I spent most of my life being part of a church.  Growing up, we went every Sunday morning.  When I was old enough, youth group was added.  Sunday after Sunday, and then Wednesdays too, from birth through high school, I went to church.  I did other things such as school and sports, but the majority of my family’s life was connected to the church or people from the church.  Then at 18 I had a brief departure from church life, about four years total.  I was going through a lot of upheaval personally.  I clearly remember thinking that my questions, disappointment, and anger had no place in church.  It was okay to question if you were new to church or not really involved.  But the seasoned folks didn’t question God.  So I did the work on my own and eventually made peace with God.

In my early 20’s, married, and looking for a community, I decided that I wanted to go back.  More than anything else, it was the relationships I was looking for.  But this was easier said than done because I have always had an edge to me – my personality, my humor, my outlook.  I didn’t quite fit in with the “Snow White” types at church, but neither was I a rebel without a cause.  I had a cause.  It was depth mixed with a strong dose of reality.  So I would look and sometimes find that ragtag group of people who took their faith seriously and knew how to have a good time.  These are great people to hang out with because they’ll challenge your mind, warm your heart, and make you laugh.  And they know how to have fun.  Life is too short not to laugh heartily and regularly.

As I got older, I found myself not only growing comfortable with mystery and unanswerable questions, but insisting on them.  I couldn’t profess a simplistic faith in a complicated world.  I encountered realities that made me angry with God and I needed to be honest about that.  And in this process – years of work – something incredible happened: God became bigger.  The benefit of a big God is that this God can handle big questions and big emotions.  The downside is that this God is significantly more aloof.  Assurances didn’t come as quickly, but what I did have I could hold onto firmly.  That is not to say I don’t have days and weeks at a time of doubt.  In fact it would be more accurate to say that doubt is a regular guest at my dinner table of faith.  But I believe the big God can handle it, one of my few assurances.

Along the way, I have learned that not everyone is okay with this kind of God.  Some people need a very black-and-white God, to know who is in with God and who is out, what God requires and what God hates.  Bible passages are picked and contextualized in modern circumstances to support this God.  I have found this to be true in both conservative (right belief) and liberal (right action) churches.  This kind of environment became increasingly unhelpful for my faith journey.  I was aware that either my faith would be extinguished or I would eventually start fires all over the place.  But I found people and people found me, other outsiders of the church, who were hungry for sharing a journey with a big God faith.  Hearing about a God who could handle their shit, and hearing about a follower who had her own shit she was carrying turned out to be good news to people.  I would like to say that it is my personality that drew these people to me.  But I know better.  It was the message I spoke that was resonating so deeply with some.  And so I became increasingly drawn to the faithful and the questioning who lived outside the church, or least were on the parameters of the church, the questioners who were not quite mature enough for church leadership.

In the beginning I had hoped I could do my work in collaboration with the church.  I did not want to be a pastor.  I saw a beautiful partnership emerging in my imagination.  I knew there were still many folks who found the existing church meaningful, and the church could continue to serve them well.  And for the increasing population who had dismissed the church, those were the people I felt called to serve, and I wanted to do so with the church’s help and blessing.  I believed both communities of faith would benefit from the other.  But my church was not interested.  I looked into other churches and talked to many pastors.  Unfortunately there was baggage that seemed to keep getting in the way.  The baggage carried by the church concerned its hierarchy, dwindling membership, and/or fear.  The baggage carried by those outside the church concerned hurts, misunderstandings, and/or apathy.  Perhaps I am oversimplifying but in my experience and the research I have done, I found these threads: the church is insisting on its relevance, and the people outside the church don’t care.  If I stayed within the church walls, I would have to invest time and energy in serving, reassuring, and helping those already part of the church.  Stepping outside those walls would allow me to devote all my energy to those who had no faith community yet desired one.  My decision was an easy one to make.

Next : a reluctant pastor


20 thoughts on “Why I Left the Church to Start a Church

  1. I am proud of the work you have done toward this effort. I remember the first time you shared your thoughts with me regarding “doing church differently” and we both agreed that the need for a space where folks can be raw and supported at the same time was much needed. I applaud your willingness to move forward…you are a talented preacher and teacher and I know that God will use you in mighty ways. Blessings to you and all those you touch.


  2. Jennifer, Thank you for sharing your experience. You have described your personal experience of what Christian psychiatrist M. Scott Peck describes as the four stages of spiritual growth in his book, The Different Drum, Community Making and Peace, chapter nine. They are Stage 1: Chaotic, antisocial (for you it was probably when you were a rebellious 2 year old not wanting to go to church), Stage 2: Formal, institutional (where most church goers of all ages are), Stage 3: Skeptic, individual (where most previous church goers are), Stage 4: Mystic, communal (where you and those you have been seeking community with more recently are now).

    He points out that we each have to go through each stage in their order, we go at different rates and ways, we need to be patient and accepting of each person’s individual progress through them, accept that not everyone is going to make it to Stage 4, and that a person is not superior or more loved by God than a person in a lower numbered stage.

    Our church, like the one you are starting, if I am anticipating your future posts correctly, is also attempting to be an accepting community for folks in their transition to Stages 3 and 4. Visitors who are still in Stage 2 don’t get it and keep searching for another church that offers them the security of black and white answers and rigid categories for doctrines, processes and people. That’s ok. That’s where they are now, but hopefully we’ll see them back at our church in some years saying, “Now I get it.”

    I think as our population ages we will encounter more and more folks transitioning to Stage 4. Most churches cannot or will not change from Stage 2. That’s ok because Stage 2 people need Stage 2 churches. But we will see a growing number of new Stage 4 churches like yours starting. They will look and act and feel very different.

    I look forward to hearing more of your and your fledgling church’s experiences and wisdom. May God bless your efforts.


  3. I’ve never felt comfortable with the church’s inability to be real and even messy in a messy world. Your authenticity and desire to do church in the messyness of life, e.g. struggles, unanswerable questions, hurts, joys, etc. is the differentiator that will draw people to your message. It draws me.


  4. Sadly many are disillusioned with the church and rightly so, Gods word demonstrates repeatedly that the Christian will have various trials and that these will educate, humble us and cultivate the seed.

    Our faith requires that we are active in serving God, getting to know the ways and paths, as we draw close to God we must continue to seek accurate knowledge of God, His son and his purposes. Follow the basic rule let the Bible explain itself, or let scripture interpret scripture anything more is our personal opinion.

    Our journey is very personal but the impact is life saving as the Apostle Paul tells.

    Find truth in your journey it is as complicated as many churches would have you believe.


  5. I really admire the journey you’re on. I can truly relate to the questions and challenges that faith brings upon us. I’m looking forward to continuing on.


  6. You are such a gifted writer, Jen. I look forward to being able to access more of your ideas, so soul-truthfully expressed.


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