There’s a mass exodus of Christians my age from the church right now. Studies show that two-thirds of kids leave the church once they grow into young adults. That’s 66%. A big number, but somehow this is not shocking to me.
I’ve seen it happen for years now. I’ve been in a camp of my own for quite some time, but not without a few doubts of my own. It’s hard when you grow up in church, protected from the reality of the people you look up to in church, then suddenly you become old enough to see it for yourself.
I spent my adolescent years believing that church was the safest place for me. I fit in there. It was a warm place where I had friends and people I knew that loved me. I looked forward to Sunday and Wednesday nights. Everything I held so close to my heart was protected within those four walls. My purity, my lifestyle, my Lord. It was a comfortable, safe place.
Then I grew up.
It became abundantly clear to me that the people who I thought were saints actually had some pretty bad skeletons in their closets. Church leadership was often corrupt. Problems made by prominent church members were swept under the rug. People gossiped about their brothers and sisters’ struggles, how much money they gave on Sunday, and whether or not sister so-and-so was pregnant. It was a slap in the face.
It rocked my whole world.
Eventually other things came to light. I realized how often I was brainwashed into a theology I didn’t believe. So many things I had heard yelled from the pulpit as truth were actually man’s opinion wrapped up in a verse taken out of context. I was inadvertently made to believe that my body was sinful and shameful simply because I was a woman, that all music that didn’t list out the plan of salvation was evil and from the devil, and that everyone who didn’t share my lifestyle or used any translation of the Bible that wasn’t KJV was out of the will of God.
For a kid who idolized people in leadership positions in the church, this made me sick to my stomach. I questioned everything and eventually developed a bitterness toward the church. I didn’t even want to go most weeks. This cycle went on for years as I dwelled on the corruption and blatant sin that was let run rampant in American Christianity. I camped out there and let the anger start eating me from the inside out. To be completely dishonest, that cycle still takes over every now and then. I’m still a little bitter and hurt.
However, a few weeks ago, I was on the highway driving home from work, dwelling on these things. I wanted out. I didn’t want to fight for my place anymore. Then, the lightbulb flipped on.
Maybe God didn’t want me to be a part of the church for me… maybe he wanted me to be a part of church for the rest of the body… and for Him and His Glory. The commandments about being part of a church body were never followed up with, “as long as everyone is putting in the same amount of effort as you”. Or with, “as long as everything is done exactly the way you think it should.”
So I started digging into this, following that line of thought.
Obviously, Hebrews 10:24 was the first verse on the list. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing nearer.”
First example of why church involvement is not about you. (I say church involvement, not church attendance. Church attendance has the connotation of keeping a pew warm while our hearts are back on the couch at home. I’m talking about involving yourself in the hearts and lives of those around you, no matter how messy.)
This verse is essentially saying (in context), that God tore the veil for a reason. He made us all have one High Priest, with one mission, and one goal. So that we can come together with one another for the purpose of encouragement and edification. No man is an island, and it’s not good to live this Christian life alone – no matter how tempting that can sometimes be. People are real, raw, and messy. They make mistakes and sometimes they handle those mistakes in the worst way possible. Sometimes they don’t care about Jesus at all. But that’s the point. That’s why we need each other. Col. 3:15+16 – “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, reaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms of hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” This is what we are commanded to do.
Church involvement isn’t posed as a request. Throughout the Word, it is assumed that the regenerated Christian will be a part of a body of other believers, because a lot of the Word is a letter written to one church or the other. We are the body, and parts of the body cannot exist without one another.
Romans 12:5-8 – “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
We all have something very unique to add to the body of Christ, and it is our duty to use our spiritual gifts for the encouragement and edification of the body. It is a responsibility we have to the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:16+17 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” The Bible talks about how Jesus is our foundation, and we are the temple in which He resides. Harsh words are used to remind us that we are to aid in building up the temple, not tearing it down. Whether it be physically, emotionally, or physically, we are not to be tearing down any part of God’s temple. (Eph.4:15+16)
I know I spent my fair share of time tearing down the church for all its flaws. No word out of my mouth was good in regards to it. I forgot that God loved them, just as much as he loved me. They were every bit as much of a part of the body of Christ as I was. Arrogance made me forget that, thinking I was better than them and not as prone to fall. That’s embarrassing to admit.
When you become a Christian, you become a part of a holy household now (Eph.2:19-20), being built up to become a better dwelling place for the Lord. It’s tempting to become an island, to keep yourself from becoming hurt or mixed up in drama, but that’s not the calling of a Christian.
Ephesians 4:1-7 – ” I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
That’s it. That’s the spearhead that drives the body of Christ forward with a common goal. Sure, there will always be mistakes because there will always be humanity. We will never be a perfect body, but we have a duty to encourage each other to do better, and we can’t do that when we stay at arms length. Sometimes it’s time to get in there, get your hands dirty, and try to do good where you can. Not for you, but for them. And for Him.
In the words of Paris Reidhead quoting the call of Moravian missions: “That the Lamb that was slain may receive the reward of His suffering.”
(read more about the Moravian missionaries here )
Bottom line, I know it’s hard to move forward after an extremist position in the church has left you hurt, but there’s grace for them and there’s grace for you as you try to navigate it. Sin is present but sin has been defeated. Find some place to fit in, some place to love others. There’s a weak link in the Church body in the shape of you.
It’s hard, but it’s worth it.