The early ’90s were awash in books explaining why Generation X was abandoning church. In a similar vein, there’s been no shortage of blog posts, books and conferences about how Millennials are leaving, too.
A portion of every generation has pushed their churches to grow in areas of sin and weakness. From monastics urging churches out of the distracting cities and into the deserts, to aggressive arguments over the sale of indulgences, fights for emancipation in Europe, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam and so much more—there’s been a prophetic portion of the Church seeking to realign churches with their larger purpose and roles in the world.
And, I’m sure there have also been those who walked away from churches out of frustration for their deficiencies.
I don’t want to diminish this struggle. I know what it’s like to wonder if it’s all worth frequent headaches. For two years, I couldn’t darken the doorway of a church; I was sure I was done. Many of the issues that continually come up in the “why millennials are leaving the Church” posts definitely played a part in my disenchantment.
But here are five reasons I am back and more committed to the local church than ever:
1. We’re all part of the church’s problems.
Despite Christ’s prayer that the Church would model a trinitarian-like oneness (John 17:20–21), we can be frequently fractured and set against each other. This isn’t just the Church on a macro-level—the local church models this behavior in similar ways.
I’ve gossiped, sown discord, manipulated events, fought for power, demanded my way, etc. And the truth is that if you’re part of a church, you have, too.
There’s nothing more Christlike than challenging the Church to be more sincere and full of grace and truth. If the Church is going to continue reforming, it will be because of the ones who stay— not the ones who leave.
It’s been a problem since the Church’s inception. This is why Paul had to warn the Galatians that, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
These kinds of issues might seem small, but that’s because we don’t see how our behavior affects the entire organism that is the church. I’m sure that if we saw the full effect of our judgments, selfishness, backbiting and power-plays, we’d be surprised at how far and deep they reach.
2. Churches need reformers.
Despite glaring problems with the establishment’s religious expressions and exclusive behavior at the time, Jesus started His reformation from within Judaism. These actions are what led to His crucifixion.
If I really want to identify with Jesus (and the prophets), I’ll continue to love the Church from within while I push, cajole and shout her into Christlikeness. It would be much easier to leave.
Every voice that has called for reform (even the ones we celebrate now) experienced pushback, threats and misunderstanding. But there’s nothing more Christlike than challenging the Church to be more sincere and full of grace and truth. If the Church is going to continue reforming, it will be because of the ones who stay— not the ones who leave.
3. There’s still so much good in the church.
Jesus encourages us not to make a show of our goodness and promises us that the God who sees what is done in secret will reward us (Matt. 6:1–4). This means that many of the most faithful and hardworking people are doing good work that we know nothing about.
For every divisive news story about hot-button social issues involving Christians, there are many serving on the streets, in prisons, in soup kitchens and everywhere else there’s need.
For every story of ministry corruption or a pastor’s financial misdeeds, there are many sacrificing to keep people fed, clothed and cared for.
News websites and TV stations make their advertising money on outrage and fear. If you want to see the good that’s being done, you’re going to need to look a little deeper.
4. Church is a support system.
There are many areas I wish the Church at-large would grow in empathy and compassion. But when I stop to think about it, it’s been people in church who’ve been there for me in my darkest hours.
When I look back on those dark times, I’m tempted to count the names of people who’ve betrayed me or hurt me in one way or another. But I often neglect to remember the people who have been there, cared, sacrificed and stood beside me.
Those people were there not only because they loved me, but because they loved Jesus. They were the Church to me, and it’s disingenuous for me to ignore them to focus on the others (whose failures I am probably blowing out of proportion).
When I take a moment to think about it, I’m so thankful for the people who will meet me at a moment’s notice and encourage me, cry with me, share Scripture with me, admonish me and remind me of what’s important.
Sometimes they say stupid and hurtful stuff, but they’ve also loved me despite the stupid, sinful and hurtful stuff I’ve said and done.
5. Church is a spiritual discipline.
I have no doubt that I could abandon the local church and cherry pick some friends to meet with regularly who would make spirituality and theological discussions deep, challenging and fun.
But when I’m honest with myself, most of my growth has come from interacting with people I wouldn’t choose. By handpicking my social circle instead of submitting to a local community of believers, I’ll generally choose people who fall within my comfort zone.
I’ve grown in my ability to love by getting close to people with opinions I disagree with, different lifestyles, disabilities and all sorts of issues I had not been previously been exposed to.
by Jayson D. Bradley