I get emails. Sometimes nearly the same email from two different people the same day. Both have been edited to preserve anonymity —
I am unsure if this goes straight to Jay Guin, or if it is read by other people — but hello!
[JFG: Straight to me and no one else.]
I am of the same restoration heritage as you. I am newly married and after much deliberation and prayer, my wife and I decided that the congregation I was attending was not the community I wanted to raise my family in. Long story short, we are attending a non-denominational church plant that we’ve found to be a wonderfully healthy church community, filled with loving people who love to study the word and live life along side each other… But it isn’t a church of Christ affiliated church.
My parents and grandparents on both sides of my family have been brought up in the conservative segment of the churches of Christ, and I just had my first conversation with on pair of grandparents about our decision.
My conversation with my grandparents didn’t go well. It came down to instrumental music and how we use the “necessary inference/silence” aspect of interpreting the scriptures.
I have gotten a couple Facebook messages from my grandma after our conversation that make me feel like she’s perusing my congregation’s website and finding all the things she disagrees with, which makes me feel like this isn’t going to be an easy attempt at reconciliation. Anyways, I am seeking the Lord for peace, and I desire to be united with my family and not divided.
I was wondering if you could please share some wisdom as to how you navigate talking to people you love who have a very different lens with which they see the church and salvation?
I find your blog a source of great inspiration and I thank you for that and for your courage to write what you do. I turn to your writings often to sharpen my view or challenge my thinking.
For the past 2 years, I have been experiencing a profound disgust with my church home — a church of Christ. The Churches (not this one in particular) have been my church home for all my life and for 3 generations before I existed. I had no choice but to be a Campbellite, if you know what I mean.
I find myself so deeply disagreeing with the pulpit that I leave each Sunday disgusted, angered, and saddened. It’s affecting everything. My wife and I are starving. I recently asked the preacher to have a discussion about some of NT Wright’s works, and he said, “Who? Never heard of him.” Seriously. I teach classes there, lead singing, preach on occasion, and we are involved in all the fabric of the group, but it feels totally parasitic at this point. I am torn.
We are considering leaving, but I’m plagued with guilt. For one reason, what of all those people who look up to us? Shall we just leave them behind? On the other hand, what of my family? We ache for spiritual growth and nourishment and are reduced to listening to preachers from other denominations by podcast.
I went to the elders … Nothing. It’s a board of businessmen, not pastors. The deacons? Even worse. They were working on a snow shoveling schedule.
I hear sermons all the time about why to come to the church of Christ, but now I’m figuring, why stay?
Have you counseled this problem before? Have you written about it? Can you shed a light?
I get emails and calls along these lines pretty regularly. I think most families with Church of Christ roots have had these struggles. My own extended family has had these struggles. Rick Atchley (preacher for The Hills Church of Christ in Ft. Worth) had to deal with these issues with his own father when his congregation began an instrumental service. He’s preached about his personal situation more than once.
Here’s what I can say for sure:
- I’m a strong advocate for staying and being an agent for change (yep: a “Change Agent”) if doing so will not hurt your children’s spirituality. I would never sacrifice my own child in the hopes of changing a congregation.
- If you need to leave for the sake of your children, leave. Meet with the elders and tell them exactly why you’re leaving. They need to hear it first hand. But rescue your children. Be kind and polite, but speak frankly and plainly. Don’t let them misunderstand where you’re coming from. (I’m a retired elder. This is truly right and necessary.)
- Some people have the ability to lead change in a church. Some don’t but are able to support and encourage others who do. If it won’t hurt your children, stay and lead or stay and encourage. But don’t just stay and do nothing.
- Not everyone is gifted to help bring about change. If so, leave. Meet with the elders, and maybe your departure will help change their minds. It may take years, but as more and more leave over the legalism, maybe they’ll be open to change. I’ve seen some churches change that I thought were beyond all hope — but the Spirit is often more powerful than I dare hope.
- I am very blessed that my parents have always supported me as I’ve become a notorious Change Agent and apostate heretic. And my siblings have at least tolerated me. So I’ve not had the miserable family experiences that many have. Therefore, I encourage the readers to pitch in with their own stories. I know many have been through this.
- A few thoughts on those who’ve left and found their parents or grandparents upset.
- First, they still love you and will likely give it a rest once they’ve exhausted their efforts to make sure you’ve read all the tracts. We had one student at my own church who was disfellowshipped by his own father for attending our church (we clapped during the singing)! Seriously. It took a few years, but his father ultimately repented and apologized.
- I’ve lost all my grandparents but loved them all dearly. But raising my children with a healthy relationship with Jesus was far more important than my relationship with my grandparents. My duty as a father is to my immediate family. The statistics show that children who grow up in legalistic congregations are likely to leave Christianity and Jesus altogether. I would never pay that price — even to please my grandparents or parents.
- Leave room for prayer and the Spirit to work. It may test your patience, but I’ve seen plenty of parents and grandparents changed by the courage of their children or grandchildren. It took years, but Rick Atchley’s father repented and apologized — eventually.
- The question I always ask is: Where does the Bible tell us which issues are salvation issues? How do I know that instrumental music damns and the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not? What is the standard that defines what is and what isn’t a salvation issue? What does your preacher tell you? If you don’t know, ask him. Insist that he write down the book, chapter, and verse that says that we must divide over the frequency of communion but not over women wearing hats in the assembly. I’m not asking for proof that this or that issue is right or wrong. I want to know whether it’s a salvation issue — and exactly where the Bible says so. (Even the editors of our church periodicals can’t answer this one — and for some, it’s the first step toward a little theological humility.) Don’t get into the proofs for and against a cappella singing. Just ask why it’s a salvation issue? And if you don’t know, how do you dare damn without authority? And do not let them change the subject. Pretty soon, they’ll have to admit they’re teaching a doctrine made by men — not scriptural doctrine at all. And then you can have a genuine spiritual conversation. But you have to dig your heels in, insist on the topic, and not let them shift to familiar ground. The goal is not to “win” an argument but to undermine the assumption that “we are right” because we’re people of the book.
So, readers, help me out here. What advice do you have to offer?