People give all types of reasons for why they no longer attend church. Most of those given mask the real reasons someone becomes a former church member? It’s the same motivations for virtually every other human decision: pain and pleasure.
If you associate church with pain or church with interfering with your pleasure, you probably won’t go. Those are the real reasons why you don’t go to church, but they still shouldn’t be what keeps you out. Here’s why.
Reason 1: Someone in church hurt you, so you refuse to go back.
Maybe it was last month. Maybe it was last decade. But somebody in a church somewhere hurt you, maybe even deeply.
To those I want to say, as sensitively as I can, join the club. You are not alone in that. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who has ever been part of a church for an extended period of time has been hurt by others there.
My deepest personal wounds as an adult came from church people. I say that to let you know, I understand. It hurts and the easiest way to escape that seems to be to leave church entirely. But it won’t really work.
Christians often speak of the “church family.” It is a way to communicate the bond that should be present among believers in a local church body. It also, inadvertently perhaps, expresses another truth. Church families are like physical families. You are around them so much that you rub each other the wrong way and people get hurt.
If you gave up on anything that brought you pain, your life would be dull, bland, self-absorbed and lonely, while lacking any real adventure, growth, achievement and love.
If, the moment you experienced pain, you surrendered, you would never exercise, never learn anything new, never undergo necessary medical treatment that may hurt, never push yourself past the limits you thought possible, never achieve anything of lasting value, never be a part of a relationship with anyone else, never love or be loved.
You still want to leave and never come back because of some hurt? We can get past that pain and find joy. Everyone you ever see at church has done just that.
Reason 2: You are enjoying things that you know the Bible says are sinful.
Can we be honest about this? Most people who have left church fall in this category. Hurt and hypocrisy, while honest critiques that the church should confront and correct, are more often than not excuses to continue living a certain way.
You remember all the teachings from church. You remember what the Bible said about the recent life choices you made. You also don’t feel like changing. You like what you are doing and don’t want anyone telling you that it’s wrong.
Maybe if you aren’t confronted with the Bible or Christians, you can continue on in your new lifestyle. There will be no one there to say no. You can make your own choices without interference from others.
It’s like avoiding going to a doctor because you think he might tell you something is wrong. Sure, no one likes to hear bad news, but wouldn’t you rather hear it coupled with hope for the cure? Why would you want to avoid confronting problems that only will get worse with time?
All those fears you have about returning? They’re lies. People love you and are praying for you to come home, even now. More importantly, God loves you and longs to be reunited with you.
Do you remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus describes God as the Father who stood by the road and waited for the moment when His child would come home. He’s there waiting for you—ready to take you in.
Coming home can be difficult and painful. It means leaving old things behind to embrace new life, but it is dropping rags to pick up riches. When you embrace Christ and the things He has for your life, everything else, even those things that seemed so valuable to you before, pales in comparison.
As precious as our sin may seem to us, we cannot take hold of the treasures God has for us with our fingers still clutching our old rags.
Sure, you’ll find hypocrites in the house when you come home, but you’ll remember that they’re not any different from you. They need grace and forgiveness, just like you. Maybe, just maybe, you can offer it to them and they can extend it to you.
Here are two questions for those of us who are active members of a church family.
What can we do to help comfort those who have been hurt by church and the people there? How can we show those who are enjoying their sin that their is more joy within the church than outside?
Perhaps the two questions have the same answer.