10 Thoughts On Exiting the Local Church—A Response To Donald Miller

Donald Miller’s blog posts about his decision to not attend church very often has spawned a huge discussion.

In some ways, as much as all this leaving breaks my heart, it’s good the discussion is happening.

Here’s what’s happening all around us:

People who grew up in the church are leaving the church.

People, like Donald, who were converted in the church often stop attending.

People are leaving your church and the one in which I serve.

Of course in some cases more people are still joining than are leaving. I am grateful I get to lead one of those churches.

I wrestled with whether to post this, but I think a lot is at stake for many of us. So I’m responding with 10 reasons why I would make a different decision than Donald Miller.

If it helps you wrestle through the issue, I’m grateful.

If it helps you stay part of a local church, I’ll be even more grateful.

 woman suitcase - leaving the church

 

Let’s Clear Up A Few Things First

There are a few things I need to say before we go any further:

I am a pastor of a local church. I completely understand that I have a built in bias toward the church. I’m a pastor. I get paid a salary to lead a church. I realize that puts me a ‘conflict of interest’ or the ‘of course he’s going to say that’ category. But as Donald helpfully pointed out, many local pastors who serve the local church have other options. Many could make more money in the marketplace. Most are there because of calling. I’ve chosen to be part of the church and believe I will choose to be part of the church for the rest of my life whether I am in vocational ministry or not. My comments don’t spring entirely from my calling but from my conviction.

Although I don’t know Donald Miller, I respect him. I haven’t met Donald Miller (even though we’ve been at many of the same events). I don’t know him personally. But I respect him. His works have been a significant influence in my life as they have on millions of others. You should not and cannot dismiss a personal like Donald Miller categorically, but neither should you accept his view point as justification for exiting a church when you haven’t wrestled through the issue personally.

His posts on not attending church much are thoughtful, important and contain some signficant truth. Although I don’t believe I would choose the path Donald appears to be on, his posts are (as always) thought provoking. I actually agree with about half of what he says. He makes some great points every church leader needs to wrestle with (and he raises issues I’ve tried to address before).

You should read what Donald actually said before saying anything. Don’t base your discussion, comments or dialogue on a tweet you saw, this blog post, something you heard or (worse) your pre-existent biases. Lack of thoughtful, considered discussion is actually one of the reasons many people leave the church. David Kinnaman has chronicled that brilliantly.  Donald’s first post is here. And this is his follow up.

The Church is bigger than your church. I agree that the true Church is invisible. It something Christ alone sees. Your local church and mine is a reflection of it. Sometimes a poor reflection; sometimes a magnificent one. But the true Church is bigger than my church, your church or all of our churches combined. There are Christians outside the small c church and some who are in the small c church who are not Christians. I get that. I don’t have a monopoly on church nor do you. Jesus does. And he judges perfectly.

With that understood, here we go.

 

10 Reasons To Reconsider Leaving the Local Church

As I’ve wrestled through this issue again over the last few days, here’s why I would make a different decision than Donald Miller, even if I wasn’t a pastor of a local church.

 

1. A step out of a local church is many times a step away from God

I honestly just haven’t met that many people who would say they are closer to God for having left the organized church. I realize that some exist (and some regularly comment on this blog).

But the vast majority of people who leave the church don’t leave in order to grow closer to God and rarely end up closer to him. They are often discouraged, hurt, lonely and sometimes angry. Meet them years later and almost every time, their passion for Christ has faded. They are not living a more vibrant life. Usually quite the opposite is true.

What often begins as respite from a situation of hurt or an attempt to get closer to God without the church often results in a deeper disconnect from God than most people had previously experienced.

I’m not saying you can’t grow closer to God away from the church. I’m just saying very few people actually, authentically do.

 

 2. The church puts us into contact with people with whom we would rather not associate.

We tend to find people who affirm what we want to hear. As Geoff Surratt so eloquently pointed out, the church is an organization that regularly puts us into contact with people who are different than we are. Different socio-economically, politically and even spiritually.

This is good. Maybe you can cultivate that kind of community on your own, but most people won’t, and don’t.

Being in intentional community with people who are different than me is actually a huge part of my spiritual growth these days. I learn to love people I wouldn’t normally love, and it helps me love people outside the church in the same way. Don’t discount the power of community that often uniquely assembles in the church.

 

3. A step away from organized community is often a step away from accountability.

We tend to find people who affirm what we want to hear.

The church doesn’t always do community and authority well, but when we do, the result are amazing. I am never more accountable than when I am in close Christian community.

It is possible to find this outside the church, but again, most never do. If I am going to live a deep life in Christ, accountability is non-negotiable. The most dangerous leaders in the world are leaders without accountability or authority over them.

 

4. A movement is more effective when it has leadership and authority.

When you simply serve Christ as an individual in the world, you are actually under no human authority other than Christ. While this seems spiritual, it sounds more spiritual than it really is.

Throughout scripture, God organized his people in community with a structure. And while kings were an accession to people’s unwillingness to submit to God alone, they have organized us for millennia. And God uses human authority and asks us to respect it even when we disagree with it. (Romans 13 in case you were wondering.)

While the idea of releasing people organically in the world to make a difference is appealing, the truth is history has shown the church has always been at its most effective when it has been a movement with some structure and leadership.

People resisted the Apostle Paul’s leadership. I get that. But so many more people were converted to this Jesus under his leadership than via other means. Think about that.

 

5. There is tremendous potential when people are aligned and released around a common mission, vision and strategy.

Sure, you could organically release Christians into businesses, the arts, education, science and more. And they could do great work there.

But the truth is, that’s already happening. And the majority of Christians who are making a difference in those fields are people associated with a local church.

What’s particularly unique about the local church is the power that is released when people are aligned around a common mission, vision and strategy. I believe that’s how our gifts have maximum impact. Consider Be Rich, a North Point initiative that released millions of dollars and thousands of hours of service to support local and global nonprofit causes.

Or churches that are reaching thousands or hundreds of people in their community.

I realize Donald appreciates the work of these churches (he really does), but if we all bailed, where would we be?

Would anything like this happen? I doubt it. Not on this scale. Not with this effectiveness.

Releasing people into the community and having a strong local church is not an either/or proposition. It’s a both/and equation. Effective local churches rally people around causes that they could never accomplish on their own AND release people daily into business, the arts, education, science and more.

 

6. An outward focus of the church is best maintained when people gather intentionally.

One of the basic human struggles is the struggle against self. I tend to become self-occupied, and my guess is so do you.

While every church struggles with focusing on insiders, effective churches focus on outsiders; they exist for the sake of the world Jesus loves.

I’m just not sure Christians would easily maintain a laser focus on outsiders if we all dispersed. And I believe we might become collectively less effective at making an impact on the world for this reason and many already stated. And in a world where so many don’t know Christ, that’s a risk I don’t think we can take.

When I gather in an intentional community that is committed to impacting the wider community and world, my life stops being so much about me and begins to be more about Christ and others. I’m not saying this can’t happen outside of the local church. I’m just not sure it does or that it will happen nearly as effectively as through the local church.

 

7. The faith you cherish is built on the foundation of people who were part of the local church

I love that Donald Miller is not abandoning Christianity. Nor are many who exit the church. I do believe some will drift away, but I’m sure some won’t.

And yet it’s somewhat ironic that the faith we continue to embrace was forged through the crucible of the local church. The great thinkers, writers, practitioners, mystics and theologians of the centuries are those whose faith was shaped, expressed and lived out in the context of the community of the local church.

Why we think we will reach similar levels of contribution or enlightenment apart from the local church is a bit of mystery to me. If thousand of years of the best of Christianity was forged through flawed local churches, why would future will be any different? It may actually be that the frailty of the local church produced the brilliance and relevance of best thinking, writing, practice and mysticism of the past several millennia.

 

8. A wound created in community is best healed in community.

Donald Miller isn’t leaving the church because he was hurt, but instead because he says he’s bored and unmoved by it. I understand that. I think it happens to all of us in seasons, including those of us who lead churches.

If you’re bored, why not work to make it better?

But let me do a sideways step to address what is probably the most common reason people leave the church: because they have been wounded by someone in a church.

The challenge with leaving because of an unresolved issue like a wound (or even boredom) is that a wound created in one place is often never healed by walking away.

A wound created in community is best healed in community. So many people I know who walked away from church are still limping. That limp will only be healed (I think) when they either go back to the community where the hurt happened to find confession, forgiveness and reconciliation, or when they find a new community that loves them in a way the old community did not.

A healthy church experience can heal the wounds of a bad church experience. And similarly, a boring or irrelevant church experience is best remedied by creating a better church experience.

In some ways, that’s how the Reformation happened. The people who had been hurt in the church were healed in the church.

 

9. The promise of the church is still greater than the problems of the church

I agree the church has problems. Deep problems.

But in some ways that is a symbol of it’s beauty. God chooses to use a flawed, stumbling group of people to transform the world. It’s really what God specializes in.

And because the church (even the local church in its many expressions) is not a human idea but a divine idea, the church ultimately will not be defeated.

Because it is Christ’s body, the promise of the church is still greater than the problems of the church.

We need a new generation to rise up and seize the promise.

 

10. Trying something new is better than walking away.

Maybe Donald’s random-Christians-who-don’t-intentionally-assemble-because-they’ve-graduated-from-church is a better idea and the way of the future. But I don’t think so. I just don’t see how it could be.

I agree with Donald that things are changing. And I agree that the church has been remarkably adept at adapting to the culture around it and becoming effective at reaching the current generation.

I would counter, though, with the proposal that trying something new is better than walking away.

This, maybe more than any time in recent memory, is a time to try new things.  There are many frontiers the church needs to crack. Better connections with unchurched people. Community involvement. Online engagement. Impacting families at home. The list could fill another blog post.

You can try something new in an existing local church. That kind of change is necessary and needed. (I wrote more about that kind of change here.) And we need leaders to try radical new things by starting new kinds of churches.

We need next generation leaders committed to trying new things until it redefines what the local church is, not next generation leaders who walk away.

That’s why I don’t think I could ever walk away from the local church.

How about you? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment.

70 Comments

  1. Lindsey on July 5, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Thank you for this post. Our family has struggled with finding a good church. Walking away from the church for good was very tempting. We spent a full two months not going to church at all, trying to make it on our own. Instead of growing closer to the Lord we found ourselves slowly falling away. Not morally, but like you said we lost our passion for Jesus. We are still feeling raw from a couple of bad church experiences. Would you pray that, as you said the church would heal us? Thank you Carey.

  2. Chad Kidd on August 26, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Carey,
    I appreciate your response to Donald Miller, and the spirit of your writing. I, like you, have also been impacted by Donald Miller’s writings and his Storyline materials. I have been out of the institutional church for about 3 1/2 years now, and I can say that much of what you are saying is true for some who have left. I would say that of those who are truly struggling or backsliding is a result of their lack of relationship with Jesus in the first place, not because they have left the institution. They are probably those who only attended church once a week, and weren’t very involved anyways. I am not sure how continuing to attend church makes them any more a Christian than sitting at home in their living room?
    I believe what leaving organized church has done for us is allow us to relate to all Christians and non-Christians in a much healthier way. Rather than only relating to those who are in the same building. God has opened our eyes to the body of Christ at large, and I am not sure that opportunity comes to those who are confined within the four walls of a building.
    After you leave a church, you have to take much more responsibility for your relationship with God and hearing from him personally to grow and be obedient to him. You have to be listening to him for relational assignments and where he leads you to give your money. You’re right, it can become just another reason to be selfish with time and money for some – but for others, it opens up a whole new realm of freedom from man’s traditions and rules surrounding so many things. It has brought health in a big way to our Christian journey. We are in the process of writing a book about much of our experience and God’s best for his people – living in love, and in relationship with him and others.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

      Chad…this is honestly one of the most helpful, kind and thoughtful responses I’ve read from someone who has left the church. Thank you. I will look forward to reading your book.

      I have to tell you though, that I wish you and your wife were part of our mission. I know that’s ironic, but I just had to tell you that.

      Appreciate this.

      • Chad Kidd on August 26, 2014 at 10:23 am

        I am sorry you haven’t received more kind responses from those who have left organized church. There are definitely too many stones thrown regarding this issue. We need to see all believers as One, not just those who are doing things the same way God has called us to.

        I like this series of discussions about this issue – further down on this page, is an honest comparison about 5 things the organic church is doing right, as well as 5 things it isn’t doing so well. I think it is important to be open to not only the strengths of the way we are gathering as the Church, but to see the weaknesses as well and learn from other parts of the body of Christ.

        http://stevebremner.com/2014/02/is-it-necessary-for-christians-to-attend-church-meetings-podcast/

        Blessings to you

  3. Jeffrey Stewart on August 25, 2014 at 5:51 am

    What about the local church that only recognizes the office of pastor, teacher, and evangelist, but not apostle or prophet. When the person called to be apostle or prophet indicates a desire to participate, he may be put on a committee or told to teach in Sunday school, but he or she is definitely not encouraged to operate in the way the Lord intended. Or what if the church does not recognize the gifts of the Spirit, or their validity in today’s church? So a person who God uses to heal others will not be able to operate in that gift. The ONLY way a person in EITHER situation can do WHAT THEY ARE CALLED TO DO is to LEAVE the church that does not encourage them in their calling, and hopefully find one that does. Churches are notorious for quenching the Holy Spirit, and normally adhere to a program that man created. Those types of churches keep people from growing into all God called them to be. Should a person stay in THAT type of church? Remember the parable of the talents. People will not be standing in front of their pastor on the last day, but in front of Jesus, and will have to give account for how they used the talents that were given them. In many cases, then, it is a VERY GOOD IDEA to leave a local church, and either find a new one, or start a home group, where God can have His Way.

  4. Ars Longs on August 24, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Dear Pastor, what I want from church is love. Christ’s love. His leading, His accountability, His wounds… why isn’t there more love?

  5. Richard on May 13, 2014 at 12:02 am

    If he wasn’t a Christian celebrity, his lack of commitment to the local church would be called sin.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Sorry to hear you feel that way. Everything I know about Donald is that he really loves Jesus with his whole heart. While I have a few differences with him on the church, he is doing a ton to advance the kingdom. — Sent from Mailbox

      • Richard on May 13, 2014 at 8:43 am

        I’m sure he is sincere, but he’s wrong on this point. I ‘m not basing this opinion on any feeling but on clear NT teaching on the importance of church membership and involvement

  6. […] 10 Thoughts On Existing The Local Church – A Response To Donald Miller by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  7. In, or Out? | In the World on March 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    […] This has got to be one of the most respectful and thoughtful responses I’ve seen to Donald Miller’s posts about why he chooses not to regularly attend church.Thank you Carey Nieuwhof! […]

  8. Rob Browning on March 7, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I don’t want to be churched.
    I would rather remain “unchurched” than to be exploited by those whose mission is to church the unchurched.
    The great delusion is that they confuse their spiritual life with their church life. Their god is a church, their godliness is their churchy-ness. Their calling is to church the unchurched in the way they have been churched so that their type of churchlings are perpetuated and unchurched are not churched by a rival church.
    We church our victims because churching is the process of institutional self-preservation.
    Upon this rock on this street corner we will build our church and the gates of demographic transition shall, hopefully, never prevail against us.
    Confession; I was once decidedly churched, proudly and eagerly churching others. But I’m older now, nearing the retirement phase of churching where old churchers just sit back and complain about the new churchmen and remember the good old days when we sang “Gimme that old -time a’churching.”
    Let’s face it, no church is looking for old churchites to be rechurchilated.
    Please let me slip away. I must consider eternity and I need a Savior more than the fun and games of playing church.
    And out here among the unchurched, I’m meeting more and more younger people who are interested in a personal Savior but not at all wanting to be impersonally churched.

  9. Helene S. on March 3, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    This is my first time reading your blog. It’s funny, I was unaware of Donald Miller’s latest writing about leaving the church but I have been struggling with wanting to leave my church in the past few weeks. Reasons were varied, but mostly I felt that after working hard to get involved, I got a little “too close to the fire” and started witnessing the internal power struggles and politics and drama and it really turned me off from church. A couple of days ago I went on a long walk (the only time I seem to hear from God is when I go for long solo walks), asking for guidance in this matter. I returned feeling convicted that I needed to try harder, not give up, because community is messy and walking away is not going to help me grow spiritually. But it was still just a feeling – until I read your post. It really hit home and gave me words to explain why I don’t want to give up. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  10. […] 9 Thoughts On Exiting the Local Church – A Response To Donald Miller by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  11. Ferrell Hardison on February 25, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    BRILLIANT!!!!!!!

  12. 10 Thoughts on Leaving Church | Leadingchurch.com on February 25, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    […] A response to Donald Miller […]

  13. Tim on February 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Thank your for your thoughts Carey, I think you touched on a number of important issues as to why we should not leave the church. As I read your blog a number of scripture passages came to mind. In Hebrews 10:23-25 the Holy Spirit ties holding fast our confession of faith and provoking one another to love and good works with faithful church attendance. The implication is that apart from the church it is more than likely a person will fall away. The warning which follows also warrants serious prayerful thought!
    Another truth which weighs heavily on my heart is that the Apostle John calls the church, “the bride of Christ”! (see Revelation 21). I wonder how Christ will respond to those who appear before Him at the Last Day hoping for His acceptance yet who rejected His Bride!
    Finally, what about Jesus’ promise that He will build His Church and not even the gates of Hell will prevail against it? (Matthew 16:18) Jesus has chosen the Church as His tool to reach the world and who are we to cast it aside? The last time I checked He had not set aside that promise.
    A fellow servant.

  14. […] the best and kindest response to Don Miller in this blog post by a guy called Carey Nieuwhof titled ’10 thoughts on exiting the local church – a response to Donald Miller’ and i agreed with a lot of what he said and his spirit and tone was just incredible [why do […]

  15. Lonnie Kingshott on February 17, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I read this one with great interest Carey as you have guessed I returned to Zion church and had another experience where I got hurt by the members of session again, this time however they hurt not only myself and my father but also my mother. The hurt runs very deep where the whole family will not set foot in that church ever again I just cannot do it. My parents have both currently lost all faith in organized church and are taking a break I am following Connexus on the facebook page. I need comforting right now and your words always seem to do that for me. I am trying to heal my wounds right now and restore my faith in the church I just don’t think it will be within the Presbyterian Church of Canada. I know that when I am ready Connexus will be there for me.

  16. Christy on February 15, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    One thing not mentioned that I find very important is that when the church doesn’t work well is when we have the greatest opportunities to grow more Christlike. Forgiveness, humility, considering others more important than one’s self, loving the unlovable–these things don’t work in a vacuum. We need opportunities to practice these virtues, and the only opportunities to do so usually involve strife, unlovable people and other unpleasantness in the church. A small group I was part of called these people and situation their “sandpaper”, seeing them as God’s way of smoothing out their own rough spots.
    Not to mention that we come together to give, not just to receive. And with the wide variety of churches available, surely we can find one where God can work us in and make us a part of the body of Christ.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 17, 2014 at 9:42 am

      That’s such a great point Christy. Thank you. The willingness to submit and work through difficulty is a sign of spiritual maturity.

  17. bigdaverino on February 14, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    A friend of mine once said, “I don’t think church is a very good idea.” Upon reflection, I had to agree with him. It seems to me that putting people together from different economic stratas, who are at various stages in their spiritual journey, and who have varied experiences and expectations is a recipe for disaster. But when I shared this notion with someone else, he said, “What’s the alternative, hanging out at the bar?”

    I think what makes the church great is not that I think it is a good idea. What makes it great is that it is a God idea. House to house. Temple courts. Fellowship. Breaking bread. Apostles doctrine. Prayer. Maybe if I were God I could come up with something better? (tongue firmly in cheek).

    Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways is a good one to understand that we don’t all have the same worship style. What I heard Donald Miller say is, “My worship style is naturalist, and they aren’t worshipping that way, so I don’t think I’ll support that.” This problem can be best solved by the church validating and expressing all forms of worship (beyond just music and teaching), and by participants in the body not giving in to the notion that “I don’t need you.” (1 Corinthians 12)

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Some interesting thoughts Dave. Thank you. I’m glad you brought up Gary Thomas’ book. You are correct. We all connect differently, but that doesn’t excuse us from communal gathering. I love the large group/small group approach of many churches today as each serves a function the other can’t.

  18. Mark Archibald on February 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Number 7 is a huge one for me – I don’t ask people this question point blank (nor would I say it this bluntly), but “Why walk away from the people and community that formed you?” I’m definitely one of those people who has drunk deeply of the Koolaid: I’ve always loved the local church. I have a hard time separating from it. Maybe it’s because without it I’m not fully “me”. I can’t separate my relationship with God from the people of God.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      I think you’re onto something Mark. I’m not sure there really is faith apart from community. That idea would have been foreign to people in the first century. Faith rarely—if ever—appears separate from community in all of scripture. The story of God begins and ends in community.

  19. Tom Peers on February 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I think Don is guilty of the very thing he condemns – consumeristic thinking (it’s about my preferences).

  20. newgirl on February 13, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Great points, Carey. Sitting by a lake, walking through the woods, listening to birds are definitely edifying so I support Don Miller’s need to get alone with God outdoors and sometimes people do need to take a “sabbatical” to just meditate on the Scriptures for a while. One thing that concerned me tho’ was his comment about not wanting to sing to God. Looking at God’s creation, reading the Scriptures should inspire one to sing or at least say words of praise. If he meant that he didn’t like his own church’s type of music, he should find a church that has a style he likes. I personally don’t like some Christian music and would rather come late just to miss it while with other Christian music I could listen to it and worship for hours on end. The Bible teaches that God likes being sung to so it seems that Don either doesn’t want to please God this way or perhaps doesn’t know this about the God he’s trying to connect with. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.This will please the Lord 31This will please the Lord more than an ox,more than a bull with its horns and hooves.” Psalm 69:30-31

  21. Josh Collins on February 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Great stuff Carey! What these conversations have done for the circles I lead is create some wonderful opportunities to experience the gospel with one another furthering our community. Indeed all things are being made new! And for that I find rest.

  22. […] Nieuwhof has made a couple of posts (here and here) responding to Miller’s thoughts.  In the first he outlines “10 Thoughts on […]

  23. […] Nieuwhof has made a couple of posts (here and here) responding to Miller’s thoughts.  In the first he outlines “10 Thoughts on […]

  24. Simon Cordingley on February 12, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Hi there Carey,

    Thanks for your careful and respectful reply to Donald’s blog. I must say though, I actually disagree and disagree with both of you.

    Personally, I find Donald’s reasoning for leaving the church a little specious. Firstly, the three learning styles are more mythological than actual. The fact is we all learn in basically the same ways, even though we might have preferences and to use that as his primary argument is a bit of a red herring. Secondly, in any case, I’m sure nearly everyone would agree, the primary function of attending church isn’t about learning, it’s about the things which you and many others have mentioned here and on his blog. Fellowship, witness, testimony and worship should all take precedence over “learning” at the weekly meeting and require no learning style.

    I have to admit here though that I’m one of those who’ve left the church and the consequences of that slow process are indeed, similar to what you’ve described. However, remaining there over many years was having a similar effect. I confess many of the reasons for me leaving were mine to own and I still need to deal with and take ownership of many of those. The other reasons are to do with the modern church itself, which has grown so dissimilar to the original model established by the Apostles, particularly Paul, that I doubt they would recognise the places they were walking into if they were to attend.

    Our modern models are almost universally pyramidical, with a single Pastor leading a church of pew sitters. The Elders model, established by the apostles has all but disappeared. What we now have instead is predominantly a single personality, for better or worse, often being the one person guiding any particular flock. Universally we sit, we stand, we sing, we sit, we stand and sing, we sit and listen, we pay our tithes (unscriptually, I might add), we sit and stand again, we have a cup of tea, smile and go home to live our (mostly) lonely, shallow lives until next week.

    We have mega-churches with cinema screens and rock bands pumping out soft rock; we have stinky old traditional and orthodox churches where the priest is God and the decorations on the wall are nothing short of idolatrous. Our churches have become either good or bad entertainment centres, whereas originally even the idea of meeting anywhere other than in someone’s home would’ve seemed alien and wrong. And it wasn’t as if the original churches couldn’t afford a community building if they wanted. They specifically and purposefully chose not to.

    I don’t even begin to pretend to have the answer. All I know is the modern manifestation of the church is like a listing ship which has drifted far far away, to the point where the original coast is no longer visible and many are jumping off to brave the sea on their own. Sadly though, it is as you say, many of these will not be able to swim. But not being able to swim isn’t very helpful on a sinking, listing ship either…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Simon…can I just say how refreshing it is to read your post? I love how you are owning some of your reasons for leaving and accepting responsibility. So many people I meet and hear from simply point fingers and blame others. I might be more optimistic about the church in all its forms than you’re feeling right now, but I so appreciate your comment. Thank you!

  25. TrueBluePT on February 11, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I agree with your reasons to stay. One reason to leave a church is when church bullies, gatekeepers, control freaks, etc. continually harm those who truly seek to be the church and hinder all efforts toward faithfulness to the church’s mission. Where there is no accountability, there is little hope for a church to become healthy and faithful.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

      That’s true. I think what often happens is that someone characterizes one bad local church as the universal norm. There are some great local churches.

      • TrueBlueTH on February 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm

        Absolutely, but when a pastor or member experiences the pain and stress caused by an extremely unhealthy congregation, it takes a great deal of faith and effort to move to a new church home with a spirit of optimism.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on February 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm

          I agree completely. I so admire people who push through that pain and find a new beginning. 🙂

  26. John on February 11, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I apologize for not reading everything very carefully, so if this was already said, then…sorry.
    One thing I didn’t see in your article (and I admit I haven’t read Mr. Miller’s blog) is an exegetical issue: I don’t believe the Apostle Paul would understand the concept of a Christian who was not part of a community of believers–regularly meeting with them and working together. In I Cor 3:16, when Paul says “you are the temple of Christ,” the “you” there is plural. In other words, we collectively are the body of Christ and Christ dwells “between” us would be a better rendering.
    Jesus said in John 3:35 that everybody will know we are Christians by the “love we have for one another.” Yes, we need to love the world. But THE sign of our relationship with Jesus Christ is the love we show to one another.
    If people are leaving churches because they “don’t fit in” or whatever, a serious question needs to be asked by everyone in that church: Jesus gave you only one sign of being His disciple–are you doing it?
    Actually, that’s a question to me…am I doing it? But it might be worthwhile for some other people to ask it, too….

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 12, 2014 at 11:01 am

      John…this is a super helpful contribution. You’re right. Isolated, individualistic Christianity is a notion foreign to both the Old and New Testaments. And heaven is…a community. In a city.

  27. Maureen Kelley Small on February 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    You handled that well, Carey, with grace and humility, and addressed some of the main concerns I thought of when I read Don’s posts. Perhaps someone like Don whose Christian faith was built in a church can thrive outside the traditional church. But if we carry his reasoning forward, how do we raise our children without that community? Would a person who has never been a part of an organized church have the same strength of faith that someone like Don does because his faith was built in the church? I do believe that “church” does not have to take place on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights) in a building with a lecture and music. There is validity in house churches, cafe churches, and other non-traditional small groups meeting together. Intentional, guided discussion can be more effective than a lecture. As the parent of a young adult who has moved out and is no longer attending church, but still claims faith in Christ, I pray he finds a group that works for him, even if it’s not “traditional.” Don says he’s part of a community that presumably includes spiritual connection, although he doesn’t attend a traditional church. I’d like to know more about that community. If there is accountability and intentional spiritual conversation that fosters continual spiritual growth, that is church – it just doesn’t include a lecture and music.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 12, 2014 at 11:05 am

      Thanks for sharing Maureen. God hears your prayers. And those are great questions.

  28. Isaiah Pribbenow on February 11, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I really enjoy these discussions and thank you all for your thoughts. I think that we have left out something important, Hebrews 10:19-25. Here we have clear instruction from God’s word that tells us not to forsake from assembling together and that we should do so more and more as we see the day of Christ’s return growing ever closer. While the assembling doesn’t necessarily have to be “church”, as we have come to know it, we need to connect with other believers. A single sheep seperated from the flock is easy prey. It is easy for the enemy to twist our minds when we get away from the teaching of sound doctrine in a solid bible believing church. Another reason is simply that we as pastors need you, our churches need the ministry that God has put in you. I need more people in my church that can think outside of the box of traditionalism and engage our community in a fresh and relevant way. I have wrestled with leaving my particular denomination but realized that if it is going to change for the better it needs me. If love God’s family( the church) then abandoning them in their hour of need isn’t the answer, I must become the change I want to see in them. Blessings:)

  29. Steve Cuss on February 11, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Great stuff Carey, thanks for posting this. I too am a pastor with a built in bias and I too highly respect Don Miller’s thinking and contribution over the years. His tone and approach has me scratching my head on this one. Here’s my top 10 I made a few days ago:

    http://multihatpastor.com/2014/02/06/don-miller-church-attendance-and-something-larger-than-us/

  30. Daryl on February 10, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Great post. I really appreciated your intentions. One of the better responses I have read. I must confess I differ from both you and Donald Miller. I am someone who would say I grew closer to God while being away from organized church. And I know many who have and are still. Personally, I am part of a church right now.
    I found your second point about intentional community (church) helps with people getting in contact with different people, actually a very weak argument. It assumes two things. That churches are really that different. I would actually suggest that many churches are made up of very similar type of people. Additionally, it assumes that a person not at church on a Sunday is not mixing with very different people. Ironically, if a person left the church and intentionally mixed with different people, it might actually be an argument FOR not going to church.
    Concerning accountability, as much as I appreciate your hopes for what happens in the church, I must confess, I would argue the best accountability always comes from meaningful relationships that have no dependence in being at the same building on a Sunday. As someone who served as a Pastor for many years – I actually found some of my bet accountability was intentionally outside of my local church. Additionally, I would even suggest that often the organized church perpetuates the allusion of accountability. People think they are accountable because they “go to church.”
    On the flip side, I actually think one of your best arguments is the authority
    question. With that said, I think people can find leaders to serve that role in
    their lives. I am confident Donald Miller is a great example of someone who has great leaders in his life.
    I think it is an old world argument, in a global society, to suggest common
    mission/vision/strategy should be contained to local church programs. Movements are far bigger and we finally have the means to accomplish them. I think Be Rich is great, but movements like the Egyptian Revolution, featuring many Christ followers, is being accomplished by Christians willing to miss some Sundays.
    Outward needs inward time in the church: “I’m not saying this can’t happen outside of the local church. I’m just not sure it does or that it will happen nearly as effectively as through the local church.” I appreciate you seeing that it is possible. However, again this suggests that someone like Donald Miller isn’t getting inward support. Actually, I would suggest he might be getting better inward time bc he doesn’t have to listen to a speech and music that doesn’t help him. He is experiencing freedom and grace. Furthermore, I would make the case that the church is mostly an exercise (look at the budget of most churches) of inward. I realize mic time is given to the challenge the congregation to be outward focused, but facility & salary alone show where churches real hearts are at.
    The argument from history has some great validity. But again it assumes that the current version of the local church has been the means for everyone. However, history differs. Numerous examples of Christ followers unable to gather. Numerous examples of the majority of Christ followers being scattered. Additionally, the argument assumes if someone leave the recent version of the organized church that a different form cant exist. However, as Donald Miller points out, the Acts church was drastically different in form (and in some ways function), then the church today. So maybe its not even that Donald has left the Church, but he has left what many have been calling church lately.
    Concerning the argument of wounded. I really appreciate you challenging people to deal with the hurt/harm in their life and trying to find restoration in their local churches that have harmed them. But as you pointed out, Donald is not arguing out of being wounded. I would suggest that what Donald is doing is somewhat a reformation. I would argue if more people left churches, the Church could be better. Maybe more people could find freedom and other means to BE THE CHURCH.
    I must confess, the argument that the promise of the church is better, is something I hold to as well. However, I don’t believe what the church is – is what it could be. It can be so much better. And it can be experienced outside of what many local organized churches look like. However, for me, I choose to be part of a local church the meanwhile. And hoping (through my actions) for a better future.
    Finally, your argument for something new made me chuckle. As much as I agree with you and Donald that the Church has been known to change drastically (often unwillingly), I would say that the current church is unwilling and unwanting to change. Too many are proud they finally have conquered things like the worship debates. Many might even be starting the conversation on things like gender and sexuality. However, to suggest that churches are good at change – I feel is dishonest. I have/am part of some of the most brave and willing to change churches in the world, and I would still admit they are slow at change. Deathly slow.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 12, 2014 at 11:07 am

      Daryl, I think Donald Miller and others who write about the exit from the church have access to a network of support other people who leave don’t. I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair comparison. And change is an issue for sure. I’m pretty passionate about that one. I fully agree we need radical change in the church. Thanks.

      • Daryl on February 12, 2014 at 7:04 pm

        Thanks for your response. I am very impressed with the volume of content you are producing and yet the personal responses as well. Kudos!
        I might suggest, in a world as educated, connected, and equipped as we are today, all people might have more support then you are giving credit. I do think that any Christian who has been actively part of the church for a fair amount of time, who is interested in having the type of support someone like Donald Miller has, can find it. Im not saying it would be easy, but very attainable. Speaking from personal experience. Speaking from observations of numerous other Christians I know. The idea that effective leaders can work themselves out of a job, only points to the fact that people (the church) can be trained and find/build the support needed.
        With all that said, I don’t want you to hear I don’t have fears of people “leaving the traditional church” and in the process losing their faith. However, I have just as many fears for people who “attend the traditional church.”

  31. RL on February 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    What you and others miss is that most (D. Miller included) aren’t leaving the church. They are leaving the corporate institution and are finding community where all the things you applaud about the church are experienced. For those that can experience church within an institutional environment, please do so but realize that others are doing the same in other formats. It shouldn’t be “either/or” but “and/both”. Travis Klassen blogged about all this dialogue & he plugged it dead on when he wrote, “If you still ‘attend church,’ please remember this about those of us who do not: We may not be part of your church, but you are part of ours.”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 12, 2014 at 11:04 am

      I agree there are other forms of church out there, some of which are helpful to those who are a part of it. But it still leaves me wrestling with how informal, personal forms of ‘church’ gatherings maintain the outward focus that even the early church has. And, of course, every movement that grows demands organization. I would agree with Klassen that his church is also a part of mine. No one can claim exclusive moral high ground here.

  32. Cindy on February 10, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    So well written Carey! This past couple of years I have especially come to appreciate the Community that comes with being a part of a local church. As my kids are getting older I also appreciate having other people reinforcing what we try to teach them at home. So much great insight in this. Appreciate your heart Carey!

  33. Elizabeth on February 10, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    I am thoughtfully reading and praying about the conversation Donald Miller’s blogs have started. I agree with many of your statements, but think both of you have neglected a portion of the Church family. Many people stop going when they move because the said clicks make it difficult to come into a new church family. Also, many people who don’t fit into the “church society” because of where they come from, socio-economic status/dress, or like my family have a child with an intellectual and physical disability. Majority of churches do not make it easy for families like mine to come to service and be part of the fellowship of the church, especially after a move to a new community. I have friends who have actually been told their child has no place at their church.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 10, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Elizabeth…that’s really sad. I thank you for sharing this and sincerely do hope you find a church that embraces who you are…no conditions.

  34. ed on February 10, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    For those familiar with Team Pyro, Dan Phillips weighed in on this.

  35. […] You can read his reasoning here. […]

  36. Mary DeMuth on February 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    ROCKED this post. LOVED it. Thank you.

  37. WFoster(an alias:) on February 10, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Carey. I too have left the c Church. I served in ministry for many, many years so am not only one who pursues truth and a relationship with the totality of God, but a believer in the C and was a believer in the c church. I hope these comments only serve to further an honest conversation, There are a couple reasons I left and haven’t been back to a local gathering. This is my experience… 1.After working in and for church leadership for a long time, I’ve come to the conclusion most, not all, but many leaders and congregations have made “church” their religion. It’s become more of a club that has it’s own rules, own culture, own lingo, and like-mindedness. Even individual c’s have their own thing going and when a faction no longer fits and may have differing thoughts…they cause havoc and rip apart to start their own club with rules that better suit their group. There’s more than 58…how many denominations?! There seems to be a competitive nature which I believe stems from seeing growing, “winning” as validating their “rightness”. If more people attend, there’s a validation that we’re more “right” or “better” than the building down the street. The religion…what’s being pursued and held up as the goal…is the validation that we’re “right” and “better than”. It has seemed that there’s a greater interest in who’s in/out of our club’s defined circle than what’s going on inside our own heart. I’ve since gotten to know those outside, there are genuine, open-thinkers, who are generally free to question, seek, and challenge without judgement because they’re interested in conversation and seeking new thought. They listen and consider and question and work thought until it resonates or doesn’t with them while doing the same to me. It’s been wonderfully challenging to think outside the box and frankly, I’ve had the doors blown off of my view of God because of it. I have found a few others post-church leaders who have the same pursuit and we “2 or more” in unique ways outside of bricks and mortar. Upon consulting God on the matter…seems like we’re good; He and I. In fact, better than ever. the people I encounter along the way…we’re rubbing off on each other as well.
    2. I’ve seen a backlash of comments about Donald. I was anti-him after reading a bunch of things about him years ago. You might of thought he was the anti-christ the way people catagorized him. I’ve since read his work. I’ve met him. I’ve listened to him. I really connect with his head and heart. I’m sad at the responses I read. There’s so much judgement followed by preaching or preaching first to judge. First, I wish they’d not speak until they knew all the information. Second, I wish they would read his thoughts and turn their thoughts to their own heart and head to consider what he’s saying, talk it over with the Holy Spirit and, at best, offer their personal conviction vs focusing all their attention on condemnation of another. Reason #2 why I’ve chosen not to hang out in a c. I’m preferring to be a bit more self-centered…focusing on my heart heart and head and what God intends for me. I guess I’m indirectly condeming and judging too. But, I withdrawl from them to put the oxygen mask on me first and enjoy a level of influence with those outside the club c circle and clear my head and gain a C perspective from God Himself. It’s been good. Very very good. The funny thing is to have a c that might be a match would mean getting the 59th denomination started…or the 16th amond the other 15 churches already on the road. I used my time to influence both a local c and c leaders to make it better…but big P’s (pastors) had their own ideas… so here I am.

  38. Charles Hodsdon on February 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    As someone who recently burned out serving a local church I have so many thoughts on this. I don’t think weekly attendance at a gathering that consists of 4 songs and a sermon is church. I think that was the kind of church Miller was talking about graduating from. That said, after leaving the church where I burned out, I found a place where I could hide in a back row, for many of the reasons Carey listed here. The bottom line for me is the deeply held belief that as Christians we have the greatest potential to glorify God when we use our gifts together. Church may not be four songs and a sermon, but it is the people of God trying to accomplish the mission of God, and we need each other deeply.
    othee
    By way of example, my wife works as a waitress, and sadly the Sunday after church crowd has a huge reputation at her restaurant for being the hardest on the staff and the worst at leaving tips. Her co-workers see how differently my wife lives, and are impressed, but they end up thinking she is who she is because of her own strength of character not because of Christ, because most who bear his name act nothing like Him. (But like to leave tracts in place of tips). This creates a tension. A desire to disassociate with the church going, bad tipping, tract leaving crowd, while desperately wishing that those who bear the name of Christ all loved the way He did, so that the unbelieving world would be able to see Christ. One Christian alone is an anomaly that the world can ignore, but a body of people loving like Christ would make a world of difference.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 10, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Charles…so sorry to hear burnout got the best of you. One of the things that burnout claims is perspective. Praying for you and pray that the grace that attracted you to the church in the first place is the grace that draws you back.

  39. jabez6311 on February 10, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Well written! Thank you.

  40. Mark Riggins on February 10, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for writing this Carey. Like you, I’m genuinely grateful for the conversation created by Donald. Your “grace and truth” response is appreciated.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      That’s one of the things I appreciated about Donald’s pieces. They weren’t rants. They were thoughtful pieces with much truth in them. I’m just couldn’t agree with his conclusion.

  41. ricklawrenson on February 10, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Good stuff, Carey. Thanks.

  42. Count Count on February 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 8 9?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Yep. I can’t count. Fixed. :0) Thank you.

  43. mlukaszewski on February 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Carey,

    Well written, encouraging and helpful post. The local church is the closest representation we have to heaven here on earth. You captured that beautifully.

    Michael

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Well said Michael. Love ALL you are doing for the local church!

  44. michael bayne on February 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Well written, thanks Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks Michael. And thanks for what you’re doing!

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