. (Matthew 11:30)
I quit attending a church, when the pastor told me I was going to hell. I had offhandedly mentioned being treated for severe depression. The pastor said the medicine was evil, and I just needed to pray more. It took several years for me to return to a church.
I’m so sorry.
I have been in that place, too. “Just pray more,” as if we were somehow “bad Christians” and praying more would fix it all. The inability of the church to comprehend depression as a physiological illness is one of the things that has me staying home as well. Maybe someday I will want to go back, but I don’t think I should have to take a Xanax to go to church or have anxiety attacks the night before.
Shy1 said, “Church is not the only place Christians can fellowship with and encourage each other, in fact, it seems to not be the best place, as friendships there are very dependent on church things and tend to be conditional. When you leave a church, how many of those “friendships” hold up?”
I’ve found that to be true, too. I left my former “church home” (oxymoron?) when it became clear that Christ’s wisdom, compassion, and common sense took a distant 2nd place to popular-but-wrong teachings. (Such as on marriage/divorce, women’s “place,” hierarchy in the church and home, abuse, evil in the church, rejection of all “secular” wisdom like professional therapy.)
I have ONE friend left from there…who happens to be a dv survivor. Coincidence?
I’m so sorry.
So… basically, all I learned from the article is that since the original article gave the most common reasons why one doesn’t go to church, that somehow all the extreme, rare occurrences invalidate all the original article’s points.
For one thing, I don’t think those are common reasons to leave a church. The only ones I’ve ever heard of (and I hear from many people) are the ones about not feeling connected and not wanting to see the ex. So I don’t believe most of them are common at all.
For another thing, just because what looks to you like an extreme experience has not been *your* experience, that doesn’t mean it’s rare. There are many people who have experienced, for example, being excommunicated by their church because they needed to get away from an abusive spouse and the church wouldn’t listen or help. When others actually try to find out what happened and conclude that the leaders have done wrong, they may decide the church is unhealthy or unsafe.
That’s only one example–there are many, many reasons people may decide a church is unhealthy and/or unsafe. (The comments on this very blog post attest to this.) The TGC author didn’t allow for any of these.
The concept of church covenants you must sign is unbiblical anyway. It’s the definition of spiritual abuse. The church does not have God’s spiritual authority over human beings; church covenants are just a way to attempt to cement the control of human church leadership over the rest of the humans in the church. God created people with free will and preserves that for humanity at great cost; church leadership had better not step past God, which they do with church covenants that they require you to sign.
It’s a tool of control. That’s all it is.
I understand studying the Bible with a new believer and finding out if they believe basic foundations of Christianity. If they don’t, churches don’t baptize them into membership. That’s a very different situation than handing what is essentially a contract to an incoming new member and saying, “You have to agree to these church policies before you can join.” Very different.
I would agree, Terri. The whole concept of membership covenants is unbiblical and abusive. I will never again sign such a document, nor allow anyone to claim authority over my beliefs or decisions. That does not make me rebellious or anarchist, I simply know to whom I owe unquestioning allegiance – and it is no man or institution.
Can I share a positive? might make you feel less hopeless about all churches out there. Yes, our church has its share of problems, and people come and go based on those. (Some I understand, some I don’t, but it’s their choice based on their history and needs, soI have to respect that.) Me, I have missed a TON of Sunday worship services. Two pastors’ worth, in fact. (We’re Methodist and we rotate pastors every few years.) I had cancer, and surgeries, and complications from treatments, and extra life chaos just to keep things interesting. Mornings are miserably difficult for me, and so I just can’t come. Once or twice, in harder time, I did request one of the pastors bring communion by my house if it wasn’t too much trouble, and they did so, and were glad to do so, and that meant a lot to me. On the mornings that I can attend, I expend my minimal energy with my Sunday School class … which is a pretty special class consisting mostly of ladies old enough to be my mothers or grandmothers (finally, I’ve found my spiritual peer group!) … and their class is a worship unto itself. They sing hymns, they pray, and THEN they study the word of God via the Sunday School curriculum, with as open minds as ever Paul or later preachers could have wanted. I can manage that one hour some mornings, and I leave truly refreshed and supported for the week ahead. My pastor knows I do this, and knows it’s no insult to his preaching or service, but that it’s all I can afford for morning energy … I spend my evening energy working with our various youth programs like Scouting. They’ve learned, most of them, not to fuss at me to be where I can’t, but just to be glad that I come where and when I can, and that is a true blessing. (Our pastor ROCKS!) They keep me on the prayer list for the church, too. (Every time we take me off, something else lands me there, so we stick with Murphy’s law and just leave me on there … it seems safer, LOL.) Anyway … we’re not perfect by any means, and it’s taken time to get to this level of acceptance and support for who I am and what I’ve been through … but it’s so nice to see that it CAN be done, when folks are willing to try and to learn. So I wanted to share that, let folks know.
I’m very thankful to hear that, I know that many people do have positive church experiences, and I’m thankful that some are willing to try and to learn. It’s important though, for all of Christ’s body as a whole to learn to listen to those whose negative church experiences aren’t of their own making, as the TGC blog post seems to indicate, but are because of genuine “heart disease” in the body of Christ.
“This isn’t really about you” Nope. Its about you and your image, your need for power and the prestige that comes from a high head count on Sunday morning. Blech.
I think your hogwash comment sums it all up perfectly.
The Gospel Coalition’s article reminds me of so much other bad/dangerous ‘advice’ where the person is ridiculed and mocked and smeared as being petty, lazy, selfish, rebellious, etc. if they don’t conform with whatever is the latest directive of the church.
I don’t know anybody who has ever left a church for petty reasons given, with the exception being their ex still attends the church and they don’t want to see their abuser, which is NOT petty, but self-protective, intelligent, wise, and a good reason.
I highly doubt the author of the Gospel Coalition’s article actually heard any of those reasons (except for the not wanting to see their ex). Sounds like a self-congratulatory article written to esteem those who go to church because they haven’t had any bad experiences and shame those who are now ‘un’churched as being somehow petty.
What if someone genuinely sought out those who no longer attended and earnestly sought to know why they left? That wouldn’t fit the bill though for the hit piece article the author wanted to write.
Thanks for writing this blog post as it was helpful to read someone coming to the defense of those who find themselves now ‘un’churched because of horrible experiences with their last church. It’s a BIG deal for those who love God, who seek to be good Christians, to no longer be a part of a church. It’s not done lightly, nor without mixed feelings and false guilt.
Thank you, and yes, it is a big deal. I doubt, though, that many people would feel safe enough with their former church leaders to divulge the real problems to them. Thus we hear reasons like “We moved and now it’s too far,” or “The church was getting too big,” or “We needed a different youth group.” All of which can be true, but are often secondary reasons for the real problem. Until there is humility in leaders to hear what church members perceive as significant problems, many will just try to stay under the radar and get out without being noticed. This article from TGC highlights the very reason that’s the case.
This is spot on. According to the membership covenant, only a very few ‘benign’ reasons are ‘allowed’ for rescinding membership. Any other reason will get you a letter and land you in ‘discipline’. Who is going to be foolish enough to invoke that mess? Even though the church knew full well that I had serious issues with their doctrine and behavior, and did send me a letter ‘inviting’ me to discuss it with the elders, we chose to use the easy escape hatch of our home selling and the need to move. I made sure we moved far enough that attending this church was out of the question – and had to enlist the help of my children to extract my spouse.
Most naive believers have no idea how cultish many churches have become, or perhaps always were. The moment a person is persuaded to ‘turn off’ their own mind, to disconnect reason and logic and instead allow a pastor, church or theology to dictate one’s beliefs without question, they become what is commonly referred to as mind controlled.
The mind is now controlled by what these newly embraced ‘authorities’ assert is true. Since they have carefully severed the safeguards of reason and conscience (the voice of the Spirit) the person becomes simply putty in the hands of his/her controllers. This is how cults arrive at complete control over victims, leading to thoughts, beliefs and actions that a properly functioning mind would never permit.
We are led to believe that this only happens in extreme cases, such as Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, but it is the exact same process that occurs when any naive person turns off their own responsibility to think and question. It frequently happens when a person joins a church, or signs a membership covenant that essentially grants control of one’s beliefs to a pastor, church or institution. The mind-controlled individual is simply the opposite of the Berean – rather than searching the scriptures and seeking the guidance of the Spirit to arrive at understanding, they submissively adopt whatever their chosen ‘authority’ proclaims to be true.
I have friends who claim their pastor and church is not like that. One friend asserts that her pastor always enjoins the congregation to go home, study the word, and hold him accountable to it. Of course, I heard a pastor ‘say’ that frequently as well; but I knew darn well that if I showed up challenging his statements that I would soon find myself on the ‘rebellious’ list, if not on the disciplinary process to ‘fix’ my errors. I rejoice for all who have genuinely open-minded, non-controlling teachers, as I have found such ‘churches’ to be increasingly rare.
This is in response to TruthSeeker’s comment. I appreciate what you wrote and shared. Sadly, it is foolish to give one’s real reasons. When moving is the “easy escape hatch” that’s pretty sad.
I believe there are a lot of cult-like churches today, with Christians encouraged over and over again to turn off their critical thinking, trust blindly, believe the best in everyone, and just go along and get along. The labels of ‘troublemaker’
and ‘rebellious’ are so effective for backing down so many and keeping all the others controlled from daring to challenge anything (even in their own minds).
And it probably is nothing but foolishness to give one’s real reasons for leaving (or anything) as it seems people are bent on obtaining information not for genuine, sincere reasons, but rather collecting intel, if you know what I mean.
Sadly, this is all too often true.
Just wanted to note that I have changed my moniker from Truthseeker00 to TS00, as there are too many ‘Truthseekers’ out there. 😉
Thank you for this, Rebecca. I cried when I read it as I’m reminded how much I miss aspects of the church and what I thought I had before the life bomb exploded. Losing my church was one of the many fall outs and one I continually miss yet am needing to heal before any attempt to start over. Thanks you for some things to chew on and to be comforted by.
Ann, I’m so sorry for what you’ve experienced, and I pray that the Spirit of Christ and the body of Christ will come around you to bring you comfort.
Funny you should post this now. I signed my first church covenant recently and had a problem with the co leader of the house group I joined. I asked to join another group and was told it wasn’t good for the church or me to leave the group and that I needed to reconcile with him. I said I knew the guy a total of two hrs, there is nothing to reconcile. We are total strangers. And since I grew out of childhood decades ago, no leader of group of leaders decides for me what is best for me. I said I don’t do forced relationships. But somehow in the elders’ minds telling me I couldn’t leave that group was not forcing relationships. Whatever, moving on. I have no idea what their concept of reconciliation is. If i knew they viewed my signing as signing away my personal autonomy I would not have signed it. That is a line no one crosses with me.
I’m sorry to hear you had that trouble. I’ve heard from several sources that church covenants can cause great heartache.
Thank you, Rebecca, for another fine article. Many of us in dysfunctional churches hang on because we treasure (what’s left of) our community, and the post-church hour of fellowship is sweet enough to make it still worth coming on Sundays.
We really miss going to church, but we have yet to find one that we can deal with. It’s been obvious at many churches that “walk-ins” weren’t really all that wanted. If you had someone take you to church, you were immediately approved of, but just showing up one Sunday made people suspect. I get the deal with outsiders coming in and causing trouble, but it is no way to really encourage people. We have found that music and preaching in the church have turned into showmanship more than anything else. Sing music that is pathetically poor in value, word wise, music wise. The melody is usually hard to follow and it is impossible to sing harmony. Get a drum set and someone who can play one and a half guitar chords, make faces like he is about to be sick while singing, and sounds just like the guys on the radio. Preach sermons that never mention sin and redemption, that don’t exegete Scripture, but tell funny stories that make everyone laugh and feel good about themselves, even if you have to make a fool of someone in doing so.
Don’t talk to new people. Just talk with your friends. Those new people may be dying of loneliness and need something from you, so avoid them. Pastors do this, too, you are too important to spend time with unknown people. Brag about how wonderful the coffee is.
I have been railed at with part A of Heb 10:25, but seldom ever heard the part about exhorting or encouraging one another. I haven’t felt encouraged at church for a very long time. If churches don’t do their part, those of us longing for fellowship will never fit in.
I also learned long ago that churches usually have groups that they target for future membership. We are not in one of those groups. Any church that packages itself for one demographic can’t expect people of other groups to be ignored and happy.
Yes, this is a tough one. We are not happy, but it seems that most churches would be better off without us. Not going seems to work best for us all.
I’ve seen that too about church leaders deciding on a certain demographic to target, exactly the way a business targets their demographic. I”m so sorry for the isolating experiences you’ve had.
This is all very helpful and healing! I have been thoroughly enjoying your untwisting scriptures series Rebecca! It’s brought incredible healing, and clarity.
I would also add that is totally appropriate to take a break from church when you only recently left a cultish/abusive church…taking time to heal shouldn’t be shamed or condemned.
I have noticed especially that spending time around “sandpaper” Christians are not HELPFUL at all in the healing process…and really when are they ever really helpful? I’m done with the cheesy comparisons and platitudes that God uses them to soften us and make us more like Him.
Plus, it does vex me that the “difficult,” “abusive” and cruel “Christians” so often get a pass or excused for their inexcusable behavior, whereas the offended, the mistreated, the targeted ones are told to “toughen up,” and to “not be offended.” I’m personally done with “church” environments that create a cozy, safe space for abusers, predators, and wolves to completely evade any kind of accountability to the law of love.
So very true. Good thoughts.