Would you be surprised if I told you that I've been disillusioned about church? It started ten years ago with ongoing discouragement. When I was going through the motions each week, yet walking out of church feeling spiritually dead. It slowly percolated, until this summer when it reached a boiling point.
Of course, it's not a popular topic of discussion. Not while we're chatting at the coffee shop. Not during our women's Bible study. Most certainly not when someone asks me if I need prayer. Dare I speak the truth and risk ridicule?
Like many of you, my spiritual journey has been a patchwork of experiences with God, churches, ministries, Christian leadership, Bible studies, prayer, and friendships with kindred spirits. Each had a significant role and purpose in my life. It has dramatically transformed me into the woman I am today.
Initially, I was like a baby Christian craving milk. I wasn't ready for solid food. First, I had to drink my milk. I learned how to crawl. Then I progressed to eating solid food and walking on my own. Through consistency and digging deeper into the Word, my faith grew by leaps and bounds. I was passionate about my faith. It energized me!
Yet, the more I learned and matured in my faith the more discontent I felt. Once I understood the character of Christ, I recognized a wolf dressed up in sheep's clothing. I could spot scriptures being twisted into something false. Instantly, this set my pulse racing.
My discernment alerted me to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Bible studies, sermons, and conferences. What disturbed me were the well-known folks hiding behind sheep's clothing. They were devout Christian leaders, authors, speakers, and teachers in the limelight. Respected, famous people who I had admired and trusted.
It left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Shocked. Angry. Baffled. Frustrated. I couldn't wrap my head around the blatant deception. Did anyone else notice the discrepancies? Or was I the only one aware of hypocrisy?
Oftentimes, people get uncomfortable when we question policies or practices within our church. They prefer we don't examine the pastors, leaders, or anyone of authority. Instead of receiving logical answers, we receive criticism and cold shoulders. They would rather we go with the flow. To not ruffle any feathers.
This led me on a sacred wandering to unlearn everything. To let go of old traditions, beliefs, and teachings. To skip the facade within organized religion. To simply sit at my heavenly Father's feet. To be spiritually nourished. To leave church in order to find my One, true God.
The wilderness journey is lonely. It breaks you. It leaves you dry, thirsty, and longing for intimacy with the Messiah. Oftentimes, we're isolated. We're misunderstood. And we discover the only one who can fill our emptiness is the Lord Himself. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1 (NIV)
There isn’t one who will read this who hasn’t come dangerously close to falling away from church or actually doing so. According to the American Religious Identification Survey conducted with about 35,000 U.S. adults, Americans are giving up organized religion, especially Millennials. Over 65 million people who at one time attended church no longer do so.
While people may have moved away from church attendance, they still believe in God. For many of these dropouts from churches, synagogues, temples, and so forth, spirituality is still an important part of their lives. It's not that we are a godless nation. More so, it's that we are finding Jesus on our own terms.
Earlier this year, I didn't just up and quit church. Rather, it was a slow fade. A gradual disconnect with the church. Eye opening moments when the teachings didn't line up to God's Word. When leaders used prayer time for gossip. Painfully awkward occasions when the congregation formed tight cliques that silently affirmed, “You are not welcomed. You're an outcast.”
After 25 years of attending various denominations and serving the body of Christ, here's what I've discovered. I have no less and no more of God whether I am inside or outside of church. A building cannot dictate my salvation or relationship with Christ.
The Lord loves me. This I do know with certainty. He accepts me and promises me that I’m eternally significant. It’s unconditional. There are no strings attached. No jumping through a dozen hoops to prove myself. No earning His grace. No pleading for His forgiveness. No climbing the ladder into heaven for being a “good” Christian.
Instead, I embrace His presence everywhere. I adore to know Him more. To be still. To hear His soft voice. To know that I am enough in His eyes. A relationship with Jesus trumps rigid religion.
Please don't think you must leave organized religion in effort to find Jesus. I'm not suggesting that you stop attending church, nor do I condone it. Truly, it's a personal matter of the heart and soul. And if you happen to be in the midst of a spiritual wilderness or debating whether to take a break from church, you're not alone.
Knowing Jesus and drawing close to Him can happen in our everyday lives. You don't need to be in a certain place, with a certain group of people, or pray at a special time to connect to God. Yes, some individuals prefer a formal building to worship the Lord, but others may enjoy a home environment or an unorthodox way to fellowship.
What I learned through the years is that God desires us to know Him intimately; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It's not about a brick and mortar building; it's about one faithful God. We are not meant to get caught up in legalism, rules, or religion. Rather, the Lord wants us to simply bask in His presence to know Him more.
Having an intimate relationship with Christ looks more like this: Waking up each morning to greet your heavenly Maker as if He were right next to you. Talking to Him as you brush your teeth. Giving thanks to Him when you sip your tea. Praising the Lord as you drive to work listening to your favorite band. Chatting with Him while you fold your laundry. Having an ongoing dialogue between the two of you; one on one.
Finding God happens in the ordinary moments when we quiet our souls. When we soak into His presence. It's a conversation that happens throughout your day and night. Although, it doesn't have to be intentional or constant, I believe the more you know God, the more frequently you are willing to share your heart, your pain, and your concerns with Him.
Having an intimate relationship is no longer about following a set of religious obligations or adamant rules. Whether you're a church-goer or not, Jesus wants a relationship with you. Don't allow your lack of participation in a formal setting prevent you from seeking Christ. While I do believe church can enhance our knowledge, understanding of Him, and biblical teachings, you can still have an intimate relationship with the Lord regardless of your lack of church attendance.
For those who do leave organized religion, it doesn't mean you deserted God. Understand that it’s one thing to opt out of church, but an entirely different circumstance to abandon your relationship with Jesus. In addition, we can appreciate that our place of worship is not limited to four walls of a building. We can find Jesus within our world, 24/7; for He is everywhere.
The true church is wherever two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name—in a humble spirit of seeking the truth. For those thus gathered, He is with them. (Matthew 18:20)
Interesting enough, even Jesus was compelled to seek quiet time away from family, friends, and the synagogue. He needed a break. It was not an impulsive whim or an irresponsible act of rebellion. Rather, it was essential for Jesus to connect to God away from distractions in order to fulfill His purpose.
In the Gospels, we read about Jesus going off into the desert alone. For 40 days, He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He prayed, fasted, and sought solitude. He didn't permanently abandon His faith, His followers, or His community. He simply stepped back for a lengthy period to rejuvenate, prepare for his future ministry, and spend quality time with His heavenly Father.
His sacred wandering was a desolate place of testing, encounter, and renewal. Due to the extremely harsh circumstances of the devil tempting Jesus for 40 days, He depended 100% on God to sustain Him. During His physical hunger, He sought the Bread of Life.
The takeaway is that just as our heavenly Father sustained and strengthened Jesus' faith along His wilderness journey, the Lord can do the same for us. What if taking a break from regular church attendance was a normal part of spiritual growth, much like Jesus stepping away from the crowds to pray? What if we looked outside the box (traditional organized religion) to create a new Jesus movement where we fellowship and pray with like-minded believers in coffee shops, parks, the comfort of our homes, or sitting around a campfire?
Instead of going through the motion of church routines by "doing" nonstop activities, what if we exchange it for necessary time outs for "being" still? What if we looked beyond the church walls to find Jesus? To be in His glorious presence. To be filled with His Holy Spirit. To be wrapped in His peace. To go wherever He leads no matter how unconventional.
Have you been disappointed, frustrated, or burnt out with organized religion? Has it left you hungry to know God more, yet feeling a disconnect? If you have contemplated leaving your church or you permanently walked away for good, I'm very interested in hearing your story. In addition, please share how you spiritually strengthen yourself and how you grow your faith.
“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29 (NIV)