The Millenial Exodus and Me, Part 3

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Those months after I left the church, I felt unanchored; adrift. Growing up in the Evangelical Christian tradition, I heard criticism of the Jews (“They were too attached to their religious structure so they missed out on Jesus”) and the Catholics (“They think they need a priest to gain access to God; we have direct access to him”). What I realized after I stepped away from my structure, however, was that we’re just the same.

Once I left the church, I realized that not only had I been looking to it to provide me with the avenues through which I would experience God but also what an experience with God should look like. I get it; it’s human nature to crave belonging and it feels so good to have a place that’s yours. For me, however, it came to a point where, if I was going to be true to my experience, I had to stand up and say, “HEY! These people don’t speak for me.”

The people who would drop their sponsorship of needy children because of a disagreement with a theological issue affecting the HR policies of a company. The people who marginalize their black brothers and sisters by declaring that true Christians can only vote one way. The people who are so attached to their structure and so fearful of its dismantling that they’re willing to throw their weight behind a political candidate who truly does not stand for anything that they believe in.

They’re not me. They don’t speak for me.

It’s extremely reductionist to say that every single person in every single church is like that, and it’s not what I’m saying. I think that’s why it’s hard to tell stories like this. My objection is to the big structure, the machine, the voting bloc that the Evangelical Church has become. It’s a cultural institution that’s largely known for what it’s against instead of what it’s for. Individual people may be different, but if you ask people on the street what they think of  when you say “Christians,” how do you think they would answer?

I understand that there is more than one way to affect change to a structure. Some people are able to do that from the inside. Some people leave one church and go to one that feels more like it fits their vibe. For me, I needed to step totally outside of that specific expression of church in order to examine it fully and find my place within the global church.

It’s not necessarily comfortable outside of the structure. There’s a certain amount of grief that comes with this decision. I never wanted to stop believing in Jesus or to feel pushed out of the structure that was safe for me. I find myself searching for people who make me feel like I’m not crazy. I have found some, and that brings me solace, but I’m being careful not to just jump from one “club” to another simply to feel safe.

I haven’t lost my faith. I have so much hope for the future of the American church and my place in it. I’m working my faith out authentically in the company of a solid community of trusted friends and mentors. I’m finally ready to stop looking backward at how the church failed me and forward to what God has for me. A bigger movement is forming in our culture—one that is working hard to honor God in their own way. It’s the same as it has always been: small steps with faith. Mostly, I’m just desperate to tell my generation this:

If you want in, you’re in.

Despite your doubts or fuzzy theological beliefs, if you still love Jesus and feel compelled by his story, there’s space for you in his church. We still belong in the church. They need us even if it feels like they don’t want us.

8 Comment

  1. I’m in seminary and I don’t go to church. I’ve been asked why, I’ve told them of my litany of [mostly] bad experiences, and while I’m still asked why, they now say, “Help us change it.”

    I’ve taken the step back you’re taking. It’s vital to your own spiritual health.

    And this is me (maybe not you), but I’ve realized that I’m most comfortable on the outside edge of the inside of the church — building, community, and all!

    And that’s ok. But I also realized that for some reason, church leaders (in and out of school) have begun asking me for my advice, my opinion, my insight, all because they want to turn the tables. For now, it’s a good place to be.

    My [unsolicited] recommendation to you: KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING. 🙂

    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      Yes, they need us! I mean, if we all leave the church…the church is going to die. It’s ironic to me that the people who love the church so wholeheartedly are sometimes the ones inadvertently killing it. Keep the faith!

  2. Jen Kosh says: Reply

    I really love your story and feel like I can relate so thank you for sharing. I’m so thankful to have found a church home that I feel I’m thriving in and not judged when I question. I love that the church I attend mission is so simple “make Jesus famous”….isn’t that really what it’s all about?

  3. Drew says: Reply

    Hey Chelsea,

    “If you want in, you’re in.”

    I love that. So simple. A beautiful picture of what the church should be.

    So how does one who feels similarly go about finding a church?

    Thank you for your inspiring and encouraging words! Looking forward to your next post.


    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      That is the million dollar question. This one is so hard for me because I grew up being warned against being “consumeristic” church-hopping behavior. I have to believe that if being in a place is damaging to your soul, then it’s ok to leave in search of a safer place. You said you found a great church in Columbus. What about in Denver?

      1. Drew says: Reply

        I agree, Chelsea. It’s necessary to recognize that no church is perfect. But if a church isn’t nourishing, challenging, loving, and serving, it’s healthy to keep moving.

        The church we attend now is a plant of our former church in Columbus, so the transition was pretty smooth. The two are very different, but they share a lot of the beliefs and practices that are closest to our hearts.

        I’ve never had a season of searching for a new church home. I left my parent’s church in NEOH when I moved to Columbus to be closer to Alie and naturally transitioned to her church, which is the one we loved so much. For a number of reasons, some of them similar to yours, the timing couldn’t have been better.

  4. Really enjoyed this 3 part post!!! I feel a lot of these same things, though maybe not to the same extent (I think the Canadian church maybe doesn’t have some of the same political issues???), but I definitely feel that a lot of my questions, beliefs, and opinions don’t always ‘fit’ with the institution of Church. I’m glad you haven’t bailed completely though, just taken a step back to re-evaluate. Not only are you ‘in’ if you want in, we need you! We need people who will ask and question and stay with the church while she grows and changes with a new generation. Keep sharing girl ❤️

  5. Maggie says: Reply

    “If you want in, you’re in.

    Despite your doubts or fuzzy theological beliefs, if you still love Jesus and feel compelled by his story, there’s space for you in his church. We still belong in the church. They need us even if it feels like they don’t want us.”

    YES!!! All the praise hands! There are times that I too feel that the message some of the people who attend church speaks for me because I attend there. The church I attend doesn’t send that message. We are all different and I speak for myself.

    Keep the faith Chelsea. Your posts inspired me to see that there is change and that I feel a lot of what you described and that’s okay. Great even. We are not alone. We have Jesus always.

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