Why I Don’t Like Church

 

i don't want to go to church

 

Droves of people are leaving the church.  It’s a statistical fact. Fewer – much fewer- are returning to the church.

 

We officially fall into both camps.  We’re over achievers like that.

 

At the beginning of the year I wrote about our Leaving the Church. It’s one of my most commented-on posts ever. There were so many shouts of “Yes!  I feel this way, too!” I did a follow up series explaining why we left the church to better flesh out our reasons and it invoked more cries of understanding.

 

The thing that I find most telling about the overwhelming outflux of people from institutional churches is that they’re not fleeing from Christianity itself.  (Which can easily bridge into a conversation of “What is the church?“) Most of them simply feel like church has strayed far from it’s roots; That church has so often become a case of the “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men”, as ole Isaiah and my boy Jesus would say.

 

Now, with that prologue, I’ll go ahead and say – I didn’t want to return to church. In a perfect world our family would be a part of a thriving house church.  But that may not be in the cards for us right now.

 

So, why don’t I like the traditional church?

 

Worship Services

 

I don’t like ‘em.  That’s right, I don’t like church worship services.  Even when I genuinely like the people on the stage and/or the songs.  I don’t “worship” that way and I think it’s an altogether misunderstanding of worship. I’m not against music or teaching – not at all.  I just don’t prefer the production version.

 

Church Expenses

 

Oof, this is a big one for me.  Yes, I’m one of those hippies that sits in a “service” eyeballing the stage lights and flat screens thinking, “How much did that cost?  I bet they pay a fortune on their electricity and mortgage each month.  Don’t they know orphans are starving or something!” I just can’t get over it.  I’m not wanting to be self-righteous, but I just can’t shake the gut feeling that the church shouldn’t be using most of its resources to maintain itself in this way.  I could be wrong. *shrugs*

 

Church Hierarchy

 

And no, I don’t mean the Pope and his Bishops.  I mean good old fashioned Pastors of various titles and their Deacons. I’m not against church leadership, but I have to say that I’ve rarely seen it played out successfully in a traditional church.  Pastors become mini-Jesuses – whether or not that’s their desire – and the people become passive. Deacons become decorum bullies, in charge of really spiritual tasks like reminding young miscreants to remove their hats in “The Lord’s House” and ushering that pretty plate around the room once a service.

 

I want to be clear that this isn’t meant to be an attack on the offices themselves – just an honest admittance to what I’ve observed.  I’ve known many pastors and deacons that I thought highly of.  So please don’t get defensive if your uncle’s a deacon or your daddy’s a pastor.  I’m not trying to defame them. I understand that they’re just people and sometimes they make mistakes. That being said, I think that the largest part of the “problem” is the way the system is set up within the institution to begin with.  It creates inadvertent pedestals and power trips. It just does.

 

Theology Snobbery

 

Because of the above mentioned top-heavy church authority, your “doctrine” is at the mercy of your leader.  And, often times, as soon as they find out that you have slightly different beliefs, you are leadership shunt.  And I’m not talking about really big, irreconcilable issues like “I believe Jesus was an alien and that we’re his alien babies and one day we’ll live together again on planet Zorgon”.  No, I’m talking more along the lines of “Hey, we both believe the exact same things about Jesus except whether or not God hand-picked everyone who was going to be saved before the foundation of the Earth”.  Yeah, I went there.  Because most pastors that feel one of their highest callings is to “safeguard the doctrine” they are unwilling to support (in any real way) someone with slightly different beliefs.

 

Now, here’s the thing – even despite the things I really don’t like about the institutional church, I’ve already taken the first steps to returning. Why?  Stay tuned for future posts explaining just that.

 

Have you left the church or returned to the church?  Why?

 

-Jessica

*photo by Cristian Nitu

Comments

  1. I quit going to my hometown church when I was 14, for a kind of unique reason. You may remember this from my “I was Broken” post, but my Methodist church essentially kicked me out. It’s a small town, so pretty much all of the kids in my youth group were the same kids who went to my high school and, therefore, were the same kids who bullied me every day. One Sunday afternoon, while I was on a break from practicing with the teen worship band, a girl that was also in the band started attacking me because she “thought I was trying to steal her boyfriend” and it turned into her screaming at me about how I was faking my seizures for attention. I knew all the kids were talking crap about me, but I found out that even the adults were gossiping about me, too. You can just imagine how unwelcome that makes a 14-year-old girl feel. So I called my mom in tears, told her to come pick me up, and never went back. Being in a small town meant the only other church in town was a super strict Baptist church, so I knew I didn’t want to go there, and I felt like any church I went to would be just as unwelcoming as that same church I’d gone to since we moved to my town when I was 4. I know, Christians are broken people, too, but you can’t explain that to a scared, depressed teenager. But honestly, it’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve even begun to consider going back to any church. We’ll see how it goes.

    • Sorry to hear all of that, Mallory. I hope you find a community in Christ that helps you grow – no matter what it looks like.

      • Thankfully, I have one, and it’s not in a church. I am blessed to go to a Christian university and have surrounded myself with some amazing Godly both here and outside of campus, but a lot of them keep telling me I need to worship with other believers. I believe what the cliche Facebook status says…Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car.
        Mallory recently posted..Your path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell.My Profile

  2. Jessica,
    This is the exact thing I battle almost weekly. Of course here in Smalltown USA, one of the first questions everyone ask is what church do you attend? The look of disappointment on their faces when I reply ‘We don’t attend church’ is almost as bad as the one that I get when people see my unmarried nineteen year old pregnant daughter.
    I tried the traditional southern heritage of attending church, but found that I was almost always under-dressed for any building I walked in to. Or even worse my contribution to the ‘offering plate’ was always met with a raised eyebrow. Then I too began to question why I was paying to here about God? Why was I having to dress like a million dollars for someone to stand at a pulpit and tell me how great my sins are and how God expects me to live? Can’t I learn these things straight out my Bible and if I have questions about what I’m reading, can’t I as an intelligent adult, research and find the answers I seek?

    Where in the Bible does it say I must attend church in the traditional sense, in a building that could house a small nation, with enough ‘hoop-la’ to support at least 5 lower-class households for a year? Why must I be forced to feel that I HAVE to donate to the offering plate in order to be accepted into their cliche? After all the only approval I truly need is that of God’s. Right? To be honest I do more praying in the shower than I’ve ever done in a church. Why? I guess because I don’t feel the need to have an audience while I talk to God.

    • Sometimes the small town/small church settings are the most challenging. Believe me, I know. The important thing is finding community with others – period. And it doesn’t have to look traditional a lick. :)

  3. You just listed some of the major reasons that I’m a Quaker. Mostly silent worship, minimal hierarchy, commitment to simplicity and modest stewardship of resources, and more emphasis on seeking and listening than on doctrine and declaiming.

  4. We left church for 3 years. It was killing my faith and sucking the life out of me. We did all the same things like prayer as a family, bible, etc, just didn’t go to church We are in a church again. It’s a real struggle sometimes, but it’s good.

    • “It was killing my faith and sucking the life out of me. ” <– Exactly what happened to me.

      • We spent some time out of church when we first left the US. We had been attending a VERY small “church” that ended up being just our family and another. We stopped going because we began to question the scriptural validity of the teaching. We tried to do “home church” and reading Scriptures, singing hymns. But it was not the same. We never realized how much we spiritually NEEDED church until we were out of it. And all those little things I used to nit pick about in our church in FL suddenly seemed so ridiculous. We were being fed there. And in Costa Rica…we were starving. HUGE lesson learned.

  5. Jessica, I love your candor. I understand from where you come. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced a lot of that. I have seen some of it. I’m feeling like this more and more in several different areas of my life.

    Right now with me, the word INSTITUTION just sticks out. In the consideration of international adoption, this word, along with INSTITUTIONALIZED and all of the effects of it are really making me sick. When I say sick, I mean really, literally making me feel like I’m going to puke. Thrown into the mix the INSTITUTIONALIZED public school system and I better get a bucket.

    It brings to mind the book, The Shack, which has been pretty polarizing by itself. There’s a conversation in it about INSTITUTIONS that I’m sure have gotten a bunch of panties in a bunch. The comment is made that God never intended for all these INSTITUTIONS. The fact is that they are all man made. period.

    I am finding myself in process about a great many things. some of them are these very things. I’m going to try to continue to keep my focus on Christ through all of the fluctuations and see how that goes.

    Thanks again for such a great blog and the guts to be real.
    Nicole recently posted..Wow. A year, really?My Profile

  6. Thanks for sharing this Jessica. As a youth pastor’s wife I enjoy reading this post because it helps me understand why some people may be hesitant to join the church and what we can be doing to ensure we don’t make similar mistakes. I also struggle with the money-spending-expensive-building aspect, but I do believe that a larger building allows for a larger church congregation where great programs can exist and wonderful serving opportunities are available. I’m glad you’re rejoining the church because I think that fellowship is so important and congregating to worship (and to me, worship is chatting in the foyer AND raising your hands in praise to Jesus with fellow belivers) is so important to grow spiritually. As a teen I did not attend a church and that’s when I was most spiritually attacked and sufferred greatly in my walk with Christ. Once I joined a church I felt was right for me (which took LOTS of searching), my faith grew much stronger. Anyway…looking forward to your future posts!
    Brianna Bell recently posted..The First Toy Penelope Grasped {and a giveaway!}My Profile

    • Sadly, many churches don’t have any real fellowship – believe me, I’ve been there. No chatting in the foyer, etc. Finding a church with real community is a gift.

    • I understand where you’re coming from with saying that the bigger building lets in more people, but the question to really ask is “Do they all need to be in here in the first place?” Why not begin training leaders instead of followers, so that they can go instead of come, and teach instead of sit? The cell church model is much more effective (it facilitates millions-strong church planting movements in other nations) and it’s much more empowering.
      I’m afraid that’s the real thing: control. Ask any pastor what his apprehension is in letting his people go off and teach. He’ll tell you: “There might be some guy that starts teaching some hokey stuff if no one checks on him.”
      So then you have to ask, “Why do you have some guy believing hokey stuff in your church–isn’t YOUR teaching effective?” Besides the fact, in a cell church model, the role of a pastor is the actual biblical-era role: a guy who travels around town and checks in on all the house churches and pastors them, as in guidance and teaching.
      But if people just can’t stand to let someone out from under their own teaching, that’s called an ego trip.
      Jeremy recently posted..Why I Don’t Like ChurchMy Profile

  7. Jessica, every time I walk into the “church” building, I have those same thoughts: How much are you spending to entertain me for 2 hours a week and how far would that go in the community to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus? How can a pastor afford a brand new vehicle when I can’t afford a used tire on my jalopy so I can get back and forth to work and support my children? (that’s a selfish one, I suppose) Why are we meeting here to focus on ourselves when Jesus teaches that our focus should always being on others? I’m just too cynical to attend regularly. I continue to try and teach my children that WE are the church, the church is not a building.

  8. This is really good, and names pretty much all of my issues with institutional church. I especially don’t like the non-organic nature of worship. I mean – sitting in separate pews without interacting as a church body while the bad performs? Ugh

    We are fortunate in that we have a church family that doesn’t fall into many of these categories. They are very accepting of people from different doctrines, the pastor is first and foremost a servant, and people are the priority in ministry. I am extremely blessed and grateful because we have been burned in the past.
    Aadel recently posted..Packing Love Into A Shoebox {Operation Christmas Child}My Profile

  9. I appreciate your thoughts–even though I don’t feel the same way. I go to a “mega” church and it is the best church I’ve ever been at (and I’ve gone since I was born). The WORD is brought every week–and even though I have the occasional flinch at the cost of the production, I see dozens of people coming to the alter every single week, and I happily pay my tithes knowing the Kingdom is growing! Our church is thriving and growing and *I* am thriving and growing like I never did in the 28 years before I found this church. GOD IS GOOD. I think people just don’t keep looking hard enough. I don’t think people go for the right reasons. I’m an introvert, and I don’t go to socialize. I go to learn, and I go to worship. And I try every week not to make my prayers all about begging, but to just praise God. I LOVE MY CHURCH–seriously–never felt so alive in all my life. :)
    Kristi *aka* BohoBear recently posted..No Cake HereMy Profile

    • For me, I do go to socialize – in the spiritual sense of the word. And I learn and worship from the socializing – not from the sermon format. If you’re thriving, then it sounds like you’re in the right place for now. :)

  10. Maybe you should try a liturgical church, like the ELCA or the Episcopalian church. You won’t find any big screens or laser shows there!
    Travis Mamone recently posted..Monday Morning Musisings: Sacred? Secular? Does It Even Matter?My Profile

  11. We didn’t leave THE church but we left A church in June. We’d been there, as members and youth staff for nearly 18 years. It’s a long story and we knew it was time to leave when our youth pastors both left for other churches, but we stayed, not really believing it. A series of uncomfortable (and then downright rude and inappropriate) events shook us our of our denial and we left. I have spent many months before and since reading about this exodus from the church buildings and it is inspiring and amazing to me. In my wish upon a star hopes, we could leave entirely and just life out faith among friends, home church or what ever, but I know that won’t happen with us. We found a very small church (our old one was 1200 people on a Sunday with 2 services, this one is 300 total, including kids & infants, one service) without the production, without the high tech everything, and the million dollar budget, and we like it. We really, really like it. Our kids aren’t going to be run over by the crowd. We feel like we are actually making friends and seeing growth and experiencing ministry outside the building, where it should be happening.
    Dawn @ The Momma Knows recently posted..Sunday Worship: Only GraceMy Profile

    • Leaving is the hardest thing to do. Seriously. But sometimes its a God-led and necessary step. Glad you found a place to belong.

  12. I am attending an ELCA church, and am LOVING it. I also am very drawn to the Epispocal church as well. 4 years ago, I would have never thought this possible, but, there ya go.

  13. *Episcopal. ;)

    • It’s good that you’ve found somewhere to gather that you can genuinely worship God with your heart. That ELCA setting is probably a setting that appeals to your personality type (like MBTI). John Westerhoff wrote a book called “Spiritual Life”, and it does a REALLY excellent job of looking throughout all of church history at all the different styles of worship and matching them up with people’s personalities. If you know your MB Type, you can read chapter 6 of his book and probably figure out exactly what appeals to you. I’ve shown it to a lot of people, and it hasn’t been wrong so far. If you’d like to enhance something even more, even if you’re happy, trust me–you’ll love that chapter. It’s worth the price by itself. People who don’t like that book are usually unwilling to acknowledge that God made different kinds of people–introverts, extroverts, etc–and that the Bible doesn’t ever prescribe worship, just describes it. It’s a great read.
      Jeremy recently posted..Why I Don’t Like ChurchMy Profile

  14. We left a long time ago and sort of returned a few years back… I hessitate because I don’t think we returned to church, we found a wonderful community that happens to be a church. :) There’s a difference.
    Jenna recently posted..How I look Jogging, AgainMy Profile

  15. Can. Not. WAIT. to read more. I’ve “left” a few places… and sort of been asked to leave at least once. Now, we’re in the last place I might have expected – especially since I really, for the past year, felt myself called deeply toward homechurching – and it looks like we might be staying a while. As I said in the Facebook comments, God sure does have a sense of humor.
    Joan recently posted..Biographies, biographies, biographies!My Profile

  16. I’m sorry you are having trouble. I hope you find what you’re looking for in church. I’ve had many spaces between churches. Some were playing old organ (pipe organ!) & telling me how to vote! Others were trying to micromanage my daughter’s first communion. I finally found one where the priests are warm & friendly, not cold & bossy. I do have to drive 25-30 minutes but it’s worth it. They have about 75-80% of teens returning to church after high school. Hang in there and KEEP THE FAITH.

    • We’re not having trouble now (thankfully) but we definitely have in the past. Keep the faith is right! And sometimes so hard to do.

  17. Oh, amen. I agree. Especially the worship service part. I am still in church but really not liking it for all the reasons you stated.
    Jamie Kocur recently posted..A gift of songMy Profile

  18. We were slowly leaving the traditional church for years and didn’t really realize it. We just didn’t fit it. Tough stuff coming from a part-time staff Youth Pastor. Later, we left the country independently (SC Natives) to be missionaries in Paraguay. We probably finished leaving it here. Our modus operandi sort of clashes with the traditional church model, not Jesus and the Bible, just the method. Throw in that the freshest traditional church model in the larger cities is a late 90′s early 2000′s version and it was clear to us. We still have what we call a “home church” here and we attend it periodically. We try to visit many of the churches because we want to make sure the Pastor knows we aren’t looking to hijack and “sheep.”

    Good stuff in this post. I clicked a link from Twitter I think. I forget who was giving the linky love but I’m glad I stopped by.
    Ken Hagerman(TheBarba) recently posted..Disaster is Adventure is DisasterMy Profile

  19. Jeremy, thank you for telling me about that book! I am very intrigued and looking forward to reading it. Especially Chapter 6. :)

  20. I was raised in several different small but very religious churches. I went to a baptist college that I was almost kicked out of for leaving a bag of trash in the hallway too long. I married a many with a great picture of the freedom in Christ and we have grown even more during our time serving as youth pastors in AR. God has recently ‘called’ us to plant a church. Our target group are those who are unchurched or dechurched! Church has done so many young people a disservice. We are excited to try and chase down all those students we failed. We want to be apart of redeeming a generation for Christ. I want my generation that seeks the face of the God of Jacob!
    Thank you for giving me a clearer picture of those I plan to chase down and love on!
    Julie Rothacher recently posted..Seasonal DecorMy Profile

  21. reading what you wrote i almost wondered if we belonged to the exact same church until looking through other posts i got the impression you were catholic? anyways, my husband and i are going through pretty much the same thing based on what you wrote, with our church. same issues. i wonder if all or most churches are?
    i appreciate what you wrote and i relate. thanks for sharing!
    Janeen recently posted..days and booksMy Profile

  22. Sofiya de Havilland says:

    I absolutely hate going to church. I have HAD to go most of my life, for some reason or another. Firstly because as as child I HAD to, then as an adult because it was the only way I could be acceptable to my family, thirdly because after I got divorced it was the only way to meet people instead of hanging out in nightclubs (which I don’t like). I hate the worship, I hate the rubbish talking with the plastered smiles, I hate the money spent on the current building and the money collected for more buildings, I hate the way the pastor is worshiped and feels that he is God’s anointed and therefore does very little, I hate the way his wife walks around as though she has won some sort of celebrity contest, I hate the way the “band” auditions their own songs without caring a whit whether anyone sings with, as long as they all stand for half an hour to listen to them getting “lost in the spirit” and the sound of their own voices.
    I hate the fact that I have to go to church tomorrow, again, because the old lady I live with feels that she HAS to go because her family all go and it will reflect badly on her family if she is not there. (I do her driving for her)
    My brother is a lay-pastor, my father was a lay-pastor, my sister is married to a pastor, I know EXACTLY what goes on in churches, and YES – IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!

  23. Sheila Smith says:

    I got kicked out of church and I was not a member

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 24, 2012 39 Comments I’ve told you about how we left the church and I’ve told you why I don’t like church. Now I’m going to share the story of our return to church in an unfiltered [...]

  2. [...] “Why I Don’t Like The Church” — Jessica Bowman posts (just before visiting yet another church, to try it again) about her struggles with the modern evangelical-type church. I relate to this post way too much. These issues are part of what drove me away from the non-denominational churches of my childhood to find something more staid and established. [...]

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