Why I Almost… left the Church

I almost left the church, the “established” church that is….  And sometimes, I still feel like leaving the church.  There, I said it.  Yes, Eric Starkey: husband, father, devout Christian and maybe most relevant to this post, “pastor” has seriously considered leaving the church, or at least “the church” as we know it.


I guess the answers to that question are both simple and complicated.  I am hesitant to publicly share many of my thoughts on this subject because I fear that I will offend friends.  Nevertheless, I feel this post might be a valuable exercise for me to write -and for you to read.  Perhaps if we wrestle with a few of these “reasons” you and I both might be better for it.  And perhaps, the Church could be better for it.  With that being said, I want to make it clear that my goal is not to insult or take cheap shots at anyone or any local church. My goal is to transparently share why I sometimes find myself nearing that point where I want to say, “Enough is enough!”

  • I got burned out.  I entered the ministry at age eighteen; I preached for the first time on Sunday morning at nineteen and experienced early “success.”  Sometimes I believe that early “success” was actually a “curse.” From that point forward, it was full speed ahead and no looking back.  I put the Church and ministry before everything –and I mean everything.  After doing that for over fifteen years, the inevitable finally… happened: I burned out.  I am surprised I lasted as long as I did.  I often wonder why someone did not stop me earlier.  Many people in many different churches had opportunities to grab me and put their arm around me and say, “Eric, slow down.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  Slow down and enjoy your college years.  Slow down and enjoy your young family.  Slow down and enjoy life.”  Very few people offered me that wise caution and still fewer leaders ever did.  Honestly, I cannot think of any other pastors who ever advised me to slow my pace.  It was not until “I” put on the brakes (at God’s prompting) that I finally got that message –independent of anyone within the Church.
  • I got incredibly frustrated with many of the people in the Church.  Religious people, legalistic people, “super-spiritual” people, mean people, hypocrites, needy people, manipulative people, leaders who worry more about themselves than the people who they are leading, highly educated people who are illiterate to the simplest Biblical Truths, insecure people, etc.  Everywhere I turned (in the Church) there seemed to always be someone who met one or more of the aforementioned descriptions.  These people sucked the passion, energy and life right out of me.
  • I began to notice the lack of authentic relationships in the church.  There is so much that could be said here but I want to keep this post short.  Let me just say that most churches that I have been a part of have shallow relationships with various undercurrents running through them.  Church leadership is more about politics than shepherding.  If you doubt my observation, just watch what happens when controversy or disagreements arise. Church relationships often (not always, but often) have little depth and are disposable   *This is not a loose accusation that I am making. I make it after eighteen years of being heavily involved in various local churches.
  • I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends to church.  Approximately four years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to purposely start living our lives OUTSIDE the walls of church buildings.  Part of this commitment was to begin building relationships with people who did not attend a church.  As we have slowly made this transition, we have realized that we are not comfortable inviting our un-churched friends to church with us.
  • Much of the contemporary Church is “dumbing down” the Gospel. In our efforts to grow and attract people to our churches, we have watered down and “dumbed down” the Gospel to where “following Jesus” is not following Jesus. We have forgotten what it means to “take up our crosses.”  We have made it too easy. We have made it too simple.  Sometimes I think we may even insult the intelligence of un-churched people when they attend our churches. Don’t talk to un-churched people like they are stupid. Share Truth! Challenge people! Preach the Gospel!  Teach the Word! That is what the people are there for; that is what they desperately need. Challenge them; that is what will cause them to see their need for Christ and authentic Christian community.
  • I have not gotten anything out of many of the church services I have attended.  Sorry, I am just being honest.  When we extricate authentic relationships and dumb down the Gospel, what do you think is going to happen? Church should be more meaningful than checking a box off on our weekly Christian “to do list.” And please do not try to attract me with just music, I can always find better on Pandora.
  • Most churches look nothing like the Church in the New Testament.  I am just being honest –again.  Why should I force myself to attend a weekly meeting that calls itself one thing and then has the characteristics of something completely different?  Most churches “Major on the minors” and “minor on the Majors” of the things that are important to New Testament Church culture. We invest our time and treasure in buildings and programs rather than people –and then we wonder why we are losing “people.”  Hello…..?
  • I was never good at “Playing the Game” –nor did I ever want to play.  I have no passion for the “the game.”  I have no energy for “the game.”  I find no life in “the game.”  Honestly, when I sense that “the game” is being played, I run fast and far from it. “The game” disgusts me now.  I am so tired of political games.  I am so tired of people games.  I am so tired of church games.  I just want to be a part of something real.  I am not looking for perfect, (I know it is not out there) but I am looking for “real.”
  • Because of the above characteristics, I find many of our churches to be full of under discipled, under utilized, immature, lethargic Christians.  I think that is the real fruit that our church marketing, flashy programs and flowery sermons have produced for us.  Frankly, this reality absolutely disturbs me.
  • I got tired of excuses.  You can come up with an excuse for anything, -if you try hard enough.  And we have become very astute at making good excuses in the Church.  Our excuses disgust me.

Why should I attend a weekly “celebration service” that has no real depth and screams “fake,” with other people in a community almost completely divorced of authentic relationships, where a watered down weak (and/or twisted) gospel is preached, in an atmosphere where I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends, with “church people” who often incredibly frustrate me?

 These are the reasons why I have had serious thoughts about leaving the established church.  *For the record, my family and I have not left the Church nor do we plan to; we still faithfully attend.  But, I have to wonder how many people have already abandoned the Church for these same reasons.  I would bet all of my earthly possessions that the numbers are far more than just a few…

Perhaps we should all take a step back, stop making our ridiculous excuses and wrestle with some of these areas of dysfunction while there is still time.  -Because the era of “going to church just because you are supposed to” is over.

I invite you to comment with “your reasons” below -or feel free to offer a rebuttal to mine.  Let’s please keep our comments as positive and productive as possible.   -Just an FYI, I plan to write a post next week entitled, “Why I did not leave the Church.”

16 responses to “Why I Almost… left the Church”

  1. I applaud the Lord and you for the courage it took to write this openly. I too am disappointed. As a youth and young man I had the privilege of being under a real student of the Bible. A man who spent hours of his personal life to discover Christ and His Word. I now go to a church where it is busy but the pastor is said to be too busy to study the Word and the sermons are often coming across canned with passion and I am starving and worry about my special needs wife and two young children that if they do not get the right bricks built on the foundation i will hate myself forever. I have felt this for years where I am at and have no idea how to proceed. We were married in this church fellowship and it is very clickish and I have come to accept I will never be accepted and approved here. I desire to share this with the pastor but I have no confidence of change.

  2. I do also thank you for your courage to share what you have experienced… I have been there as well… However, I would like to say that the church is not about a building and the activities are not about us… we need to realize that God created us to be a people of relationship and fellowship in His terms… to isolate ourselves would be going against God’s mandate….. it would be nice to share like the Acts churches did, but sadly we have lost the vision of what God was telling us as servants of His…. If we attend a service because of getting a feeling of being close to God and wanting to feel good about what we are doing for Him, then we are not going for the righ reasons… A group of believers is about fellowship, encouragement, and building one another up to do go out in the world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ… to return and debrief and be in fellowship, encouragement, and building up all over again to go out again … to be disciples of Jesus Christ and serve as He served…. He gave us the mandate to be disciples and we would do greater things than He did with the help of the Holy Spirit… for this reason we need one another ….. don’t loose sight of what a real church is…. just some thoughts. :)

  3. I enjoyed this very much. Your heart and soul spoke to me in this writing. I have been there and right now, I am enjoying the church because I pulled back from some things. It has helped me to refocus. Thank you for sharing what Papa put on your heart to write!!

  4. Have you read the book RADICAL by David Platt? He identifies with your grief. Although our churches have become very comfortable and totally unlike the first churches in Jesus’ time, most of them are still better than no church at all. If you build it, they will come. If you offer nothing, we all lose! Each of us has an opportunity and obligation to get up off of our comfy church seats and make a sacrifice of ourselves to follow Jesus, to help the poor and less fortunate. We are a RICH country and God has blessed us to reach out to others and give our riches to them. The church should be helping us to do just that!!! The church should encourage us to get involved. My church does that!! NO, it is not perfect, but I am proud to take my un-churched friends there, and some have become Christians and are about to be baptized!!!! There is no perfect church because there are no perfect people. We are all sinners stumbling and wondering through the wilderness searching for the Water that will quench our empty hearts and souls!!!! If we encounter a church that takes us away from that search to follow our Lord, then we just have to keep trying until we find the one that leads us down a better road to serve HIM better!!! I love you! Thanks for sharing your heart. I miss you!!!

  5. I agree with everything you have written. Most church services have become a dog and pony show cause that is what puts butts in the seats. And butts in the seats means more tithes which means more money which means bigger churches and on and on. If you take away the real attraction the church will die. People want comforts first and will go where it’s best being provided. Sad but true.

  6. As usual, Eric, your willingness to share your own personal truths are so extraordinarily helpful to so many of us.
    Believe me, I know for certain that you are not doing this to receive the accolades, as well as the ridicule, of those who agree or disagree with you. You’re not in this solely for yourself. I do, however, respect you greatly and I agree whole-heartedly with you. I too have been in various roles of church leadership and have seen and experienced the many dark sides of life within the walls. I have been burned by many of the people I entrusted and have seen the terrible results of how power and position corrupt and distort.
    We have lost sight of the true nature of the gospel and in many ways have neglected the purposes for which Christ presented himself as an offering for us.

    It’s really quite simple what He wants from us, and we almost ALWAYS add in all of our own conditions and excuses to make it more what we want.

    It comes down to this for me. I still love my King and Savior, and I know that He loves me more than I will ever know. And He wants me to love people…..and when that is done…..LOVE THEM SOME MORE. And so that is my mission…..to do what I know that he would do for the poor….the widow…..those who cannot for themselves…….but also this: to do for those who would simply spit in my face or turn their selfish backs to me (this is the harder part, right?)

    I share your pain for the state of the organized church and those who are stuck in the ruts of it. And I know that both of us share the knowledge that there are MANY MANY wonderful and caring people within the walls, and there are many are “trapped” by the comforts of there prisons.

    I love you brother……lets pray for each other!


  7. For those of you who think I am just being negative, I invite you to take a look at this article: http://www.churchleaders.com/mobile/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html?p=1

    People are leaving the church for a reason. We can deny the facts and stick our heads in the sand, or we can take a hard look at what we are doing -and ask ourselves what we are doing wrong. For the sake of the Kingdom, I think we need to do the latter. I had my head in the sand for to long.

  8. jj’s comments really hit home with me as I have left the church since last June. I am wrestling with the question of what is the proper christian response to “those who would simply spit in my face…”? I have seen the pain that an insincere and selfish dynamic in a church can do to others and have spoken out against it. Or is is better to just suffer in silence? Am I really thinking of others or just defending myself. Am I pointing out a speck in another while missing my own log? When I speak out do I appear self righteousness, am I self righteousness?? I am currently praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as I really have no clue how to respond or even decipher my own motives.

    Anyway, the last 2 weeks we have tried the local Catholic church. All my life I have gone to many different denominations and have always admired the Catholic mass. It does not seem intent on drawing others by fancy music and entertainment but a sincere hour of remembrance of Jesus’s sacrifice. The only thing I miss is the in-depth Bible Study found in sunday school classes. I have had my children in Catholic, protestant, and public schools and I think the catholic schools best modeled a life of service to others. In their younger years my kids made an Easter poster to decorate the house, we put it up every year. It is full of crosses and bible verses and sayings like I love Jesus, Jesus loves me. It was made when my older children attended a Catholic school. My youngest child attended only a protestant school. When she saw the older kids’ poster she wanted to contribute to the decoration and made hers – just full of easter bunnies and candy. Wow, did that hit home to me an my husband this year as we pulled them both out of storage. We will try this church a few more weeks and see – but last week my youngest (dedicated but not yet baptized) asked to get baptized. She never did have much of an interest in mature christian things just 9 months ago.

  9. Your comments are well timed. I really haven’t been to “church” in over a decade. I am however a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot describe my reasons or lack of them, I don’t really understand them. In recent years my contact with churches in this area has been similar to my contact with Walmart. I came away with nothing. What I have seen is Christianity has become big business and is trying to reassert itself as a political force. I am not in the slightest bit interested in chain store religion. I am saddened by my loss of desire to commune with the faithful, I’ve lost something, somewhere. Your article makes perfect sense, and I respect your viewpoint. God bless you, God bless all of us and help us find our way back to following Jesus.

  10. Thanks for adding your thoughts to this everyone. And thanks for keeping it positive; I was concerned about that. I was hoping to post “Why I Decided to Stay in the Church” today, but it has been a MONDAY…. : ) -Hopefully I will get it posted tomorrow.

  11. Eric

    Enjoyed this post and feel for you. I too was ordained and in leadership. Oy Vey!!! :-(
    And I also believed as you say – “I had a calling to the ministry.”

    At least that’s what I was told by others who had the “Title/Position” – pastor/leader/reverend. A “Title/Position” I desired – And the – Power – Profit – Prestige – Honor – Glory – Recognition – Reputation etc. That comes with todays “Title” of pastor/leader/reverend.

    Of course I never said it that way then – Then I said – I just wanted to serve God and serve His people. I even convinced myself. But – the idea of preaching – Having a couple of hundred people – Listening to me – Calling me pastor. That’s pretty inviting stuff. But…

    “Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.” Pro 20:17

    I wound up eating a lot of Gravel. ;-)

    But – Now I can say – Thank God for “Spiritual Abuse” by “church leaders.” I left “the Religious System” in the early 90’s. I saw then much of what you see today, in this post. And it ain’t pretty. But – It did drive me to Jesus – Had to get it straight from Jesus for myself – Benefit. :-)

    Today I question a lot of what I was taught – The Traditions of Men that nullify “the Word of God. Mark 7:13

    For example – Was wondering…
    Todays “Pastor/Leader/Reverend?” Is this a “Title/Position” even found in the scriptures?

    Or, is that “Title,” A Commandment of Men? A Doctrine of Men? A Tradition of Men?
    That we are warned about by Jesus?

    Mark 7:13 KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    Mark 7:13 ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    Mark 7:13 NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    What does the Bible really say about pastors/leaders/reverends? Makes an interesting study.

    Here are some questions for folks to ask as they check out pastor/leader/reverends – In the Bible.

    In the Bible…
    How many of His Disciples are called – pastor/leader/reverend?
    How many of His Disciples have the “Title” – pastor/leader/reverend?
    How many of His Disciples call another Disciple – pastor/leader/reverend?
    How many of His Disciples are – Hired, or Fired – as a – pastor/leader/reverend?

    And – In the Bible – Which congregations are “led” by a pastor/leader/reverend?

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **their shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

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