I was done. I’d had enough.
I didn’t want to go to church anymore.
At the time, we were going to a very big church that would probably be best characterized as seeker-sensitive in its ministry model. Top-notch band; comfortable setting; short topical messages; the works. Lots of people were coming, a new multi-million dollar facility was just being completed and there was a lot of excitement in the congregation.
But I was miserable.
There wasn’t anything going on that was bad per se, but… something was off.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” as they say.
Except in this case, it was me.
Every week, it was the same. I would pray that God would give me contentment. I would come, Bible open, ready to hear the message; I would listen, seeking to find that one thing that might be what I needed to hear… but there was nothing.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, I stopped caring.
And it didn’t matter if I went or not. Heck, sometimes the days when we called in “Bedside Baptist” (i.e. skipped) were the most fruitful for me. Not necessarily because I was spending huge amounts of time in private worship; I just wasn’t ticked off about something.
So yeah, I was done.
But I was wrong.
See, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church anymore—it’s that I couldn’t be a part of the church I was attending anymore.
In the midst of all of my grumpiness, a few things had happened:
- I’d begun to develop doctrinal convictions and found myself a Calvinist in a Pentecostal-ish/seeker church. This presented some problems of the square peg in a round hole variety;
- I’d started developing in my spiritual gifts and had no outlet; and
- I distinctly felt the need to ask to be sent out… and I hesitated.
That last one was the big problem.
It was one of the only times when I’ve, in hindsight, been sure that God was directly telling me to do something. During a message one October, the associate pastor (and this is pretty much the only thing I remember from the entire message), “Maybe some of you need to ask to be sent out to do what God would have you do.”
I heard that and began to pray, and distinctly had this impression that I needed to go and ask to be sent out.
I wrestled with it—I hesitated and didn’t ask. I sat on it instead.
From there, my discontentment grew; we dipped our toes into the church-shopping waters, but there wasn’t anything that felt right. So we kept going to our church, all the while asking, “If we’re going to be a part of a different church, what are the hills we’re willing to die on? What has to be there?”
As we talked, read the Scriptures and a really helpful book or two, and prayed, we found our “musts:”
- Expositional preaching of the Scriptures;
- The gospel and our need for it clearly communicated;
- Male eldership;
- Opportunities to grow and serve in our areas of giftedness; and
- A commitment to church planting either locally or internationally (and preferably both)
Then, one Sunday I had enough. I was completely finished.
I set up a meeting with our pastor at the time and we parted ways as a trial period—we’d had a church in town, Harvest Bible Chapel London, highly recommended to us by many, many people (including, interestingly enough, our former pastor). We were going to try it out for the summer and see what we thought.
The first Sunday we were there, it was just… different. I listened intently to the sermon. Emily and I would periodically look at each other having one of those mental husband and wife conversations. And when the service was done, I asked her, “So…?”
“You were smiling the whole time,” she said.
We were in.
Four plus years later, we still are.
These days there are a lot of books and blogs about being “done” with the institutional church; some opt for a more informal gathering, others basically consider going to work with a couple of Christians “church.”
But here’s the thing:
What I learned from that experience is not that I didn’t want to go to church anymore—it was that I had to be in the church where God wanted me.
So if you’re frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel, maybe look for ways you can serve well. Figure out your biblically based convictions about what a local church should be. Pray for wisdom. Repent if it’s a matter of your attitude being wrong.
And maybe, if God’s leading you somewhere specific, ask to be sent out.
But don’t give up on the institutional church.
After all, Jesus hasn’t.
An earlier version of this post was published in 2010.