Why do people walk away from church, or the Christian faith, or from belief in God more generally? I believe the answers to that question are as varied as the people who could give them. Sometimes there is abuse perpetrated by someone who is supposed to represent the church. Sometimes a person goes through painful life events that push them to ask “why?” Sometimes a person gets disillusioned by witnessing hypocrisy among people in the church, or overwhelmed by the multitude of conflicting doctrines and must ask, as a friend once did me, ‘how am I supposed to know who is right?’ Sometimes life outside the church seems to hold more possibilities than life inside the church. The list of reasons could go on.
There are times when I get discouraged, and think about what walking away would look like for me. I have not been inclined to doubt whether God is real, or that He exists. Instead, I think my ‘walking away’ would be one of overwhelm and frustration, like, “Hey, I’m glad this is working for other people, but I can’t make it work for me. I guess I will just go on with a simple life working, trying to live my own life to the best of my ability and to be good to people.”
In processing all these thoughts, one key consideration is this: I can’t deny the positive changes that have occurred since I started to really owning my walk with God back in about 2004. Peter’s reply to Jesus resonates with me, when Jesus asked the Twelve “You don’t want to go away, too, do you?” Peter answered, “Lord who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the holy one of God!” (John 6:67-69) I genuinely feel that sentiment: where else would I go?
What is the overwhelm or frustration? The first thing I can think of is that maybe when I compare myself to other people, I don’t see myself functioning the way they do, I don’t feel like I fit. At this point, I think of Paul’s comments about the church as a body;
“If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this, it still belongs to the body.” (1 Cor 12:15)
Notice that, to begin with, my focus was wrong: comparing myself with others. I think this frustration can also arise when there is not sufficient recognition that what happens on Sunday morning is not everything that the body is, does, or can be. Therefore, if your gifts are optimized for something outside of that scene, you are not a lesser believer. Indeed, ‘Where do I fit?’ and ‘How do I function?’ are definitely the pressing questions for me in the context of the church right now.
I think another frustration point for me is feeling like I can never be good enough. Which, there is a truth that I am not, nor can I be, good enough. But given what Jesus has already accomplished for me, it seems profane and unprofitable to emphasis my unworthiness.
I have a fear of becoming too sectarian, or denominational, or just too assimilated into the culture of my local body: not only is this my church, but this church is my Jesus. I really feel like a local church culture can become insular to the point of feeling suffocating. To be fair, the same can be said about a family’s culture as well. I’m not sure what more to say or do about that, it’s just an observation.
It seems to me that every potential frustration I could have, related to my faith, is just an extension of some chronic, long-term personal struggle. Perhaps that is worth considering: maybe if the church body were functioning in a way to more precisely and comprehensively ministered healing to those struggles, maybe fewer people would be pressed to walk away. That’s just one of many potential issues, though. It seems I have tried to bite off more than I can chew in one post by asking this question.
Pilgrimage and Horizons of Self