I always get a kick out of all the articles entitled “[INSERT NUMBER HERE] Reasons People Are Leaving the Church.” Over the past few weeks, I have seen 15 Reasons, 10 Reasons, 6 Reasons and even 5 Reasons. It never seems to fail, they all have so much in common – so much so, I am wondering if they are simply feeding off each other and hand picking the ones they like and writing their own articles. I tend to think we do a very dangerous disservice to the church, and the people who are leaving, because we are getting people to think, ‘These must be the reasons people are leaving our church, we need to make some changes to stop this.’ The lists always include things like Worship Music, Building Layout, Outreach, Being Missional and so many others; but I think it leaves out the biggest reason people are leaving.
That’s right, pressure. We can define pressure as guilt, bullying and so much more. I know, at this point you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute, pressure has nothing to do with having good music, a cool preacher, and a killer youth program” and you would right, it has nothing to do with any of that stuff – but I think it is THE largest reason people are leaving, and others are not even interested in walking in the door. To quote that amazing Theologian, David Bowie:
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure that brings a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
Pressure can take people from the sets and into the streets; life pressure can cause us to run to the Divine, while church pressure can make us run from the Divine. The more I think about it, the more I truly believe that pressure is the main killer of the church today. Think about it for a second, we put forward this image of Christ, this image of what it mean to be a Christian, and in reality no one can live up to it. No one can be the ‘perfect little Christian’ we expect them to be – so, when they fail we jump on them, we demand they “go back to the basics” never truly knowing what those basics are, because they change with every new article about why people are leaving. We have to keep this in mind, that pressure to measure up to a false standard. In our demanding that they live the perfect Christian life, we hold them to a standard that does not bring about change in their lives, it simply increases the pressure of them living as others demand.
I was talking with a Minister friend who told me, “Pressure is a good thing, if we take a lump of coal and put it under pressure, it becomes a diamond.” I have to be honest with you, I hate when people use really bad metaphors to explain a point, they sent shivers down my spine – because, first we are not “lumps of coal” – we are people, flesh and blood, eat, sleep and dance people. Putting a person under pressure does not make a diamond, it makes a gelatinase glob of goop. Second, I don’t think we are called to “make diamonds” – in fact, I know we are not called to make diamonds – we are called to make disciples, and as a disciple, let me assure you I am no diamond.
When we put people under pressure we actually achieve the opposite of what we are striving to achieve. Pressure stifles growth, creativity, conversations, being honest, and being open with each other. Pressure places us in a world were being understanding our faults, our weaknesses, and our past, are not talked about, not discussed, and not forgiven. Pressure moves us from a place of love, to a place where cannot breath, we cannot express ourselves, we cannot let others in, and we refuse to allow others to take us in. Pressure says, ‘Close off your life, failures, misgiving, questions, your past, and simply follow what the MAN in the front has to say – pretend to be a good Christian, and no one will know what you do behind the closed doors of your house – they will think you are the perfect Christian.’ Placing pressure on people simply makes them believe it is impossible to walk in a relationship with the Divine, so they believe they are unworthy and they leave. After all, if you can’t live up to the expectations, why even try?
What do I think we need to do? I think we need to turn the valve and release the pressure. We need to be open with each other and realize that “making a diamond” is not what we need to be thinking – we need to start to be open, loving and admit our mistakes; no judgment, no pressure. But this also leads to the question of how?
I think the first thing that needs to happen is that the Pastor needs to model what it means to be open and honest – they need to admit their faults, weaknesses and misgiving. Sure, this can be dangerous, we have to remember that when we open the valve, steam may come out and hit us in the face. But it is something we need to do, something we need to be honest about; a chance we need to take.
Second, we need to invite others to be open and honest, and we need to make sure we are a safe place for that to happen – In their being open and honest, we have to be ready to stand with them and keep an eye on the valve keepers.
When I talk with people as to why they are leaving the church, or they have no desire to come to the church, the main reason I always get is, “The church is full of hypocrites” – In other words, “The church is filled with people living under pressure and they are demanding that I live under the same pressure and I can’t.”
Open the valves, release the pressure; encourage people to be the imperfect, perfect person they are – and love them through life.