About Me

Why I Stay In Church

As is the case every now and again, Christians start to look at numbers and trends behind those numbers and get worried. We never get worried when the numbers look good (read: bigger numbers). However, we do get nervous when the numerical trends are headed downward. In my home tribe (Churches of Christ) the trends haven’t been good for a while. And when the number begin to sink, Christians begin to look for the Jonah to toss overboard.

We are not the only ones though. Even though Christianity is thriving across the world, in many places in America, we are seeing fewer and fewer folks in the pews. Predictably, people like me begin to posit as to the cause. It makes for good blog reading; but ultimately the reasons we assign to decline are more about what we personally dislike rather than what our non-Christians friends don’t get. All we need is one or two Sunday morning sleepers to echo what we feel to verify our thoughts. Recently, folks I like such as Rachel Held Evans, David Kinnaman (You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith) and others have jumped into the conversation about why people are leaving church – especially young people.

As I read these reflections, I largely agree with the conclusions they reach about American religion. What bothers them bothers me. What bothers my non-Christian friends bothers me too. Yet this Sunday, as I have nearly every Sunday of my life, I will wake up, get dressed, load the family in the car and go to church (And yes I’m using “church” as word meaning “a place where certain things happen.” Don’t worry, missional friends, I know the difference between “worship service” and the “church.” This is just easier for people).

Anyway. I’ll get up and go to church. And so will some of my best friends in the world, some of the best people I’ve ever known. And while everyone else is ruminating on why others or they left the church, I want you all to know why I stay. And no, it’s not because I’m a preacher.

I stay because…:

  • …over 30 years ago Godly men and women sacrificed their time, talent, and energy to teach me the scriptures. Those scriptures have and continue to anchor my life. I’d be lost without them. I’m grateful that they sowed love and honor and attention into my life. Those people thought going to church was a pretty big deal. My past teachers would strongly disagree with my current theology, but I would not be anywhere without both the light and the path they laid before me.
  • …I’ve spent more than a few Sundays in church services that stunk musically and homelitically, but God’s presence seemed to seep through the cracks of the door and settle itself on the pew next to me when I was willing and able to see it.
  • …I was taught that “church” isn’t actually a place where certain things happen, but the people of God. I don’t like thinking of myself as the kind of person who quits people.
  • …my two daughters haven’t heard all the stories of God yet. They know Jesus and Joseph and Samson and Ruth and Naomi, but they don’t know everything about Hosea and Gomer and David and Bathsheba. They can’t live rightly without knowing those stories. And the church wants to help me tell those stories.
  • …it’s so easy to blog and say things about forgiveness, reconciliation, graciousness, and the “one another” passages, but it’s impossible to do them without some “one anothers.”
  • …some days I wonder if I believe in God the way I want to believe in God. At church I’m reassured by both the Joel Osteen Christians and the Dark Night of the Soul Christians that there is something really big that we all don’t fully “get.” If we did get it we’d be neither that happy nor that sad.
  • …when I’ve gone off and done everything wrong and been a complete jackass, someone at church will hug me and tell me they love me.
  • …I’ve come to realize that no one is saved by their theology and everyone in church is significantly wrong about something. I can find a congregation that practices what I want them to practice, but I’m not arrogant enough (and that’s saying something) to assume that the way I think it is is actually the way it is.
  • …I listen to classical music and NPR; I read lots of books and the New York Times; I don’t watch RealityTV and every week I’m in the same room with people who listen exclusively to country music; who wear work boots to weddings; and who enjoy fishing and hunting. I love being a part of the only place in the world where all kinds of life and living connect with each other because we understand that what makes us different isn’t even close in terms of the immensity to what brings us together. I think when Paul said that “we no longer see people from a worldly point of view” he kinda meant it.
  • …when I sit in my church in Texas my mother is doing the same in Georgia, my brother is doing the same in North Carolina, and my father is doing the same in Mississippi. In all the highs, lows, ins and outs of broken families, this we share. Every Sunday, if only in the smallest ways, we are healed.
  • …I fell in love with my wife at Abilene Christian University and one of the first things we started doing together was going to church. Plus, I think she’s most beautiful when she sings.
  • …I’ve heard one too many stories of lives on the verge of or a notch past destruction when they stumbled into the door of a church only to find hope in the lives of other people equally shattered.
This is why I stay.

Ultimately I don’t expect the church to be perfect – to have faith, hope, doubt, science, marriage, parenting, or politics all figured out. Shoot, I’m just happy when there’s a children’s church. Call it low expectations if you want. I call it grace. If I can’t practice grace here, how can I practice it anywhere? I’ll tirelessly work to right the wrongs in the church and world, but I can’t leave church because of poor theology or even the harmful, destructive, horrible practice of poor theology. She is a bride. She is married to my elder brother, Jesus. I will love her, respect her, and treat her well. It’s His wedding, not mine. And if He can love her so can I.

Tell Us. Why Did You Go? Why Do You Stay?

  • Rochelle Palmer

    And one more reason… I will not hold others’ brokenness against them. Sure, I am going to disagree with some (most) people on politics, etc. But I am not going to abandon the community of believers because of this. So people get some things wrong sometimes- and I’m one of them.

  • Rochelle Palmer

    And one more thing… when did Christians stop being concerned about obedience? If I really believe that God calls us into community, then “leaving” the broader community isn’t really an option, is it? When did we start thinking that we call the shots? I tend to believe there are parts of me that can be formed and grown and healed only through relationships with those who are different than I am. Maybe God has known that all along.

    • Peggy Lee

      Thank you, Sean (and Rochelle:-). Your words affirm me on this morning when I particularly needed them.

    • Rochelle,

      Get your own blog. No seriously, get your own blog.

      Jeff Brooks

  • Sean, great post! I have often thought about all the things Jesus found wrong with church among second-temple Judaism and yet he still went to the temple and joined in the festivities. Why should we be any different, even when we do find our church less than perfect.

    – Rex

  • Very good post. Your point about the “one anothers” is a regular theme with the church I’m part of (http://cjcoc.org). The lead evangelist commented in a midweek service a month or so ago about how often “one another” verses come up in Scripture, and how we can’t do those unless we are together. Further, they make it clear that as we get together, and the more often we do so, we will NEED to put into practice the “one another” verses about patience, love, encouragement and so forth.

  • I go to church because I am paid to…
    And I love Jesus.
    And my senior minister is awesome.
    And donuts.

    • The donuts are a pretty big deal to my girls as well

  • Rhesa Higgins

    At one time in my life, I stayed because I didn’t know how to leave. And I didn’t know where else to go.

    Now I stay in hope of participating in the Kingdom: living a messy, grace-filled life with other broken people pursuing the dream of deeper joy in a life lived in God.

    Donuts don’t hurt either; you’re right Brandon!

  • I stay because I have come to understand that we do not have to be perfect to become a Christian; rather, we become a Christian because we are NOT perfect. And, because of many of the things you posted.

  • Vivian Hackler

    I stay because I know that I am a sinner and its only through the grace and the blood of Jesus Christ that I am sanctified and have received the gift that will get me through life’s trials and temptations. My fulfillment comes through praise and fellowship with my brethren, knowing that we are all looking to that day when we will see God’s glory. The Spirit has called us to seek and save the lost and if we are busy doing his will, we don’t have time to worry about the pettiness and triviality of people, whether in the church or not. My reward is in Heaven and this world is not going to give it to me, nor should I expect this world to give me self gratification. Thank you for your encouraging words brother.

  • Bob Smith

    Hi Sean, You are right on. I could resonnate with a lot of what you said. I, too, have grown up in the church. The adults who nurtured me , along with my parents, left lasting impressions. I am grateful, as well, for their sacrifice, love, and care. They modelled Christ for me. So refreshing to hear why someone wants to go to “church”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with others. I was blessed by them.

  • Ken Holsberry

    I stay because, to paraphrase Peter in John 6:68, where would I go.

  • Kim Douglass

    We left our church about a year and a half ago, and we haven’t been able to get back into it since then. I admit it’s a struggle. My husband and I volunteered with our youth group for 5 years and then realized we were helping disciple teens into activities and not the true gospel. We realized that all we did were activities and that our church relationships were very shallow. So we quit youth ministry in the hopes of having the time and energy to develop meaningful relationships. The opposite happened. None of the people we had spent 5 years in relationship wanted anything to do with us. It turns out our church friends were really just that…people who only wanted to hang out at church functions. After months of struggling with this and feeling totally rejected and abandoned, we just left the church completely. And then surprisingly enough we made friends. Lots of friends outside the church body. It was very heartbreaking to pour ourselves into a church body for 5 years and feel like we had absolutely nothing to show for it. It left a lot of bitterness and hurt feelings that we haven’t been able to work through very well. Now every time we visit a new church, all I can think is how it feels like such a waste of time. I feel like an outsider, and I realized that church is a pretty weird place. So as much as I liked your blog, all I can think is how can you force yourself to go to a place that you don’t particularly enjoy every week to participate in activities you don’t really enjoy and listen to people use words like “fellowshipping” and have complete strangers shake your hand and say “good ta see ya” because they can’t figure out if you go there or if you’re a visitor? So we force ourselves to keep wandering around looking for a church that’s actually willing to preach the gospel instead of fluff where two beaten, bitter, and damaged people might be able to fit in whilst all the while wondering what the point is. We have a lot of non-church friends, and I really can’t imagine inviting them to any of the churches we’ve been in for the last 2 years. It’s been an exhausting and discouraging 2 years.

    • Kim,

      I’m sorry to hear that. Beaten, bitter, and damaged are powerful words. Trust me, I’ve been there. I suppose I can go to church every week, even when I know that some people are false and even when I know there’s much wrong, because I know the truth is stronger than the false. I, too, have spent lots of time with lots of people and didn’t see the results I wanted to see, but ultimately believed and trusted that the results were God’s alone. Plus, the time itself, the energy itself, the activities in the presence of people I came to love was both a good time and God’s time. The reward is doing it. I have two young daughters. When I get concerned about how they’ll turn out, I want them to clean their room, learn to read well, get good grades etc…but then I catch myself. The beauty of being their father is playing of silly games, or making messes in the kitchen, and all the other things that ultimately produce nothing. But they do produce. They shape. And that’s what you did for 5 years. And there’s no telling how that’ll turn out.

      As for your other concernes about church. If you’re ever in Temple, TX, visit The Vine.

      • Kim Douglass

        Thanks. We tried to move to Ft. Worth so we could join a church there, but God won’t release us from Amarillo. It’s very frustrating. I feel like we have no spiritual community here or even options for it, but he won’t release us to move somewhere else. We’ve spent a year and a half in this terrible limbo, and it is demoralizing. We both grew up in the church and then became atheists. We stayed atheists until a year or so after we got married. I almost feel like we’ve gone full circle back to that time years ago when we didn’t trust God or christians, but we still knew we need to be in church somewhere.

  • Kelly

    I came back to church because I had my first daughter and I realized with sheer terror that I did not know the first thing about how to raise a Godly child. I needed someone to help me teach my daughter the stories, and character, and family. Since then I have become completely convinced that I am a stone, being built into the Temple where God’s Spirit dwells. God dwells in the community of believers in the same way he dwelt in the Jewish temple for thousands of years. If I take my stone away, there is a hole and I am empty.

  • Dave Jarratt,Belton coc

    Amen. More of us; less of I

  • I go because I meet God there in a different way than I meet him on my back porch alone or my study room or my kitchen where I dance and praise him as I cook. Somehow, I don’t know how, it is just different when we praise Him together. The Glory falls there in a different way, almost unexplainable, when we all join together to praise him. We can join together to yell at a ball game and it’s not the same, we can yell loud and passionately at a political rally but it’s not the same. When the Glory falls I can barely stand and that seems to happen most at church for me. But maybe that’s just me and maybe it’s just our church, The Vine.

  • Thank you. I’m sharing it. I hear lots of negatives and need these positives. You’re a blessing.

  • Kaitlyn

    I grew up in the church. Most of my childhood memories are filled with Sunday donuts, VBS and the wonderful, and broken people who created the community I grew up in. I’ve spent countless years serving with Sunday School, Youth Group, College Group and Young Adults. Then I got burnt out and stopped serving. And church has not been the same since.

    When I was in the midst of it I gave love and received love and grace 100x over. When I stopped, I stopped giving of myself and also prevented others from giving to me. Yet years later I still see the seeds of things sown long ago. People never forget people who have shown them love, grace and mercy and when you sow in the kingdom of God, the harvest comes from all around.

    So I am recommitted to finding a church and a community where I can serve, where I can hold hands and wrestle with the meaning of life and share in the blessings of God together. In the meantime God has shown me grace and mercy through the church friends, the school friends, the work friends and all the other children of God who roam the earth seeking love, healing and acceptance. I am blessed.

  • StellaBroughtABook

    This article is fantastic. I have been a bit wishy-washy of late, between wanting desperately to be a regular attendee at church (on, say, Wednesday), and then, come Sunday, finding a dozen reasons to stay home. But, this line has really, really, really spoken to me “…I was taught that “church” isn’t actually a place where certain things happen, but the people of God. I don’t like thinking of myself as the kind of person who quits people.” Thank you for this article!!!

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