PODCAST: Is the Church Driving You Away from Jesus?

by | May 9, 2019 | Uncategorized | 20 comments

Merchandise is Here!

Does your church keep you from experiencing Jesus?

It’s time for a new podcast, and I want to talk today about finding an authentic expression of faith. I hope you all will listen, but if you don’t have time, I’ll have some links and rabbit trails below so you can read all you want as well!

And consider this podcast “extras”. If you want to go deeper into what I talked about in the podcast, here are some more things to help you.

But first, here’s the podcast:

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Main Segment: on Rachel Held Evans’ Message

Last Saturday, Rachel Held Evans, an influential writer and speaker calling the evangelical world back to an authentic relationship with Jesus, passed away from complications of the flu at the age of 37. She left behind two very small children and a devastated husband.

I never met Rachel, though I think we may have emailed once or twice, many years ago. But I want to talk today about her core message. I know some find her controversial, and that’s okay. But the core thing she talked about was Jesus–how do we actually live out a Jesus-centred life?

I’m inviting Rebecca on to this segment of the podcast this week, as we talk about our own church history as a family, and what has made the difference in our lives. What’s happened in the last few decades is that doctrine seems to have taken precedence over living out a Jesus-centred life. We’re too focused on what people believe, and we don’t look enough about how people act, perhaps because we want to seem to be in the “it crowd”–the ones who really get it.

I know that on this blog I have people from all different faith walks, and I’m so happy about that. I hope what we have in common is Jesus. And I want you who have left the church because it hasn’t been authentic to know that there are different communities out there to join. Please don’t give up entirely.

One thing we touched on was that sometimes when husbands or kids seem to be walking away from the faith, we panic. But maybe it’s not that they’re abandoning faith. Maybe they’re just uncomfortable at our church, or uncomfortable with some doctrine. That’s okay. God is big enough to handle questions.

Rebecca also found in her research for her book Why I Didn’t Rebel that one of the #1 reasons for kids leaving the faith was that they weren’t allowed to ask questions. The book goes into so much depth in what can drive kids away from God, and we need to listen to the voices of those young people!

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

Reader Question: How do we balance church involvement and family time?

A great question that all of us should grapple with before we overextend ourselves!

How do you balance the needs of your family with the constant need of attendance at church functions? My husband is a deacon in our church and sincerely enjoys it but there is the meetings and visits that go with that as well as other committee involvements and he often needs to work late. I guess my question is kind of how to keep serving others a commitment and balance that with your family? Faith and church involvement isn’t a checklist for me but I feel often it seems like there is always more volunteers needed for something or this or that.

I gave a bunch of thoughts, including these:

  • Figure out what prioritizing your family time will look like practically first–how many dinners together a week? How many nights together a week? Then add church after.
  • If you’re a leader in the church, you set the tone. What tone are you setting if you’re sacrificing family and outreach for church meetings?
  • Instead of making church a make work project, see what God is already doing and get behind it.

I wrote a big post on how church involvement can wear women out in particular, and that one got a ton of comments. We may not all agree on this issue, but I think it’s worth talking about and wrestling with, because far too many of us are exhausted and overworked!

Comment: My church made my abuse worse

One of the saddest scenarios I see a lot is women who say that they went to their churches for help with abusive marriages, and the church sent them back to their husbands rather than trying to help. A woman writes:

Sadly, the worst mistake of all was going to my church for help. If I hadn’t done that, I would have left much sooner. My children and I would have been spared years of abuse. In the end, we also had to leave our church and Christian school. Our abuser still attends there and is happily welcome.

Many churches handle this well, but all too many don’t.

If you go to your church for help with abuse, and your church only wants to talk about how divorce is a sin, then your church is not a safe place.

Here are some other posts on that:

I hope this podcast doesn’t make people think I’m anti-church. I’m not. What I want is for everyone to find genuine, healthy community, which is what the body of Christ should be like. I’m just afraid that too many churches aren’t like that, and so too many people are either getting beaten down or they’re leaving entirely. Neither option is good.

Just know there are good churches out there. I’ve been at amazing churches in all kinds of different denominations. So if your current church (or past church) seems harmful to you, please try something else. Don’t run away from Jesus.

What do you think? Have you ever had to change churches? How did it help you? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Christie P

    “Sadly, the worst mistake of all was going to my church for help. If I hadn’t done that, I would have left much sooner. My children and I would have been spared years of abuse. In the end, we also had to leave our church and Christian school. Our abuser still attends there and is happily welcome.”

    – I had to read that twice to make sure I hadn’t been the original writer!! So true in my case. Thanks for all you do!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Christie! I’m glad you’ve got some help now!

    • SnowAngel

      Interesting timing on this article as my family left our church two months ago after 2 decades there. We are very at peace about our decision but it is so hard to watch our friends have to endure the very things that drove us away. You can have perfect doctrine (is there such a thing outside of heaven?) but if what you do is not out of love, why bother? 1 Cor 13 tells us that we can do all the right things, say all the right things but if our love for people is not what motivates us, it is worthless.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Exactly! I do hope you find a real community of Christ followers. I know that can be so lonely!

  2. Melissa W

    Great post Sheila. Especially the part of pointing people to Jesus rather than to doctrine. It is one of things that drives me the craziest about how people interpret Paul’s letters. His whole goal is to point people to Jesus but we often turn his letters into a new law that is a complete add on to the gospel and Paul would be mortified as he taught against that as well. One of my favorite quotes by Os Guiness is “Sometimes when I listen to people who say they have lost their faith, I am far less surprised than they expect. If their view of God is what they say, then it is only surprising that they did not reject it much earlier. Other people have a concept of God so fundamentally false that it would be better for them to doubt than to remain devout. The more devout they are, the uglier their faith will become since it is based on a lie. Doubt in such a case is not only highly understandable, it is even a mark of spiritual and intellectual sensitivity to error, for their picture is not of God but an idol.” I don’t think people are turning away from God far as much as we think that they are but are rather turning away from idoltary. And oftentimes the idol is doctrine and having all the “right” beliefs. Good thing we aren’t saved because of the rightness of our beliefs or we would all be doomed. It really comes down to self salvation. We want to save ourselves as we can control that but salvation isn’t based on anything we have done or haven’t done. So glad!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wonderfully put, Melissa! Absolutely. And I love that quote. I think that many people need to let themselves doubt, because in doubting, they may find Jesus again.

  3. Kate

    The thing that angered me about Rachel Evans death was the timing for criticizing her. There is a season for everything and this was NOT the season for criticizing! I don’t agree with everything she says (there is no one expect Christ whom i agree on everything) but when i heard she died i literally mourned and was heartbroken for her. Just like when my Muslim friends son died i grieved for the family, i didn’t lecture them on the state of his eternity because i knew my action will have an impact on how they respond to the message of the Gospel.

    I was pissed off at these so called “Christian” men who find joy in tearing down of families and dance on the graves those who died. It ruined my day completely when i read the responses. But at the same time i was greatful for those who stood up too. As someone who’s in the Reformed circle, they can be some of the most toxic people you can come across. We’re dealing with kinists (racists) now, they are be exposed thank God (synagogue shooter). But i do notice how many people don’t like to read the book of James because it’s one of those books that tells you to demonstrate your faith with ACTIONS! Being the half brother of Jesus he would know what it means to actually live out the so called faith you claim to posses. It’s my favorite book after Hosea.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love James, too! My kids have it memorized as well.

      I was very, very disappointed in the obituary that Christianity Today ran, and I’m glad they took it down. It was so disrespectful. The thing about RHE that all of these doctrinal people forget is that she was ministering to those who had already left the church. She was keeping them holding on to Jesus, when the doctrinal purists had let these people down. Had RHE not been there, these people would have had nothing–but I guess that’s what they would prefer. And that’s truly sad.

  4. Lindsey

    Such a helpful podcast! I really feel that God has been leading me to the understanding that “the Lord knows those who are His”, and that my understanding of doctrine (some of which I feel very strongly about) doesn’t preclude someone who does something else from being led by God. The road to this expanded understanding has been difficult. I am still hoping to find a faith community that shares some of the same core doctrinal beliefs as me, but that is actively growing to be more like Jesus, and have true Agape (love), instead of being hung up on the idea that their doctrine makes them the “true” church. Until then I am just trying to follow Jesus with more as an individual, as well as continually challenging my beliefs to make sure that they are lining up with what I read in the Bible. Thanks again for the podcast!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful, Lindsey! It is a hard road. I’ve been there too (and in many ways I still am). But it’s praying that God will help you find like-minded people, even where you least expect it.

  5. Melissa

    I had never heard of Rachel Held Evans before she passed away and people started posting about it. I went to her blog and am wondering how the heck I went so long without knowing who she was. That woman not only opened cans of worms, she dumped them out and rolled around in them! Not a very pretty metaphor, but an effective one. She had a tremendous amount of courage to speak out in a world that isn’t always kind to people who don’t follow the status quo. I aspire to have courage like that.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      She was definitely very courageous! She followed Jesus, wherever He led her. And she was very honest. What I liked, too, was that you could disagree with her and still engage in debate and still have her think that you were a Christian. That’s a quality that we all need more of.

  6. Peter G.

    (Sorry if I’m commenting on a blog meant for women only — I came across this post/podcast via Twitter.) I was a big fan of RHE for many of the reasons you discuss, even though she was viewed as misguided by many in my church community. She showed me that because it is Jesus as fully human who reveals God to us, living a Christian life is never properly at odds with living a genuinely human life — a life of kindness, welcome, and hospitality, even (and especially!) amidst the ambiguities and messiness and tensions of being human. And this is what the Church is called to embody.

    I do think, though, that the distinction between “doctrine” and “practice” is not always clear. E.g., obviously one of the biggest targets for Rachel’s critics was her stance that non-celibate same-sex relationships should be affirmed in the Church: yes, this is a question of “doctrine,” but also a disagreement about “practice,” and both sides of it would appeal to things Jesus said and did. And the Church can definitely be a place for wrestling with such issues, but at some point, definite decisions have to made, and some people are inevitably going to feel alienated. But even given this, I think it’s infinitely better to feel the human reality and the sting of these questions than simply to give glib answers that immediately dismiss those who disagree. Again, Rachel was good at this, and it sounds like you guys are too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree, Peter, that at some point you’ve got to come to a decision on those things. I didn’t agree with RHE on everything at all, but I’m glad she asked questions, and invited us to ask questions. And I do think she opened up a wider conversation that we really need to have. She will be missed.

  7. Kelly

    Sigh….some of what Rachel Held Evans believed in since she left Evangelical Christianity are some doctrine issues that the modern church is struggling with. As am I. For example, homosexuality. The Bible clearly states it is a sin (among other things). However, the Bible also says we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Basically a Love the sinner, hate the sin kind of thing. However, some denominations are ok with performing marriages for homosexual couples and others vehemently refuse. More and more churches ARE beginning to perform homosexualities marriages. To me, that is against biblical teachings and shouldn’t be done. Yet it is.

    Also, some people feel. that if you are against something, that you ‘hate’ it and the person that it represents. I don’t get that mindset either.

    RHE and other Christian authors like Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Doyle Melton, personally & financially suffered when they came out in support of gay marriage.

    I fully agree with showing EVERYONE God’s love and not just those who agree with us or share our same beliefs. It’s the other stuff with which I struggle.

  8. Bethany

    This was a tremendously encouraging podcast. Thank you so much. It is really encouraging me to continue to separate “the way things were done in my church growing up” (which was full of loving people but boy did it stress me out about my faith) and Jesus. I felt more connected to Him praying this morning than I have in a long time.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s great, Bethany! I’m so glad.

  9. Flo

    I have been wondering: if one is living in a small town where they moved to, and where they don’t know many people, and if the church experiences they had there were not positive, is there some way to have “the church experience” online?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think you can certainly become part of a community, especially on Facebook or on Twitter or with podcasts, if you participate a lot in the comments sections. I think what you’re missing is the personal accountability. And I think kids also need some friends! What I often suggest is that you create your own home church. Listen to a sermon together from YouTube and then just talk about it while you eat pizza altogether. It can work. It may only be 6 or 8 people, but you can begin that way. And there likely are others who are dissatisfied, too, if you are. You’re likely not alone.

  10. Lisa

    I agree 100% on the crafts at women’s church events! I don’t enjoy making them and I throw them away as soon as I get home.

    I also don’t want to bring desserts or eat desserts. I know some people like dessert but it’s not a universal female trait to love dessert. And the secret sister gift exchanges. Ugh. Please, no.

    The men’s events don’t require them to bring desserts or random gifts.. Why do the women’s events? As if we need more work to do!

    What I do now is I decline the crafts, don’t bring any food and also don’t eat any food. I bring a travel mug with tea and talk to people. I don’t participate in gift exchanges. Everyone has too much stuff already.


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