Why people leave the faith

Many times in the last few months and years I have had to think on this question.  As each name flashes through my mind, I agonise as I wrestle with this little question: “What happened?”

They were doing so well… leading Bible studies, youth leaders, theological college graduates, faithful home group leaders, evangelists, missional thinkers.  Those who had grasped the gospel and drunk deeply of grace.  So it seemed…

What happened?

In no case that I can think of – did people walk away because they had reasoned it out and Christianity no longer made sense.  In fact almost all of them, would still claim that they believe in God.

In almost all cases people walk away because of some relational failure in the church.  Either people have simply not cared when they were hurting.  Leaving them feeling lonely and uncared for.

Or simply “Christians behaving badly” – backbiting, gossip, malicious attitudes, exclusion from social circles, lying, cheating etc.

That alone is a thought worth a blog post all on its own, as well as some serious soul searching.

But the reality is our entire message is based on the expectation that relationships will fail, that Christian are/will/shall behave badly.  That is why we need Jesus.  If we could get community and relationships right on our own if we just got our act together then there would be no reason for Jesus.

That poses a significant problem for the church then:

If on the one hand people are leaving, in fairly significant numbers and percentages, because of relationship failure.

But on the other hand we are powerless to actually get our act together.  And consistently care for the lonely, hurting etc.  If sin will always affect the quality of our life together.  If in a very real sense we are always hypocrites because there will always be a gap between the values we hold and the lives we lead will always  – how do we resolve this paradox?

It seems like an impossible situation to fix, do we just shrug our shoulders and say – well we all know the parable of the sower and the four types of soil?

Now the parable of the soils is a significant and real issue.  But I do not think it compels us to an apathetic/helpless sense of inevitability.

How do we hold these two polar tensions together?

Honesty!  Or read authenticity.  The problem is not that we are imperfect, most people will forgive mistakes.  The problem is that we do not own our mistakes.  We are not honest about our sins, our mistakes, our imperfections.  Instead we talk church up like it is a perfect, idyllic community, where everyone is love and cared for.

I recently had a chance meeting with yet another disillusioned pastor’s daughter, her words to me were something along the lines that – she knows the things that happen in church.  She know the dirt that no-one ever talks about…

As a result of this ideal-church talk, people are not free to be real and confess sin, ask for help and talk openly about fighting sin because then it becomes clear that they do not belong in this world.  They enjoy this plastic world of made-up church but deep down they know they are an impostor that they do not truly belong.

Because, truth to tell they are a mess!  And sin, struggles and brokenness goes underground to be dealt with on their own – “get my life together and be like the rest of the church”.

But they like the rest of us will fail and grow weary and just knowingly perpetuate the masquerade, whilst living the lie of double standards.

We must strive (ironic I know!) in order to become a community that is defined by grace rather than by works.  The rule of thumb in most Christian communities seems to be – you can be as messed up as you like to enter (the messed up the better?) but soon you had better start getting it all together.  Holiness must now define you rather than grace.

Now do not get me wrong I am all for transformed lives, Jesus must make a difference in your life, or he is no good news at all.  And I am all for holiness – our God is a holy God.  But both of these flow from grace!

We are made holy only by grace.  Jesus is the holy one, the one who perfectly fulfills God’s holy law.  We are only holy as we are in Him, by grace.  And grace must continue to define and shape our relationships and lives until That Day when sin and death will be no more and we will be like him.

Grace leads to holiness, but a striving for holiness in a community seldom leads to grace.

The reality of the kingdom now inaugurated says that being “in Christ” will make a real, significant and tangible difference in how we live now.  But the reality of the Kingdom still to be consummated (what is often referred to as “the now and the not yet”) says sin will continue to pervade us, grip us, entice us.

And the reality is that most of us have real, significant areas where we struggle (and fall?) consistently.  Is this not, at least in part, why God gave us each other – the church.  Fighting sin is not a personal battle, this lesson took me a long time to learn.

We need a community of grace – focused on the cross – where we can be honest about our weaknesses, own our failures, take responsibility for our sins.  And we need a community that will not leave us there – a community that will love us, rebuke us, challenge us, encourage us when we get weary of fighting.

We need a community where we know that we are not alone in fighting sin.

Perhaps then, the face we display to the world and to the rest of the Christian community will not be as perfect, radiant or pretty.  But it will be real, authentic, grace-filled, loving, challenging, strangely attractive and beautiful, in a whole different and deeper way than just superficial perfection.

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~ by John on January 29, 2009.

One Response to “Why people leave the faith”

  1. […] Why People leave the faith […]

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