If you looked at all my blog posts over the last few years and was asked to determine an over-arching theme, you’d most likely say “Christian Faith,” or something of the sort. I’ve gone to school for theology, led worship in churches for over a decade, and been on staff in churches for most of my 20s. I thought I knew what I was talking about. I thought I knew what church was like. But you don’t really know what Christians are like until you stop going to church.
(The title of this post was partially borrowed from The Liturgists, because I felt like it has also been what I have gone through over the last year as well. The Liturgists have an amazing podcast. One podcast in particular they tell their own stories of deconstruction that inspired me to do the same, which you can check out in two parts here and here. I encourage you to check out the podcast as a whole though. It has truly been the only beacon of light in the darkness over the last few months.)
I’m in a strange place in my life right now. Until recently, I don’t think I really knew how to even put it into words. Honestly I think its been a long time coming. Years of hurtful moments that I wasn’t sure I’d actually get through.
I feel like I should preface this post by saying this may be the most raw and honest post I’ve written in a long time. It will be less structured; more like a conversation. But a conversation where I’m doing the talking, and you’re being the great friend you are and just hearing me out. I’m doing this because I feel like we’ve been on a journey together, you and I. If you’ve been following me on here for a while, you’ve seen many of the emotional and spiritual struggles I’ve gone through. You’ve had a glimpse into my tiny little world. I feel it is only appropriate to be honest now. It’ll be a nice way to close one very large chapter in my life, and turn that page. So here’s to reflection, gratefulness, heartache, loneliness, redemption, and starting over….again.
I’ve spent so much of my life thinking I was going one direction, with one clear goal. One destination. When I was younger, I thought I’d be playing music full time, and working for a church on the side. When I got older, those occupational assumptions swapped seats and music took the backseat to what seemed more like my passion and was much more consistent and secure: leading worship in a church full time.
I really thought I wanted to do this. I was so sure, in fact, that I started working for churches at the ripe young age of 16 years old. Looking back now, Its amazing they paid me and called it official. But thats where it started.
12 years and way too many churches later and here I am. I was on that trajectory almost unswervingly. This path of what I wanted to do, and life could not convince me otherwise. There was a problem, though. Along the way, I got wounded on the ministry battlefield by a lot of friendly fire. Then I wounded myself by shooting myself in the foot when it all seemed to be going pretty well. Ok, enough with the metaphors. You get the point.
Basically, I had a lot of pain. Some was self-inflicted emotional pain, a lot was other people doing the inflicting. But Eventually it began to take a toll, but it would be years before I acknowledged to myself and others just how much it had taken.
Fast forward to about a year ago. I had just been let go from a church I had been working in full time for over a year when they decided to bring down the axe on the whole service and everyone involved. This was just a few days after New Years. Happy New Year to me.
It was at this point that I started wondering if maybe this wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I couldn’t stand the feeling that I had wasted so many years of my life to just throw it away and not do it anymore. And besides, what else would I do? My skills, schooling, and experience all pointed towards worship ministry in a church. I wouldn’t begin to know where to start. So I began pursuing other church positions. A couple of part-time positions came up, but a church with a full time position in Colorado wanted me to fly out and interview with them. It was exciting and flattering. I had never considered such a thing before! I went out, had a thousand conversations about the same thing in the span of about three days, and flew back…and waited.
Finally a few weeks later I got the call…. It was a no-go.
They couldn’t see taking the risk on me when they felt like I was a little “too honest” to be in their community. It was a bit heartbreaking, but I shook it off and moved on. I worked in a couple part-time churches for a while. But this summer it all sort of came to a head when they wanted 100% out of me (naturally), and I realized I only had about 50% to give.
It was in this moment that I finally was able to admit to myself that maybe I was just done. Maybe I was over being a part of something I didn’t really believe in. Maybe I didn’t want to go to church just for the sake of going. Maybe I didn’t want to hear about how churches spend more money on themselves while there are people starving down the street.
Maybe I didn’t want to feel judged anymore.
Now this isn’t any particular church that I’m speaking of, but rather the collective thoughts/feelings on most churches I’ve been in contact with.
The issue is not with any particular church or people group, but rather a greater issue in the Church as a whole. Its an issue I tried desperately to work out in my own heart in the midst of it, and also tried to change from the inside. But eventually I realized its never going to work that way.
So I quit.
I told God, myself, and my wife that I didn’t want to work in another church in the city I lived in, and that I might consider a few other churches if they ever needed someone.
About two weeks later, one of those churches called me up.
I had a conversation over the phone, and at the end of that call, they said they wanted me to come out and meet everyone. Obviously, I was a bit skeptical. This wasn’t my first rodeo, you know. The difference was that I knew what I wanted.
- I wanted a genuine community.
- I wanted a cause I could believe in.
- I wanted to be a part of a church that was really making a difference in the lives of those who walk through the door, as well as the community they were a part of.
Much to my jaw-dropped surprise, this church seemed to have all of those qualities. It was truly an amazing community. It was at this point that I began to let my guard down. I let myself be honest. I explained where I was emotionally and spiritually. I described the church experience I was coming from, and what I so longed for. It all seemed to be going great.
We got back, and five days later I got the call… Another no-go.
This time I was much more devastated. The most I had ever been. It seemed so perfect! If there was ever a time where I thought God was involved and orchestrating things, whatever that means, then this was it. I thought this was going to be our new home. But in the end, they wouldn’t take the chance on me. It hurt so much, but I wasn’t really sure why. Now that I’ve had some time to mull it over, I think I can finally put it into words.
One theme that has always been consistent throughout my life in the church is that I never quite felt like I belonged anywhere. No place, people group, denomination, or organization ever really felt like home to me. I always thought it was me, but eventually I realized it was actually the Church. There is a culture that exists within the Church that has become so desperately exclusive that they are beginning to exclude everyone, even themselves.
I think one of the reasons this came to be is because somewhere along the way, the Church became very afraid of change. If they couldn’t predict it, quantify it, and compartmentalize it, then it was evil. This has always automatically excluded young people. This has been my experience my entire life, but up until recently I was able to handle the blows with a pretty thick skin. But eventually I realized I just couldn’t do it anymore.
When I was honest about where I was spiritually with that most recent church prospect, I told them that I was struggling with doubts and fears, but not of God. Just the Church. But I was fully committed to exploring those things within the lens of leading people. Its always been in this leading that I found God so often. I learned and grew when it was in a healthy environment. I knew that if they took a chance on me, I would really be able to grow there. I knew it deep in my heart. And yet, it didn’t happen. And I was done…
Life After Church
I have since realized that maybe Its time I go it alone for a while. Maybe I need to spend some time in my own wilderness trying to rediscover myself, God, and where I want to be. I know I want to be a part of something that matters. I know I want to have a job that lets me use my passions and skills in such a way that it makes a positive impact in people’s lives and is, in turn, adding purpose and meaning to my own life. I’m just not sure what that thing is right now. And I think that is ok.
Like I said in the beginning, I’m in a strange place. It almost feels a bit like C.S. Lewis’ book “The Great Divorce”. This whole book is about being in between two destinations. It feels like that. It feels like I’m being pulled in opposite directions. There’s this tension I can never quite shake.
I really loathe most of what Church has become in America. I’ve done enough research, read my fair share of church history textbooks, wrote papers, and taught classes on church history. All this while attending and working in churches. And all that work led me to one conclusion; Church is supposed to be about God, but today’s Church is actually about me.
I don’t care what you argue. Your church is different, you may interject. Your pastor really loves poor people. Your church’s music is way better than those kinds of churches. You don’t have flashy stage lights and a nice building. Your church gives most of its money to missions. Whatever the case, there will always be a significant number of attendees who completely believe that church exists to meet their needs and spoon feed them catered christian teachings to make them feel better. And here’s a dark secret: It’s usually the people serving on some board who have lots of money they donate to the church.
This terrible fact makes those people feel entitled to get their way. Maybe they own companies, or in some fashion are used to getting their way and carrying authority. But the most influential people in most churches in America are also the richest. So Church is basically like Congress, except in church they wield the name of God to win arguments, rather than use logic, rational thought, and humility. but I digress…
The reality is I saw things like this over and over and over again in almost every church I worked for. It got old really quickly.
I became exhausted with hearing people talking about new buildings, new equipment, and God “blessing” them with nice things. I got tired of everyone being primarily concerned with themselves. It’s truly amazing to me how a group of people can be so disillusioned to think that building top notch facilities and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a building is somehow going to help a community or impact people’s lives. Most of the time the building stays empty and doesn’t help anyone except the people who attend the church and use it a few times a week. Yet, most churches do it. And it’s always communicated as “growth” to the people.
When people talk about hypocrisy with Christians, they usually mean people hiding their true selves while judging others for their mistakes, and that sort of thing. But when I think of hypocrisy, I consider the system we know today as “Church”, and it’s direct contradiction to the Biblical Church. I think of the hypocrisy of leaders who lead churches because it was easier than getting a regular job. Or people who really enjoy having influence and power, so they become pastors. Or congregations judging church leaders for not acting, dressing, speaking, or living a certain way that meets their arbitrary cultural standards.
I wouldn’t wish church ministry careers on even people I hate. That’s how bad it is.
I’m sure not every church is that bad. Maybe I’ve just had really bad luck with churches. And that’s fine. But my experience has shaped my current thoughts, feelings, and opinion of Church as a whole. And I imagine it will be years before I see any real healing from that. So that’s where I am right now.
The Cultural Shock
I was ready for the freedom I’d experience of getting my Sundays back, of having the choice of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I was excited to have my holidays back! Though I was prepared for a bit of backlash from some friends and family.
What I wasn’t prepared for was just how bad it would get.
I have had people stop talking to me all together because I don’t attend church. People have condemned me to hell, gotten angry and raised their voices, and felt pity and sadness, all because I said I not only don’t attend church, but that I’m completely ok with not attending church. Hardly anyone I knew from my church days have shown much support at all. The only people who have shown any love or support are those who have or are currently experiencing the same thing in their own life. Guys, this is really really bad. Its disheartening and troubling. I had no idea Christians had gotten so hostile, defensive, and aggressive to anyone who challenges what they believe. That is basically what I’m doing I guess.
If I can quit church and God didn’t smite me, then what could that mean!?
- Could you also quit church?
- Does church even matter?
- Why do you even go to church?
These questions and more begin to creep in. It never seems to cross people’s minds that maybe questioning your faith and challenging why you believe something rather than blind belief could be a good thing for your soul. But the default response is defensiveness and hostility. It’s not the best way to “win” me back, though.
The Uncomfortable Conversation
Another thing I wasn’t quite ready for was just how uncomfortable talking about church to your every day church-goer would be. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin. Even praying before a meal with a bunch of people, or really anything church/God related has suddenly become such an uncomfortable and tense place for me. I think maybe part of it is trauma related. Like someone wanting to talk about the person who abused you.
But it can also be partly because I just don’t know how to talk about it on a casual level yet. I don’t know how to separate myself from what I experienced before, and what lies ahead. I don’t know how not to be painfully cynical and harshly biased towards church and Christianity. This cynicism bleeds into conversations about Church if one talks about it too long with me. And the last thing I want to be is negative and bring people down. So ultimately I find myself trying to avoid the conversation all together. Or steer the conversation in a different direction as smoothly and quickly as possible.
This is a difficult thing because It seems most people want to talk about church with me. I mean I was in church ministry for the vast majority of my life so far. So why wouldn’t I want to talk about it, right? Hopefully this post sheds some light on that. So next time you talk about church around me and I seem off, you’ll know why.
Who Your Real Friends Are
This past year has shown me who truly cares about me. There’s not many. People tend to operate based on certain cliches they identify with, or stereotypes they can be categorized by. As soon as you start to challenge that, you are now a threat to their identity. I talked about this earlier. I have felt like people have often acted somewhat flippantly with my current spiritual circumstances. But, truly, this has been quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through. And it’s mostly felt like I’ve been on this journey alone.
All I would ask and hope for is that if someone you know is struggling with a crisis of faith, treat it seriously. If you care about them then you will love them, show support, and just be there.
There are a few people who have been there for me. For the first time in my entire life I can honestly say I have a supportive, loving, inclusive, and tight “inner circle” that has helped me and will continue to help me in moving forward in this journey. I just hope I can reciprocate the level of genuine love in friendship that they have gifted to me. It’s a new day to be sure. I will be 30 years old this year. I no longer hold on to the things of the past. I want to accomplish good things in my life. I want my life to mean something. I want my time, effort, energy, and drive to be invested in something of purpose, something much larger than myself. This is where my time will be spent. This is where you can find me.
This post tells a story. It is a raw, honest, and often times painful story. But I feel that this story should be told. It’s being written in my life every day, and your story is being written right now as you read these words. An inciting incident is when something dramatic happens in the story that presents a problem for the main character. My inciting incident began about two years ago. Instead of being a good, likable, strong, courageous main character, I chose to wallow in self pity, doubt, and denial for over two years. This extended my inciting incident and actually transformed it into many incidents.
But today I no longer want to be that character. I’m choosing to take my inciting incident and rise to the challenge of problem-solving. I feel that I am finally strong enough to let go of the past, allow myself to heal, and move on to the next part of the story.
As I move forward from here, I don’t know what the content of this blog will entail, or how often I will post. But this blog was never meant to be anything other than the story of someone just trying to figure out who they are. I guess I’m still doing that. So that’s what it will be about. I appreciate you continuing on this journey with me. I look forward to turning the page, ending ACT I, and beginning ACT II.
And with any good story, one should always remember that ACT II is when the story really starts to get interesting.