Why I Don't
Go To Church Anymore!
By Wayne Jacobsen
I do appreciate your concern for me and your willingness to raise
issues that have caused you concern. I know the way I relate to the
church is a bit unconventional and some even call it dangerous.
Believe me, I understand that concern because I used to think that way
myself and even taught others to as well.
If you are happy with the status quo of organized religion today,
you may not like what you read here. My purpose is not to convince you
to see this incredible church the same way I do, but to answer your
questions as openly and honestly as I can. Even if we don't end up
agreeing, hopefully you will understand that our differences need not
estrange us as members of Christ's body.
Where do you go to church?
I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer it
with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it
is based on a false premise--that church is something you can go to as
in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus looks
at the church quite differently. He didn't talk about it as a place to
go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and to other
followers of his.
Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to
Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go a
Jacobsen is. 'Church' is that kind of word. It doesn't identify a
location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate
to each other. If we lose sight of that, our understanding of the
church will be distorted and we'll miss out on much of its joy.
Are you just trying to avoid The question?
I know it may only sound like quibbling over words, but words are
important. When we only ascribe the term 'church' to weekend
gatherings or institutions that have organized themselves as
'churches' we miss out on what it means to live as Christ's body. It
will give us a false sense of security to think that by attending a
meeting once a week we are participating in God's church. Conversely I
hear people talk about 'leaving the church' when they stop attending a
But if the church is something we are, not someplace we go, how can
we leave it unless we abandon Christ himself? And if I think only of a
specific congregation as my part of the church, haven't I separated
myself from a host of other brothers and sisters that do not attend
the same one I do?
The idea that those who gather on Sunday mornings to watch a praise
concert and listen to a teaching are part of the church and those who
do not, are not, would be foreign to Jesus. The issue is not where we
are at a given time during the weekend, but how we are living in him
and with other believers all week long.
But don't we need regular fellowship?
I wouldn't say we need it. If we were in a place where we couldn't
find other believers, Jesus certainly would be able to take care of
us. Thus, I'd phrase that a bit differently: Will people who are
growing to know the Living God also desire real and meaningful
connections with other believers? Absolutely! The call to the kingdom
is not a call to isolation. Every person I've ever met who is thriving
in the life of Jesus has a desire to share authentic fellowship with
other believers. They realize that whatever they know of God's life is
just in part, and only the fullest revelation of him is in the church.
But sometimes that kind of fellowship is not easy to find.
Periodically on this journey we may go through times when we can't
seem to find any other believers who share our hunger. That's
especially true for those who find that conforming to the expectations
of the religious institutions around them diminishes their
relationship with Jesus. They may find themselves excluded by
believers with whom they've shared close friendship. But no one going
through that looks on that time as a treat. It is incredibly painful
and they will look for other hungry believers to share the journey
My favorite expression of body life is where a local group of
people chooses to walk together for a bit of the journey by
cultivating close friendships and learning how to listen to God
Shouldn't we be committed to a local fellowship?
That has been said so often today, that most of us assume it is in
the Bible somewhere. I haven't found it yet. Many of us have been led
to believe that we can't possibly survive without the 'covering of the
body' and will either fall into error or backslide into sin. But
doesn't that happen inside our local congregations as well?
I know many people who live outside those structures and find not
only an ever-deepening relationship with God, but also connections
with other believers that run far deeper than they found in the
institution. I haven't lost any of my passion for Jesus or my
affection for his church. If anything those have grown by leaps and
bounds in recent years.
Scripture does encourage us to be devoted to one another not
committed to an institution. Jesus indicated that whenever two or
three people get together focused on him, they would experience the
vitality of church life.
Is it helpful to regularly participate in a local expression of
that reality? Of course. But we make a huge mistake when we assume
that fellowship takes place just because we attend the same event
together, even regularly, or because we belong to the same
organization. Fellowship happens where people share the journey of
knowing Jesus together. It consists of open, honest sharing, genuine
concern about each other's spiritual well being and encouragement for
people to follow Jesus however he leads them.
But don't our institutions keep us from error?
I'm sorry to burst your bubble here, but every major heresy that
has inflicted God's people for the last 2,000 years has come from
organized groups with 'leaders' who thought they knew God's mind
better than anyone around them. Conversely, virtually every move of
God among people hungering for him was rejected by the 'church' of
that day and were excluded, excommunicated or executed for following
If that is where you hope to find security, I'm afraid it is sorely
misplaced. Jesus didn't tell us that 'going to church' would keep us
safe, but that trusting him would. He gave us an anointing of the
Spirit so that we would know the difference between truth and error.
That anointing is cultivated as we learn his ways in his Word and grow
closer to his heart. It will help you recognize when expressions of
church you share life with becomes destructive to his work in you.
So are traditional congregations wrong?
Absolutely not! I have found many of them with people who love God
and are seeking to grow in his ways. I visit a couple of dozen
different congregations a year that I find are far more centered on
relationship than religion. Jesus is at the center of their life
together, that those who act as leaders are true servants and not
playing politics of leadership, and that all are encouraged to
minister to one another.
I pray that even more of them are renewed in a passion for Jesus, a
genuine concern for each other and a willingness to serve the world
with God's love. But I think we'd have to admit that these are rare in
our communities and many only last for a short span before they
unwittingly look to institutional answers for the needs of the body
instead of remaining dependent on Jesus. When that happens do not feel
condemned if God leads you not to go along with them.
So should I stop going to church, too?
I'm afraid that question also misses the point. You see I don't
believe you're going to church any more than I am. We're just part of
it. Be your part, however Jesus calls you to and wherever he places
you. Not all of us grow in the same environment.
If you gather with a group of believers at a specific time and
place and that participation helps you grow closer to Jesus and allows
you to follow his work in you, by all means don't think you have to
leave. Keep in mind, however, that of itself is not the church. It is
just one of many expressions of it in the place where you live.
Don't be tricked into thinking that just because you attend its
meetings you are experiencing real body life. That only comes as God
connects you with a handful of brothers and sisters with whom you can
build close friendships and share the real ups and downs of this
That can happen among traditional congregations, as it can also
happen beyond them. In the last seven years I've meet hundreds if not
thousands of people who have grown disillusioned with traditional
congregations and are thriving spiritually as they share God's life
with others, mostly in their homes.
Then meeting in homes is the answer?
Of course not. But let's be clear: as fun as it is to enjoy large
group worship and even be instructed by gifted teachers, the real joy
of body life can't be shared in huge groups. The church for its first
300 years found the home the perfect place to gather. They are much
more suited to the dynamics of family which is how Jesus described his
But meeting in homes is no cure-all. I've been to some very sick
home meetings and met in facilities with groups who shared an
authentic body life together. But the time I spend in regular body
life I want to spend face to face with a group of people. I know it
isn't popular today where people find it is far easier to sit through
a finely-tuned (or not so finely-tuned) service and go home without
ever having to open up our life or care about another person's
But ultimately what matters most to me is not where or how they
meet, but whether or not people are focused on Jesus and really
helping each other on the journey to becoming like him. Meetings are
less the issue here than the quality of relationships. I am always
looking for people like that wherever I am and always rejoice when I
find it. In our new home in Oxnard, we've found a few folks and are
hopeful to find even more.
Aren't you just reacting out of hurt?
I suppose that is possible and time will tell, I guess, but I
honestly don't believe so. Anyone who is engaged in real body life
will get hurt at times. But there are two kinds of hurt. There's the
kind of pain that points to a problem that can be fixed with the right
care--such as a badly sprained ankle. Then there's the kind of pain
that can only be fixed by pulling away; as when you put your hand on a
Perhaps all of us have experienced some measure of pain as we have
tried to fit God's life into institutions. For a long time most of us
hung in there hoping if we tweaked a few things it would get better.
Though we could be successful in limited ways during moments of
renewal, we also discovered that eventually the conformity an
institution demands and the freedom people need to grow in Christ are
at odds with one another. It has happened with virtually every group
formed throughout the history of Christianity.
Are you looking for the perfect church?
No, and I don't anticipate finding one this side of eternity.
Perfection is not my goal, but finding people with God's priorities.
It's one thing for people to struggle toward an ideal they share
together. It's another to realize that our ideals have little in
I make no secret of the fact that I am deeply troubled by the state
of organized Christianity. Most of what we call 'church' today are
nothing more than well-planned performances with little actual
connection between believers. Believers are encouraged toward a
growing dependency on the system or its leadership rather than on
Jesus himself. We spend more energy conforming behavior to what the
institution needs rather than helping people be transformed at the
foot of the cross!
I'm tired of trying to fellowship with people who only view church
as a two-hour a week dumping ground for guilt while they live the rest
of the week with the same priorities as the world. I'm tired of those
who depend on their own works of righteousness but who have no
compassion for the people of the world. I'm tired of insecure people
using the Body of Christ as an extension of their own ego and will
manipulate it to satisfy their own needs. I'm tired of sermons more
filled with the bondage of religion than the freedom of God's love and
where relationships take a back seat to the demands of an efficient
But don't our children need church activities?
I'd suggest that what they need most is to be integrated into God's
life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of
children who grow up in Sunday schools with all the puppets and
high-powered entertainment, leave 'church' when they leave their
parents' home? Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules
we need to demonstrate how to live in God's life together.
Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether
a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal
friendships with nonrelative adults. No Sunday school can fill that
role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of
sharing God's life together as families could say that they had not
lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood. I know I cut
across the grain here, but it is far more important that our children
experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and
whistles of a slick children's program.
What dynamics of body life to you look for?
I'm always looking for a people who are seeking to follow the
Living Christ. He is at the center of their lives, their affections
and their conversation. They look to be authentic and free others to
hurt when they hurt, to question what they question and to follow his
voice without others accusing them of being divisive or rebellious. I
look for people who are not wasting their money on extravagant
buildings or flashy programs; where people sitting next to each other
are not strangers; and where they all participate as a priesthood to
God instead of watch passively from a safe distance.
Aren't you giving people an excuse to sit home and do nothing?
I hope not, though I know it is a danger. I realize some people who
leave traditional congregations end up abusing that freedom to satisfy
their own desires and thus miss out on church life altogether. Neither
am I a fan of 'church hoppers', who whip around to one place after
another looking for the latest fad or the best opportunity to fulfill
their own selfish desires.
But most of the people I meet and talk with are not outside the
system because they have lost their passion for Jesus or his people,
but only because the traditional congregations near them couldn't
satisfy their hunger for relationship. They are seeking authentic
expressions of body life and pay an incredible cost to seek it out.
Believe me, we would all find it easier just to go with the flow, but
once you've tasted of living fellowship between passionate believers,
it is impossible to settle for anything less.
Isn't this view of church divisive?
Not of itself. People make it divisive when they demand that people
conform to their revelation of truth. Most of us on journey are
accused of being divisive because freedom can be threatening to those
who find their security in a religious system. But must of us aren't
trying to recruit others to leave their congregations. We see the body
of Christ big enough to encompass God's people however he calls them
One of the things often said about traditional church is that
Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American culture. We
only meet with people who look like we do and like things the way we
do. I've found now that I have far more opportunity to get with people
from a broader cross-section of his body. I don't demand others do it
my way and I hope in time that those who see it differently will stop
demanding we conform to theirs.
Where can I find that kind of fellowship?
There's no easy answer here. It might be right in front of you
among the fellowship you're already in. It might be down the street in
your neighborhood or across a cubicle at work. You can also get
involved in compassionate outreaches to the needy and broken in your
locality as a way to live out his life in you and meet others with a
Don't expect this kind of fellowship to fall easily into an
organization. It is organic, and Jesus can lead you to it right where
you are. Look for him to put a dozen or so folks around your life with
whom you can share the journey. They may not even all go to the same
congregation you do. They might be neighbors or coworkers who are
following after God. Wouldn't that kind of interconnection among God's
people yield some incredible fruit?
Don't expect it to be easy or run smoothly. It will take some
specific choices on our part to be obedient to Jesus. It may take some
training to shake off old habits and be free to let him build his
community around you, but it is all worth it. I know it bothers some
people that I don't take my regular place in a pew on Sunday morning,
I can tell you absolutely that my worst days outside organized
religion are still better than my best days inside it. To me the
difference is like listening to someone talk about golf or actually
taking a set of clubs out to a course and playing golf. Being his
church is like that. In our day we don't need more talk about the
church, but people who are simply ready to live in its reality.
People all over the world are freshly discovering how to do that
again. You can be one of them as you let him place you in his body as
© Copyright 2001 by Lifestream Ministries
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