Did you grow up in church? Did you know that one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the church in which they were raised? Did you know that the number of people who say they are not affiliated with any particular faith today is over double the number who say they were not affiliated with a particular faith as a child? Did you know that the United States is on the verge of becoming an officially minority Protestant country?1
Well, I didn’t leave the faith, but I did leave my church (Don’t worry; we will come back to the stats later). In fact, I left a thriving church with a thriving ministry. I had no issue with any one of the 3000 loving people surrounding me. It was warm. It was comfortable. I had good relationships, some of which had been present and benefited me since I was a child. This was a church I had been in almost all my life. This was a church in which my father had been the pastor for all of those years. Can you imagine? This was a church in which I was pursuing God’s direction for myself and my family. Ok, so I must have moved out of town, right? Nope. Hmm. I already said I did not leave the faith, so why did I make such a seemingly senseless exit? Did I go to another church? Yes. Did I know anyone in the other church? Not a soul. So why would a guy pick up and move his family out of a loving church in which he had a good history, good ministry and close family and take them to a church in which he did not know a single person? One word. Covenant.
More about this issue of covenant and my actual move to come. Let’s talk for a moment about the current cultural context in which I made such a move. The majority of the current evangelical world lives with a faith that is disjointed. Why? Because we have answers to how someone’s soul is saved but we lack comprehensive answers about what changes when they leave their old life and follow Christ. Sure, we let them know to pray more, read their bible when they can and worship in church on Sunday, but when we get out of the four walls of the church things get a little fuzzy. In fact, they get real fuzzy. For a while this was easier to deal with. But what we have begun to witness all around us, starting in the last century is the failure of humanism’s promises. The church had begun for at least a century to believe that the humanistic pagans would do fine setting up a neutral world in which we could conduct life and do church. Government, business, education, recreation, and a number of other areas could all operate for the pagan and Christian in much the same way. They were neutral and they would work just fine. We believed this promise. We believed a number of humanism’s promises. Those beliefs are now being challenged. They have been for a number of decades. Families, businesses, civil governments, education and a host of other institutions surrounding us are crumbling. You can’t turn on your TV, browse the internet or go outside of your home without hearing the deafening sound of cultural collapse.
This is where the stats from above come into play. The church does not have answers. Questions are being asked all around us, and we don’t have answers. As a result we are producing culturally impotent disciples. Why wouldn’t people leave the faith of their childhood? Why would they not leave the faith altogether when it is a faith that lacks answers to the questions about everything going on around them? I don’t mean answers in the form of anecdotal clichés. I mean very practical answers to how to live the Christian life. They need answers that make a visible difference in every area of life and society. They need a full understanding of covenant.
So, back to my story. Did I leave because another church had some engaging worldview program in which I could become involved? No. I left because my children needed to be baptized. That’s right. I was in a Baptist church. I was deeper into the Baptist faith than most. Now don’t miss this. If we can’t get the understanding of covenant right as it applies to our household then we don’t stand a chance in getting it right as it has to do church and with society around us. There was more than one night that I looked into my then five year old son’s deep blue eyes as he asked, “Papa, why do we have to leave everybody and go to another church”? He deserves a complete answer.
- Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey(↩)