quitting church: reason #3

i am in the midst of a synopsis of julia duin’s engaging book, “quitting church.”  ms. duin’s perspective is especially important to me because she is not “in the ministry.” duin is religion editor for the washington times and her story comes from a deep, personal place.  she tells us why people are leaving the church, and she tells us what we (the church/church leaders) ought to do about it.  so far, these posts have stirred quite a bit of controversy.  that was not my intention, but i look forward to the dialogue.

NOTE: as a single person, duin wrote a chapter on the tendency of the church to ignore that growing demographic (and she had some great things to say about their sexual issues), and another on the church’s attitude toward women.  i have chosen to skip those to chapters in this conversation, not because they are unimportant, but because as a married male i didn’t think i could do them justice.  i urge you to buy the book and read them for yourself.

reason people are quitting church #3:  SUPERFICIAL TEACHING

People never tell me mediocre teaching is the foremost reason for their leaving the church, but it is a huge factor…The heart of the pastor–and the centerpiece of most Protestant services–is the sermon.  Pastors generally think their sheep are getting a good meal; however their listeners disagree, according to research by George Barna.  In 1993, he found that while only 44 percent of congregations polled rated the preaching they got as excellent, 81 percent of the pastors did so.

duin interviewed several prominent theologians (you would recognize their names) and she bemoans the intellectual laziness and Scriptural weakness of most preachers.  One seminary professor said, “They are more into marketing modes for growth, but growth for growth’s sake is the philosophy of the cancer cell.”   ms. duin pointed to the mormon’s “system” of aggressively training their children as something evangelicals might consider.  she continues:

Many churches have done a poor job of grounding people in their faith and laying down what commitment as a Christian means.  The typical church is not educating people by teaching Scripture in an understandable and applicable way…Short of being a seminary student (the one period in my life when i got exceptionally good teaching), I have found little out there besides devotionals and introductory studies.

duin also points to the pew as a source of the problem:

In fairness to those who preach, part of the problem is believers who are too jaundiced to ingest spiritual meat…People who are not being dazzled by new insights at church will soon go shopping elsewhere.

finally, duin quotes chris jackson, pastor of grace church in la verne, california and author of “loving god when you don’t love the church.”

I am running into a lot of people who are disillusioned.  They have paid their dues, done all the meetings, done all the involvement, and that is not bringing the life change they thought it would.  And we have had elders leave the church, some of our most precious people.  They didn’t leave mad, they left burned out.  The hunger in people today is a combination of practical truth they can apply and experience. People are looking for Jesus, period.  If they found a place they felt embodied a relationship with him, far fewer people would leave the church.  We weren’t created for programs or activities.

duin concludes:

Most people don’t like to fail, so when they get enlisted into a faith in which they cannot hear the Lord’s simplest directions or get their prayers answered, they check out fast. Most either slide into a costless Christianity that’s easily maintained or simply give up.


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15 thoughts on “quitting church: reason #3

  1. A big AMEN on #3! The last church I attended (Southern Baptist) accepted Sunday School teachers if they had a pulse and a reasonably warm body!

    The Baptist Sunday School Quarterly I refered to as “adult pablum”. (That is baby food for the under fifty group.)

    Duin’s comments on preachers is telling for the modern church when you consider that for 150 years of American Colonial history preachers were the very best educated and very best public speakers as well as the cutting edge of education. They (preachers) formed Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth and countless others that now rank as some of our very best colleges and universities in the country.

    To quote scripture “you reap what you sow”!

  2. Randy,

    I certainly don’t want to be confrontational, because just writing the posts you are writing is a very, very good thing and badly needed. Without dialogue from both church “insiders” and church “alums” like myself, church based Christianity will eventually end up on the junk heap of history

    Having said the above, I do believe you and any and every male preacher should speak about the church attitude toward woman and do it justice!

    It is not very hard to see the results of organizations, most especially religious organizations that consider fifty percent of human beings second class in participating in any spiritual calling including preaching.

    I could “rest my case” almost on this issue alone on why I don’t attend church!

    • i agree, john. in my fellowship, women are invited to participate fully in every area and are celebrated for their contribution. in fact, i have a woman on my board.

      that being said, i think the emphasis in my teaching needs to be on men being the men they ought to be,. most of our interpersonal problems would be solved if men would just step into their god-given roles. in my humble opinion.

  3. I think Ms. Duin has hit the nail on the head. A proliferation of “empty-headedness” has pervaded the current church and it is a result largely due to the lack of solid biblical teaching. Instead of expository preaching we have settled for feel good, always-be-smiling talks that pass as sermons and messages from God’s Word. Most often they are from us. “Study to show yourself approved” and “to equip that saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” seem to be missing today. I want to be part of the solution not the problem that we face in today’s church. Thanks for posting this Randy.

    • bill, i agree with you. our problem (in america, anyway) is that “feel good, always-be-smiling talks” seem to “work” (whatever that means). like you, i am working hard to be part of the solution. thanks for visiting, and thanks for your contribution.

  4. “The heart of the pastor–and the centerpiece of most Protestant services–is the sermon.”

    i’ll give her that the sermon is the centerpiece of most protestant services. and in my mind that’s where we’ve gone wrong. i agree completely that we need to be deeper in a study of the word (not for knowledge sake, but for obedience). i can proudly of my religious heritage that this is one thing which they have traditionally done an excellent job. [they may have pressed obedience to a way in which too earn salvation, but they definitely were studiers of the word.] with a shift lately towards saying salvation by grace and really meaning it (a good shift), though, i fear has come a moving away from scripture itself. that’s disappointing to me.

    but i think we ought to be looking for deep bible studies in which we work too interpret scripture collectively. one guy doing it for the entire body just isn’t a good idea.

    closely related… what i won’t give duin is that the sermon is the heart of the pastor. the heart of some, or maybe even many. but i’d say the best way to see his real heart is in the context of every day life. a sermon is words on paper, and out of a mouth.

    • brett: you are so profound to be so young…and scientologist. you said several things that i love. i worked on staff at other churches before planting the one i now lead, and as i watched the men i was called to serve, it was easy to see their obsession with the sermon (performance) to the exclusion of many other important duties. i would argue that the vast majority of my minsitry takes place outside the pulpit.

      and, yes, the litmus test of my ministry will not be my preaching, but my character.

  5. Randy

    In my experience…
    People are NOT leaving “The Church of God” aka = “The Body of Christ.”
    People are leaving the 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax deductible, Religious Corporation.

    Should we call a Corporation – “The Church of God?” AAARRRGGGHH!!! 😦

    Doesn’t the Bible warn us about;
    *The commandments of men?
    *The doctrines of men?
    *The philosophies of men?
    *The traditions of men,
    that make the Word of God of “non effect?”

    Mark 7:13 KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    Mark 7:13 ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    Mark 7:13 NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    A simple word like “church.”
    What do most people **Today** think that means.
    Ask someone, believer or non-believer, to describe, explain or point to “church.”

    1 – Building with a steeple?
    Is that in the Bible?

    2 – Pastor – in a Pulpit – Preaching – to People – in Pews?
    Is that in the Bible?

    That’s what the world thinks, the believer and the unbeliever, isn’t it?

    Isn’t that what our so called “Church planting” has accomplished
    with four buildings on four corners in a lot of local towns?
    And passing the plate at every meeting? Oy Vey!!! 😦

    Haven’t we deceived the people we’re supposed to be reaching out to?

    How many will know and understand that they can
    become “the ekklesia of God.” The called out one’s of God.

    How many will know that “The Church of God”
    “The ekklesia, the called out one’s of God” are;

    Kings and preist’s unto God.
    The Bride of Christ.
    Servants of Christ.
    Sons of God.
    Disciples of Christ.
    Ambassadors of Christ.

    Haven’t we deceived them by telling them the building is the church?
    And we have to give money to God so He can keep His building in good order?

    When all the time “you are” the ekklesia of God.
    The habitation of God. The house of God.
    God doesn’t dwell in temples built with the hands of men.

    Haven’t they missed the awesomeness of God,
    The beauty of “His Church,” “His Body.” How we all become “ONE” in Him?

    Neither bond nor free, neither male nor female,
    Neither Emergent nor Traditional nor Pentecostal nor Baptist.
    Neither Complementarinism nor Egalitarianism.
    Neither Denominationalism nor Non- denominationalism.
    All obeying Jesus. All following and learning from Jesus, as “ONE” new man.

    Jesus… My Lord and my God…

    • Thank you Amos…well said!

      Tired of Church…Church attendance…and the usual 3 fast songs…2 slow songs, a special and a message from the man in charge. Tired of the gossip and backbiting in the pews and the adultery in the pulpit. Tired of passing the plate for a foreign cause but the neighbor next door can’t provide for their children. Tired of the pressures of giving or the curses if you don’t tithe but we don’t know how to love our neighbor as ourselves.

      Love God very very much, love life and love people, but church is exhausting!

  6. My church hunt earlier this year became necessary because as a teacher within the church that I had attended for the better part of the last decade, I was not allowed to teach from the bible only. I was required to use the Lifeway curriculum approved by the church regardless of whether it was good or appropriate for my class.

    I tried for over a year to abide by that rule but finally was compelled to separate from the church because they were more interested in growth strategies than exegetical teaching.

    I actually heard two things from the pulpit in the last few weeks before I left that still sadden me…

    1. “This is a fresh way to reach our communities {pastor holding up a book endorsed by Joel Osteen}”.

    2. “Leading a home group – So easy a Cave Dweller can do it.”

    I wondered when did the bible or gospel become stale and since when did we remove the warnings from the bible directed at those who teach.

  7. It’s unfortunate that you skipped over the chapter on single people quitting church.
    Nonmarried adults are often invisible in modern evangelical family-centric congregations.

  8. ” i have chosen to skip those to chapters in this conversation, not because they are unimportant, but because as a married male i didn’t think i could do them justice. ”

    I read Julia Duin’s book, “Quitting Church” and your comment regarding Chapter 5 and singles, which I’ve copied above, is EXACTLY the problem that needs to be addressed in the churches. Pastors are married (often at a very young age) ditto for elders, etc. They are clueless about singles, and as a result singles languish are ignored or placed in subordinate demeaning roles.

    • thank you for your comment, marc, and i applaud the passion with which it was offered.

      i certainly don’t mean to be defensive (and i apologize if i sound that way) but i, in fact, agree with you. perhaps part of the problem you so eloquently describe is pastors who are “clueless about singles” offering their opinions about the problems singles face. that’s why i skipped the chapter on singles in the church (ironically, in response to a comment by j.b. i wrote down my thoughts on this chapter and published it before i had a chance to read your comment).

      in the fellowship that i lead, single adults play significant and vocal roles. i’ve had singles serving in every area of leadership from elder to worship leader to small groups leader…certainly not “subordinate demeaning roles.” i would suggest that pastors that are aware of their “cluelessness” may be the very ones to abrogate some of our traditional, stereotypical thinking in the church.

      and, if i may be so bold…

      if you are not currently serving in a local church, i would challenge you to find a place to help make the changes you propose. it’s easy to point out problems from the sideline, but change happens when good people get involved. even church leaders who are “clueless about singles” have enough sense to welcome someone as passionate about singles ministry as you seem to be. you would certainly be welcomed at my church!

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