Leaving the Church

There have been some interesting conversations around leaving evangelicalism and leaving the church recently. Notably, popular blogger Rachel Held Evans (whom I respect greatly) outlines the situation in a recent piece for CNN, “How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation.”

This is a tough one for me. I’ve previously been a pastor, am strongly in favor of local church participation, and I work for a denominational institution within evangelicalism (Mennonite Brethren). Yet I also share some of the angst over ways in which denominations and churches politicize Christianity and make claims about faith and theology that make evangelicalism a boundary for inclusion or exclusion (often the latter). For many, the energy it takes to maintain unity and meaning together in a church context is gone. Add to that a church culture that can seem more routine than real, and it’s no wonder people see the only option for vibrant faith outside of the church. This honest reflection - “Why do I still go to church?” - expresses it well:

Sometimes I ask myself why I still go to church, why my wife and I still wake up on a Sunday morning and wrangle our four kids and one-on-the-way into the car and drive thirty-five minutes. Why, instead of sleeping in or getting things done around the house, do I spend these Sunday mornings teaching elementary school age kids about God or sitting in a chair in a building where nothing seems to be happening? All around me people are just showing up, and I’m not sure why.

Why do I still go to church? I ask myself. Why don’t I cut loose from this obligation? What am I waiting for?

I’m an idealist, I’ll admit. So while sharing frustrations, I’d like to think not all hope is lost. I’m not ready to give up on or leave the church. Yet I’m also not ready to accept the status-quo and prop up a religious institution or perpetuate political Christianity. So I was inspired to read a recent post from Scot McKnight and close with his words on “The Church: What is or What could be?”:

Many enter into ministry with the ambition to make a church what they think it could be instead of what it is.

Until we understand what the church is — a fellowship of sinners at different locations in a journey — we will not understand what the church could be and can be. No two Christians are perfectly compatible — in theology or praxis — and therefore there will be tension in the church, which is precisely where we need to begin to see what the church is. Not a fellowship of those who agree or who are alike but a fellowship of those who don’t agree and who are not alike. When we demand the church be like us, or like our vision for what it is, or we leave, we create our own church — and eventually (if we have the guts) we start a church that begins the same old process of a fellowship of those agree who eventually become those  who disagree and who split.


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