As I walked through the large, glass church doors, a deep pain swelled in my stomach screaming for me to turn and run from this place I’ve called home.
I used to feel loved by these walls — treasured and safe in their warm embrace.
I used to find sanctuary in a beautiful, lingering worship melody as if Jesus himself was holding me tight and whispering in my ear, “I love you.”
You see, I miraculously wandered through those same doors six years earlier — lost and suicidal — and over time saw my entire life transform. I even shared my story in a service from the stage in front of thousands.
Then, on a brisk October day, these words came flying at me in a painful meeting:
“You have caused darkness in our church,” and continued, “Your voice isn’t welcome at the table.”
My jaw slammed to the cold, tile floor. This man was all-but-saying the words I fear most out of the people I love: Get out, you aren’t wanted here.
Don’t worry friends, I didn’t bring a gun to church or destroy the chicken wild rice hot dish just before the potluck — offenses obviously worth excommunication. I did something much more scandalous: I listened to what God was whispering to me and wrote it down in a post I called 12 Reasons Millennials are Over Church.
Why would God want me to feel such hurt and rejection for my faithfulness to him? I wanted out of all of it. “I’m taking a church sabbatical,” I told those closest to me. Even worse, I journaled this:
I don’t want a personal relationship with a God that would lead me to so much hurt and rejection.
So… I’m not Job… shoot me.
And yet, in the months that have passed, it became glaringly obvious that I was in fact meant to write that piece. Five days after that meeting, the post got picked up by one national blog and within weeks, five more. Three months after it’s initial publishing, those words have been viewed and shared over 500,000 times by authors, church leaders and college presidents.
One famous author wrote: “If we took this kid seriously church would not be the same again. And in a good way.”
I’ve talked to pastors in Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and Tennessee. I’ve met and networked with some of the most beautiful Jesus-like people you could ever imagine. I got contacted by a publisher asking to see the book proposal for my manuscript.
I share this story of church struggle not to shame anyone or to cause gossip. I am sharing this painful story for you: the beaten down, church-resistant, “I’m never going back there” Christian because I want you to know you are not alone.
And through this whole ordeal, I’ve come to a crazy realization:
The church desperately needs more non-church people (like you and me).
And here’s why:
1. You Hold the Bigger Picture
Since you are not a church-insider, you see the larger story in a different way than those completely immersed in church culture. You have a laser vision for our ultimate purpose — to love God and serve the least of these — that allows you to call out the distractions that keep the church in neutral.
Takeaway: The church needs you to (gently) remind them of the plot when it gets lost in the wrong story.
2. You Have Compassion for the Misfits
You’ve felt the sting of exclusion so you’re able to empathize and love people in a way the in-crowd cannot. Because you don’t fit the mold, you are exactly the person someone needs to come say hello.
I once heard a church worker say, “there is a place here for anyone who tries — people are just lazy and then complain they don’t have community.”
I wouldn’t call someone who is brave enough to step foot in a new church lazy; I would call them courageous and vulnerable. They are entering a new place wondering if they’ll be judged, wondering if they’re too “dirty” to stand next to the family with the perfectly ironed khakis, wondering if this place will be another source of pain, condemnation, and disappointment.
Takeaway: If the people who don’t fit abandon the church, the other outsiders will never have a place either.
3. You Challenge the Status Quo
You’re not willing to accept an institution that is merely “good enough” and are brave enough to speak up when you see waste and inefficiency.
It seems people in power don’t really like to be challenged (and certainly not by someone younger or who doesn’t fit the church mold). This is why we, the people who don’t love church, need to use the voice God has given us.
Sadly, you’ve probably felt the backlash for standing up for what you believe in, but this is why the Church needs you even more.
Takeaway: Never be afraid to humbly stand-up for the changes God is calling you to lead. If you hit some resistance, you’re probably on the right track. Be brave enough to keep going.
4. You’re Bold & Edgy (and dare I say… reckless?)
The perfect church person is quiet and reverent. They always appear holy and have memorized every syllable of the church handbook. They don’t ask questions about big decisions and certainly don’t give their opinion when things are handled poorly.
You have never been like this (and you probably don’t even hang out with people like that.) But Paul doesn’t call his disciples to be quiet and timid. He calls them to love God with reckless abandon. Paul encourages Timothy saying, “God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.” 2 Timothy 1:7(MSG)
Takeaway: Be careful not to immediately jump on the offensive. Get your hands dirty by serving and loving the church. If during that service you see ways to improve the church, pray and share what you feel God is telling you with strength and confidence.
5. You Can Model Forgiveness
We need to share, not silence, our stories of being hurt by the church. We have all seen how secrecy among God’s people only spreads more darkness.
Instead of wallowing in the pain, choose to do something radical: forgive them.
Run from the enemy’s temptation to gossip. Instead, choose to extend the same grace and love to members of the church that Jesus has extended to you. Yes, egging their house seems like a more satisfying avenue, but forgiveness is actually the greatest gift you could ever give the church.
“Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 (MSG)
Takeaway: If you’ve been hurt in big or small ways, be brave enough to walk through that pain and extend forgiveness to those who’ve hurt you. (Side-note: It’s yeah…super not fun).
6. You See Things Like a Newcomer
When a church is run by only people who love church, they forget what it’s like to be a new believer. Slowly, the language and customs become incomprehensible to non-church folk, especially those raised outside the church.
Takeaway: You see the barriers a church places before new people and are the perfect person to come along the newbies and bridge the gap.
7. You’re Not Blinded By Your Love
We’ve all been there, so head-over-heels for someone we choose not see their glaringly obvious flaws. Even when our friends say, “bro, she’s a mess,” we’re all like, “nah, she’s the one.”
You are that friend and the churchy people are the dazed lovers. Your lack of infatuation for the church actually makes your more valuable to the organization as a whole (although they probably won’t see it that way).
True love wants what is best for someone and calls out truth. Just because you are not standing on top of your car with a megaphone having an I-LOVE-CHURCH dance party does not mean you don’t deeply care about God’s Church.
Takeaway: The fact that you’re willing to work towards improvement and press in through the pain is actually a deeper love than the many who choose complacency.
8. You Don’t Care About Keeping Up Appearances
Your Faith is Messy. You’re authentic and vulnerable. You rail against the notion that the J-O-Y of C-H-R-I-S-T must be present on your face at all times. You’re real about the day you’re having and aren’t vague about the struggles you’re facing.
For that reason, YOU are the type of Christian outsiders need to encounter.
People need to see that trying to become fully alive in God is a struggle filled with trial and errors. When you start to follow Jesus, the Bible doesn’t say things will get easier, often times they get harder but in a beautiful way.
Takeaway: The Church needs vulnerable people like you who can be open and honest about the difficulties of trying to live an honest, pure and holy life. Can I get an Amen?
(I can’t really pull off the amen thing, can I? Moving on…)
9. You’re More Interested in Following Jesus Than Playing the Religion Game
You know who else stood in front a crowd and told people hard things they didn’t want to hear? You know who else held up a mirror to the religious leader’s of his day and tried to show them the areas they had lost their way? You know who else was rejected by the people he loved?
Jesus. This guy our church is centered around. So if you’re ruffling a few feathers maybe God is making you more like Jesus than you even know.
If you are truly following him, you too will come toe to toe with those in power just as he did.
You too will be cast aside by those who don’t agree with you.
You too will be asked to show an inhumane amount of forgiveness when you’ve been hurt.
Takeaway: Through it all, keep your eyes focused on being more like Jesus; he’s the only one who truly matters.
So my friends, if you consider yourself a “non-church person” as I do, the church needs you more than you could ever know. In God’s big story, rarely is it the perfect, religion-loving man the hero that is called upon to do great things. Almost always God chooses the underdog, the scrappy misfit to accomplish his unbelievable plans.
So what if God chose me? And what if God is choosing you?
If you’ve left the church, I hope you’re brave enough to go back and try again. I pray you’re strong enough to extend forgiveness for the imperfect people who hurt you. The truth is, there are non-church people still hanging out in these buildings waiting to welcome you back or welcome you in.