Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

When You’re Tired of Your Church

Is it ever wrong to call it quits on your church?

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My generation is hungry for authenticity and spiritual life. It often feels like we don’t get that in our churches. I know, church isn’t about what we get out of it but about giving to others.

But what if we’re getting absolutely nothing out of our church? Is it ever wrong to leave?

Some believe there’s no consequence in leaving. Find a church you’re happy with and plug into it. As a pastor’s son, I know how frustrating it can be when it seems as though people are constantly looking for something that makes them happy.

At the same time, my Dad cared about true spiritual life being given in the body of Christ—not all church leaders share that focus. What do you do when it feels like there is more political and material energy in your church than spiritual life?

My Dad left. He left a church. As a pastor. Once, he left a church system, and another time he walked away from an independent church. He always felt it was better for him as a leader to leave then to cause other people to leave.

When standards are talked about more than the Gospel, is it wrong to walk away?

When people value their sense of freedom above holiness, is there anything wrong with letting them go?

When a church is more concerned about handling finances than caring for the emotionally needy, is it okay to say “I don’t want to be a part of that”?

When you’re tired of your church, is it ever wrong to leave?

Some say it is. Some preach that we should stick it out and pour ourselves into church.

“Date your church.”

“Serve your church.”

“Pursue your leaders.”

What if none of that increases the spiritual life? Is it possible to have “Bible believing,” “Christ-following” churches that are spiritually dead?

And if a church is spiritually dead, is it wrong to call it quits and move on?

I am grateful to have been spared the struggle of being a part of a spiritually dead church. Sure, the churches I’ve been a part of have their struggles. But the leadership and congregation, as human and imperfect as they are, deeply desire God and are continually growing.

However, that’s not everyone’s story. In fact, the more I listen, the more I hear many struggle with their church.

This is a question we must hash out. I have several good friends who have wrestled through this very issue in the last couple of years. What if all our typical answers are incomplete?

Is there value in staying? Is there value in leaving? How long do you stay and try to make it work? When do you leave and what are legitimate reasons for leaving?

I have watched as close friends wrestle intensely with this question.

Three, in particular, are incredible examples to me. Each of these friends are under thirty years old. One was already a part of the church leadership. Their stories inspire me because whether they left or chose to stay, people have respect for them and feel valued by them.

That’s huge.

Not very often do we hear stories of people leaving church that aren’t full of accusations and belittlement. That’s not the case for my three friends. As I look at their stories, I see three common elements to their journey. And I feel any of us struggling with our church should consider these elements before leaving.

I’ve also talked with pastors about this subject. I asked them from a pastor’s perspective, do you feel it’s wrong for people to leave a church when things aren’t going well? In their responses, I noticed the same three elements I had seen in my friends’ stories.

In light of this, I compiled an eBook where I expound on these three factors for knowing when to or not to leave your church.

You may be wondering what the big deal is. In America, churches are a dime a dozen. If you can’t fit into one, you can find another one. After all, we’re all one church, right? So why does it matter if I leave?

Here’s why your local church matters: relationships reveal the authenticity of your spirituality.

There is value in having relationships with people. No matter what scripture does or doesn’t say about the church, it constantly points to the close relationships as indicators of God’s Spirit within us.

Think of it, the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. If I just up and leave when things get hard, I’m not practicing patience, kindness, or love. Furthermore, just walking away from a difficult situation is not necessarily “making peace.”

That’s why attending a local church matters and why knowing when to leave (or not to leave) is important.

Do you find yourself in a situation where you feel like leaving your church? I invite you to read this brief eBook.

If you love Jesus, I am confident you also love His people–even if they don’t feel real lovable all time. You’re not the only one who faces this struggle. I’ve been there. Friends of mine have been there. And many of my readers have been there. Here’s what a few of them have to say about this eBook:

Thank you Asher for sharing truth and the challenging questions! I’m transitioning out of my current church and searching for something greater. This was shared with me by a friend and was incredibly helpful and encouraging. – Chelsea

I have enjoyed reading this eBook. I especially like your conclusion. While my wife and I have left a more conservative church, we have never encouraged others to leave. When you are in a setting where the church functions as your external conscience, it takes a lot of discipline to leave and not simply go to the “world”. The important thing is to see truth. The Bible says, seek and ye shall find….that is a promise. -Dean

I really appreciate the emphasis on relationships. I think often when we become dissatisfied with church, it’s because we’re asking,”What am I getting out of this?” rather than “What can I give to my church?” -Karla

You don’t have to settle for status quo. You don’t have to stay in a painful situation. But neither do you want to cause pain in leaving (or staying). This eBook helps you sort through the difficult questions of knowing when to or not to leave.

And if you don’t have five bucks to spend on an eBook, but would like help in overcoming frustrations with church and living vibrantly for Christ, I have a three-part eCourse you can take, and it’s totally free. Just enter your email below and you’ll receive it into your inbox today.

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.

  • L

    I left as a teenager, with my parents’ verbalized disappointment but understanding.
    There was known, unaddressed sexual sins in the church and it had not been addressed. The matter was ongoing for several years. I made my decision based on time (unrushed decision), parental permission (waited to leave till both parents were OK with it) and with a clear heart.
    I needed emotional healing (nightmares) and renewed spiritual life. When a pastor said that abuse does not happen to Christians I had to go. Not a matter of anger, or retaliation – my thought was “I need healing and it won’t happen here.”
    I left. Nightmares ceased immediately and I met a couple who walked me into good emotional health. But spiritually, I was unanchored…​My new church had no written code. I realized my floundering was because my old anchor was my good works, aka, conservative behavior. I repented (still have to sometimes) and am now regularly delighted by how stable and reliable the power of Christ is. So leaving was the right decision for emotional healing and spiritual growth. But.
    Same church, same setting. Another member who is older, with a good reputation, has the hearts of those people. He chose to stay. His voice was the voice that kept me from being excommunicated. Thing is, he needs to stay,since he is able to grow there and cause growth. I couldn’t. So church splits are less about who is on whose side, and more about how God might be shaking things to grow His church in the long run.

  • RD

    i realize this blog was posted awhile back, but after skimming through the comments, I can’t help but share a few thoughts. I think one underlying theme that I’ve noticed in every mennonite setting that I’ve been part of (and still am), is the overwhelming shift and focus towards the leadership. the control of the leadership, the power of the leadership, the opinion of the leadership, etc. i myself am a young parent and am currently part of a more liberal mennonite setting, but the pattern seems to follow from more conservative backgrounds, and filter through to even the more liberal or more “open minded” churches.

    The difference I see, is that in the non-ordained, non mennonite churches, the pastors have a sense of servanthood to the church that is hard to describe. They can lose their job, they have a sense of needing to work “for the people”. When you are ordained, the church is, for lack of a better word- stuck with you- unless the pastor leaves, moves to a different area, etc.

    This can create a sense of ‘lording over’ or ‘fear’ that is hard to explain but that is so common in our churches. To see an ordained pastor serve willingly and with a true heart of a servant, is such a rare and precious gift, ( and it is a blessing to see) but I wonder sometimes if our format for creating leaders is what creates some of our “chaos”… for lack of a better word. you can have all the right theories, goals, vision, etc, but with a leadership structure that is unhealthy, things can get overwhelming very fast.

    In summary, if you have great relationships with leaders, you’ll find it hard to leave their congregation, even if you don’t agree with everything the church stands for. If they are just your “boss” or your “dictator” it is very hard not to resent them as time goes by.

  • Good thoughts, Asher et al. What a comment thread! 🙂

    I have never left a church because I was dissatisfied with it, though I have moved geographically and thus participated in several churches, sometimes as a member, sometimes as a faithful attender. Our experience raises a related question: When is it right to decide not to officially join a particular church? That question has been one of the biggest theological and practical dilemmas of my past 5 years, and prompted a lot of thinking about what Christ’s church is supposed to look like. It raises other questions, such as these: What does it mean to “join” a church? What does/should it mean to be a “member”? Who should a local congregation baptize or welcome to the Lord’s Table, and on what basis? Questions like this are not comfortable to experience from the “outside,” but they do have a way of driving one back to Scripture for solid answers.

    For Christ and his Church…

    • Thanks for commenting, Dwight. I have many of those questions as well. . . and yes, they do have a way of driving us back to God’s Word–which is good! Have you written about this?

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  • Will Schmucker

    People experience negative emotions toward their churches. Too often, they do unhelpful things with these emotions. They try to fix the emotion (“Stop being angry.”), they indulge the emotion, or they use a standard response to the emotion (“If you are tired of your church, don’t leave.”) What if people instead looked at the emotion as an indicator that something is wrong, and tried to figure out what is wrong?

    An objective look at the situation might reveal some interesting things. You might discover a rebellious heart or an unloving heart and that you are the problem. You might discover that your church has a system that stifles change and initiative, even though it’s full of wonderful people. You might find that what the church has been through over the last forty years has bred passivity into it. You might find an idolatrous church, where Anabaptism is worshiped rather than Jesus. In any case, you need to find out WHY you feel this way.

    And then you might ask God, what He wants YOU to do (not the whole church, not your parents, not the leadership, not your friends, but just you.) You don’t have to fix everyone else’s problems, you just want to do the right thing yourself. God might want you to stick it out. He might want you to leave quietly or leave loudly. And He may want you to do one thing now, and another thing later. You need to use all the resources at hand (the Bible, His voice inside you, His voice inside others, etc.) to discern His will. The point is, there is no standard response that covers all situations or even one particular situation. Except of course, that love has to be at the heart of it.

    • Yes, the title speaks more to the emotion many people feel in their church, even though we would probably all agree intellectually that it’s not right to leave your church just because you’re tired of it. As you say, let’s seek to find out why we’re tired of it (if we are).

  • I’ve enjoyed reading the comments here. I have also attended 5 congregations so far in my life, for various reasons including location.

    I think of a local congregation or fellowship like a family in the greater Church. In a natural family, there are times to leave, and there are times to stay. Being “tired of it” is not a good reason to leave.

    If you’re a child of age, living with your parents, some good reasons to leave would be:
    1) If there is serious abuse going on.
    2) If God calls you to another location.
    3) If your parents are hostile to you following God’s leading in your life.
    4) If your parents try to force you to sin.

    I’m sure that list is not exhaustive, but I think the reasons to leave a local congregation would be similar.

    We who are commenting here come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of us have experienced congregations that preach a false gospel; others have not. Some of us have experienced very painful religious abuse; others have not. Some of us have attended churches where we were kept on the outside fringes for various reasons; others have not. None of us have been part of a perfect, problem-free church. 😉

    Back to the title of this post: If I found myself simply “tired of” my natural family, what would that indicate? I don’t have an answer, it’s just something I’m pondering.

    –Jesse

  • Phil Sensenig

    I have been part of 5 different churches in 5 different states but I don’t feel like I’ve really “left” any of them in spite of the fact that they are spread out fairly widely on the “conservative to liberal” scale. I still have strong ties in most of these places. Some of the places did not feel like they were nurturing spiritual life but I came to a place of surrender while still at the church where I grew up. I told God I was willing to be wherever He wanted to place me no matter how far from ideal it was and I was willing to stay there as long as He wanted me there.

    As God opened doors for various opportunities in different places I walked through those doors but never because I decided I needed to leave where I was even when it felt stifling. God’s grace is enough for every situation whether He wants to use it for our growth or use us as missionaries there or a combination of the 2.

    I did get rather disillusioned at one point when it began feeling to me like there was hardly any church across the whole spectrum that was really functioning well long term. I’ve been quite discouraged many times in the journey but I’ve come to a sort of mantra that I attempt to live by.

    I want to know where God wants me to be and what He wants me to be doing there! Everything else is somewhat peripheral. That may primarily be a prophetic role to wayward people or it may be primarily a student role. It may be a wonderful place of fellowship and excellent teamwork or it may be a valley of dry bones! I need to know the voice of the Shepherd and follow in humility. That is the way I seek to live and make these decisions. God is trustworthy with both our futures and our children’s.

    The congregation that we are currently part of is not at all what I would have chosen if I had sat down to figure out what type of church best suited me & my vision. But being here in obedience to God we are finding it to be a place of growth and of great opportunity to use our gifts! And we are satisfied in that!

    • D

      “I want to know where God wants me to be and what He wants me to be doing there! Everything else is somewhat peripheral. ”

      I appreciate your point Phil. In my past I think I have often made the best or most perfect congregation the major reason for living in a certain locality. I believed that was the “church” in shoe leather for me. I am beginning to see that as the local congregation is only a facilitator for the CHURCH and as such where ever I am in the will of God, HE will provide the fellowship I need as HE sees fit. For the builder of the CHURCH is Jesus himself. So as you said, attending the perfect congregation is peripheral to being the CHURCH.

    • Phil,

      thanks for sharing your comment!

  • You can find church history lectures on YouTube (I like Dr. Reese) as well as on the BiblicalTraining website that add good perspective to this and related topics. .

    But my .02 would be to not leave your church when you’re tired. 😀

  • Sherilyn

    I have so many questions about this whole issue as well… I so identify with so much that has been said. I also wonder how to leave “well” with deep respect and humility. In our own journey, we tried so hard but still ended up deeply hurting some people. It is hard to know if that is a result of our own sin, or just what happens sometimes when following Jesus. I would love to talk to your dad, he gives me so much hope!

  • Chester Weaver

    This generation is not the first to wrestle with these questions. As an Anabaptist people we have been wrestling with these issues for 500 years, with all kinds of stories of how we wrestled and what has resulted from the wrestling. This generation is just adding one more layer of story to the whole.

    For me, the 500 year collection of our stories and other stories has provided perspective for my choices which has included leaving more than one church. I have discovered that no ideal church exists; I simply need to discern which imperfect church will accept me with all my weaknesses as I strive for my personal, family, and the collective church ideal (as I understand the Scriptures to teach).

    Unfortunately many, many Anabaptist people throughout history have reacted to perceived problems, both church and personal problems, with ignorance, carnality, and simple selfishness while cloaking it all in spiritual talk and spiritual zeal. Jesus taught us to first remove the plank from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye (both church and personal). Genuine Christianity is about spiritual power, not spiritual talk (1 Corinthians 4:19,20).

    People who do not know their own heritage of faith (the past) also do not know where they are going in their search for “life.” They are just going. Sometimes that “going” ends in personal, family, and church disaster. By the time they wake up to reality, the damage is often irreversible. For some interesting reason Anabaptist people have historically tended to move toward less discipline and restriction in the search for “life.” And for some interesting reason other Anabaptist people have tended to move toward more discipline and restriction in the search for “life.” Personally I believe the sought-after “life” resides at neither of those ditches. Our own Anabaptist story locates it well at another place. The problem is that not many of us have read our story well enough to know or embrace that location.

    • I agree that we can’t expect to find a perfect church or one that will be in agreement with everything I personally believe. Every Anabaptist church will have some rule that will leave someone disgruntled. But what I have been hearing is not so much that the “rule book” needs changing. It’s the heart of some core issues within all our conservative Anabaptist groups that we need regeneration in.

      All denominations have their own tendencies toward certain “pet” commands that they hold to a higher standard than others. They also have certain areas they tend to be lax in. Anabaptists are definitely not the only ones.

      Our “pet” commands seem to be modesty and head coverings. It’s what sets us apart from other denominations. When our people have historically tended to move toward less or more “discipline and restriction in their search for ‘life’”, it’s usually related to these two areas.

      But what if, instead of moving toward more legalism/dead works in one ditch, or throwing out real Biblical commands in the name of “grace” in the other ditch, we need to change our focus?

      What I keep hearing over and over is a cry for our churches to be real and authentic in their following of Christ. So maybe the next question should be, what exactly would we like to see changed? What areas have we as conservative Anabaptists in particular moved away from the heart of Jesus? What would He point to in our churches? That’s not so easy to do because even when know we aren’t lined up exactly with Scripture, we know all the reasons why we do the extra things we do. We are afraid of what certain choices “might lead to” for the younger generation.

      But what we Anabaptists don’t seem to learn from history is that we cannot make enough rules to make the next generation choose exactly as we do. We can’t even make them choose Christ. Only the Holy Spirit wooing and drawing our rebellious hearts to Himself is what can bring about any real authentic change in any heart.

      But we are not content to teach Biblical truth and then wait for the Holy Spirit. We demand immediate compliance because we don’t want to wait on the Holy Spirit to work on a heart. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. This is the area that I see us Anabaptists being lax in. Maybe the authenticity that is missing from our Anabaptists churches is a real presence of the Holy Spirit?

      Probably if asked specifically, most of the readers on this thread would have differing opinions on modesty and head covering rules. But that should not be the point. When our extra-biblical rules are more important to us than having the heart of love that Jesus did for the lowest, then something is wrong. When we turn people away because they don’t look right, I just can not imagine that to be like the heart of Jesus.

      • G

        Well said!
        What I want to pass on to the next generation is that it is possible to be conservative & disciplined & still be alive & authentic. We don’t need to fall into either ditch!
        But we probably need to grow in our spiritual disciplines of fasting, hours of prayer, being still before God, solitude/communion with God, humility, self-denial of comfort/pleasure & a true hunger & thirst for God. If this happened in our churches & we focused on soul winning & repentance & unity I think our churches would be transformed.

      • D

        Good thoughts, appreciate them.

    • I agree that learning about our Anabaptist history is very helpful and inspiring. However, I am uncomfortable with the idea that spiritual life is found primarily through an understanding of that history. If that is true, the Bible needs an addendum on Anabaptist history. Maybe I misunderstood you, though. I certainly enjoyed having you as a teacher at CBS fifteen years ago! 🙂

      • This is in response to Chester Weaver, by the way.

      • John Kulp

        Rosina, regarding your comments on Chester Weaver’s post: I couldn’t have expressed my thoughts better than you did. We ought to be looking for direction for our path of faith from the Scriptures, rather than from Anabaptist history, or denominational history in general, for that matter.

      • Chester Weaver

        Anabaptist history is the story of our efforts to follow Christ. Sometimes in history we did better than at other times. Certainly spiritual life is not found primarily through an understanding of our history. Rather our history should help preserve us from repeating the mistakes of trying to find Christ at places where He is not. Our history has guidance for that. It also points out where He actually is; I greatly appreciate that help. The Living Christ is only found by those desperate for Him, by those who lay aside self-idolatry, and those who are willing to take up His cross daily to follow Him. The Living Word is discovered in the Written Word and is communicated to a receptive soul by the Living Holy Spirit. Head knowledge is not sufficient, church order is not sufficient, and doctrine is not sufficient. When He is Lord of individual lives and when He is Lord of local churches, powerful and significant things result, cannot help but result. He has been working this way for 2000 years, including our own story. He will continue to work this way into the future. It is truly exhilarating to partner with Him as He does His work in the world today.

  • N

    Wow great discussion! Questions that we have been asking. I can truly identify with what Simon Fry shared. How long do you stay with a church where sin, (not just a disregard for standards is excused and not dealt with. When more is focused on how “hard” the Christian life is. It’s difficult when there are no other Anabaptist churches in our area.

  • Darren Fox

    There was a time that I felt that my church’s rules were stifling to the spiritual life of the congregation. Then I realized that I was so intent on reforming my church’s rules that was I placing as much emphasis on the rules as those trying to maintain them. We can discuss rules all day, and at the end of the day nobody has been blessed or ministered to. Neither side of the argument is excused for this. Changing rules cannot be the focal point in reforming a struggling church. Be the vision you want to see in your church!

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  • Will Schmucker

    If the comments are any indication, this issue is resonating with a lot of people. There is a flood somewhere out there just waiting to break loose. I wonder if something big is happening–something beyond just people trying to live for God in their day. Just maybe God is up to something–“shaking the creation, so that only what cannot be shaken may remain.” God is leading His people toward a goal, just as he did with Noah, Abraham, David, the prophets, the twelve, Paul, Francis of Assissi, Patrick the missionary to the Irish, Martin Luther, Michael Sattler, John Wesley, David L. Miller, Willie Wagler, and my own parents. He is the unchanging one whose works are always new. Just like he has done many times in the past, I think He is recruiting an army to deal with a new phase in the great war, He is teaching them new tactics, training them to fight in new arenas, and yet calling them to be always faithful to the things that never change. I think God is up to something.

  • KB

    Whether this is a coping mechanism I don’t know, but I’ve discovered if I have a zero expectation out of church I come away pleasantly surprised the times I do “get” something out of it. At the same time, I’m trying to make a valiant effort to be the care and support that I think church should be. Being 31, I realize that I fit right in the target demographic of this apparent challenge that I only was left in. Refreshing to hear from others.

    • KB

      As for the fear tactic used to control people into staying in a church, I’m more concerned about the outcome of my children if I stay, than if I leave!

  • I have enjoyed reading the comments as much as I have reading the article. Rosina’s comment in particular resonated with my experience. I am approaching my 40’s and feel that same sense of urgency. My family and I have poured into a church for 15 years or so and yet still felt that lack of authenticity as well.

    We have felt great respect for our ministry and loved them, but yet felt frustration that any suggested changes were viewed as a suspicious, fearful thing. When “the way we’ve always done it” takes precedence over Biblical truth, we are nothing but modern Pharisees.

    When my children and other youth have questioned some of our practices, it caused me to take a deeper look at Scripture. I found myself suddenly questioning some of the same things and became convinced we have strayed in some crucial areas.

    So many of our people (of many ages) agree that we are wrong in some of our practices, but yet most are not willing to step up to help bring change. We are a people bound by fear. Fear of what others will think, fear of religious persecution, fear of change.

    I love my Anabaptist heritage, I don’t want to leave it. There are so many areas that we have it right. But we need reformation. We need revival. We need to “put on the mind of Christ”. We need the Holy Spirit. More than anything, we need the Holy Spirit. So many of our people give a blank stare when we speak anything of the Holy Spirit.

    I don’t want my children to turn their backs on their heritage, but I want them to know God personally even more than that. If that means leaving a church that hinders them from knowing His heart, then it may end up having to be that.

  • John Kulp

    I appreciate some of the points raised by mattjantzi and landonwenger and a few others. But the very idea of talking in terms of “my church” and “your church” is not scriptural, and often when unscriptural terminology is used, wrong practice follows. The assembly (the more descriptive word for church, ecclesia in Greek) is not a voluntary organization to be joined or left at will: it is made up of “called-out ones”, and the Lord adds to it (Acts 2:47). And a local gathering is rightly seen as an expression of the whole, so that the idea of the independent local church contradicts scriptures such as Acts 15:22-41, I Corinthians 1:2,9,10, 5:12, 11:16, Matthew 18:18-20, and the tenor of many of Paul’s epistles. Dividing ourselves along the lines of whom we follow, what we call ourselves, and rules made in order to preserve our “cultural bubble” runs counter to the mind of the Spirit of God. We are enjoined to keep the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3), not the unity of my or your church. Grace be with you.

    • M

      Amen!

    • So, does it matter if I attend one local assembly one day, and another local assembly the next. Do I need to “plug in” to a local body? We’re all one church, right?

      (I think the fact that we have letters to specific local churches in the NT contradicts the idea of the independent local church contradicting scripture.)

      • D

        Are we confusing things by our terminology? If there is one true Church, The local assemblies we call congregations. Therefore we have the “church AT Corinth, the Church AT Antioch, etc. It is all one Church, with assemblies of the church meeting geographically in local congregations or assemblies.

      • John Kulp

        I’m not sure I understand the question exactly, but “plugging in” to a local church is an idiom that seems incompatible with the “fellowship” that early believers had within a gathering or assembly, and reciprocally between assemblies. It’s easy to plug in my saw to cut a board, but then I just as easily unplug it again without much thought when I don’t need what the outlet provides. But this is just an observation by the way, and I don’t want to make a man an offender for a word.

        You mention that letters to individual assemblies would indicate they could be seen as independent. Not true, see Colossians 4:16 and I Corinthians 1:2. And further, it was letters of commendation as in Acts 18:27, Romans 16:1-2, and II Corinthians 3:1 that show these early assemblies were far from independent, but if a believer were in good standing at one locale, he or she was to be accepted on that ground in another local meeting or assembly – they didn’t have the right to refuse such, or it would have been a breach of the “unity of the Spirit”.

        One more comment relating to the previous paragraph: the idea that a particular local group of Christians has the right to make cultural standards (sometimes called “applications” of Scripture) the basis for refusing full fellowship (spoken of in terms of membership among Anabaptists) to earnest Christians who won’t assimilate into the culture, is a sad monstrosity. I would encourage you all to examine these things in the light of Scripture, and may the Lord instruct you in it.

        • John, I think I misread your first comment. I took you to be saying that the idea of local churches contradicts Scripture. Whereas the letters to specific churches makes it clear there were local churches from the beginning. That’s why I asked what I did. . . but I see now that’s not what you were saying. You’re right, the local church is an expression of the whole church of Christ.

          Regarding your last paragraph– I agree with you! And that’s the sad part of Anabaptist churches is that we’ve become more cultural than scriptural. However, I also from personal experience that not all Anabaptist churches are this way. And there are many other denominations that just as a strong of a culture. That’s the sad part of Christianity today.

          Thank you for your comments.

  • Darren Fox

    Thank you for bringing this sensitive topic up for discussion! Several years ago, I nearly quit on my church. I was tired of it, and felt at times that I was getting nothing out of it. Looking back, I think this was a result of entertaining the idea that my church was spiritually dead. But God has taken me on a journey and my opinion on this topic is a reflection of that journey. I agree that there is a deep longing for authenticity, relevance, logical explanations, and a clear sense of direction from many of our Anabaptist people who are around 35 and under. I am one of them. These longings can cause a rift between the younger and the older (leadership often included) in the church. The younger perceive the older to be spiritually dead, become frustrated, and even leave for something more spiritually alive. Here is the problem I see with leaving a church because it is spiritually dead. If a person has a passion for the Lord and high ideals for the church, for them to leave is depriving that church of the vision that God has given them for their church. How is the church to become more spiritual if those who are more spiritual become frustrated and leave? It is easy to love people who think just like you, but that kind of love doesn’t reveal Christ to the world. Anybody can run!!! It takes guts to stay and be willing to commit your entire life to fulfilling the vision that God has given you for your church!! Don’t lose your passion! Don’t give up on your ideals! Keep living radically! Pray for revival! We need men and women with vision and passion who are willing to fight for their churches! Having said all that, if you must leave your church because it is spiritually dead, I will still respect you, but consider the possibility that you may not have been spiritually resilient enough to stay. By the way, my church still isn’t perfect, but I don’t care- I’ve decided to love her anyway.

    • Dean Martin

      Amen…I agree, we can help build the church where we find ourselves as long as it’s not detrimental to us and our families.

    • Darren, thanks for sharing. I think you bring up some valuable truths. Can we be a catalyst for change and influence out church toward the vision God has given us for His bride?

      One question I would have for you– is there importance to whether or not the local church you’re a part of is a place that cultivates spiritual growth?

  • M

    Also think about how modern transportation has changed the church. What if you had to walk or maybe had a horse? How would that affect the church? I think it would affect it in a positive way. I believe in the early church, people went to the local church and the decision was based on geography. Again the modern setup has the tendency to have as the basis (becomes the foundation) of unity, agreement in doctrine on details, things below Christ, who He is and what He has done.

  • J

    I’m “officially” part of a conservative-Menno church, though now living at a great geographical distance from most of that congregation. When I moved, several years ago, it was with the blessing of that church, and I was told by the leaders I’d be missed–and I believe it.

    The strange thing is, I knew in my late teens that I wouldn’t be Mennonite in the future. And I think that’s come true, though in a different way than I’d anticipated–and one that still leaves me with the Mennonite “brand”. The thing is, on my way out of the church I’d grown up in, and after talking to some of the leaders about why I planned to leave, I got diverted. I got caught by the vision of following God as a call to bless and build up others. I didn’t actually know to what church context I’d be moving, and didn’t want to “jump” too hastily–and came to realize that, despite a structure I saw as both theologically wrong and personally painful, if I was following Christ, my obligation was to challenge, confront, and nurture others in my present context toward Christ-following, even if that was an interim context. I had nothing to lose–I’d already internally rejected Mennodom as authoritative–so I was free to contribute, and to try to challenge/build up as seemed right.

    I ended up staying, engaging, and gaining substantial voice as “loyal opposition”. I’ve tried to act in love and to respect others, while also trying to challenge norms and worldviews, and to avoid portraying myself as compliant with/endorsing a Mennodom framework. In the process, I’ve gained appreciation for elements of the Anabaptist ethos, although if anything I’ve become even less inclined toward accommodation with many of its current manifestations.

    I’m now many hours away from day-to-day engagement with my “home church”, but it is still my “home church”. How I and the group will continue to evolve, and whether our paths will continue to go together, I don’t know–but even if they do, I’m fairly sure I won’t regret the years I’ve invested there.

    Conclusions? I don’t know–I doubt that any perfect answer to your questions exists. Sometimes, you should go; sometimes, you should stay. I’m including below some random factors I’ve thought about along the way. If they seem to take things in many different directions, I think that simply reflects reality–or at least the reality of my thoughtscape. What you see below is in first-draft state, but since even that took several hours to produce, I don’t have time right now for further refinement.

    * We’re called to build others up–to nurture and challenge. This is true in orientation toward people outside the church, and even more so toward people inside the church. We probably have more obligation to confront problems inside the church than outside it.
    * An individual congregation or denomination is a part of the catholic Church. In many “day-to-day” respects, a local congregation is a valid proxy for the Church. However, any group smaller than the Church is, in actuality, not the entirety of the Church. Attempts to “divide Christ” must be vigorously challenged.
    * Diversity among individuals in emphasis and practice is Biblical–witness Rom14, “gifts lists”, body metaphors, etc. I think this value holds true at the level of sub-groups of the Church as well–as do admonitions against the eye rejecting the hand as part of the body. I think there’s at least theoretical room for denomination–even if in practice we usually end up in the first part of 1Cor. But “recognizing the body” is critical.
    * Every Christian group is flawed, many quite deeply–witness the issues Paul addresses in his letters to various Christian groups, still recognizing them as members of the family with him. Flaws, even deep ones, do not always require leaving a group–but they do require dissociation from the problem and efforts to correct. Witness Paul’s harsh rebuke of Peter for his accommodation with the promoters of Judeo-centric Christianity.
    * We’re responsible to not injure others’ faith by our actions. We’re responsible to respect and love others, and to build them up. We are not necessarily responsible to comply with others’ expectations of how we should live. (See Rom14, Acts 15.)
    * Being fellow members of the Church means a lot. It does not necessarily, in itself, mean that two people, or a person and a group, are obligated to work closely together. When my wife and I disagree, we do need to figure out something that works well for both of us. When a Pentecostal friend and I disagree about the Spirit’s “usual” mode of working, we (probably) aren’t obligated to come to a consensus, and to use that as the baseline for shared ministry. We probably have a lot to learn from each other, but we each have the obligation to follow what God’s calling us to do. In most cases, we do not have the obligation to “convert” each other to the *right* perspective on the Holy Spirit, and to walk in lockstep along the same path. Again, see Paul’s words about hands, feet, and eyes.
    * When a “hand” finds himself in a convention of “eyes”, he might be called to give insight and to challenge assumptions of the “eyes”. Or, he might set off a hand-eye conflict, keeping himself from “doing” as well as he could and the eyes from “seeing” as well as they might. In the former case, he should plunge in. In the latter, he should probably leave. One needs God’s wisdom to tell the difference.
    * Even if one’s called to “push” a group, being the odd one out can be deeply wearying. While I’d encourage almost anyone to embrace the “loyal opposition” path if it seems that’s their call, I’d also be very slow to criticize someone for not doing so–either not taking the challenge in the first place, or retreating in order to survive.
    * Integrity’s a big deal, though it’s also complicated. There are aspects of “my” part of the church that I can’t philosophically/theologically endorse (including the philosophy of the list of practical “standards”), and thus I can’t claim practical compliance either. I try to represent myself truly without burning bridges unnecessarily–as you can imagine, I’m not sure I always get this right. Ironically, I’ve ended up with a practice very close to “the standards”, largely from bases other than the standards, and somewhat from reference to them as a useful guideline for avoiding “burning bridges unnecessarily”.
    * Whether living in a Menno community or far outside one, I think some are called to “tough it out” more than others, and given the grace to handle it. And I think the call may vary, at different points in life.
    * As I look at my young children, I think as well of the “where will your children end up?” question. However, it’s a very different question for me than for many who ask it. I’ve grown through my engagement in the Mennonite church, I’m grateful for it, and I’ve taken ownership of a lot of “Anabaptism”–and yet, I still find that a brief conversation on “Mennonite issues” can easily re-activate some pretty deep pain, and conservative Mennodom collectively stands for some things I see as counter to the Kingdom. In some way, even as I’ve come to see myself as an outsider, Anabaptists have become “my people”, and I’ve emerged strengthened by the struggle. But I’m far from sure that it’s responsible fatherhood or responsible Kingdom participation to toss my children into that world and hope not only that they survive it, but that they and the Kingdom benefit through that choice vs. the alternatives.

    • M

      Very good word! Thanks for sharing and well written! God bless!

    • J, thanks so much for sharing this–even if it took hours. 🙂 I really appreciate hearing this much of your story!

  • M

    Many good thoughts and questions shared here! I care deeply about this subject.
    Although a slightly different vein I think this is relative to this subject/discussion.
    Number of denominations. Although different sources quote different numbers (20k to 40+k), let’s just say there are thousands world wide. Why is this? Was this really God’s intention when the Bible says talks so much about unity and being one? I have thought and wondered and prayed about this for a long time (year or 2). I could be way off but here’s what I’ve come to believe… Without intending to or without realizing it theology, doctrines, standards have become the foundation of the all these churches unity! Idolatry. What if all churches truly had Jesus Christ and the cross as the foundation of unity? I think it would eliminate many things. Would church be messy? Absolutely. There would less of looking down the road and finding one that agrees with me.
    I think doctrine is important but I believe it has risen to the level of Idolatry in many churches. Paul says in James, paraphrasing, “you may have correct doctrine, (insert anything you can think of) you’ve got in all down pat, after all your a anabaptist or Mennonite! But! If you don’t control your tongue with your wife, children, neighbors, coworkers, neighbors, brothers in the church all that doctrine is worthless! And even more! If real love is not flowing out of your life in action to anyone that you have the power or opportunity to help then what good is making sure you have all the correct doctrines in your church! Paul says it WORTHLESS!
    Don’t get me wrong doctrine is important but where we spend all our time and focus should be flip flopped. If we had rules maybe we should drop all our normal rules and have rules and discipline pertaining to the tongue, our relationships, and loving our neighbor.
    What a powerful testimony and force the church would be to the world if it would walk as one.

  • N Yoder

    My husband and I were sitting here discussing these exact questions.. And we see this blog and weep!! I have never heard someone speak – out loud to others- ( and it be safe) the exact questions that are resounding in our hearts!! It wasn’t til we cut off any denomination from our experience w God that we finally found that God is enough!!! The Holy spirit is so much greater than any piece of paper ever was/ is ( standards) . The Bible became alive , active and operating in our lives.. Heb.4:12 ( Greek word for “quick”)
    Things like listening to Holy spirit, being obedient no matter how out of the box it feels like, being willing to get our hands “soiled” w ppl.s pasts ( walking thru tough things w them), seeing others thru eyes of grace.. Potential sheep ,a pastor once put it, being willing to give up our reputation for Him, ( so much easier said than done!!)
    Are some of our hearts desires …
    Thank you again for this article!

  • Thank you all for your thoughts and sharing in the discussion. Let’s keep talking. I do plan to follow up next week with a post sharing more in-depth personally as well as giving insight other men who have been involved in pastoring and leadership have given me.

  • A blossom

    I’ve known the cleansing tears of realizing I was wrong. God loves me! People care! But reading this post is like watching breakers crash on the rocks below, and hoping I’ve climbed far enough to be safe.
    Through [part of] the Mennonite church I’ve tasted rejection. Division. Confusion. Questioned the existence of God; learned to mistrust Mennonites–and especially pastors; settled in my heart that God exists (but He is distant and beats me down every time I try to get up and reach out, because He laughs at my suffering) . . .
    Through [another part of] the Mennonite church I’ve known the joy of finding a safe place to plug into a local church body. Of feeling I belong. I’ve felt the old ways of looking at church life rising up at some small trigger, and fought to stay when the Enemy was whispering to give it up. Dear friends have nurtured me. Pastors have cared, and been humble. Vulnerable. Available. Consistent. Through their love, I’ve learned to trust my heavenly Father more deeply. To know Him as Shepherd. Protector. So merciful, He will stop at nothing until He has my heart and I can hold still and receive His love.
    I’ve started trusting Mennonites, and even pastors again. But in the past couple months I’ve felt the tug as He calls me back to live and “church” in my home community. Calls me to face the past I thought I left. To face it “smelly breath to smelly breath”–and overcome. Calls me to surrender all my “righteously indignant” excuses for giving up before I ever try, all my fears for the future, all the lies I connected to this place. It’s been hard, and I’m glad I serve the same God in this paragraph as I did in the last one!
    I think there’s a time to stay and a time to leave. Because we are working with real people, real stories, and real situations (thus variables ad infinitum), there is a great need to pray, asking God to direct my steps. Asking Him to search my heart and show me why I am really wanting to leave–or stay. Asking Him to show me how to stay or leave.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. I think many of us identify with it.

  • s.

    goodness. this touches a nerve…things I have been wrestling with. I am part of that “restless generation”. I am tired of rules and guidelines and all this emphasis on looking right instead of being right! I know rules are needed sometimes but why are we so hard on each other?! Why all this fighting about stuff?! Why is it ok to be gluttons (we are good cooks,you know 🙂 but not to wear (insert any church standard)?! We will excommunicate rebellious teens but who is pursuing them and trying to figure out the root cause of the rebellion?! And on and on…I question how many people sitting in our conservative churches are truly saved!? I am 31 and for the last 15 years, I have been saving myself. Just now,only this year, have I come to the end of myself and I finally realized that I was dead. I was not filled with the Spirit and allowing His Life to change my heart, I was forcing the change and it was only on the outward. And all this time I was a part of the church and they never knew! No one cared to question me,to ask me hard questions about my life, to make sure I was growing and thriving. It was all about looking right and I was dying! This has discouraged me. I want to be with people who really care,who look past my physical and see my spiritual! Leaders who aren’t so quick to put God and Godly living in a box of standards. My husband is unsaved,he had a bad experience with the church, and out of all of my church family only 2 men try to reach out to him. So what now? I don’t like what I see when people do leave. Their children just seem to abandon it all. I know it’s a scare tactic but it seems to be true. I don’t want that for my children. I appreciate many things about my anabaptist faith and heritage but I also long for realness,for my children to not grow up with the “I’m right,they’re all wrong” mentality.

    • You touch on something that I think is so crucial: we don’t pursue each other in church. We assume everyone is doing fine and walking with God, and we don’t actually care for each other. Why do you think that is?

      Also, by way of encouragement, I don’t think I would have the walk with God I do if my parents had not left a church system that was not healthy for spiritual life.

  • Dean Martin

    The Bible warns about saying that I am a follower of this person or that person. Church membership is completely voluntary. The Bible indicates that being part of a church fellowship is beneficial and highly recommended for the Christian. No one is an island to themselves. We are known that we are Christians by how well we get along with our fellowman. 🙂 Called unconditional love and forgiveness. I find nowhere in the Bible where we are required to be a member of a local church in order to be saved or qualify for Heaven, let alone be a part of a specific denomination. There is no such thing as a perfect church. There is no such thing as a perfect husband or a perfect wife. However I have found a wife that is perfect for me and I believe that we can and should find a church that is “perfect” for us and our families. Raising teenagers is harder than ever in these times of cell phones, automobiles, social media etc. We are all in this together. I believe God places people in our lives to strengthen us as Christians …..resistance builds strength. I have had dreams of finding (or starting ) the “perfect church” It simply does not exist on this sin cursed earth. There are churches that are better than others. Many folks simply want to be more liberal and are looking for an excuse to leave their church. Many folks will find they take their problems with them. If a person has a submission problem, it will surface no matter what church they are a part of. Many conservative Anabaptist churches (especially the more conservative ones) will try to tell their members that that it is wrong or sinful to leave their “first” church. This is simply not scriptural, and is mostly used a as moat to keep other members from leaving. They compare it to divorcing your spouse….the local church is not what we are pledging to in baptismal vows, but to be a life long disciple of Christ. Ironically enough in my observation the more conservative churches that make this a huge issue …..often don’t have the proper relationship with laity and leadership. I personally believe the husband wife scenario is the best for describing the relationship between laity and leadership. It’s not a democracy….it’s a brotherhood. The leadership role is more of responsibility than authority. The authority they do have is to pass directly on the commands of the Bible and see that they are carried out and that the church is sin free. Most church splits I have known about or been a part of have not been over doctrinal issues but rather personality conflict. What a sad commentary on the people who are to be known by how they get along with others….sorry for the long rambly post. For the record I have been a member of 5 different churches (various reasons including location)-God bless.

    • Dean, thanks for commenting. I agree, most conflicts and splits aren’t really about doctrinal issues but relationship breakdowns. Do you mind elaborating a bit on why the husband/wife relationship is the best to describe laity and leadership? Just before you had spoke negatively of comparing leaving your church to divorcing your wife. How’s it different? I’d enjoy hearing more of your thoughts behind that.

      • Dean Martin

        Husband and wife is relationship is TEAMWORK. It’s not a democracy or any time you had a difference of opinion you would have one vote for and one against. But any wise husband will consult his wife. Just like the wife is to respect her husband, the laity is to respect the church leadership. But just like a husband is commanded to love his wife, the leadership should love the laity and when possible work with them as a team. Bringing others on board gives them a stake in the “deal” and makes them feel important plus the Bible says in the multitude of counselors there is safety. Those who are in the ministry tend to get tunnel vision over time and input from the brotherhood helps balance that out , in my opinion, plus the laity often don’t know what discussion goes on behind the scenes when the ministry make decisions.. I have known of cases where the entire ministry team made a poor judgment call that lacked integrity and when it was over all but hi- fived themselves that they were unified and loyal to each other. I realize there are some things that are best resolved behind the scenes, but where possible I believe it’s best to include the laity as much as possible. Many churches that I have observed that have the attitude that leaving a church is like divorcing your wife, will also have the attitude to the laity of it’s my way or the highway and tend to relate to the laity like parent/child relationship rather than husband/wife relationship level. The more conservative the church is, the lower the child age level the leadership relates to the laity. Hope this makes sense. I have know cases where leadership was reluctant to admit when they made a mistake as they somehow felt that in some way lessoned their authority. But we all know, at least I assume we do, that when a dad makes a mistake in the home, it actually strengthens relationships and adds respect if he can admit it , own up to it and then move on. None of us are above making mistakes from time to time. Perhaps I should be more blunt and say none of us are above sinning from time to time. I know of situations where church leaders all but complain out loud how much work they have to do, but would never think of delegating it out to the laity to help share the load. It’s hard on any man to have “power”. We need to be careful that we don’t think of church leaders as a position but as a serving ministry …which means helping others….not lording over them. I know of one bishop who actually said, if you don’t like the way I am handling this, you can go to another church….a husband would never say that to his wife. I l know of cases where the ministry name call those who disagree with them …such as rebels, driftwood, deadwood etc. Each person is a soul that Christ died for. What happened to the Shepherd mentality that will leave the 99 sheep and go for the one “rebel” sheep? We’re all in this together. I just think there is to much of an “us vs. them” mentality in the leadership and in the laity. The importance of good open respectful communication in ALL of our relationships cannot be overstated. God Bless. I also think that we have to consider our children….what is the best, safest environment to raise a family in? What is the best environment to find life companions for our children in? In many if not most cases it’s an Anabaptist setting. One thing that particularly bothers me is the shrinking size of the womens head covering to where in some cases none of the top of the head is actually covered by the wimpy little cloth attached to the back of the head. That plus the other Ordinances that are dropped, such as the holy kiss. Not to mention keeping the Lord’s day holy buy doing as little business as possible on Sunday…I digress…sorry.

      • W

        I totally “get” what Dean Martin is saying. We are currently on a ministry team. My husband and I believe church leadership should follow the husband/wife relationship model he describes. Our co-leaders believe it should be the parent-child relationship model he describes. The difference in how these two mentalities play out is HUGE.
        When we repeatedly appealed to our pastors to take their long-simmering interpersonal conflict to the congregation, they refused. One of the several reasons they gave is that parents do not talk to their children about their problems, nor expect their children to solve them.
        Guess what. Just as we predicted, the conflict eventually erupted with violence. One pastor left the church completely, another one resigned but attends sporadically, and the third stayed but without the trust and support of the traumatized congregation. I should mention that all this happened in one weekend.
        As one person observed in the aftermath, “If your parents are getting a divorce, you will certainly find out and be deeply affected by it.”
        We are left in shambles, trust broken on every side, and asking very hard questions about our own future.

    • Lois Myer

      I really appreciate the truth that was shared here. Any more discussion on how we can learn from the past & catch personality conflicts quickly so they don’t progress to the point of division? I agree that it is sad.The last thing I want is for the next generation to become disillusioned & walk away because church doesn’t work.There are things I value highly that I don’t want my children to walk away from because they are searching for more & we haven’t given them that.

  • I have left a church and came back, even though I doubt anyone in my congregation caught on. Why? Because I didn’t really leave a “church,” I left The Church, and I came back when I made my life right with God. I think that far too often we put far too much weight in leaving a “church.” The Bible says that there is only one church. In Ephesians 4:5 Paul talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” If you look at the church of Acts and the churches that Paul wrote to, you see different congregations only because of location. Paul spoke of us all being in a part of the same church in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13. “Each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” What if we truly lived out this idea of all being baptized into one body? What if we saw that we only truly leave a church when we choose not to follow Christ and choose to not be a part of His Bride? What if we developed our congregations into a group of believers who love God and love each other, despite our differences? What if when we saw a brother or sister doing something we saw as unbiblical, we would challenge them on it using God’s word in love? What if we would remodel our church standards into God’s standards? Should we really be preaching things that aren’t stated in the Bible? Would we feel the need to leave a church less if we stopped looking at our style of dress as the thing that unifies us? Could we all live in unity even if we realized that our convictions aren’t all the same? Personally, I feel like if we did this, it would cause us to truly look at what the Bible says, and follow that, rather than to simply all follow a set ofchurch rules that we don’t fully believe? Could we grow in unity by encouraging each other, and talking with each other to help develop convictions? What if we were committed to a congregation not because we feel that we should stick it out, but because we realized that there was nowhere else to turn? There is only one Church, the bride of Christ. To leave it is to leave God. What if we lived this all out? Would we see miracles? Would we see utter chaos? Would our churches fall apart? I don’t know the answers, and I would love to hear all your opinions.

    • Some good questions, Matt. I think many people struggle with that. . . How do you handle when two people see “God’s standards” slightly different. That’s often what the issues are in church struggles. Few churches are super heretical. . . people just see things differently. Then what do you do?

  • arm5

    Thank you for sharing. I’m so tired of the social club atmosphere at my church to the point that I dread going. If your are not involved in a ministry they really don’t have much to do with you. I thought that would change once our new pastor came aboard but really hasn’t changed.

  • Seven years ago, as an enthusiastic 20 year old, I became a founding member of an independent conservative Anabaptist church plant. Who we were as a church, and what we hoped to become, was all important to me. I gave it everything I had.
    On the surface, we were a jubilant and grace filled church. And these attributes attracted people from all around. But those that came to us soon discovered that underneath the shiny surface was a deeply rooted ambition. We were determined to be important to, and used by God. If ever their needs interfered with our goals, they were pressured to immediately “rise to a higher standard”.
    In our haste to be everything we could be for God, we drove away most of the people that we had tried to help. This has led me to much soul searching. And I finally came to a conclusion. I left.
    My hope in going outside the camp alone, is that God will show me what it means to simply, humbly follow Jesus. I know I need the body of Christ. But first, I need my feet to be firmly planted on the cornerstone so I can rightly be part of the glorious building that is the church.

    have come to the painful realization that we have been so consumed with our own ambitions and ideas of what we wanted

    • Thanks for sharing this, Landon. I think what you shared is often the case. In our efforts to create something life-giving, grace-filled and loving there is an underlying agenda that detracts from actually helping people. You’re right that we need to be firmly planted on the cornerstone. We also need to be broken people if we’re going to be truly usable for God’s glory.

  • Asher,
    I have been thinking a lot lately about the role fear plays in conservative church issue’s. The trump card that inevitably gets played in the leave not leave discussion or when the traditional view is questioned is “Where will your children end up?”. This plays on a very deep God given desire to protect our families and is generally very effective at getting people to follow the established method. The problem I have with this type of argument is it is very human, and any culture or religion can use this argument effectively.

    What if the trump card we would play was “What do the scriptures say?” and then act accordingly, as best we now how.

    I would love to hear a discussion on the role fear plays in our lives. Fear is after all a God given emotion, but the fearful are listed as those who will not be ultimately victorious.

    • Yes, I have heard that argument as well. And it is precisely that question that lead my Dad to leave twice. I look back now and am certain if he were still in the system we as a family started in, I might look more traditionally Mennonite, but I would not have the relationship and commitment to Christ that I do now. Actually, to be honest, the way my personality is I would have probably gotten quite frustrated and thrown everything out.

      My Dad saw getting as the best protection for his family and while I know he would do some thing differently, he does not regret it and I as a son am so grateful for it.

      I don’t think the question should only be “where will your children end up?” Rather, that question ought to come in the context of “what did Jesus do? What does the Scripture say?”

  • D

    This discussion brings up a lot of thoughts. We as anabaptists have not done well at articulating the “Good News” that characterized Jesus message. Too often our ”gospel” as defined by our local congregations has consisted of little more than propagating a unique cultural bubble that is mostly irrelevant to the society around us. I don’t see this in Jesus interaction with people. Often our definitions further distort the picture. What we call “church” is more accurately a local congregation. Hopefully the local congregation contains the church, but not all in the local congregation (even members) are part of the Church. By calling our local congregations the “Church”, we develop a posture of arrogance that supposes superiority to other groups and denominations. Our identity becomes our distinct set of superior rules rather than our relationship with our risen Lord and the fellowship we experience in our celebration of that fact with other believers. We even go so far as to allow or disallow communion on the basis of extrabiblical rules we have manufactured. There is a legitimate, biblical basis for local congregations. Each congregation needs its leadership structure and organizational plan, its programs and schedules, and rules of order, every organization needs such order and structure to survive. But I see these structures as facilitators of the Church, the true Bride of Jesus Christ, and not visa versa. How is it that a “church” can be independant?!! A congregation can be independent but not a church!! The pattern in scripture in describing the church at a specific location is to say “the church at Antioch, The church at Thiatira, etc. The Church is bigger than any local congregation. To make it as small as a local congregation is to divorce it from the Bride of Christ which makes it no “church” at all but merely an independent social program of dubious merit. Why is it that most of our church planting efforts consist of importing people from similar cultural bubbles to meet in a new location and starting another cultural bubble. While our intent is to interact with the community, What typically you have left after 20 years, is those who have been imported from other anabaptist congregation. And our group is admired as hardworking, conscientious, simple, frugal people with that quaint net on their heads, but irrelevant to me or my culture. Do we really glory in the Good news and is the Gospel really good news to me and do the people around me see That there is a God in heaven! Am I a Lot or an Abraham!

    • Wow, D, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Some good things to think through. So how do we go about changing this? Does it mean leaving our churches? How do we make sure what we’d start after leaving doesn’t end up the same way? Can we change it without leaving our churches? What are we missing?

      • J

        Regarding “how we go about changing this” and “how we make sure what we’d start after leaving doesn’t end up the same way”: my first thought is that whatever we’d start probably *will* end up developing problems in one way or another–that’s what institutions do.

        Someone wiser than I once said that “the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked through all the dough”. I’ve never been able to pick out the grains of yeast from a loaf of bread–but I can generally tell whether a bread is a “yeast” bread or not.

        To function, a packet of yeast vanishes into the dough, and quietly multiplies there. To reproduce, a grain of wheat gets buried, loses its identity, turning into a green shoot…then, eventually, a head of grain appears.

        Richard Dawkins (yeah, that guy) actually had a helpful insight–he talks about “memes”, units of thought that, like genes, compete to spread throughout a population. I don’t see the replication or survival of the Mennonite “package of memes” as particularly important to the Kingdom in itself, as a package. However, I do think it’s important that those of us with roots in that “package” try to figure out what relatively rare (and good) things we have to offer the wider Church and the world, and to do our best to help those memes’ (ideas’) dispersal broadly throughout the population.

        One interesting consequence of the biological metaphor: having a segment of the population that’s a reservoir for certain genes (ideas) might, even if it’s not that helpful for that specific population segment, help to ensure the survival of its unique genetic material.

        In short–the goal should not be survival of Mennodom or creation of distinctly “better” institutions, but to spread as widely as possible whatever good ideas Anabaptism has to offer. A carved-out Mennonite population may aid that goal, but I’m far from certain that that has to be part of the package.

      • D

        I think to unload the responsibility of the local congregation from being the “church”, to being a facilitator of the assembly of the Bride of Christ changes the nature of the questions that we grapple with. The leadership no longer is saddled with the awesome and impossible responsibility of leading the church to merely administrating and organizing a meeting place for the church. I am not at all diminishing the biblical mandate for local congregations. Titus’ role at Crete was to set in order the things that are wanting and ordain leadership for the local congregations. Is it biblical to be a part of a local congregation? Yes! We need fellowship, ministry opportunities, the balancing of gifts etc as provided by a local congregation. I highly value and cherish the legacy of our persecute Anabaptist heritage. I am concerned however that over the years our appreciation and understanding of the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed has been eroded by the infiltration of our current Western culture. The “gospel” as defined by our hearts has become a dogma rather than LIFE for a doomed soul. Is the answer to leave my current local congregation? No, instead we need to get back to the gospel being our “first love”. If the Gospel is really “good news” to me my relationship with the CHURCH will be full and fulfilling and it will reflect itself in my redemptive interaction with my local congregation, my job, my wife, my children etc. It is far easier to criticize a culture as being legalistic but much harder to see whether my practical definition of the gospel is that of really GOOD news!

  • Lois Myer

    I am thankful to see this post & have a great interest in following it. I believe it is a very relevant discussion .As a parent I am saddened that we have failed to live church in a way that draws our youth instead of leaving them grappling with questions,authenticity & direction.The cry of my heart is that in spite of our failures,they would find their answers in Christ & go on to live for Him with all their hearts,not give up on church & true godly living.I believe the answer is in getting on our faces before God,seeking His heart & acknowledging where we have been wrong.If they can see us leading by example & being completely honest & real,hopefully they will be drawn to the life of Christ in us & believe that church can work in a beautiful way.

    • I think that honesty and humility are huge in influencing young people, even when we’re all imperfect. Young people aren’t wanting perfect parents or leaders. At least not necessarily. They just want to see them be honest and broken like they’re supposed to be.

      Bless you in that and thanks for sharing, Lois!

  • I am young, and I have seen or experienced few church problems. However, I think our focus needs to be more on what we can put into a church. I have seen people come to a church who do need to be fed. But as they grow spiritually, they continue to feed off the church. They contribute nothing to it, and they drain the life out of the other members. There’s a fine line between giving and taking, and I’m not sure if I know where it is.
    I do believe there is a time to leave. Obviously, no church is perfect. But before you leave, I would like to see you pour all your energy into the church. Participate wholeheartedly. Support the standards, even if you don’t agree with them.
    As I said, I don’t know much about church problems. But I do know each church, each person, each problem is unique. We can’t hand out pat answers and expect them to take care of everything.

    • Thanks for your comment, Karla. You are right: it seems best to really pour into the church first before we make drastic changes. Like my Dad told me once, those who exhibit true commitment to their church are best fit to speak into it. If there’s no commitment from the get-go, people probably won’t care much about what they have to say.

  • G

    Wow your questions really stir up a lot of thoughts. We are conservative anabaptists. We were in a church where we felt like the focus was more on “getting it right forGod” and more about “looking conservative enough” than on the gospel. We wanted our kids to hear about Jesus & who he was/is. We wanted our kids to hear about how we mess up every day & that is why we need Jesus. We wanted authenticity, not church politics. We wanted our kids to see real people being honest about their struggles & then willing to let us see the struggle & the power of the Holy Spirit at work in overcoming. We wanted that kind of church for us too. We tried to stick it out. We stayed for 7 years. Then we left. I can not begin to tell you how wonderful it is to be a part of a church of real broken people!!! I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to go to a church where we accept each other even tho we don’t all dress like carbon copies. There is an understanding that we are all trying our best to love for Jesus. The critical eye is so crippling to spiritual openness (or should I say mouth instead of eye). At our church it’s so obvious that our ministry is authentic and then are familiar with pain and they radiate Jesus love & compassion. Now lest I make our church sound perfect…. We do have some strange quirks & we do have things we disagree on but we value brotherhood & unity more than being right.
    I hate to see people sticking it out & dying spiritually because they think they can’t leave their church. If it’s not the right fit & you don’t share the same vision PLEASE leave!

    • Thanks for sharing, G. I’m curious if this move meant leaving conservative Anabaptist denomination or just a different type of church? How do you know when spiritual deadness is because of the church and when it’s because of us, personally?

      What you shared is so much of what I believe many of us struggle with.

      • G

        This movement was still within the conservative anabaptists church. We don’t dress any differently than we did before.

        We wrestled all those 7 yrs with wether or not it was us just being dead, too picky, too critical or what because they are nice & good people there. All that while we poured ourselves into every church function. We taught SS & led songs & helped with VBS etc. But as we lived & taught it became evident that people were not ok with our vulnerability in our teaching & that we didn’t share the same vision for church life. We wanted to think about & teach why we do what we do – they did not. We wanted to live open, authentic lives – they were not comfortable with that kind of honesty. When you get to a point where you feel you don’t have a voice & you are just supposed to sit & warm the bench until you fit their mold then my husband felt it was time to leave. Now that we are at a church where we share the same vision it’s so life giving to pour ourselves back into church life again!!!!

    • JW

      I am commenting on a rather old post I know… I appreciate your zeal and all that has been said. Just a few questions? It seems this is quite common in new churches, but will it last? How long has this church been going? Now you have compassion for the lost, but has it come with comprise? Now we have a kid’s club, but are we raising goats or sheep?

  • I think many of us who are approaching our mid-30’s feel a sense of urgency, because we realize that the days of our youth are ticking away. Many of us have put everything we have into the church for 15 years or more, and it still doesn’t feel authentic to us. We long to be part of something authentic while we are still young and full of energy. At the same time, we truly desire to honor our leaders and don’t wish to hurt them in any way. It’s a hard place to be. I don’t have answers…I will be all ears to the discussion! Thanks so much, Asher, for addressing this difficult subject.

    • Kyle

      Thank you also Asher for your post, and Rosina for your comment. I agree with everything you said, Rosina – the tension between respecting leadership or living out one’s own convictions when the two are divergent (and seemingly mutually exclusive) is a particular quandary. God help us walk with wisdom.

      Asher, I do hope you will share some more of your own thoughts at some point. 🙂

      • Kyle thanks for commenting. . . I do plan to write a follow-up post next week. . . but first I wanted to hear some discussion on it. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing, Rosina. I think that sense of urgency is felt by many.