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.”