There are many reasons people chose to leave the church. The last decade is marked by blog posts filled with the reasons people have for separating from other Christians. A few years back, my friend Lionel shared some deeply personal struggles with his own church. Here is just a short quote from what Lionel wrote on his now defunct blog.

I don’t know what to do anymore. I am an idealist through and through. There are so many options out here, there so many little pockets and denominations and I feel like I felt back in 2003 when I came into the knowledge of the Gospel of Grace. Actually I feel exactly the same and it has lead me to a point of spiritual depression, and that has effected my personal life, there is this constant pulling of anxiety and I can’t pray it away, study it away, read it away, or ignore it. This anxiety keeps me up most nights and clouds my prayers most time. I think about church almost all portions of the day, in meetings, watching television and while I am driving. Speaking of driving, I have probably driven my wife crazy through it all.

I honestly wished and have been praying that I could just be the guy who doesn’t care. I wonder why do I have to be the guy to question and toil and read, and engage and disagree. I wished I was the guy who could just go on Sunday, listen to the sermon, help by being an Usher, or help with the parking lot, give my money and sit passively by and do it again next Sunday. I am frustrated that I am not that guy.

I have come to the conclusion that something is wrong with me. Someone once told me about my idealism and those words are now live in living color in front of my face. So I want to give in, throw in the towel, forget the information I have learned and become the guy on the back pew. I really want to, and I think I am at that point.

Like me, I am sure many of you reading this can empathize with Lionel’s struggle to “fit in” with the Church. Here is what I had to say to my brother Lionel.. and I must admit it is advice to myself as much as it is to anyone else.

Be encouraged brother. I sometimes feel the same way and wonder “what is wrong with me?  why can’t I just ‘go with the flow’?” Following is the advice I give myself.

First, despite rumors that we should be like the New Testament church, I think we have instead created an Idol of Her. Yes, I think a lot of the “organic church” and “house church” movement has devolved into idol worship at alter of the NT church.  The NT was a model of many good things, but She was also imperfect.  She was full of conflict, strife and division.  Yet by the power of the Spirit She became/and is becoming today the unblemished Bride of Christ.  The truth is, there is no such thing as the New Testament Church, there is just the Church.  By creating this false picture of the “perfect” NT church, we have placed ourselves in a trap where we can never find something that meets our expectations of NT nirvana-church.

Second, your only hope is to extend to those with whom you disagree the same grace that Christ gave you. When the differences are not “Gospel” difference do not divide over them. Instead, love, correct, train and encourage where you can.  Learn to live in the tension of diversity and disagreement and embrace the unity of the Spirit’s  gift of Christ in us.

What is your advice to those who may be considering throwing in the towel on church?

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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