Recently I’ve been wrestling with a lot of questions about church and the western church system. I’m still not completely sure what to do in my own life — whether I should carry on going to church or leave.
When I talk about leaving the church, I’m not talking about leaving the Church. I’m talking about the whole western tradition of church buildings — you know, the bureaucratic systems where people meet in one building one time per week. The services where there’s the same monotonous schedule every single week.
I’ve always been a free thinker who questions things and seeks the truth. I’ve never really been a follower, and I’m not someone who usually just goes along with things without asking any questions. But there’s one thing I grew up in yet never really questioned: the church system.
Yes, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been in the church system for the better part of twenty-one years, and I never really questioned it. I never asked if it was right or questioned if it was really biblical. It was my blind spot.
When you’ve grown up in the church system, you can’t imagine things being any other way. So you assume there’s no other possible way to do things.
A couple years ago I genuinely wanted to work in a church. I don’t know what I was thinking, but that’s where I was at. I didn’t think of how disheartened I would be if I got to see close up how the Church is being turned into a bureaucratic business.
But then I discovered some amazing Christian leaders who had the courage to question the church system, and what they had to say spoke to me on a deep level. I found out about house churches (which, I know, can sound a little cultish, but aren’t if they’re done right) and heard people’s protests against the traditional church system. And I can’t unhear what I’ve heard.
Lately I’ve felt as if I was completely deceived my whole life and as if I have finally been told the truth about the church system and what the real Church looks like.
In this post, I’m not going to provide a bunch of definitive answers and solutions for how you should do church. The goal of this post is more to just get people to think and question.
I have definitely had some really negative experiences with churches, but I don’t want to bring those up because I don’t want to make it seem like this is just a subjective issue I have because I’m still bitter. Because that’s really not the case. I believe these arguments stand alone without bringing up any stories about traumatic church experiences.
So I’m going to share my main issues with the typical western church system. These are just the first things that come to mind, and I’m sure there are a myriad of other issues that I won’t get to address in this post.
I know I’m going to ruffle a lot of feathers by bringing these things up, but they’re things that we need to think about.
The church system encourages us to view certain buildings or locations as being holier than other places, when they’re really just buildings.
We’ve become the temples now. We shouldn’t feel like we have to be on our best behavior just because we’re in a church building yet freely act ungodly outside of it.
Meeting in one building once a week often causes us to compartmentalize our lives and feel or act differently just because we’re in a church building, which is ridiculous.
Isn’t it kind of terrible that when we meet non-Christians who seem open to God, we automatically invite them to church rather than into our homes? This is because unfortunately, if we’re honest, most of our personal lives don’t look that different from anyone else’s, and we wouldn’t even know how to tell unbelievers about God because we’ve made church our automatic go-to evangelism tool.
For some reason we’ve believed that God is more accessible in churches than other places, and that that’s where lost people should go to find Him. What a lie.
Have you ever seen those corny Christian movies where the protagonist inevitably ends up trying to find God in some old church, and they end up talking to some pastor in a traditional clerical outfit who tells them something profound? I kind of hate those scenes to be honest.
Contrary to what religion tells you, you have as much access to God when you’re alone in your room as you do in some church building. A building really is just a building.
The church system encourages lifeless, monotonous routine.
It’s comfortable. People are rarely taken out of their comfort zones. We think we need the same old schedule every week. Worship, offering, message, whatever. But it just becomes dead and lifeless, and people often aren’t getting what they really need.
God can’t move when you try to put Him into a box and tell Him how things are going to go. We try to control everything and then wonder why lives aren’t being radically changed all the time.
No wonder so many people feel like they’re just going through the motions. There’s no freedom in monotony. The same often applies to “life” groups. You can go to a bible study or small group every week yet be spiritually stagnant and not truly connect with any of the people in your group. Just because you’re in a room full of Christians doesn’t mean you have real community. Which brings me to the next point…
The church system kills community.
People go to passively listen to leaders, and they often feel completely disconnected from other Christians around them. In my experience, people don’t act that differently in churches when it comes to friendliness than people do on the subway.
No eye contact. Awkwardness when the pastor asks you to greet people. Exclusive, cliquey attitudes that say you should stick to the friends you already have and shouldn’t welcome new people in. But how can we expect anything different when we perpetuate a system that encourages this sort of behavior?
The Church is supposed to be like a family. Yet I can honestly say that I have never been to a single church where this felt like a reality. There’s always a distinct distance between people, and very rarely do people truly invite other believers into their lives. And that’s a tragedy.
The church system encourages a consumerist, entertainment-focused mindset.
You’re passively sitting in chairs and listening to the worship band and the preacher, rarely contributing anything or feeling like you’re even seen as a unique individual.
You go to get something for yourself and then leave. Rarely do you have to give anything of yourself. If the sermon didn’t speak to you or the worship didn’t do anything for you, you feel let down. If the pastor says what you want to hear, you’re happy and applaud him. If he doesn’t, you get frustrated that he didn’t meet your needs.
Something that deeply bothers me about the typical western church system is that it turns worship into entertainment. There is practically a formula for how worship is supposed to look and sound nowadays. A lot of the songs are pretty darn corny and all sound the same. People focus too much on the worship leaders, like when churches have them up on the screen and zoom in on their faces. Why would we need to look at other people during worship? It’s just kind of weird.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how we’ve become so good at acting all spiritual and holy during worship, yet we often don’t carry that into other areas of our lives. Worship becomes this isolated emotional experience. I’ve genuinely been around people who seemed like the strongest Christians during worship, but as soon as they left the auditorium they would be rude and mean and wouldn’t act Christlike at all. We’ve got to stop that.
Worship isn’t about selfishly seeking after feelings and emotional highs for ten minutes; it’s about a life of surrender, even when there’s no music.
The church system encourages passivity.
We gather together once a week and listen to one person theoretically talk about abstract ideas. Yet how many of us actually live any of these things out? We feel great at church but then we go home and quickly forget what we learnt because church doesn’t carry into our everyday lives. We compartmentalize our spiritual lives.
When it comes to it, I think people like the church system because it’s comfortable. You often don’t have to take any risks. You don’t have to rely on the Holy Spirit because you’re never being taken out of your comfort zone. The things of God don’t feel real because it’s more about theoretical preaching than practically living things out.
When it comes to it, I don’t think most of us are willing to leave what we’re used to and actually live things out. So many of us have correct beliefs, yet those beliefs so rarely get translated into action. How many Christians do you know who are constantly trying to find ways to help the poor and needy? How many Christians do you know who are healing people and casting out demons? Probably not many, because we’ve been encouraged to be passive and rely on religion.
The church system encourages superstition and religiosity.
If you miss a Sunday, you feel bad. If you consistently go to church, you feel like you’re a “good Christian.” When in actuality, going to a building once a week and passively listening to someone preach really says very little about your walk with God. If you’re relying on one preacher’s message or a few songs sung by a worship band once a week then something is wrong.
If we’re not careful, churchy things just become rituals like those in the Catholic church. We’ve just created our own distinct brand of religion. It looks free, but it really isn’t because we’re still restricted to lifeless rituals.
Going to church every week does not make you a Christian. If you think it does, you’ve believed a lie your culture has sold to you.
The church system encourages hierarchy.
When a select few people are leading the service, you eventually start to believe that what they say matters more than what other people have to say. If you don’t play a role in the church, you start to feel like you’re talentless or you don’t matter. So many people go unnoticed and feel invisible, and their spiritual gifts are never realized because people never take the time to make them feel seen and valued.
When it comes to it, as Christians we’re all equal. Preachers don’t have any more access to God than you do. You have to answer to God before your pastor. We need to stop putting people on pedestals just because people let them stand on a stage and share a sermon.
Just because someone is a pastor does not make them any more spiritual than anyone else. Did you know that in America, a large percentage of pastors are either porn addicts or struggle with porn? Isn’t that disturbing? Don’t think that someone is holier than you just because they’re standing on a stage. Oftentimes it’s the unseen, unappreciated people who live the holiest lives.
Churches inevitably become like businesses.
They quickly turn into bureaucracies. People who were once on fire for God and had genuinely good intentions quickly become preoccupied with practicalities and material anxieties.
You’ve got to keep the building going, so then you have to ask people for money. You’ve got to run the church efficiently, so you have to have offices and employees. And before you know it, the church feels more like a business than a family. This is an unfortunate reality for the majority of churches.
Can this really be God’s will? Jesus turned over the tables in the temple courts because He was angered that people made His Father’s house into a place of business, yet haven’t we done the same thing? If you’re not sure, just think about the fact that tons of churches in America have their own cafes.
So these are just a few of the issues I have with the church system.
I want to clarify that I am not saying that churches are all evil and that God never moves in churches. I know lots of people encounter God in church services, and I know there are some really amazing Christians who go to regular churches. I still go to church sometimes. But my question is, is this really God’s best for us?
I’ve heard sermons where the preachers talked about how the Church isn’t a building but a community of believers. What they said was true, yet it didn’t sound believable coming from their mouths. Honestly, it’s kind of confusing to hear preachers preach that church isn’t a building yet contradict that statement with their careers and how they “do” church. They’re preaching something that they’re not really backing up with their lives.
Let’s stop acting like we understand what the Church should look like yet remaining in a broken and lifeless church system. Let’s stop acting like we want to imitate the early Church yet deliberately continuing in a tradition that looks more like Catholicism.
Honestly, I think so many people just don’t want to leave man-made traditions. We’d rather live in empty comfort than live Spirit-led lives where God is actually doing something through us. We’d rather hide in our cozy little buildings than actually go out and make a difference. We’d rather be distracted by aesthetic frivolities than focus on what really matters.
When it comes to it, I think most of us don’t really want freedom. We quite like our comfortable cages. Cages where we can be consumers but don’t have to give more than we want. Cages where we don’t have to connect with people on a deeper level than a superficial greeting or a shallow bible study.
I think we’re scared to leave what we know and venture into something full of risk yet full of beautiful potential. We don’t like the unknown. We’d rather pour new wine into old wine skins and wonder why things aren’t working.
So you may be wondering, What’s your answer then? What are you suggesting that we do? What’s the alternative?
Honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out. But I know there are Christians out there who are living out their convictions about Church. I know there are Christians who actually do life with people, who are in each other’s homes all the time and worship freely, without having to stick to some stuffy routine. Who have real community and are like a real family rather than a cold, cliquey group of acquaintances with surface level connections.
It is possible to completely revolutionize how we do church, but there’s a lot of sacrifice involved. Are we really willing to give up our traditions and routine and take a risk?
I have to admit that I haven’t yet found a tangible alternative in my own life, mainly because I haven’t found solid Christian community yet. But I know that if the church feels like a prison, something is wrong. We should be free. We should be Spirit-led. We shouldn’t be stuck in the same miserable routine. We should be living radical lives, not merely religious ones. We should view the Church as a family of believers, not as a group of strangers who all happen to gather in the same building just to hear certain people preach to them.
I think the real Church just looks like people doing life together. People always being in each other’s homes. People worshiping all throughout the week. Getting in the word together and singing together. Using their gifts to edify each other. Encouraging each other. Confessing their sins to each other and holding each other accountable. Supporting and providing for each other, and spending their lives looking after the needy and hurting. Opening their homes to anyone who is in need of community and love. Praying with people. Baptizing people. Going out on the streets and healing people. Setting people free. Boldly sharing the gospel. Actually making a tangible difference.
I do not yet see those things in my life, but I want to. Just because I have not yet found other Christians who have this radical vision of the Church does not mean it is not possible.
Honestly I sometimes wish I could go back and unhear these radical views about Church. I sometimes wish I could carry on in my blissful ignorance, when I thought it was totally fine that people have turned the Church into bureaucratic businesses. But I can’t. That ship has sailed.
Now that I know, I can’t go back to how I was before. And I want other people to see things for what they really are. I want other people to realize that nothing is forcing them to stay trapped in these man-made traditions.
Honestly, if church services were suddenly made illegal and Christians couldn’t carry on going to churches, I think the majority of Christians in America would fall away, because the church system is all they have. We’ve lost what the Church is really supposed to be.
I know it’s so hard to go against the grain because it often means rejection. Going to church is just what people do. Living differently might make you seem weird, and you may be worried that people will think you’re in a cult or that you’re “negative” for going against the church system. But these are just lies the enemy has used to stifle and suffocate the Church and imprison it in the chains of religion.
I believe God is raising up His true Church and freeing the Bride of Christ from the restrictions of man-made religious traditions.
I just hope that more people at least have the courage to question and think for themselves.
I’m going to include some videos of Christians who realized the deception of the church system and decided to leave it. I hope these people get you thinking outside of the box.