Posted on 16 Comments

Why Joshua Left the Church

Illustration by Gianluca Costantini via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I wrote a post on Wednesday called, Christian Refugees, which compared the refugee population in my community to the refugee population of Christians who have given up on the local church.

A new commenter to my blog, Joshua, left this comment which took my breath away. I asked him for permission to post it here and he graciously allowed it.

Here it is in its entirety:

First, Great thoughts. Now, rant alert: 

What gets me is that in our case, the church (the country we left) keeps guilt tripping us for leaving. “well you really need to be in church” “you’re not goin to grow”.

There’s a reason why we’re not there: cause you were dicks to us. And you’re still dicks to us. What refugee returns to their country while warlords are still lopping off people’s heads?! Of course they wouldn’t. 

But you’re masters of guilt trips Somehow you still have the power. We may have fled years ago and it’s still a guilt trip every time we interact. And the really funny thing? We’re worse than the people who have never been in the church at all. They’re in need of Jesus, they’re a potential target, worthy of love. We’re apostates. Look, I love God. I serve the community. I exhibit His character. I just can’t deal with the crap. Somehow us being in the same building for a couple hours every week makes things right? And if we’re not sitting in this same place every week, I’m worth less than you?

And you’re really surprised I left?

Our relationship was NEVER based on anything real. If it was, our friendship would continue. The proximity of our chairs for two hours every Sunday was the only thing that brought us together, and when I wasn’t in that chair anymore, you assumed the worst of me.

I still like you. At least, I try. I really wish I could go back to the homeland. Have a cup of our native drink, cheap Sunday morning coffee, and sing a couple of our folk songs. But then that dude is going to stand up and say a bunch of stuff that makes me feel awkward because, while some of it’s good, some of it is just way off. And there’s nothing I can do or say under our totalitarian government. If I speak up, you’ll ether marginalize me or throw me back out. Once the speech is done, we’ll all go our separate ways, not to see each other again for another week, unless it’s to get together and discuss how we all agree with what the dude said.

So here’s where I’m at: I have a community of folks who love me because they love me. It’s not conditional on agreeing on all the same things. And we’re ok with that. 

So until you can get over it and stop the warlords, stay away. I’ve found a new kinfolk. And if you can’t have a conversation that doesn’t include some jab at me for leaving, then I don’t need you.

(sorry, recent situations lead me to dump that)

I read Joshua’s comment through tears. Having made the transition from church staff to church attendee, much of what he said deeply resonated with me. He shares such simple, deep truth, which cuts to the heart of a problem. We need to face the reality that a reason only 2%-5% of the population actively attends a church in the United States has little to do with our programs, it’s much deeper than what we’re offering. It has to do with how we approach people, love them, and ultimately minister alongside them.

I asked Joshua to share a little of his backstory, both so I could have more context for his comment and so that you too may discuss both Joshua’s case and the cases of thousands of Christian refugees in your community.

So here’s the story:
I grew up in a reformed tradition. I was employed for several years at a church in a lay-role, and planted a church after leaving there. And eventually, felt that the neither the church or me were providing each other with what we needed. So I became a part of a small community who meet in a house. We don’t define ourselves by a doctrinal statement, by our relationship to one another. It’s the most authentic situation I’ve been a part of, but this has lead to problems with extended family and friends who don’t consider this to be a “church” and don’t understand the changes I’ve had in my faith, which have caused my love for others to grow. While I love them, and I don’t really care if they understand or not, these relationships are often wrought with pain for my family and myself because of the divisions created by these people. My words were a lament for these situations. 
I pray we can come to love one another as Christ loved us, and live in peace.

Questions: If you were having coffee with Joshua what would you say?

Posted on 16 Comments

16 thoughts on “Why Joshua Left the Church

  1. Young Brother, I’m part of the generation that enabled the Hubris Bovinus Excrementus you’re rejecting. Know this, you’re not the first Joshua that got fed up with the organism He loved turning into an organization He couldn’t stand. John 2:14-16 I’ve repented, will you forgive me?

  2. What would I say? After a period of long silence – Thanks for such honest sharing. How wonderful to have found a group of kinfolk to share God’s love with. May that blessing continue with you.

    Beyond that I would want to pray for his extended family that don’t seem to understand. That is sad.

    Truly appreciate his willingness to have this shared. I shall hold this in my heart.

  3. Sounds like you got caught up in the wrong “church”. I’m sorry you had to experience something like that. If what you find yourself in now is the body of Christ that is building community, loving God, loving others, and is teaching and loving the Word then you are definitely in the right place. If what you find yourself in now is a place where you bash people who are broken and sinners, like the experience you just had then you are no better than the people you just left. We are all broken. We are all sinners. We need people in this world that will love regardless, that means love ANYONE regardless. People in the church, people outside of the church. People who are religious, people who are not religious. People who believe what the Bible says, people who don’t believe what the Bible says. It’s at the point where we start loving people regardless that we realize that God is doing the greatest work in us and taking our eyes off of ourselves and putting it on Him and others around us.

    1. The “wrong” church… For me. I don’t wish them any ill will. It works for them, and that’s good. I cherish many of the things I learned there, and the relationships I had.

      Your description, “We need people in this world that will love regardless, that means love ANYONE regardless.” This was probably the catalyst to my leaving. Meeting people outside of my faith tradition, who exhIbited a love for God and others that I could not quantify. They don’t believe my theology. How could they exhibit God’s character. God continued to bring these people into my life and alter my perception of God’s people, widening it. But that wide view is not in-line with the tradition I came from.

  4. I can relate to Joshua and that is probably what I would tell him and then would seek to commiserate with him. Although I haven’t completely given up on the Church, I’m definitely on a hiatus to heal from the experience in my last church. People ask whether I’ve left or if I’m coming back, but why would I want to go back to a church that has lost countless good people over the years while the people who are the cause of much of the distress are tolerated and put into leadership, with their offensive actions unchecked? To me, that’s a very dysfunctional environment and one in which I choose not to belong. Another thing I’ve experienced is the people who say, “We/I miss you”. Some of them are genuine, I’m sure, but some are saying what’s polite, because after all, how do you miss someone you never had relationship with?

  5. Oh, and by the way, I’m not a youth. I’m 46 years old, so it happens at all stages of life.

    1. My friends, Jim and Joy, experienced this same thing later in heir lives. Here’s their story:

  6. I am thankful for Joshua being brave enough to be honest. And I am proud that places like Adam’s blog exist so truth can be spoken, and we can all learn together. We, the church, need to change. Clearly something is wrong when you hear a story like Joshua’s. With that said, Im glad Joshua has found some kinfolk.

  7. I think I would ask Joshua what he and the other disappointed members did to try to change what was making them feel marginalized. There had been something there that had resonated within him at one time; what happened to that? I’m saddened for his obvious pain, and praying for him.

  8. Hear hear! I totally agree with Joshua, and unlike him – I’ve no desire to ever go back. Why should I? There’s nothing there I want anymore. I used to go because I thought, in order to be part of the body of Christ, the Church, I had to be part of some institutional religion. Since I’ve left, I’ve discovered that I can STILL be part of the Body, and even BETTER – I can have a really honest and dynamic relationship with Jesus and others… Tell me – what can the brick building that people meet at every Sunday DO to make my relationships BETTER Than that?!

    1. This is a different Travis Penner. Jesus died to save people not institutions or buildings. Fellowship with others is important though. Churches should be a community where fellow Christians can help ease your burden, not increase it. It sounds like Joshua may have found a place like that. And like he may have been dealing with two words that should never go together “church politics.” I hope the Travis above has found a place like Joshua. Please be careful who influences you and how they do it Travis. You don’t have to be in a church to “grow” as a person and christian; but you should have some people in your life that are like minded, you can look up to and that have your best interests in mind.

  9. I say Joshua hit the nail right on the head. Doesn’t the Bible say that there will come a day when we will worship wherever we are? Not necessarily in a building….It is not about “Religion” it’s all about RELATIONSHIP….Did Jesus hang out with the pharases?????? NOOOOO, He hung out with just plain ol folk….That’s what CHURCH means to me….sometimes just me and Jesus…

    1. Amen, Ma! I am totally on the same page as you and Joshua. Joshua spoke truth. I know more couples that were strong in the church who are now fed up and left. There is a sense about being “better than” that doesn’t represent Christ. The last church we attended the brochure on Sunday mornings read, “You are always a part of the family of God.” That statement was never true. It depended on if you put your tithe in the basket, how you dressed, if you allowed them to control your life, and biggest of all if you disagreed with them, you were done. If you got fed up and left? You didn’t remain a part of their family. No one called or came to see you,you where shunned, and they thought you were fallen away, back slidden. And in defense of Joshua that he attended a bad church? We attended throughout the years around 5 churches and a few home groups. This happened in everyone we attended. We were even Elders in one church for a time. I often thought that if the church and God’s people could grasp the way Jesus lived and taught, and the love he had , everyone would respond, because bottom line? We all want to be loved. And its true, no man taught Jesus. No church building. He didn’t attend service every Sunday. So i applaud Joshua, because he spoke from the heart and spoke truth. I once read a comment from a singer . It said, “If the power of love overcame the love of power, then the world would know peace.” Well i say? “if the power of love overcame the love of power, God’s people, and the Church, would know peace….(Pride has always been our biggest enemy…) I think Joshua has NOT found another church building or a group to attend. I think Joshua is treating people every day (those he comes in contact with) the way that he wants to be treated and the way Christ would treat them. And I applaud him for that, that’s a ministry in itself.

  10. I too have taken a hiatus from church attendance. At the age of 41, I’m not sure I’ll ever go back. In my profession, in my civic community, and in my business community I have strong relationships. Deep friendships with others, support, love, and loyalty flow through these relationships. At church, I can’t connect with anyone. And for me, that is the primary reason to get out of bed the one morning I don’t have to work. I can pray 24/7 by myself, or with a friend. I can listen to awesome worship music and sing along to praise God at home. There are wonderful Biblical teachers across this country and around the world who offer their teaching on the internet and through other resources. I tithe to the people who teach me. But I can’t share what amazing things God is doing in my life and hear the reports of fellow believers this way. I can’t hug somebody through the internet and ask them how they are doing. I can’t share my joys and my struggles this way. But I can’t do that at the churches in my community either. That’s the main reason I don’t go. The rest is the mediocrity. Uninspired, poorly researched or badly delivered sermons. Or a great sermon and truly off key singing. Or a great sermon, an anointed worship band, but no connection with anyone at all. I miss it, the experience of going and worshiping with fellow believers. But I don’t miss the frustration of being invisible at coffee hour and other church functions.

  11. this is a tough one. i feel joshua’s pain, and that expressed by many in these comments. and i understand the frustration. so many churches are closed minded, or political, or judgmental, or mean spirited, or stuck in the past. and, yes, we can absolutely worship god wherever we are — we’re invited, called to do that! but the church is still, as messy and ugly as it can be at times, the bride of christ, and god’s primary plan for reaching the world. it’s interesting, joshua has, i believe (from his second quote) found a church. it doesn’t have to be a brick-and-mortar church — i think we’d all agree that the church isn’t the building. but joshua seems to have found a community of jesus followers to participate in. sounds like a house church, however informal it might be. but others in these comments seem to have given up on the church altogether. i can understand being in the place where one would give up on a particular church; but i believe, with my whole heart, that we need the church and the church needs each of us. find another one. start something. but don’t give up!

    1. Good post Marko. You summed up what I was feeling but having a hard time articulating into words. I love the church. Not the building, denomination, or congregation. But the true hands and feet of Jesus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *