Church Write-Up: “Dropping Out”

At church last Sunday, the pastor talked about those who drop out of church.  Here are some thoughts:

A.  The pastor referred to people in the Bible who wanted to drop out of the mission that God had for them.  He mentioned Elijah and Jeremiah.  Moses may also be an appropriate example.

The pastor’s point was that God said “no” to their desire to drop out: God rejected their excuses, and God rejects ours as well.

I would say, though, that God still showed compassion and understanding for where they were.  God responded to Elijah by having Elijah recruit a replacement, then God took Elijah to heaven.  In the case of Moses, God allowed Moses to follow Jethro’s advice of appointing judges who could take the load off Moses.  God assured Jeremiah of God’s presence with him.

B.  The pastor said that he used to call people on the phone after they had dropped out of church.  He said that people could not give him a reason that they dropped out!  The pastor said that he would plead with them to return and they would come back, only to leave again after a couple months.  The pastor said that he no longer hounds people on the phone when they are missing.

The reason that they had a problem giving the pastor a reason for their departure, I would venture to say, is that they wanted to be polite.  They didn’t want a confrontation.  The pastor knows, though, that people who drop out do so for a reason, and he listed reasons: anger at someone at church, sin, etc.

The pastor’s decision not to hound people who drop out is sensible: you cannot make people do something that they don’t want to do.  At the same time, there is a fine line to walk.  Many people would like for their absence to be noticed, since that is a sign that they are loved and appreciated.  And yet, many would like to come and go as they please, without having to explain themselves to anyone.  Check out Laura Spicer Martin’s post, Reaching Out Without Being a Hound.

C.  The pastor said that there are people in the congregation who like the anonymity there.  They like to come and go as they please, without having to answer to anybody.  The pastor said that there should be at least one person in the congregation who notices when we are missing.  Accountability was probably what he had in mind.

I will admit: one reason that I enjoy this church is the anonymity.  The church isn’t cold: when I walk in, I usually greet the same people, so they probably recognize me by now.  But there is a anonymity.  People are not judging me, hounding me, or pressuring me.

And yet, there is “accountability” in my life, only it is more at home than at church.  The people with whom I live do not attend church, except on Christmas and Easter, and I am not even sure if they would call themselves Christians.  But they realize, appreciate, and respect that going to church is a part of my routine.  They make sure that I have a ride to church, if the weather is horrible.  If I were to decide not to go to church anymore, then they would probably understand.  At the same time, I think they believe that attending church is helpful to me.  There was a season in my life when I did not attend church at all—-and that lasted for three years.  It was a bad time.  I do better when I go to church.

D.  I try to find common ground with the sermon every week.  The sermon made me think about a question: Suppose that I left the faith and lived a secular life, without any thought of God?  Plenty of people live that kind of life!

It’s difficult to envision that.  There is always some problem, on the outside or on the inside, that drives me towards God in prayer.  Suppose I took medication, and that took care of my inside problems?  Would I feel free to leave God?

Here’s another question: Could one leave God, the church, or the faith, and find that God is right there, on the outside?  Can one escape God that easily?  Could God still send reminders of God’s love and existence?  What is more, could leaving behind religious pretext, in some manner, be another way to appreciate God?  I recently read Jason Stellman’s Misfit Faith, and he talked about how enjoying life and humanity, itself, can be an appreciation of the divine, even if a person in doing so is not explicitly acknowledging the Christian God.

I have decided on a policy, and I have followed this policy for years.  That policy is that, wherever I am, I will pray to God at least ten minutes every day.  Preferably, that prayer will accompany some religious book that I can read and contemplate.  Even if I become an atheist, I will pray at least ten minutes each day.  Even if I hate God, I will pray at least ten minutes each day.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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