Earlier today, Rachel Held posted 15 Reasons Why I left the Church. She got me to thinking about this, and why it is important for us to listen to people who leave the Church. But it is also important for us to understand why some come back to the Church. I serve as a pastor of a Lutheran congregation and president of a Lutheran Seminary. As I reflected on her post, I realized some similarities, despite the fact that I am a generation older than her (I have grandkids closer to her age than I am to her age). Please note: this is not an attack against Rachel, rather these are my own reflections on the same issues she raises, because they are important.
I came back to the Church when I was 27. I am nearly 63 years of age and have lived in many places (28 moves in 41 years of marriage). I have served as a lay leader, then as pastor of several congregations, and as mentor for other pastors in the past 20 years. Each time I have moved into a new congregation, the challenges, while specific to a context, share many of the same issues. The people are broken sinners, just like I am. They need hope, help, and encouragement of the Gospel like I do.
Let’s begin with fifteen reasons why I came back (parallel to Rachel’s):
- I came back to the church because Bible study and worship were both important.
- I came back to the church because we talked about sin, without pointing a finger at someone else, because this was about my sin.
- I came back to the church because my questions were seen as encouraging others to ask.
- I came back to the church because it finally didn’t feel like a cult or a country club.
- I came back to the church because I believe the earth is young. I was not told that I was stupid for accepting that view.
- I came back to the church because sometimes I doubt, and some in the Church allowed me to doubt, knowing that they had been there, too.
- I came back to the church because I couldn’t be someone’s “project.” I am the focus of God’s heart and desire, not someone’s notch on the spiritual belt.
- I came back to the Church because it didn’t matter whether one was Democrat, Republican, Independent. And I didn’t need to feel guilty about helping the poor even if I wasn’t Democrat.
- I came back to the church because I was troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and no one told me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
- I came back to the church because I discovered something better than pat answers.
- I came back to the church because I knew I would not see a woman behind the pulpit; but I also saw that God equipped men and women for service in God’s kingdom, which is most important.
- I came back to the church because I wanted to help people in my community because I was Christian.
- I came back to the church because I had learned what the Bible offered is true compassion for the hurting, for injustice, etc. And I learned that those in the limelight (regardless of background) often don’t know poverty and injustice except by a one week journey in some videoed publicity tour. I learned from those who lived in the trenches of poverty and injustice and who brought more than temporary help. The Church I work with wants to end abuse of all forms, not just the current fad abuse.
- I came back to the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and someone told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience.
- I came back to the church because the church doesn’t put signs out in the church lawn and never demanded a vote in either direction.
Rachel, while we may disagree on many of these points, I appreciate your openness in sharing where you are. I hope that you can understand where I am coming from. My passion comes from Paul’s letters:
[that I] may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:9).
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22)
I am glad the Church is on that path, however incompletely, indirectly that occurs. In our Lutheran Confessions we have this statement by Martin Luther:
For, thank God, a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. (The Smalcald Articles, III.12)
The Church, because it is inhabited by sinners, can be lonely, demeaning, abusive, uncaring, etc. But Church includes broken sinners being made whole, forgiven sinners who learn to forgive, poor sinners who are rich in Christ, lonely sinners who have found a place of security and comfort, inadequate sinners who desire to receive all that God gives, here in time and there in eternity. And I find that today as 36 years ago many young people are looking for that kind of Church.
I’m glad I came back to the Church 36 years ago.