“Why Millennials are leaving the Church.”
“Thirty-Somethings leaving the Church in droves.”
“Why I left the Church.”
It’s hard to spend much time on the internet these days without stumbling across ten new articles about why Millennials are leaving the Church. They’re burnt out on church. They’ve been abused, ignored, threatened, mistreated, or all together shut out.
These are all valid reasons. I believe there are churches that are abusive. I believe there are churches that ignore those in the margins. They ignore the divorced, the LGBT community, the mentally ill, and a litany of others who run to the Church looking for healing and acceptance, only to find themselves ostracized and cast aside.
I will not downplay or make light of those stories, but this is a different story.
This is a story about how, when it would have been easier to throw in the towel, I stayed. About how, when it would have been easier to call it quits, I couldn’t. About how, when it would have been easier to shut out the folks all around me, I found community and wholeness.
As a dad of two daughters, I make a lot of mistakes. I say things I don’t mean, don’t say things I should, and everything in between. I lose my temper, fly off the handle, and use my wife to play “good guy, bad guy.” Needless to say, I’m far from the perfect father.
In the midst of all of the mistakes, one of the most important things I’m trying to impart to them is commitment. Consistency. Teaching them that when you say you’re going to do something, you follow through with it. When you commit to something, you commit fully. You give it your all. Whether it’s sticking with swim lessons, even though she hated them, or ditching the responsibilities and watching a movie because we said we would, commitment and consistency is a trait that I am desperate to instill in my children.
A good number of people my age are leaving the Church, and when I talk to them, I hear a lot of different reasons. The most common one, however, goes something like this:
“I’m just not being fed there. I need to go some place where I can get fed.”
As I said before, people leave the Church because of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and a whole plethora of reasons that are completely valid. I get that. That being said, I’d like to play the curmudgeon here for a moment.
You not being fed is not a reason to leave a church.
Before you get your angry emails ready, hear me out.
We are a generation raised on immediate gratification. We buy our food in drive thrus. We brew our coffee with the push of a button. We carry phones in our pockets that immediately connect us to every remote corner of the world, with zero waiting. We binge-watch entire seasons of television in one sitting, and consume more blogs than books.
No wonder we’re giving up on the Church.
We’re not getting what we want, so we leave. The music isn’t what we want. The pastor isn’t charismatic enough. The pastor is too charismatic. They only serve grape juice for communion. They serve wine at communion. There are pews. There aren’t pews.
What if we could be the generation known for something different? Instead of leaving, what if we stayed? What if, instead of bolting when things got the slightest bit uncomfortable and quite frankly, unenjoyable, we saw the discomfort as a chance for growth?
Please understand me: If you’ve been abused by the Church, don’t stay. If the Church has ostracized you, pushed you out, or a pastor has abused you spiritually, physically, or God forbid, sexually, leave. Leave quickly, and never look back.
If the Jesus being shown you by the leadership in your church doesn’t look like the Jesus of the scriptures, leave. If your church has created Jesus to look like them, think like them, vote like them, love everybody they love, and hate everybody they hate, leave.
If your church is telling you who to vote for, or who not to vote for, leave.
If, on the other hand, your church is preaching Jesus, loving and embracing the marginalized, and you’ve found family and community, then please, stay. For your sake, stay. For the sake of those close to you, stay. For the sake of the Church, stay.
No church is perfect. Far from it. I really do believe though, that the Church was created to be a family, and your family is always your family. I believe that unless your church is abusive, not preaching Jesus, or you’re moving away, we are called to commit to a church, roll up our sleeves, and get our hands dirty. To sweat, labor, get dirt under our fingernails, and bleed for the beautiful mess that is the Church.
So why did I stay? And why should you? Isn’t it easier to go where you’re most comfortable? Go where the music suits you? Go where the teaching is best?
Sure, but if I’ve learned one thing about following Jesus over the last few years, it’s that it is never easy. It is good, but it is never easy.
It is easy to pull up the stakes and leave town when life gets tough. It is good to hold your friend’s hand and cry with them after they’ve miscarried a child.
It is easy to pick apart the theology of a pastor, finding every little thing you disagree with. It is good to take the rough edges of Jesus and let them refine you. Learn from them. Grow because of them.
It is easy to drive forty-five minutes across town to attend the newest, hippest, most relevant church. It is good to find a church that is advancing the kingdom of Jesus in your own back yard, and commit to them. To understand that the folks that live all the way across town are passionate about their neighborhoods, and that you should be passionate about yours as well.
I stayed because for me, learning to lean into the disagreements I may have with my church was incredibly healthy for me. It taught me to view my relationship with Jesus the same way. To not take everything at face value. To examine. To dig. To unearth what is lurking just beneath the surface. To not be comfortable with safe, easy, Sunday school answers.
I stayed because my children are getting to know Jesus. There are people who are investing into their lives. Who are teaching the love of an Abba father from an early age.
I stayed because spending time with people who I disagree with is good for me. I stayed because I believe that the way of Jesus is hard, but good.
Wherever you are, stick with it. Maybe the music isn’t your thing. Understand that whether it’s hip-hop or hymns, rock or reggae, spoken word or symphony, any music pointed at the Creator is holy and good. It may not be your thing, but it is music to Jesus’ ears.
Maybe the pastor is too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. Understand that probing and asking questions about Jesus is good, and holy, and worth your time. Take what they say, test it against scripture, and learn from it.
Church is hard, but it is good. It can feel unsafe, and there are certainly churches that are unwelcoming and unsafe for certain groups of people. If your church is that way, leave it. Find one that will welcome humanity wherever they happen to be, whoever they happen to be, and whatever they happen to be about. A church that has it all together isn’t one that I want to be a part of. We’re messed up, seeking, searching, and seeking a savior. We are the bride of Christ.
She is broken, but she is beautiful.