I wish that we could have this conversation over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I firmly believe that all the best counseling sessions involve caffeine. But, alas, the written word will have to do.
So, you’re thinking about quitting church. On one hand, I understand that. I assume that you have been deeply wounded by the church in some way. Perhaps you bear the wounds yourself. Maybe you were a ministry leader, bitten and torn by your flock. Or maybe you suffered a form of abuse from a pastor, elder, or deacon. Perhaps you boldly told your story of abuse to your church leadership, only to find their eyes blind and ears deaf to your suffering. It could be a toxic, harsh atmosphere that you’re fleeing or a series of worldly compromises. These wounds are real, and they hurt.
On the other hand, perhaps you weren’t personally hurt, but have seen the wounds of others. Pastors de-converting, churches following the rhetoric of the world, massive abuse scandals, mega churches crumbling and leaving their congregants dizzy with confusion—any of these headlines can make a person calloused to the idea of church. I get it.
My own story involves only garden-variety church hurt. Nothing as drastic as what I listed above, but many nicks and bruises—either my own or those of my immediate family members—inflicted by the Church throughout the years. A close personal friend bears a massive church-scar from decades ago. She keeps it concealed most of the time; but though many years have passed, I know it still hurts deeply.
Before you quit the Church—and I don’t mean merely leave the church you’re currently attending, but actually jettison the very idea of the Church—please give me a chance to change your mind. Begin by considering God Himself.
Perhaps the same reasons that you’re ready to throw in the towel on the idea of church have left you bitter with the One who founded it in the first place. While I understand that, we must remember that humanity—even believers in Christ—bears the image of God in distorted form. Therefore, to take what we see in humans and apply it to God, will result in a lopsided, fun-house-mirror image of the Almighty. We must turn to the Scripture, which reveals God’s character without distortion or equivocation.
First, God sees your wounds and cares deeply for them. He promises to be “near to the broken hearted” and to “save those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). A runaway, unmarried, pregnant Gentile slave gave God the name “El Roi,” or “the God who sees” because He saw her hurt, her pain, her tears, and met with her personally (see Gen. 16). He promises to keep all your tears in His bottle (Ps. 56:8) and to exalt the poor, needy, and vulnerable to a position of prestige and praise (Ps. 113:7-9). We’re told repeatedly that the LORD is “compassionate and gracious” (Ex. 34:6; Ps.103: 8). He feels your pain and extends mercy to you in it. He is not blind to whatever hurt you have incurred at the hands of the Church. He sees and He cares. And in no way does He condone the wrongdoing.
Second, God despises deceit and hypocrisy. Christ Himself pronounced woes on the Pharisees that will make your toes curl. In the course of one chapter of Matthew’s gospel (chapter 23, if you’re wondering), Jesus, the meek Lamb of God, calls the Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, blind people, whitewashed tombs, snakes, and a brood of vipers. In short, He has no patience for deceitfulness and hypocrisy. He detests it. This zeal also led Him to cleanse the temple not once, but two times in three years (see John 2:13-25 and Matt. 21:12-17). He flipped over the tables and drove out the crooked charlatans with a whip. He hates hypocrisy, and He despises deceit.
I can see you nodding your head right now, agreeing completely and saying, “Exactly! That’s why I want out! He would too!”
Not so fast.
God sees your affliction, and He loathes the sinfulness that caused it. He sees every act of deceit in the Church with a broken heart. Yet, the Church is still His plan. Speaking to Peter, Christ proclaimed that even the “gates of hell will not prevail” against His church (Matt. 16:18). Nothing—not the wickedness of perverted men or the vicious tongues of caustic women—can prevail against His Church. Since the day God poured out His Spirit on believers fifty days after Christ’s victorious Resurrection (Acts 2), He has been working through the Church. And He will continue to do so. For this reason, He has given patterns and commands to purify the Church. He cares very much about its holiness (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5). He takes this so seriously, that He sometimes take drastic steps to purge a local body of His global Church because it persists in tarnishing His name (Rev. 2:5, 16, 22-23).
Not only this, my friend, but you need the Church. And it needs you. You have no more chance surviving as a believer without a church than a heart has of surviving alone outside of a body. Inside the Body of Christ, you can find shelter from the barrage of the enemy and His wily temptations. Inside the Body of Christ, you can experience encouragement from a brother or sister a little farther along in the race than you. Or you can offer a cup of cold water to another runner about to throw in the towel. The Church exists, in part, for your edification.
Inside the Church you also get equipped for service. Though we live in a time of unparalleled access to sermons, articles, podcasts, and books by gifted writers, teachers, and speakers, those resources were never meant to replace the work of the Church in equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. This is the work of the local church (Eph. 4:11-12). The resources of the internet and Christian bookstores (if you can still find one) ought to supplement your equipping, not replace it. Your shepherd r knows what you need more than the megachurch pastor or podcast host you love to listen to.
Finally, and most importantly, inside the Church you get a foretaste of heaven. Maybe you think that if Heaven is anything like your church, you want no part of it. I don’t know your church, my friend, but I do know this. In heaven, myriads upon myriads, thousands upon thousands will sing praises to the Lamb slain for your sin and for mine (Rev. 5:11-14). Each week as your local church, with its flaws and failures, gathers to worship this King, you’re participating in a worship service that gives a faint echo of heaven.
My friend, though I wish we were sitting at a coffee shop, sipping lattes, the fact is that you’re looking at a screen, and we’ll probably never meet in person. Before you turn your back on the universal Church or even your own local church, have that caffeinated (or decaf, if you must) conversation with a trusted friend who will you give you biblical counsel. Don’t just walk away; walk in the light. Seek godly counsel, seek the Word, and cast your cares on your heavenly Father. He’s big enough for your hard questions, unafraid of your doubts, and will never walk away from you.