13 Reasons Why I Left the Institutional Church

This is a guest post by Sam Riviera. He spends most of his time and energy caring for others in his community so that through his life and actions they might see Jesus. If you have neighbors (and you do), you must read his series of posts on Getting to Know Your Neighbors.

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Leaving Church

Which Gospel?

When I was a child, I loved my church.  I imagined Jesus sitting next to me when I was there.  Jesus loved me this I knew, for I learned it in Sunday school.

As an adult, however, something changed.  I could no longer imagine Jesus sitting beside me as I listened to a whole ‘nuther gospel, a gospel of money, power, authority, position, correct thinking, correct behaving and unquestioning acceptance of everything being taught.

Where Is Jesus?

I no longer knew what to call the institution.  Church seemed inappropriate.  So I called it religion and decided to look for Jesus elsewhere.

Although there are dozens of reasons why I left the institutional church, there are thirteen that especially stand out in my mind:

  1. Apparently Jesus had left the building.  I occasionally heard someone mention Him, but I could not find Him there.
  2. I could no longer be part of an organization that did not treat women and men equally.
  3. If I heard another “Christian” refer to LGBT people as abominations condemned to hell I was going to get in their face in a major way.  I came within seconds of doing exactly that in front of hundreds of people at a mega church event.
  4. The church was totally about preserving itself, which included protecting the money and playing the politics needed to accomplish that.
  5. The church wanted and lusted after the rich, the beautiful, those with good jobs and large incomes, those who had married well, those who lived in the best neighborhoods and those who sent their children to the best schools.  The church did not want or welcome the poor, the unlovely, minorities, LGBTs or the homeless.
  6. The church did not want or welcome those who asked questions, those who disagreed with the leadership and those who did not contribute financially.
  7. The pastor, staff and leadership rarely had time to talk to anyone except the power brokers and those who gave the most money.
  8. Everyone was expected to believe exactly alike.
  9. I asked the pastor “Do you know what happened to ‘Mr. Smith’?  I haven’t seen him in several weeks.” “The last I heard he was very ill and in the hospital.  He may have died,” the pastor replied. “Did you visit him at the hospital or call his family? I asked. “No.  He wasn’t a member of the church.” Neither was I, nor were many of the people who attended there.  If I ended up on my deathbed, at least I knew who would not be there.  (I later learned from another source that ‘Mr. Smith had died a couple of weeks before my conversation with the pastor.)
  10. I hated the cliques.  There was always an “in” group.  The “in” group ignored everyone else.
  11. Most of the decisions of the church were not really made in board meetings, member meetings or in other official venues.  They were made by a small group of power brokers behind the scenes – in phone calls and e-mails, in the hallways of the church and in other unofficial venues.  The official venues were only for show.
  12. The church disliked the people who lived in the neighborhood around the church.
  13. The church did not interact with the neighborhood or community, or invest time or money in them.  Most of the money was spent on the needs of the church.

My list of reasons was compiled based on what I experienced and observed at the churches I attended. Each item could be illustrated by numerous stories.  My experience undoubtedly does not reflect everyone’s experience.

Did you ever leave the church?  Why or why not?  Did you return?  Why or why not?

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