Why I Don’t Go To Church Anymore: Living in the Relational Church – Part 6
By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • May 2001
I do appreciate your concern for me and your willingness to raise issues that have caused you concern. I know the way I relate to the church is a bit unconventional and some even call it dangerous. Believe me, I understand that concern because I used to think that way myself and even taught others to as well.
If you are happy with the status quo of organized religion today, you may not like what you read here. My purpose is not to convince you to see this incredible church the same way I do, but to answer your questions as openly and honestly as I can. Even if we don’t end up agreeing, hopefully you will understand that our differences need not estrange us as members of Christ’s body.
Where do you go to church?
I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer it with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it is based on a false premise—that church is something you can go to as in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus looks at the church quite differently. He didn’t talk about it as a place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and to other followers of his.
Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go a Jacobsen is. ‘Church’ is that kind of word. It doesn’t identify a location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate to each other. If we lose sight of that, our understanding of the church will be distorted and we’ll miss out on much of its joy.
Are you just trying to avoid the question?
I know it may only sound like quibbling over words, but words are important. When we only ascribe the term ‘church’ to weekend gatherings or institutions that have organized themselves as ‘churches’ we miss out on what it means to live as Christ’s body. It will give us a false sense of security to think that by attending a meeting once a week we are participating in God’s church. Conversely I hear people talk about ‘leaving the church’ when they stop attending a specific congregation.
But if the church is something we are, not someplace we go, how can we leave it unless we abandon Christ himself? And if I think only of a specific congregation as my part of the church, haven’t I separated myself from a host of other brothers and sisters that do not attend the same one I do?
The idea that those who gather on Sunday mornings to watch a praise concert and listen to a teaching are part of the church and those who do not, are not, would be foreign to Jesus. The issue is not where we are at a given time during the weekend, but how we are living in him and with other believers all week long.
But don’t we need regular fellowship?
I wouldn’t say we need it. If we were in a place where we couldn’t find other believers, Jesus certainly would be able to take care of us. Thus, I’d phrase that a bit differently: Will people who are growing to know the Living God also desire real and meaningful connections with other believers? Absolutely! The call to the kingdom is not a call to isolation. Every person I’ve ever met who is thriving in the life of Jesus has a desire to share authentic fellowship with other believers. They realize that whatever they know of God’s life is just in part, and only the fullest revelation of him is in the church.
But sometimes that kind of fellowship is not easy to find. Periodically on this journey we may go through times when we can’t seem to find any other believers who share our hunger. That’s especially true for those who find that conforming to the expectations of the religious institutions around them diminishes their relationship with Jesus. They may find themselves excluded by believers with whom they’ve shared close friendship. But no one going through that looks on that time as a treat. It is incredibly painful and they will look for other hungry believers to share the journey with.
My favorite expression of body life is where a local group of people chooses to walk together for a bit of the journey by cultivating close friendships and learning how to listen to God together.
Shouldn’t we be committed to a local fellowship?
That has been said so often today, that most of us assume it is in the Bible somewhere. I haven’t found it yet. Many of us have been led to believe that we can’t possibly survive without the ‘covering of the body’ and will either fall into error or backslide into sin. But doesn’t that happen inside our local congregations as well?
I know many people who live outside those structures and find not only an ever-deepening relationship with God, but also connections with other believers that run far deeper than they found in the institution. I haven’t lost any of my passion for Jesus or my affection for his church. If anything those have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Scripture does encourage us to be devoted to one another not committed to an institution. Jesus indicated that whenever two or three people get together focused on him, they would experience the vitality of church life.
Is it helpful to regularly participate in a local expression of that reality? Of course. But we make a huge mistake when we assume that fellowship takes place just because we attend the same event together, even regularly, or because we belong to the same organization. Fellowship happens where people share the journey of knowing Jesus together. It consists of open, honest sharing, genuine concern about each other’s spiritual well being and encouragement for people to follow Jesus however he leads them.
But don’t our institutions keep us from error?
I’m sorry to burst your bubble here, but every major heresy that has been inflicted on God’s people for the last 2,000 years has come from organized groups with ‘leaders’ who thought they knew God’s mind better than anyone around them. Conversely, virtually every move of God among people hungering for him was rejected by the ‘church’ of that day and were excluded, excommunicated or executed for following God.
If that is where you hope to find security, I’m afraid it is sorely misplaced. Jesus didn’t tell us that ‘going to church’ would keep us safe, but that trusting him would. He gave us an anointing of the Spirit so that we would know the difference between truth and error. That anointing is cultivated as we learn his ways in his Word and grow closer to his heart. It will help you recognize when expressions of church you share life with becomes destructive to his work in you.
So are traditional congregations wrong?
Absolutely not! I have found many of them with people who love God and are seeking to grow in his ways. I visit a couple of dozen different congregations a year that I find are far more centered on relationship than religion. Jesus is at the center of their life together, and those who act as leaders are true servants and not playing politics of leadership, so that all are encouraged to minister to one another.
I pray that even more of them are renewed in a passion for Jesus, a genuine concern for each other and a willingness to serve the world with God’s love. But I think we’d have to admit that these are rare in our communities and many only last for a short span before they unwittingly look to institutional answers for the needs of the body instead of remaining dependent on Jesus. When that happens do not feel condemned if God leads you not to go along with them.
So should I stop going to church, too?
I’m afraid that question also misses the point. You see I don’t believe you’re going to church any more than I am. We’re just part of it. Be your part, however Jesus calls you to and wherever he places you. Not all of us grow in the same environment.
If you gather with a group of believers at a specific time and place and that participation helps you grow closer to Jesus and allows you to follow his work in you, by all means don’t think you have to leave. Keep
in mind, however, that of itself is not the church. It is just one of many expressions of it in the place where you live.
Don’t be tricked into thinking that just because you attend its meetings you are experiencing real body life. That only comes as God connects you with a handful of brothers and sisters with whom you can build close friendships and share the real ups and downs of this journey.
That can happen among traditional congregations, as it can also happen beyond them. In the last seven years I’ve meet hundreds if not thousands of people who have grown disillusioned with traditional congregations and are thriving spiritually as they share God’s life with others, mostly in their homes.
Then meeting in homes is the answer?
Of course not. But let’s be clear: as fun as it is to enjoy large group worship and even be instructed by gifted teachers, the real joy of body life can’t be shared in huge groups. The church for its first 300 years found the home the perfect place to gather. They are much more suited to the dynamics of family which is how Jesus described his body.
But meeting in homes is no cure-all. I’ve been to some very sick home meetings and met in facilities with groups who shared an authentic body life together. But the time I spend in regular body life I want to spend face to face with a group of people. I know it isn’t popular today where people find it is far easier to sit through a finely-tuned (or not so finely-tuned) service and go home without ever having to open up our life or care about another person’s journey.
But ultimately what matters most to me is not where or how they meet, but whether or not people are focused on Jesus and really helping each other on the journey to becoming like him. Meetings are less the issue here than the quality of relationships. I am always looking for people like that wherever I am and always rejoice when I find it. In our new home in Oxnard, we’ve found a few folks and are hopeful to find even more.
Aren’t you just reacting out of hurt?
I suppose that is possible and time will tell, I guess, but I honestly don’t believe so. Anyone who is engaged in real body life will get hurt at times. But there are two kinds of hurt. There’s the kind of pain that points to a problem that can be fixed with the right care – such as a badly sprained ankle. Then there’s the kind of pain that can only be fixed by pulling away – as when you put your hand on a hot stove.
Perhaps all of us have experienced some measure of pain as we have tried to fit God’s life into institutions. For a long time most of us hung in there hoping if we tweaked a few things it would get better. Though we could be successful in limited ways during moments of renewal, we also discovered that eventually the conformity an institution demands and the freedom people need to grow in Christ are at odds with one another. It has happened with virtually every group formed throughout the history of Christianity.
Are you looking for the perfect church?
No, and I don’t anticipate finding one this side of eternity. Perfection is not my goal, but finding people with God’s priorities. It’s one thing for people to struggle toward an ideal they share together. It’s another to realize that our ideals have little in common.
I make no secret of the fact that I am deeply troubled by the state of organized Christianity. Most of what we call ‘church’ today are nothing more than well-planned performances with little actual connection between believers. Believers are encouraged toward a growing dependency on the system or its leadership rather than on Jesus himself. We spend more energy conforming behavior to what the institution needs rather than helping people be transformed at the foot of the cross!
I’m tired of trying to fellowship with people who only view church as a two-hour a week dumping ground for guilt while they live the rest of the week with the same priorities as the world. I’m tired of those who depend on their own works of righteousness but who have no compassion for the people of the world. I’m tired of insecure people using the Body of Christ as an extension of their own ego and will manipulate it to satisfy their own needs. I’m tired of sermons more filled with the bondage of religion than the freedom of God’s love and where relationships take a back seat to the demands of an efficient institution.
But don’t our children need church activities?
I’d suggest that what they need most is to be integrated into God’s life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of children who grow up in Sunday schools with all the puppets and high-powered entertainment, leave ‘church’ when they leave their parents’ home? Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need to demonstrate how to live in God’s life together.
Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal friendships with nonrelative adults. No Sunday school can fill that role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of sharing God’s life together as families could say that they had not lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood. I know I cut across the grain here, but it is far more important that our children experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick children’s program.
What dynamics of body life do you look for?
I’m always looking for a people who are seeking to follow the Living Christ. He is at the center of their lives, their affections and their conversation. They look to be authentic and free others to hurt when they hurt, to question what they question and to follow his voice without others accusing them of being divisive or rebellious. I look for people who are not wasting their money on extravagant buildings or flashy programs; where people sitting next to each other are not strangers; and where they all participate as a priesthood to God instead of watch passively from a safe distance.
Aren’t you giving people an excuse to sit home and do nothing?
I hope not, though I know it is a danger. I realize some people who leave traditional congregations end up abusing that freedom to satisfy their own desires and thus miss out on church life altogether. Neither am I a fan of ‘church hoppers’, who whip around to one place after another looking for the latest fad or the best opportunity to fulfill their own selfish desires.
But most of the people I meet and talk with are not outside the system because they have lost their passion for Jesus or his people, but only because the traditional congregations near them couldn’t satisfy their hunger for relationship. They are seeking authentic expressions of body life and pay an incredible cost to seek it out. Believe me, we would all find it easier just to go with the flow, but once you’ve tasted of living fellowship between passionate believers, it is impossible to settle for anything less.
Isn’t this view of church divisive?
Not of itself. People make it divisive when they demand that people conform to their revelation of truth. Most of us on the journey are accused of being divisive because freedom can be threatening to those who find their security in a religious system. But most of us aren’t trying to recruit others to leave their congregations. We see the body of Christ big enough to encompass God’s people however he calls them to gather.
One of the things often said about traditional church is that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American culture. We only meet with people who look like we do and like things the way we do. I’ve found now that I have far more opportunity to get with people from a broader cross-section of his body. I don’t demand others do it my way and I hope in time that those who see it differently will stop demanding we conform to theirs.
Where can I find that kind of fellowship?
There’s no easy answer here. It might be right in front of you among the fellowship you’re already in. It might be down the street in your neighborhood or across a cubicle at work. You can also get involved in compassionate outreaches to the needy and broken in your locality as a way to live out his life in you and meet others with a similar hunger.
Don’t expect this kind of fellowship to fall easily into an organization. It is organic, and Jesus can lead you to it right where you are. Look for him to put a dozen or so folks around your life with whom you can share the journey. They may not even all go to the same congregation you do. They might be neighbors or coworkers who are following after God. Wouldn’t that kind of interconnection among God’s people yield some incredible fruit?
Don’t expect it to be easy or run smoothly. It will take some specific choices on our part to be obedient to Jesus. It may take some training to shake off old habits and be free to let him build his community around you, but it is all worth it. I know it bothers some people that I don’t take my regular place in a pew on Sunday morning, but I can tell you absolutely that my worst days outside organized religion are still better than my best days inside it. To me the difference is like listening to someone talk about golf or actually taking a set of clubs out to a course and playing golf. Being his church is like that. In our day we don’t need more talk about the church, but people who are simply ready to live in its reality.
People all over the world are freshly discovering how to do that again. You can be one of them as you let him place you in his body as he desires.
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52 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Go To Church Anymore: Living in the Relational Church – Part 6”
Interesting article. Don’t attend a church building anymore…Have been weaned from depending on a pulpit to feed me..Since I’ve left conventional worship services, have grown in his word and the Lord sustains me every day.. Do visit a building on occasion and leave happy to go home and get into the word of God.. “The word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105
I think there’s too many “ordinary” people in church. I dont see much difference. Probably a lot of hypocrites. They like their affluent lifestyles, wealth, expensive vehicles, social popularity clubs, ect..
I’ve seen and experienced more acts of kindness and good in people who don’t go to church. Or are not even “believers”. Its all relevant. Besides I like my comfort zones. I don’t socialize too much. Its draining being around people all week at work! I enjoy solitude.
This is a great article. I have read a lot of other articles on the same subject but this article hit the nail on the head for me. I have tried to go to several churches and I will go for a while , try to make friendships for fellowship and it seems like people just want to come to church get their church on and leave. I study the word on a daily basis so listening to a sermon is usually hearing the same thing over and over again. Worship is nice but worshipping alone is nicer. So I deal with it. It does not help that I am a loner for the most part myself. Artists just like artists are like that. Thanks for writting this. Stay close to Jesus Bro.
You blessed me on every point. I just had a cordial debate with my sister who is still in the institution. I told her I am ‘Freed’!
Do you know Richard Jacobson – The Unchurching?
No, sorry I don’t know Richard. We’ve exchanged some email a while back, but that is it.
Church? A feel good place with a preacher just getting back from a three month sabbatical spouting platitudes and telling everyone to be more “welcoming” (so they get more members to contribute to hiring more people on the staff). And all this “church speak” of being blessed when something happens that you prayed for or for meeting on the street someone seems to smile at you – – I’ve been blessed. Get real.
A brief synopsis of myself born to a church family a father ( an Elder) and mother who got it. My father in love with Jesus brought the fellowship to our church people constantly sought him. He died at an early age of 51. I went to Bible College got married was a youth minister then wife left me. Worked in factory went back to school now have worked in hospital for 35 years. I remarried we had 2 boys. We felt called to Missions (or perhaps our inner desire for fellowship)and became missionary’s came back after a year and I went back to hospital. Our boys after high school neither one stayed in the church one went to Bible College and left because they brought in business men to teach how to run church. My sons growing up in our home witnessed my aching heart every Sunday when we left church I constantly said to myself there has got to be something better more fellowship less telling me what to do and not to do my sons heard my thinking as children do. We made our home a place of peace and our boys grew up in that with there friends who loved coming to our house therefore my sons got what they needed from fellowships with fiends some in an outside the church. I became an Elder and this was stressful more on getting things done I was in charge of. My youngest became involved with a few we think he had compassion on who eventually got him into drugs and eventually alcohol which he could not handle. He joined the Army saw best friends killed came home got involved with a girl who also had left the church got pregnant. My mother fought cancer for 8 years and my youngest could not handle it so became drunk one evening after seeing my mother on here death bed and wrecked and he died my mother then died the same day. So much for a brief synopsis I’m sorry for sharing so much about me and there is tons more to share. But after writing this I am hungry to share this to help others seek Jesus who has helped us in our highest and lowest times. God is a God of suffering and that is where he meets us the most but that is rarely talked of deeply in church. Now last Sunday i took my son who died daughter and here stepsister to church and guess what I was thinking on my way home there has got to be something better I didn’t voice it but do you think my grandkids heard it. You bet ya. I now have my best fellowship with nonbelievers and believers who meet every 3 week a support group for parents who have lost children they are real cut to the heart share there pain there garbage I finally feel a place I belong. I don’t have an answer for the church I fellowship with those I can who thirst after Christ with at work and in the church but it’s few and far between times.
thank God for my wife for we are of the same mindset. Thank you for this article I think I have read part of this before. Now I am thinking I will pray and look more for a few we could start meeting with. I don’t blame the church my hospital works prevents me from meeting more with people but when I do it’s seldom deep.
Ivan, I’m so sorry for all that you have been through in recent years. Thanks for being so honest about your journey and I’m glad you come out of all of this with a heart to really connect with Jesus and his people, whether that be at “a church”, in a support group, or just in fellowship. God has a way for you through all this. There are lots of resources on the website that can help, but in the end it is the Spirit who sets us in the family as he desires. Look for how he is nudging you. What relationships around you are fruitful? Put more time there. Which are not? Lean away from those. My heart goes out to you and my prayers to our Father that he will comfort your heart and lead you and your wife into increasing interactions that encourage your journey and encourage others as well.
Mirrors my heart completely! So glad I’m not alone, it has been a difficult transition as even my family thinks I’ve lost it.
God has restored his church again on the earth in these latter days.
Your article is interesting to say the least. Can you respond in regards to 3 topics. How do you submit to spiritual authority in your life? 1 Peter calls Christians to be subject to their elders/pastors in chapter 5, verse 5. How do you do that in your philosophy of church? Second, if you are constantly moving around, seeking believers to fellowship and mature with, how do you ever get to a point, where you can deeply know each other enough to have true fellowship? In my experience, true fellowship comes through time, commitment and work. Third, how can you be held accountable by other believers/elders if there are no real consequences that can be dealt to you? Do we just ignore Matthew 18:15-20 or are they not longer relevant? In the model of church that you support, there are no consequences for living in sin and really however you want. This would be in direct rebellion to texts like Matthew 18 and Romans 5-6.
Thank you for your time as I am being sincere in my questions. Thanks and God bless!
Hi James. Thanks for posting some of your questions here. You’ll find more complete answers in my book, Finding Church, but I’ll give you a quick look here. As to (1), we’d probably disagree on what “submitting to spiritual authority” looks like. Jesus did not prescribe to any person “authority over” anyone. In fact in Mark 10 he specifically denies it to them. What Hebrews 13 and I Peter 5 are talking about is “yielding” to those sho are older than us in the Lord’s grace. For me it means to give great weight to the words of brothers and sisters further down the road than I am. It means I love them, listen to them, and make whatever task God has engaged them in easier by my cooperation with them. AS to (2) I don’t know what you mean by constantly moving around. In the area in which I live I have deeper relationships with fellow travelers than I eve did when I attended or pastored a church. We are engaged with each other’s lives; we just don’t attend services together. In my experience, true fellowship comes from friendship that derives from a growing connection to Jesus that allows people to be authentic, genuine, and gracious to others. It’s where people are known, heard, and loved and where honesty flows easily because no one has anything to hide. In conformity based settings there is always plenty to hide and people often put on their best faces along when their best clothes when they go to “Christian” meetings. As to (3) I don’t believe it is the purpose of the body of Christ to hold people accountable with rewards and punishments for those who don’t conform. What Matthew 18 and (I Corinthians?) 5 and 6 deal with is loving people who have been caught up in sin. The purpose is not to bring consequences to them, but to rescue them with honesty, love, and grace. People I know following Jesus don’t live “however they want,” but are learning to live inside the reality of God’s revelation in their heart. That transforms people from the inside out. I’ve been in both settings and honestly the reality of these passages can be lived out more effectively in relational realities rather than institutional one. I know that’s hard to see if you’ve only known institutional accountability, but that often leaves more broken relationships than it does restored people. We are accountable only to God, and servants of each other as we embrace that accountability. It’s a different way of seeing the same texts, but one that lets them live with grace and love transforming people rather than human pressure to manipulate change. So, no I would not consider myself in rebellion to those texts or to God…
1 Timothy 5:20: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Cor. 5:11-15: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother is he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have we to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.”
Let me say I am NOT on my sanctimonious soap box. I MYSELF am not attending church; I have already left my town in mind and spirit, but cannot leave “in body” until next April. In the meantime I am reading the Word and making beautiful CD devotionals, which I pass out to people free of charge (I pray for “divine appts” when I leave the house), to spread God’s Word and beautiful songs.
When I come home from a place feeling worse than when I went, I can’t go back. I can actually laugh about some of the things that have happened to me however; I was actually kicked out of the car of the man who organized John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference (Travis Allen, now pastor of Grace church in Greeley CO), for refusing to deny that Jesus came to me in a glorious, amazing dream when I was a teenager, emerging from severe trauma from a mother who had become demon possessed when I was 11, from working the Ouija board (Jesus is breathtakingly beautiful, BTW, and it was SCRIPTURE that even EXPLAINED my dream to me!).
I was traumatized beyond words as a child, and even had to drop out of school and hide in my room from my mother’s many attempts to kill me, and my Savior actually came to me in a dream, yet the body of Christ (who failed Jesus UTTERLY when I was a CHILD suffering the wrath of Satan himself in my own mother), denies me even my Lord’s precious gift to me, as I emerged from that trauma. Smh.
BTW, you can read my review of that disgraceful incident at Grace church near Greeley CO on http://www.yelp.com (no pun intended). That pastor had actually invited me to Easter dinner with his family, then kicked me out of his car, and told me I have no fear of God, that we’re all going to stand before Him in judgement someday (and I was in a powerchair–his son took my chair back in the church, and his kids were supposed to carry me into the house. I thought he was being SO KIND and charitable. HA! I asked him why he even invited me to dinner. He squinted his eyes and said “Because I wanted WITNESSES.” Well, he wanted witnesses, I gave him witnesses (my thanks to the yelp app. Lol).
THEN of course, there was the pastor of ANOTHER local church I went to, in my powerchair (I’m a disabled woman veteran). I was sitting in the back of the church after the service, having a nice conversation with a man, when the pastor came up to us with a wild, crazy eyed look in his eyes, and took the man by his shoulders, and led him away from me–as I suffered the dropped jaws of all around me.
I must say I am SO USED to abusive treatment, that I actually went BACK the next Sunday, and that whack job did it AGAIN. I SHOULD have confronted him then and there, but waited till I got home to call and confront him. Oh, he apologized quickly and asked me to forgive him–but refused to tell me what he’d heard so I could defend myself. I thought about it, then realized that the arena of confession needed to be as wide as his sin itself, and he needed to confess his sin against me before the entire congregation . He sinned against me before the congregation; he needed to confess his wrong before them as well. I told him we weren’t going to sweep his sin against me under a carpet we call “forgiveness,” while leaving ME holding the bag, with the besmirched reputation! At THAT point he actually lied to me, and told me he’d already apologized for interrupting my conversation with Rick.
You see, there had been another time I was conversing with an elder named Rick at the door. This pastor came up and said “Excuse me, I need Rick for a minute.” I DIDN’T need an apology for THAT and he KNEW that! So now he was playing the “She imagined this card.”
Oh please, I’ve had enough. I’m hoping to move to Oregon next April and “commune with God” on an Oregon beach. ‘Course with my luck, as soon as I move there Japan will have “the big one,” and I’ll be washed away in a Tsunami. Lol. I must say though, when I read the pastoral epistles, I can’t deny that God WANTS us to have corporate worship; He is PLEASED by corporate worship. And where can you even have communion commemorating the body and blood of Christ if NOT in church???
I personally would LOVE to attend a Sunday morning “praise concert,” hear a sermon, have communion, then go home. If only people would just leave me alone, I’d be fine. I did try to attend a small church a year ago. It’s a nondenominational church which advertised “everyone is a minister.” They DO have a pastor who works on the outside, and conducts service on Sunday and teaches a class, as well as on Wednesday night, which is great. I thought maybe I could go there, but the last time I attended, I was recovering from a very difficult and painful surgery, still in my powerchair (I’m walking now, praise God, and bought a car as well), and as she scrunched up her face in obvious disdain, asked me “What’s your spiritual background?” Uh, well, I haven’t attended a Satanic sacrifice in a couple weeks now; what did she EXPECT me to SAY??? Was she on the “welcoming committee?” Was I supposed to have submitted my resume to “Club God”? That’s the danger of a small church. Over time, its members develop a cult mentality: “Us against ANYONE NEW joining us.” Some people are accusing me of being unforgiving. No, according to Mt. 18 and Luke 7, if someone refuses to repent, he is to be to us “as a pagan or tax collector.” I’m not saying I refuse to forgive these people from my HEART; I don’t want evil for them, and I would help them out in a heartbeat if they needed it, BUT I don’t want their fellowship or company, until they’re sorry for what they did. Sorry for the length of this–please check out my yelp reviews for a laugh!
James, Jesus is pretty clear about spiritual authority: We have one Father (in heaven), one Teacher, Master, Pastor (Jesus) and the rest of us are brethren and servents to each other. Anyone who tries to exalt himself is humbled, and vice versa. He does say when he mentions Ekklesia that believers have the right to set someone straight who is walking in sin, but nowhere is there any sign of a hierarchy. Jesus knew where that would lead and avoided it. As Jesus is the only one we should listen to, that seems clear to me. Regards
Thanks for an interesting article. Years of going to church for 2 hours every Sunday has failed to help me live as a disciple every day. It was easy to do this and give my tithes…and the institution was happy. But I was not changing to be more like Christ, and I was disappointed and lonely. So what was the point? And when I did ask if some of our church practices and priorities were misplaced…whoa, the leading (controlling) families in that church did not smile on me anymore. When the vicious gossip made it back to me, I was crushed, and I stopped questioning. And I stopped going, and no one contacted me.
What a sad story. I’m so sorry. I pray God is leading you on to more spacious places in his heart and among his true church in the world.
I’ve been free from the politicized “church” system for almost three years now and I can say that I’ve never felt closer to God than I do now! My family and I were actually thrown out of a church three times. Someone went to the pastor and told him my mom said that God was going to get him so the pastor threw us out. He called us back apologizing but then he threw us out again. He called us back a second time and then threw us out again. He called us back a third time but we didn’t go back. We went to another church for a number of years and were a part of an organization where our church fellowshipped with others but the longer we stayed the more we realized that something just wasn’t right with the fact that all these “churches” are raising money to keep a light on in a building that God never commanded us to build. I’d see homeless on the streets, people sick with diseases and no means of receiving funds for treatments they need, and even church members who were scraping change to try and buy food for their families. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands who are starving worldwide. We decided we wanted to try and make a difference. My sister looked up what the estimate was on how much money it would take to solve world hunger and discovered it was around 10 billion dollars. I was really blown over when I learned that churches nationwide had raised over 30 billion dollars in the year 2014 alone. If they didn’t give money to supporting inanimate structures they could have solved world hunger three times over. Not to mention the fact that the Bible gives us specific instructions on where tithes and offerings are supposed to go and it’s to the orphans, widows, and homeless. So why are “church” officials using the money that the Bible says should be used for orphans, widows, and homeless and using it for buildings that they don’t need? I have been spreading this message everywhere I go not as a means to put people down, no. On the contrary, I want to lifet them up so that they can experience the same freedom I, my family, and so many others that we fellowship with now have. There are many in these buildings who are just as sick of the ritualism and glorified politics as anyone and they want something different but are afraid to leave for fear they’ll be labeled as a “backslider”. I was afraid to leave for a long while. Reason being, I grew up in church. I was literally almost born on the pew. It was hard to leave but I knew it was something The Lord was leasing me to do! Mt family and I now have a homeless mission we’ve started and have expanded it recently to include the elderly who are stuck in nursing homes, convalescent homes and hospice facilities. We’ve even traveled to several other states and orchestrated with various pastors who have pulled out of their organizations and have started homeless missions in their states and they since been sooo blessed! It’s all so exciting!
Hi Tabitha, I love you enthusiasm: “it’s all so exciting!” that’s what it should be all about. It’s great to swap “creed” for “deeds”. For too long I’ve spent great energy trying to decipher Paul and all the great “christian” thinkers. I could have used that time for what Jesus tells us to do: loving our neighbour. Your story is so inspiring! Blessings
Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake the assembly…..that is scriptural
And what does that mean, Jacqueline? That everyone must attend a Sunday morning service in a local building called a “church.” Is that what you think the Hebrew Christians were doing, and that’s what this Scripture meant. Just because you can quote a proof text for your point of view does not mean that Scripture undergirds your point of view. The Hebrews being written to were under persecution and were thinking of hiding from each other so if they caught one family they wouldn’t catch them all. The writer is telling them they have more to gain by staying together and encouraging one another daily, than the risk from Rome in associating with each other. “Assembling together” does not mean going to an assembly of Christians; it means walking beside other Christ-followers where you have the opportunity to encourage each other every day, not sit in a religious service where everything happens on the stage. ‘
Unfortunately this Scripture doesn’t teach what you think it does, and dropping it in here was at least insensitive the conversation you walked in on. People here are deeply passionate about following Jesus and “assembling with” other Christians in more engaging way that religious services encourage or allow. Yours is not the only interpretation of this verse.
That is not the words of Jesus. He told us to listen to his words only if we want to be saved. He is the only shepherd that we sheep should listen to. And he says nothing about churches as we know them. “Where two or three are gathered together” does not, to my feeble mind, have much to do with the hierarchical organizations we have today.
The problem with this text is it isn’t saying, “Go to church,” or even “go to a meeting.” In fact, the Greek word for “assembling,” is used in only one other place in 2 Thess. 2, where it speaks of us being “gathered” to Jesus when He comes for us. What the writer of Hebrews is probably really saying is that we should not forsake or abandon the excitement or expectation of being gathered to Him, especially as we “see that Day approaching.” In fact, if you read the verses before when it speaks of this “blessed hope,” this is probably what is being addressed. But I understand the confusion. I was a Senior Pastor for over twenty years and always taught it the way that you believe it. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve studied the text more deeply. Of course, institutional churches are going to abuse and celebrate this passage and never consider that there might be a more correct meaning. In reality, there is not one verse in the New Testament that says that one need to attend anywhere! However, when one is “born from above,” and seeking the Lord, there will naturally be that desire for mutual fellowship as we journey together. I believe that journey is best shared (at least for me) outside manmade institutional religious organizations. Most of these churches are state corporations and function as a commercial business. There is not even a command to give money to a religious institution every week. We do see one example in 1 Cor. 16, where folks were saving money on the first day of the week for a one time gift to give to Paul upon his arrival. And this offering was for the purpose of helping needy saints.
I think you’re wrong about the interpretation of Hebrews 10:25. The writer says “Do not neglect assembling together, which is the habit of some.” I don’t think the writer was talking about “neglecting the hope of being gathered to Him”; he says “do not neglect assembling together,” not “do not neglect the HOPE of being gathered to Him.”
So we actually have to go to church? If we want to be biblical, yes. If we want to be wise, yes. If we want to grow up in the faith, yes. If we want to be realistic about how faith is nurtured and sustained over the long haul, yes.
We all need Christ, His Word, His Spirit, and, not least of all, His bride. You can’t have a foundation without a house. You can’t have a head without a body. And you can’t have a groom without a bride. The New Testament knows nothing of unchurched Christianity. There is no Christianity without Christ and no Christ without His church. We need the individuals of the church and the institution of the church. We need the church as organism and organization. We need to be the church, and yes, we also need to go to church. Christ loves His bride, and so must we. Not in theory or from a distance, but in person, in the flesh, every week, for our good, and for God’s glory.
Jackie, I’m not going to put up all three of your rebuttals. One is enough. We try to share the bandwidth here so others can jump in. People are welcome to disagree, but when they misuse or misinterpret Scripture, others will disagree as well. You seem to think the ONLY expression of church meets a building on Sunday morning (or Saturday). Guess what? The early church didn’t have buildings, didn’t have pastoral staffs, they were brothers and sisters living in community and under the headship of Jesus. You’re assuming people who don’t “gather” the way you do are independent and isolated. I’d encourage you to take a look. The people I know who no longer attend “a church” are more engaged with Jesus an the bride than anyone I new who “went to church.” Church is family, not a meeting. It’s brothers and sisters who love and care for each other, and don’t just stay in a the same group of people as a formal obligation, but let their hearts assemble with each other as God gets to do his work in us. The Church of Jesus Christ is bigger than any institution could ever contain. It’s a family that encompasses the world, and you can assemble with them in lots ways. Some do it in buildings, some do it in homes, some do it in relationships of people who share their lives together. I don’t dismiss your view of church, but I embrace one that is bigger. I suspect you will one day, too and find out how limiting our institutions and denominations can be in embracing the whole body of Christ.
My problem with church is much more simple: they teach the gospel of Paul instead of the Gospel of Jesus. Sure, we mention Jesus’s name and say how wonderful he is, and flatter him and his Father will syrupy hymns. But the thing we never, ever talk about is what Jesus actually taught. I’m simply sick of hearing that I am saved by faith alone or by the atoning “blood sacrifice” of Jesus – two things he never talked about. Whenever I read from Jesus’s teachings, you can almost cut the air with a knife. This pretty much explains why we have had 2000 years of division and strife in organized religion. I guess I’ll be going churchless very soon and will devote myself to following Jesus’s words only.
With respect, Jackie, Jesus never said anything about churches as we know them. That was Paul. He only used the word we interpret as “church” (ekklesia) twice, and neither time mentions buildings, organizations and hierarchies. He knew very well that creating such organizations would lead to what we have today: thousands of different denominations who hate each other, a vast corrupt body called the RCC, and above all, false teachings. Blessings to you and your family, but everytime I go to a church I come back further away from Jesus.
Stumbled on to this post. If I am reading correctly, it was originally posted in 2001 and yet people are still commenting. That’s awesome! You have so perfectly expressed where I am at on this issue. Thank you for articulating so well what I have felt for so long. I view today’s institutional church as a form of idolatry. We spend so much time telling people to go to church — we forget — we ARE THE CHURCH! I stopped attending the local club house three years ago and finally have peace. I spent years upset, angry, frustrated, defeated from trying to reform the dysfunction of the instructional church — thank God, I am finally FREE. I now look forward to every Sunday morning! Yep — Sunday’s are a day of rest. Thanks for allowing me to share my own thoughts on this topic.
Yes, I agree. Constant anger, strife, frustration, isn’t good for me either. I feel very peaceful not attending church, reading my Bible, making my CD devotionals to pass out to people. But still, where am I partaking of communion? Certainly not at my local Einstein’s! Maybe I’ll start going once I move to Oregon. I need to leave the town I live in.
This is so interesting as i have about 2 to 3 years not committed to any church as they call them these days. I grew up in a traditional church and later in my teen years my aunt introduced me to the bible in a different way i then joined the newly churches of today. was in the worship team and leadership of an organization later when I finished my university studies i then got married to a pastor. I was very passionate about living for Jesus, preaching in buses and also impacting people through just normal one on ones with people not in my church. but i was hiding a problem i had. I married that man because i thought it was what God wanted cause he had a disability but i was not crazy in love with him. I was a giver i was sharing but i was struggling with sexual immorality and my husband also was was struggling with the same thing. But church or organized meetings made me think i can be justified because doctrine can cripple you. I then got divorced and dated a guy who started showing me the brighter side, asking me about some of the practices we did in church that were not what Jesus said we should do. I then walked away from the church and stopped looking for a perfect church but started to look in the inside started to look closely on the commandments of Jesus and since then I am even free from a problem or sin that captured me for years. i am more honest with myself and i press to live by the will of the Father by the words of Jesus. I am growing and i see myself different.i dont see myself as high as i used to but the way I am. I am married to this guy and i am so happy with him and i am crazy in love with him. I dont try to impress the congregation but now I want to please my heavenly father. I am able to impact people in an honest way, some they dont like me now but they realize later. I know we can sometimes debate about churches and rules and doctrines but are we doing the will of the Father or are doing the words of Jesus?
I enjoyed your post Wayne and also responses of John
Lets do what Jesus says then we will not even argue cause we will be doing what the Father wants
I do not go to church any more,they keep on about being one family,well you don’t go for a couple of week’s doe’s any one pick up the phone to ask how you are,NO.
I have divorced a local man his parent’s where also local in a lot of peoples eyes my ex could do no wrong ,he is in fact a covert narc with all that goes with it.
So there is no point in me even getting in fellowship as the acid cloud all way’s follow’s ,not all go along with it but those christian’s stay quite most of the time.
But the Lord is looking after me,he has put me in a media family of christian’s and I am very blessed by them.
I went to a baptist church for 15 yrs, and came to the realization that I’m sitting here listening to , almost exclusivley, 1 guy preach 3 sermons a week of what he thinks is the correct inerpretation of bible theology. So what if he went to bible seminary, so what if he knew some greek, and so what if theres some preacher with a PH D in theology? I’ll admit all this learning increases knowledge, but theres nothing in the entire bible promoting human learning as profitable to understanding the bible or the gospel.
I have a good working knowledge of the bible, and I study it regularaly, why shouldn’t I be able to trust what the Lord discloses to me? There are some things in the bible that I don’t understand, and maybe never will, and I find the passages I have trouble understanding, the PH D’s do too.
I use helps to understand the bible, I listen to a variety of sermons on youtube, I read commentaries. I find I have to search, dig into the bible to get Gods blessing of understanding, and sometimes it takes a long time to understand something.
If youre content to listen to one mans opinion week after week, year after year, then knock yourself out, go ahead and do it, but I found God blessing is multiplied when I dig into scripture myself.
I don’t know what the first century church was like, except the bit I can glean from the bible, but I don’t think God meant for His church to be the way it is today, I think most churches today are melting pots for phony people that worship God with their lips and think that’s good enough, and for people that want to be power brokers, and see the church as an easy place to do it. I don’t want to be accosiated with what I see in most churches, so that’s why I don’t go to church any more. I just want to draw near to God, and I think there are more people that think like me that have separated themselves from churches today, and there are likely people still going to church that think like I do.
Hallelujah, yes this is it, I only met Jesus late in life, and he completely set me from a life of bondage, but I’ve found the institution brought me into religious bondage which is worse than sinful bondage because it robs you of your joy, now I rather go to a homeless shelter or a hospital ect, that’s where true Christianity is lived on a daily basis, thanks for your article it’s removed all the guilt feelings religious folks put on me, love you my brother.
I have finally today made a decision not to attend church not that I was much before but I was fighting myself. I am not doing that anymore. Ilive alone and spend most of my days that way and when I go to church i sit alone with people who sit and listen to One person, where is the interreaction
I have basically decided that I no longer want to go to my local church. It is full of fine people but besides a handful of relationships, I honestly don’t see the point of another sermon or the same worship songs over and over again. I feel like I have moved beyond the organized American church. I’m not sure what is next or where to find that fellowship. I’m not giving up on God, just the version of the church and God I was brought up on. I don’t believe the modern church in general preaches the whole gospel. They fail to see just how radical it is and everyone is afraid to change the system even though they know it isn’t really right. I hear “It’s a broken world with broken people and this is the best we’ve got”. I don’t buy it.
I currently tithe to my local church, but I’m wondering where I put that money going forward. I still want to give and help others. What are your thoughts on this subject Wayne? Thank you.
That’s a great question, Chuck. People answer it in different ways. I would say this, live generously in the world. I’ve got a few thousand people starving to death in Kenya if you’ve a mind to help there. But overall, I’d say find something Father has made you passionate about. Don’t worry if there’s a tax-deduction connected to it or not. Give to a single mom who can’t make ends meet. Find someone putting the Gospel in the world in a way that reflects God’s character, and support them. Find a project or country overseas that catches your eye and your heart and send it there. It can be a different adventure every month. “Father, where can you this money bless what you’re doing in the world this month?” He’ll put stuff on your heart and you’ll learn to live generously in the world.
That is a great response. Thank you.
I agree with what you have said about organized Christianity. I am completely discouraged with the current and future state of the organized body of believers. Whatever label they put on the door is meaningless as they are all becoming the same Rock Concert oriented groups. I am finding that most of the worship time is being taken up with church business and sports scores rather than worshipping God. By the time the Rock Concert is over there is no time for adoration to God. Jesus declared the physical church to be His Father’s house and that it was to be a house of prayer not a den of thieves. We can say the same thing today, that the church should be a house of prayer not a den of abominations and idolatries. I have departed from my church and will not go back or support them any longer. I have visited numerous other churches and find the same cookie cutter groups residing in them as well. I call this the destruction of the New Testament church and biblical prophecy coming true, in that, judgement must begin first at the house of God. 1 Peter 4:17 KJV
Here I sit with tears in my eyes, and my heart aching for truth. Another Sunday morning not wanting to go to church, the guilt, the condemnation, the fear of trying to tell someone how I am feeling and struggling. And I come across this !!!!! I have been a “Christian” for over 30 years and am struggling to now say that I am a “Christian”. Something has been happening on the inside of me for quite a few years now, so many questions with seemingly no answers. The cry of my heart “ There has to be more”. I have been looking into Hebrew scripture, looking at translation from Hebrew and at time Aramaic into English, and I stand amazed at so much error. I have just returned to the UK after living in South Africa for 36 years, I was married to a “Christian” man for 23 years, and yes…the word Christian is in inverted commas. I finally had to break free from this toxic relationship, and now find myself lonely and isolated, even to the point of wanting to be taken out of the world. However this past 18 months ( which actually feels more like 18 years) I have cried out to God for HIS truth, and the desire to truly serve HIM. I have been in an incredible journey of dying to self, and choosing to live in the valley of Bacca where there is only God, and my total dependence on, and in him. I can no longer call Jesus Jesus, he is now wholly Yeshua. Words really are important, I have been having so many problems within the church side of things, some of the words we sing in certain songs, the way we pray, everything has become insular, it’s all about us. I have been so hurt by the lack of love, and shallow people, and dare I even say some not so fresh fruit. I have lived in fear of being judgemental, critical, and if I dare to say anything I am gossiping. It has come to the place where the only way out is to die. No I am not suicidal, don’t worry, my life is not my own. At times I just don’t want to wake up in the morning. Any way I have no one to talk to, I feel so misunderstood. I feel totally inadequate, I only want to worship God in Spirit and in truth, to be obedient to his word and serve HIM, but HOW, and where. The silence is killing me, I desire to be around real people, people who are struggling like I am. I cannot settle for “ Hello, how are you?” I can’t listen to idle talk, I yearn and long to be around people who want to talk about real life, and to share around conversation about God, I am longing for community to the point where my heart aches for it. I no longer want to be a part of a home group, or a Wednesday morning prayer meeting , I want to break free from it being all about us. Hearing selfish prayers and silly prayers…yes we all need prayer and our prayers will always differ BUT !!! I was sitting in a car with a lady I know the other day, we were looking for parking but there were no spaces. All of a sudden she just blurted out….. “Come on God, I only want a parking space” I was so upset by this comment, but that’s the kind of thing I’m struggling with. Oh well .. I am sorry for venting but I guess we all need someone to vent to now and then. I hope I haven’t offended or upset anyone, if so please forgive me. Sitting here in my PJ’s not knowing right now which way to turn… I know that God is faithful and he is the only one who can, and will, get me through this difficult time. All of my hope is in HIM. Thank you Lord that I have stumbled across this site this morning, it has really been an encouragement as I continue to find my place and purpose in HIM.
Hi Susan! I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve been through and how lonely you feel. Just know you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world have come to the same conclusions you have, and similar hungers. There are people near you that God wants to love through you. They may not even be his followers yet. Religious people are a challenge to hang out with, for the reasons you mention above, but real people in the world who are navigating life on their own and feel unloved and unsupported. Those people are ready for a growing friendship where Father might make himself known simply by you being the you he’s making you to be. You’ve not offended anyone here. Most people understand what you’ve written. It’s not an easy transition moving from religious thinking to living with God more relationally, but keep going down that road. Eventually, you will begin to connect with others that you can love freely and watch how God makes himself known to them and to you! Joy will begin to find it’s way back in your heart and coming out of the Valley of Baca you’ll be dancing and singing. I love the journey you’re on and pray you’ll have the courage to keep coming and that your eyes will continually open to the reality Father has for you in his love, wherever he has put you in the world. I’ve been to the UK numerous times. I know his people are there as surely as I know you’re there. May God lead you along with grace and joy.
Excellent article Wayne with thanks my Brother:
I’m 72 and have been walking with Jesus for 45 years. I’ve learned throughout my journey that the “narrow road” is not a crowded place nor popular as a spiritual residence in modern day Christianity. “Denominationalism” has many times requested of me to sign on the dotted line. I just can’t! But with a reason. Its energies are invested in justifying its own existence rather than make disciples. Its intent is backwards. Cloning Baptist’s etc. isn’t what a blood soaked cross was meant to achieve but isn’t that exactly what our churches and bible colleges are doing by design? Wayne, membership and discipleship are two very different pursuits. Recently and to make a point: At a church I once attended they were offering a “new program”: “Optional” discipleship classes. Optional? When did being a disciple become optional? It seems we’ve made it so! It’s how we fill the buildings that we’ve constructed with consumers rather than the consumed. The spirit of religion is no respecter of labels. It wears many faces and will reside wherever it is welcomed. I’m to be transformed not conformed unless it’s to the nature of Christ. There is no denomination that will encourage me to do so. You see once I do, I become a problem to them as was Jesus to the Pharisees. So, as it turns out, I’m a misfit. After 45 years I wear that mantle comfortably but not apart from a sense of regret for the “unreality” that so permeates the body of Christ. Perhaps we’ve been allured by the crosses we can buy at the jewelry store rather than the one that wears the stains of our Lord’s blood? Apart from casual lip service at Easter we don’t hear much about “that one” anymore. Problem? That is the one we were told to pick up as a prerequisite to following Jesus! If choosing not to, Jesus said we weren’t worthy of Him! That pretty serious I would think! Jesus knew His surpassing worth. I’m not sure at all that we do. Disciples wash feet they don’t live in ivory towers with bankrolls to match. But that is what we are being asked to ingest as confirmation as to a fruitful life in Christ. It’s sad but the new spirituality is “pretense”. It fills buildings no doubt but with what I wonder. I’m a huge proponent of being educated not medicated. My ears are fine. They don’t need to be tickled. I have accrued, as you suggested, a few friends that relationally dwell with Jesus at the epicenter of my heart. They are a delight. We do life in Christ together. I find more than enough edification in their spiritual company. It’s been a long road to get here but I’ve concluded that “pretense” make “no-sense”. Perhaps too simply stated, but at 72 I just don’t have the time for it. The “least of these” are waiting to be met so I’ve said goodbye to the “entitled”. When I find myself standing before God, “they said” as an excuse isn’t going to cut it, seeing as I know what HE said. Amen?
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Thanks again Wayne for your honest article and for the opportunity to express myself.
Thank you. My heart just filled reading your article. I haven’t heard it before so well explained as you did. We made a shift 2 years ago and it has not been an easy journey but at the same time it is wonderful. We love God’s body in whatever kind of way they meet. Just God has been very clear to us, you build relationships. As I am writing I am crying..to meet someone, even if it is online, who God has revealed the same thing is amazing. Thank you, thank you , thank you! Continue the good work. With love Natalie
Yesterday for fun I googled “Christian who doesn’t want to go to church anymore” and stumbled upon your words. It was God’s providence, because I identify with every single thing you’ve written.
Over the last couple years, my husband and I have been very involved in a small young local church. We have given it our all, seeking God and his people, seeking to be known and to know. We have served relentlessly, to our detriment mentally and physically. The church has increasingly become such a distraction from me being one with God… WOW! How twisted is that.
The quarantine, due to COVID-19, allowed us to step away, rest, heal and examine what we have been a part of and why it isn’t freedom for us anymore. I’m not blaming anyone or anything, but I will be honest about how harmful it has become in our lives. So, we’ve started a path of liberation and I couldn’t be more excited about it. We are so blessed to have genuine relationships with the body of Christ, who support and encourage us in this journey, as well as devoted counselors and people such as you, Richard Rohr, the Almost Heretical podcast, and many other people/groups, who we now join in seeking liberation and true oneness with God.
So, thank you for writing this. It’s touched my soul in a deep way. Praise God. Oh and interestingly enough, we live near Oxnard! Maybe our paths will cross someday soon.
Hi Jess. Thanks for taking the time to let me know. I’m still amazed at what people google to find some off our things. Glad they touched that place in your heart where God was already inviting you to deeper relationship and freedom. Interestingly enough, I got an email from someone this morning to the east of us as far as Oxnard is to the west. They are looking for a connection as well. Hopefully when this COVID clears up we can have some personal connection. Until then we could always Zoom…
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