The early ’90s were awash in books explaining why Generation X was abandoning church. In a similar vein, there’s been no shortage of blog posts, books and conferences about how Millennials are leaving, too.

A portion of every generation has pushed their churches to grow in areas of sin and weakness. From monastics urging churches out of the distracting cities and into the deserts, to aggressive arguments over the sale of indulgences, fights for emancipation in Europe, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam and so much more—there’s been a prophetic portion of the Church seeking to realign churches with their larger purpose and roles in the world.

And, I’m sure there have also been those who walked away from churches out of frustration for their deficiencies.

I don’t want to diminish this struggle. I know what it’s like to wonder if it’s all worth frequent headaches. For two years, I couldn’t darken the doorway of a church; I was sure I was done. Many of the issues that continually come up in the “why millennials are leaving the Church” posts definitely played a part in my disenchantment.

But here are five reasons I am back and more committed to the local church than ever:

1. We’re all part of the church’s problems.

Despite Christ’s prayer that the Church would model a trinitarian-like oneness (John 17:20–21), we can be frequently fractured and set against each other. This isn’t just the Church on a macro-level—the local church models this behavior in similar ways.

I’ve gossiped, sown discord, manipulated events, fought for power, demanded my way, etc. And the truth is that if you’re part of a church, you have, too.

It’s been a problem since the Church’s inception. This is why Paul had to warn the Galatians that, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).

These kinds of issues might seem small, but that’s because we don’t see how our behavior affects the entire organism that is the church. I’m sure that if we saw the full effect of our judgments, selfishness, backbiting and power-plays, we’d be surprised at how far and deep they reach.

2. Churches need reformers.

Despite glaring problems with the establishment’s religious expressions and exclusive behavior at the time, Jesus started His reformation from within Judaism. These actions are what led to His crucifixion.

If I really want to identify with Jesus (and the prophets), I’ll continue to love the Church from within while I push, cajole and shout her into Christlikeness. It would be much easier to leave.

Every voice that has called for reform (even the ones we celebrate now) experienced pushback, threats and misunderstanding. But there’s nothing more Christlike than challenging the Church to be more sincere and full of grace and truth. If the Church is going to continue reforming, it will be because of the ones who stay— not the ones who leave.

3. There’s still so much good in the church.

Jesus encourages us not to make a show of our goodness and promises us that the God who sees what is done in secret will reward us (Matt. 6:1–4). This means that many of the most faithful and hardworking people are doing good work that we know nothing about.

For every divisive news story about hot-button social issues involving Christians, there are many serving on the streets, in prisons, in soup kitchens and everywhere else there’s need.

For every story of ministry corruption or a pastor’s financial misdeeds, there are many sacrificing to keep people fed, clothed and cared for.

News websites and TV stations make their advertising money on outrage and fear. If you want to see the good that’s being done, you’re going to need to look a little deeper.

4. Church is a support system.

There are many areas I wish the Church at-large would grow in empathy and compassion. But when I stop to think about it, it’s been people in church who’ve been there for me in my darkest hours.

When I look back on those dark times, I’m tempted to count the names of people who’ve betrayed me or hurt me in one way or another. But I often neglect to remember the people who have been there, cared, sacrificed and stood beside me.

Those people were there not only because they loved me, but because they loved Jesus. They were the Church to me, and it’s disingenuous for me to ignore them to focus on the others (whose failures I am probably blowing out of proportion).

When I take a moment to think about it, I’m so thankful for the people who will meet me at a moment’s notice and encourage me, cry with me, share Scripture with me, admonish me and remind me of what’s important. 

Sometimes they say stupid and hurtful stuff, but they’ve also loved me despite the stupid, sinful and hurtful stuff I’ve said and done.

5. Church is a spiritual discipline.

I have no doubt that I could abandon the local church and cherry pick some friends to meet with regularly who would make spirituality and theological discussions deep, challenging and fun.

But when I’m honest with myself, most of my growth has come from interacting with people I wouldn’t choose. By handpicking my social circle instead of submitting to a local community of believers, I’ll generally choose people who fall within my comfort zone.

I’ve grown in my ability to love by getting close to people with opinions I disagree with, different lifestyles, disabilities and all sorts of issues I had not been previously been exposed to.

I need a multi-generational, ethnically and financially diverse community of people to mentor me and broaden my perspectives. I need people close to me who I can disagree with and challenge in a healthy way—while still loving and wanting what’s best for them.

There’s no question that every church has significant problems, and I’ve often daydreamed about quitting. But I truly believe we need each other.

One Caveat

I know that there are some reading this who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of a church. I don’t intend for this post to gloss over, ignore or provide a glib answer to your legitimate pain. Sometimes there are people too traumatized by church to jump back into that relationship.

If that’s you, I’m terribly sorry. I’m sincerely praying that you find healing and can come to a place where you are ready to give it another shot, but most of all, I don’t want you to read this as condemnation for your experience.

I totally get why people would consider walking away from the Church, but I think we desperately need each other.

This post was originally published on jaysondbradley.com

3 comments
  1. The problem with this article is it refers to “the church” in terms of institution, and those who are not within the institution are giving up on “church.” It also assumes what the “gatherings” look like outside of that institution and narrowly defines them as monotone in thought and experience.

    Maybe a little investigation into what people are doing outside of the narrow definition of church might prove enlightening. Many are engaging in communities that are very diverse and are actually more open to those who are doubting and those coming from different perspectives.

    I also don’t know what institution the author is attending, but the congregations I have been a part of tend to attract very similar people and the ethnic, socio-cultural demographics tend to be the same. In town, we have our hipster church, our college focused church, our “family” church, our theologically aligned church, etc. I find more diversity of culture and thought outside the institution than in, I’m afraid.

    I’m afraid the author’s experience inside the institution has not been the same for everyone and others have decided that the church is more expansive than the group of people that may see each other once a week, listen to the same message, worship for an hour together, and then leave to lead separate lives. There is more to church than that and many people are looking. I have hope that there are leaders out there who are seeing the same thing, but they may be stifled or confined by the system they belong to and count on for their livelihood. Dave Gibbons wrote a book called, “Small Cloud Rising,” where he tells the story of his journey through his revelation and is trying to balance these concepts.

    I have hope that there might be institutions that are willing to explore reforms, but unfortunately not all are and therefore people have no choice but to follow this spirit out into a different community. Some people are finding that these communities are more “church” then they ever experienced on Sunday.

      1. Thanks again for responding. I wish I had found the support system and other things you found to allow you to come back and be the “fly.” I tried to approach my last institution with absolute respect and tried to understand the leadership side of things. I know it is difficult to heard cats. I’m a public high school teacher, so I understand. However, my attempts at reform, using I statements, trying to find other ministries that were a better fit, initiating and willing to take on financial responsibilities for new ministries seemed to always be “wrong” for the vision. I was made to feel as if I just didn’t get it due to immaturity. I know that this isn’t the case, but I didn’t have enough support to keep walking into a situation where I was going to get this message again. I just think I don’t fit. I pray you have all the necessary support systems in place and you are at a place in your walk where you can keep enduring such defensive pushback. I just got to the point where my own health was at stake and I didn’t seem to be getting God’s peace about continuing. The biggest heartache is that I don’t see much difference in the institution of the church and any other social institution. I think there should be if Jesus is making a difference in our lives. No one is more distraught about being a part of that perception than me.I guess I want it to be different and I don’t know how to do that within the institution itself.

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