Matt Chambers: Why I Quit Church (and the Surprise That Brought Me Back)

About 16 years ago, I pretty much gave up on church.

Because I was a preacher’s kid, and it would have caused an international incident, I couldn’t stop attending … but I gave up.


Well, I was 15 at that point, had been going to church functions since I was in amniotic fluid, and somewhere around the age of 11, I started realizing that a lot of the Christians around me were … well … jerks.

I would read about Jesus and how he treated people, then I’d look at Christians, and the two just didn’t match up.

Sometimes, we’d go by the church to surprise my dad in the middle of a workday, and there’d be someone in his office yelling at him for changing the carpet or not using the choir robes.

We would receive threatening anonymous letters at our house … certain church members would interrupt the service to call meetings.

They wanted to edit sermon content.

They hated the music.

They controlled the finances.

They cursed.

They slandered.

They schemed.

They humiliated … just like Jesus would have done … right?

But there was one event that still sits in the front of my mind that gives me much pause to this day. At one point, my father decided to use a smaller lectern to preach from instead of the large, ornate, traditional pulpit. Of course, the backlash from a select few was outrageously harsh.

Finally, in one uproarious meeting, the statement was made that when my father had removed the larger pulpit, he had also removed God from our church.

It took me a long time to be able to look past the theological idiocy of that statement to what the person was really saying.

A few years ago, I got to meet one of my heroes, Frederick Buechner, who was in town for a series of lectures at a local college. During a Q-and-A session, someone asked Rev. Buechner where he attended church. I’m sure his answer wasn’t quite what anyone was expecting:

“I don’t always attend church, actually. Because not every church is alive with the Spirit of God. I only attend where and when I know the Spirit is.”

That certainly was not what people were hoping to hear, but it was the truth.

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gandalf writes a letter to the hobbits. Included in the letter is a poem that cryptically refers to the return of Aragon, the King. That portion of literature may not be all that well-known, but there’s a line from the poem I hear and read frequently:

Not all who wander are lost.


But I would add this: Not all who wander are lost … but all who wander are searching.

When the judgment was given that God left our church along with the pulpit, I knew I was finished there, and I began to wander.

I never gave up on Jesus Christ, but for years, I washed my hands of the church. Because, I told myself, if to follow Jesus means I end up looking like those people, I don’t want any part of it.

To be quite honest, I’m still not convinced I’ll ever stop wandering, searching.

At least, I hope not anyway.

A Bible passage that comes up when I have this kind of conversation is a line from the letter to the Hebrews, 10:25, that says we must “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together … .”

And I agree, but I also don’t think we as followers of Jesus should gather simply to gather. The Hebrews passage also talks about doing things by a “living way” … encouraging each other toward “love and good works” … our assembly must be a living assembly.

Church isn’t a weird, secret club; it’s a feast, and there’s room for everyone at the table. (And I do mean EVERYONE.)

Either what we believe is alive or it’s not. Flash, hype and clever manufacturing can’t make a dead thing alive. Only the Spirit of Christ can do that.

Growing up, as questions about faith, life, doubts and fears took center stage, the people around me were so busy arguing about whether drums in church were satanic, I never got a chance to ask.

In 2004, I was ordained as a Christian minister. I can “marry and bury” as they say.

But I still wander.

I still search.

I believe Jesus is alive, and a faith marked by Him will also be alive.

I believe grace changes everything.

I believe doubts are a part of our journey.

I believe church should be a safe place, not a place where we pass out masks as people walk through the door.

I believe wandering must be a part of following Jesus, because the more we wander, the more we meet people to invite to the feast.

Now I’d like to share why I went back.

It wasn’t what I expected. (It never is.)

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Source: Church Leaders