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Why I Don't Go To Church

What happens if we lower our expectations for the church?

A few weeks ago I expressed a hunch that disillusionment is a problem for many of us who have been around the church for awhile. Since then a number of friends have taken the occasion to tell their own story. Some have struggled with disappointment and come out stronger. Some are still stuck in the pain. So what I thought I’d do is take a couple of days to reflect on some thoughts I’ve had along the way. Here are some notes I jotted down some time ago about why– on my better weekends– I don’t go to church.

1. I don’t go to church expecting to see a group of people consistently reflecting the attitudes and values of Christ. I’ve seen enough in church sanctuaries, business meetings, and boardrooms to know that we all are at varying degrees of spiritual growth or regression. Some of us are like noisy newborns. Others are showing signs of spiritual senility. Most are somewhere in between, acting like mere men and women rather than mature members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:3).

Interestingly, the New Testament depicts the first-century church in the same condition of imperfection (Revelation 2-3).

2. I don’t go to church expecting to hear music that will lift everyone to the same level of worship. In theory, church music is a shared language of the soul that reflects our struggles down here– in anticipation of the theology and anthems of heaven (Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:11-14; Isaiah 51:11). In reality, however, the songs of the church also express the sounds of ever-changing generations, united by Christ, but divided by preferences as varied as bluegrass, country, or Bach. Because music is an art that resonates differently in all of us, we can’t all feel the same way about our songs of worship.

3. I don’t go to church to feel morally superior to those who wouldn’t be caught dead in a house of worship. The apostle Paul thought of himself as “the chief of sinners” years after he “saw the light” on the road to Damascus.

The lack of Christ-like attitudes and self-righteousness of church people was a concern, but no surprise, to the authors of the Bible. They wrote with transparency not only about the failures of the church (1 Corinthians 11:17), but also about its tendency to be morally proud (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

4. I don’t go to church looking for a perfect sermon with no errors in content or delivery. I’ve walked with enough pastors along the way to know that no matter how thoroughly they prepare their messages, they often feel that they have not done justice to the timeless truth of the Bible, or to the varied needs and expectations of their congregation.

In summary, it seems to me that the shortcomings we see in one another help to explain why the New Testament does not call us together to worship one another.

But that brings me to the question I began with. What happens if we adjust down our standards for church experience? If we lower our expectations for the church, do we decrease the likelihood of disillusionment while weakening the church in the process?

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19 Responses to “Why I Don't Go To Church”

  1. eltonteng says:

    There are people (aka sinners) at church. What do we expect, really?

    I don’t think the lowering of expectations for church helps people. There are many, many reasons why Christians reject going to church. The lowering of expectations does not change reason for people to dismiss the group worship experience, e.g. the church is not doing anything for me, the people at church are not Christ-like, etc.

    I do think people should understand the benefits of worshiping God along with other believers. Christians should probably try to remember that we’re all sinners, and facilitate each other’s growth through the word of God while at church. This is way easier said than done.

  2. wpleasant says:

    Thank you for this opportunity to comment on what I believe is one of the most significant problems facing the Church in America today. I recently returned to regulary attending church after stopping for about two years. My wife and I had left a church that I know believe promoted a false doctrine. Dejected, I stopped attending regulary, and one Sunday I was going to continue to attend “Bedside Baptist” when my wife encouraged me to get up and go. I had been seeking a church, but our experiences at our former church were so heart wrenching and painful, I was wary of making another commitment. After months of frustration and a “broken and contrite spirit” prayer, God led me to the church I am attending now. It is steeped in sound doctrine, but they have shed some of the routine and empty rituals that plague so many churches. I never left God. I spent time with him every morning while waiting for His answer. He reminded me that the “Church” is not confined to the walls of any local assembly. The Church is His people all over the world, bound together by His Holy Spirit. There are MANY false teaching churches out there. For those continuing to stay away I say, don’t stop praying and stay in contact with other believers even if you don’t attend church regulary.

  3. B Murphy says:

    We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone as the song says. It is like being married, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. Ths standard we have to hold the church to is the Bible, the person we have seek out at church is Jesus, anything else is a social club. Find a church that is Bible based and worshipping the Lord and you have found a home. People are always going to do stupid things and say stupid things because we are human. For this I say right now to all those I have offended, I am offending, and will ever offend, I am truly sorry. The church was made for man, not man for the church. Everyday I pray for the broken hearted that they may be granted the grace to forgive and heal and move on with the glorious life that God planned for all of us so long ago. We need you. God needs you.

  4. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Mart i believe life’s experiences are learned in different ways, but very few of us will except someones advice that we should not do a certain thing, either through being a hard head, or needing to see for our selves.
    I was out of church for several years, and learned several lessons, one was never let another person drive me from church, we have this in our community, and i believe it is every where, a person gets offended, and goes to another church, before long they are going to another church, and many times they quite going, not being able to forgive, sad but until we can forgive, and continue to desire the very best for the person that has wronged us we will never be able to be content around others.
    i believe an unforgiving spirit, and self righteous spirit are the main causes of not desiring to attend church.
    The church is weakened if the person not attending is a child of God, unless they are causing division, whereby God will not be a part of it.

  5. daisymarygoldr says:

    CHURCH is the body of Christ of which He is the Head and we (sinners saved by His grace) are the members. This body made of the spiritually deaf, the lame, the blind and every other imperfection is being groomed by Christ Himself to be eventually presented as the pure bride who is clothed in His perfection! Unfortunately, the immature mind perceives this divine mystery differently and we tend to have our own versions of ‘The Church’. To some it is a building where Christians gather and perform Sunday worship services while to others it is an organization that is involved in Christian activities. This is when we begin to ‘expect’ from the church and get disillusioned/offended/disappointed by its ‘performance’.
    As we mature and grow in Christ, the Church takes on a whole new meaning. It is the precious body of saints that is being fed and nurtured by the head i.e. Christ. We no longer dictate to or expect from each other but in humble submission to His headship we selflessly serve in unity, encouraging each other as we work together to bear spiritual fruits for the ultimate glory of God!

  6. Mart De Haan says:

    In a day when so many of us are trying to keep the faith while throwing away the church, you are confirming my hunch that whether or not we should lower our expectations for the “body of Christ” is an important conversation. I hope we can keep it going.

  7. dlarose says:

    Who are my brethren?

    Church at times seems dysfunctional and so I begin to ask myself questions such as does the present church model reflect the early New Testament Church? The church is striving to be relevant in a rapidly changing world but so many believers are left on the sidelines because they don’t identify with all the new gimmicks.

    I have come to understand that church is not about the building or the denomination but it is about people worshiping together. Albert Schweitzer’s thoughts on religion were that our Christian faith should be primitive and simplistic. He felt that it should be a person’s faith and Christ and not a building or a denomination. I look for opportunities to have church in the most unlikely situations such as sharing Christ and praying together with other believer of any creed whenever the opportunity arises.

    What has driven me to practice my faith outside of church is that church as I know it falls short of meeting my spiritual needs. Church for me has become one of the ways in which I practice my faith in other words I have faith in spite of church.

    Scripture says that we should gather together and that he is with us even when there are two or three believer’s fellowshipping together. If we believe this then suddenly church becomes more about the body of Christ – primitive and simplistic. Church should be about sharing the love of Christ with the brethren.

  8. bought1 says:

    The church is presented in the Holy Scriptures as the body and bride of Christ. These are the ones I will be spending eternity with! (and they with me!)
    Jesus loves His bride. If you don’t think so, look long and hard at the cross. We should love what He loves don’t you think? When I show up at the doors of a local called out assembly of like-minded believers and saved sinners, am I there to give or to receive? If I hold to the idea of servanthood- I am there to minister to someone, somehow. I have to be alert for opportunities of service. Whether it be a smile, a handshake, a kind word (or cup of cold water) to a child, a tender hug to someone who is hurting, and opportunity to pray with an elderly lady who is in need, to hear the Word of G-d proclaimed and pray for the messenger and for the ears of the hearers, to worship the One who is worthy in songs, in hymns, in spiritual songs- it’s all good! It is one of the paradoxes of Christian living- we get by giving. “let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus”, (Sacrificially),Love one another.

  9. Big Chief Foot-In-Mouth says:

    Wow! Talk about a divine slap across the face! I’m sitting here in my PJs in front of my computer instead of being at the church my wife and I are members of because the pastor offended us last week. He didn’t offend us from the pulpit but at worship team practice. It wasn’t anything doctrinal or theological, it was a personality clash. That’s all it was! And because of that, we’re rebelling by sleeping in late, having a nice breakfast and “having church” here in our home with a little scripture reading, a quick devotional and a brief time of prayer…and all of this with our arms folded across out chests, basking in the glow of righteous indignation and ordained defiance. I’m convicted. God have mercy on me, my wife and our pastor. Deliver us from our arrogant pride, and please grant me the power to be humble and forgiving.

  10. Christopher M says:

    I am blessed and glad to read this very candid dialog. To be sure most of us who have been Christians for a while become disillusioned with the people,leaders, the lack of spiritual progress,the weak mission or lack of commitment to be Christ like to the hungry, the homeless, the abused and addicted etc…, monitary focus and greed,the in fighting and denominational dogma and even the organization, structure,or programs of one or more churches.
    I know in times past I have felt that God was just not in any of it.
    In truth He is in as much of us and the church as we will allow Him to be. We too often want to focus on the grace that others haven’t yet received or grown into rather than the grace we are yet lacking in ourselves.
    I tend to believe that a periods of disillusion with these things is in some cases so that we as the Church are lead to change what we may in ourselves(with God’s supernatural help and direction), trusting that in so doing others will see a better way for themselves by seeking God more deeply.
    I also tend to think that disillusion/ disappointment with these things as we grow is a part of the process. For me it is much like we find in the natural sense~ When we are small children our parents are all knowing and can do no wrong. As we grow older we realize that they make many many errors they ought not to make. They often are very busy telling us to do other than they have done in life. We see this as hypocritical rather than the fact that they would like us not to make the same errors. We determine that we will do much differently than they do when we are in the position to make the decisions. This is a good thing and is so that we may find ways of improving ourselves. Finally as we get much older we realize that they are not near perfect, but neither are we, and the things that they were dealing with were far more complex and difficult than we could imagine. We all of a sudden find that they were far more wise and caring than we gave them credit for. So it is with our walk in the church. so it is that disillusion can become and agent for change, first of ourselves, second so that we constantly improve on the church in areas where we find it lacking.
    Lastly and not least importantly, we must remember that we have a sin nature while in this life that is to say all of us to include pastors etc…, lest we become prideful and self-righteous. We must also remember that we have an enemy and that he will do all that he may to convince us we don’t need the church, other Christians, or even God if he is able.
    It helps me daily to remember this little saying: Watch your thoughts for they will become your words. Watch your words for they will become your actions. Watch your actions for they will become your character.

    Abundanty blessings to you all! May The Lord Jesus shine His love in and through your hearts, minds, and lives.
    In His Service,

  11. paulandshelly says:

    I have not gone to Church in a while as I have been so disillusioned about Church in general. When we were going to a church that I have been a member of for many years, I found that our Pastor had been using stories that were not true. I found out that they were untrue and he will use his kids and their comments in his preaching but the kids would tell my son afterward that they never said the things their dad was saying from the pulpit. He also has marriage-counseled a friend of mine and she quit going to him because he was doing a little over-sharing about the problems in his own marriage.
    So then, we went to my husbands church that he is a member of and the church has split, and there are restraining orders against the pastor and some of the congregation and when I tried to schedule a time to talk to the pastor of this church about some marriage problems, he never called me back, after I left two messages for him to call me.
    So now, it seems like it is too difficult to go and find another church and try to find where we need to be as my husband works shift work and he isn’t home on Sunday’s for about 7 weeks. So we just end up going to my old church, when my husband is home, and hope that another minister is preaching that day.
    I don’t expect Christians to all be on the same level but I do expect my pastor to tell the truth from the pulpit or to try and make an effort to return my phone calls…

  12. mfarns says:

    Why should we lower our expectations for church? Why don’t we change the focus of our expectations?

    We lose out so many times on the freedom Christ has provided for us by approaching church (and most of life) with the wrong expectations. When you have a goal or expectation, ask yourself who can thwart it. For example, if your goal is to have your church fill your spiritual needs in an environment of agape love and/or sublime worship, who can short-circuit your fulfillment? Answer: everyone present including the pastor, the music minister and even the ushers, not to mention anyone in the congregation.

    If, on the other hand, your goal is to allow God to use the church to draw you close to him, and you focus on his presence in whatever context you find yourself, who can thwart that goal? Only you and God.

    We’re good at wounding each other as Christians, and there’s no better example than the church. But if our expectations are centered on ourselves and God, we’re the only ones that can mess that up.

    Ask not what your church can do for you: ask what you can do for your church!

  13. amomangel says:

    I’m 55 years old and have been to dozens of churches in my lifetime, been a member of at least 4 while living in different cities around the country. Because my husband was raised Southern Baptist (SB), I realized the only way our two sons would be raised in the church was if I agreed to worshipping SB, too. For 2 years I taught 7th-8th grade girls and can honestly say they were 2 of the best years of my life. The downfall came when one of my son’s life took on a dark path for awhile which grieved me so much I just stayed away from everyone for another 2 years. Finally, God straightened my son’s life out and he’s now doing beautifully. But by this time, President Bush came along. I could not bring myself to go to church as I felt it would be a kind of endorsement of the exploitation of the Lord’s church by this administration. I remember being accused of killing babies because I was on the ‘other side’ of where the church was clearly aligning itself. I have 5 children and 6 grandchildren and yet I was a baby killer because of being with another political party? Anyway, I think the Lord’s church is finally seeing the error of their way and recognizing that the purpose of the church is to win souls for Christ and to grow the church. The country and church has been so divided over the last 7+ years that I felt any ‘unsaved Democrat’ would surely not be welcome. I miss going to church very much. I feel hurt by my brothers and sisters in Christ who turned on me because of my political stand. Can someone respond to this, especially if you can relate? Have you returned to church and have the conservatives lightened up to a point where they can embrace all of God’s children, regardless of color, race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc.?

  14. Don Bradley says:

    Sunday worship (or your Sabbath day) is best experienced when practiced everyday. If one expects to embrace Christ to the fullest, then one must realize a personal relationship requires commitment. God’s word reveals His commitment to us without question. (And sadly very few are faithful to read the Bible.)Thus said, I believe the question is, “What is your commitment to Him?” A committed believer’s hope is to see his church home to grow more Christ like, realizing there is going to a spiritual warfare of various forms that plague the church from within. As the body has many members, head, foot, eye, etc. so has Christ’s church been designed to function with members having special spiritual gifts. Regardless who you are, someone at your church looks up to you. Your attendance or nonattendance is noticed. If your church attendance is an extention of your daily relationship with Christ, (and is one more day of week given that you may be use your gift as an encouragement for those of the faith) then this is the will of God. I believe there is a time to leave a church but this requires Christian maturity with spiritual discernment. If false doctrine is being taught and all biblical means to correct the cause have been exhausted, leaving the church is the only option. Understanding of the scriptures is essential.

  15. daisymarygoldr says:

    Don Bradley,
    I’m assuming you are referring to the ‘local body of believers’ in “I believe there is a time to leave a church…”. Your legible reason about false doctrines being taught and followed is understandable. However, how will your ‘quitting’ under such circumstances prevent from adding chaos to the confusion? Again, its presumed that you have been an active member who has been around for a while. We do exercise discernment by staying away from a false teaching group but I don’t see any point to give up despite “all biblical means to correct the cause have been exhausted”. Don’t you think your perseverance to remain rooted could do more good than bad? Scripture does mention excluding an errant believer but never encourages to quit (pls correct me if I’m wrong). Maybe you could be the only redeeming reason for God to not remove ‘His candlestick’ from the midst of that church! Of course, no matter what the circumstances are God in His sovereignty even uses dissensions in His Body to disseminate His word!!

  16. nanamer says:

    I go to church but church leadership has strayed away from the Word of God. Our pastor spoke about the recession and how we must prepare for the worse by opening up accounts, hording foods, and the such. The recesion has been in this country for 2 and a half years. The Bible teaches me that God will supply all of my needs as long as I am living God’s will, way, and holy. I have searched the scriptures and these things are to be. The fulfilling of prophecy. This same leadership tells us to let the church hold your monies (5%) along with your 10%. Plz shed some light on a troublesome situation.

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