An Almost-NONE’s Perspective on Why the NONES Have Left the Church

I wrote a letter to the church recently.

Not my church, but to the church in general.

An interesting topic was presented in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago. I was gripped by it.

We were talking about “NONES”. Those, who when asked their religious affiliation, answer “None”. It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t ‘religious’ or even Christian. They simply have no ties to a church or any religious affiliation. One third of adults under 30 in our nation today consider themselves “NONES”. The highest percentage the Pew Research Center has ever seen.

This should concern us. I mean, this should really inflict alarm in the heart of today’s church. It should make us ask some hard questions and find some good answers.

It was interesting listening to the discussion surrounding this topic in class. Most of them were over 30 and frankly, just didn’t get it. (No offense) I’m not pretending I ‘get it’, but I do have perspective. Maybe because I came very close to becoming a “NONE” myself.

I almost left. In fact at one point I told God “I QUIT!” Out loud and everything.

I know a lot of people, some I grew up with, family even, who really have quit. Or who have been so burned and burdened that they just can’t muster the strength to go back, even though they might want to.

This is really happening. These aren’t just ‘numbers’, these are people. People who have completely lost hope in the church, who have lost their confidence in Christ. And a lot of it frankly is our fault.

This brings to mind the lyrics from a Casting Crowns’ song, Jesus Friend of Sinners:

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours

I wrote this to be thought provoking and not taken literally, at least not by me anyway. I haven’t really quit. But maybe I have in a lot of ways…

Dear Church,

I’m curious, why have the “None’s” divorced the church?

It’s because we are tired. We are tired of never measuring up and not being good enough. We cannot possibly attain to the standard you hold over us. So, we quit.

We have a need to be loved. To be known. To be accepted. To be cherished. We have a need to know the truth. To believe in something. Someone. We have a need for that truth to make a difference and to tell us who we are and why we are here. We have a need to be forgiven.

Sadly, Church, you are not meeting those needs. What we find frankly turns us off and turns us away. Instead of being loved, we are told to love God. But WHO is God? Instead of being known, we are told to know God’s Word. But again, WHO is God? Instead of being accepted, we are told to accept His will. But what does that mean? Instead of being cherished, we are told to cherish his law and hold to his commandments. But honestly, it all seems a little pointless. What’s in it for us?

Church, you are confusing us. You tell us Jesus came to heal the sick, but you tell us to stop being sick. You tell us, God came to save the lost but then tell us to get our acts together. We hear,“God loves you and has come to give you joy, to give you peace, to give you rest, to forgive you, to give you life.” But that is not what we see modeled by you. Instead we are told to Do More and Try Harder. You ask us, What’s Wrong with You? And tell us that, We Should Know Better. Well, we really just don’t know any better (and I’ll let you in on a little secret, neither do you, so stop acting like a hypocrite).

You have warped our view of Christ. “Grace” is something our parents used to say at meals, and honestly, I never really saw it work for them. And the “Love of God” is just an expression we tack on to the end of a sentence when we can’t find a parking space.

None of it has any meaning.

But this is what we are longing for. We long for meaning behind the doing. We need a Rescuer, not a rule set-ter. We are aching to be known, really known. We don’t want you to be scared of us. We are dying, literally dying, to be accepted just the way we are, with all our imperfections and screw-ups. And we are afraid to ever say it. But we want to know what it feels like to be cherished, to know we have value and aren’t just taking up valuable space.

This we find outside of your doors, believe it or not. You, Church, are supposed to be a safe place, a hospital I can come to, to bind up my wounds, but I do not find that kind of healing with you. So I go to the outside and I find it there. My soul is screaming for relationship, for connection and community. For that safe place. The outside gives this to me. They don’t strap me with rules and regulations and judgment. No, it’s quite the opposite, really. I am free to be who I want to be. So this is where I turn. To the safety of my girl-friend or my boy-friend or same-sex relationship. To the protection of drugs and alcohol and self-mutilation, numbing my pain and emptiness. To my addictions and dysfunctions, because it works, if not for a while.

We don’t have time or patience for this “Carrot and Stick” kind of faith. Be good and you’ll get a carrot. Be bad and I’ll beat you with a stick. Because, didn’t you hear me when I said, my soul is screaming for relationship?

Religion, Christianity, Church, these do not offer relationship. So, we’re done with you. We don’t want a religion that means nothing. Haven’t you seen the state of the family, our country, our economy, our world? We don’t have time to waste trying to be perfect or time trying to hide our imperfections. Why would we choose that when, like I said, I can find what I need on the outside a lot faster and safer than you can give it to me here?

I don’t want to be rude, but Church, you need to hear this. You got distracted. You fell asleep at the wheel and now you’re paying for it. And now we’re paying for it. You majored on the minor and minored on the major. You were swallowed up in the trap of Look Good and Do Better. But I’m here to tell you, that that’s just not real life. This pain and hurt I feel, is real life. This pressure I feel, is real life. This culture that tells me anything goes is real life. And, this economy that is sucking the very breath out of me, is the real life I’m living in.

And how does your Jesus fit in this real life?

I’m not sure why, but you seem to be afraid of the message of grace. I mean, real grace, what it looks like in real life. This baffles me, because this is what I need the most, this scary, dangerous gospel of grace. It’s the very thing that makes the difference and makes Jesus real and feel right. If you would have told me that Jesus doesn’t necessarily care what I look like or even what I do. If you would have shown me His love and acceptance and forgiveness instead of strapping me with a burdensome way of living. If you would have explained to me, really explained, that He came to take all of my sticks and to ive me all His carrots regardless of my “sinful transgressions”. Well, maybe, just maybe I would have stuck around a little longer.

But right now, I’m Just. Too. Exhausted. So I quit.

 

 

Dear Levi

As I sit here, drinking my afternoon tea, I am pondering you my son.

My third baby. In such a short time, there were three. During a time when life was very uncertain and I was scared. I wasn’t sure God had things in control and didn’t feel I could trust Him. And then a baby.

A baby who changed everything. A baby who changed the course of my life.

laughing

You may be tired of this story, son. Tired of hearing the same words from this Momma. But who can ever tire of hearing of God’s sovereign grace over a life fraught with sin and pain?

God chose you, my son, for a great work. And he sent you to us as a baby to show me just how much He cared for me, for my heart. God is neat like that. Just when we think He doesn’t hear or know or see, He reaches down just in time and proves us wrong.

I knew in that moment when they yelled, “He’s still attached!” And when I felt your wet-warmth seep into my soul. And when I stared into those dark blue eyes in the middle of the night because you were confused as to when you should be awake. And a few months later when God whispered through His word to this weary heart. I knew. I knew there was more to it than what I was seeing.

“So we fix our eyes NOT on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

In this great big maze of life sometimes we get lost and all we can see are the wrong turns, the dead ends and the unpassable wall that’s in front of our face. We think there is no way out. That there is no purpose to the wandering. That somehow we were forgotten and handed the short end of life. It’s easy to only see the bad, the hard, the suffering. But those are not the only things. And we must tell our eyes not to land there because there is so much more. So much.

Even in the midst of those hard moments, when the breath is knocked out of you and you may be crying. Yes, even then, there can be joy. It may come as buried treasure, you may have to hunt for it, but it is always there. And just like a diamond that is hewn out of a black rock, it will shine blindingly bright in the midst of depressing darkness.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Why do I write these grown up words to my seven year old boy? (SEVEN!!??)

Because you were my buried treasure, Levi. You were the light that began in the dark and hidden place. You were the hope that fluttered inside me. You brought the joy to a weighed down momma during the long stretches of night. You were the gift on my very own birthday. A gift of fulfilled meaning the very moment you came to be.

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God sent a baby another time in history who changed everything. A baby who changed the course of this world.

A baby born in the midst of great darkness whose purpose was to break open the light. To kindle the flame of hope and to ignite joy.

“For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

And because of that gift, we can find joy. Always. Even in and amongst the sorrow. How sweet of him to use another baby, you, to bring a smaller salvation to my soul. To bring the light of his face into the every day. To encourage me not to lose heart and that nothing, even the hardest of moments, are not wasted.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

I know that some of these words you may not understand right now. But I know that one day they will make sense and that is why I want you to have them now. You are precious. You have purpose. I promise.

I love each day I have with you. Sometimes I wish I could just drink you in, so that you would seep deep into my pores. It is strange sometimes for me to think that you are your own, thinking and feeling little person and no longer a part of me. I guess that might sound weird to you. But this momma-heart makes me sound that way sometimes. Letting go is a hard thing. And a wonderful thing. But sometimes it just feels strange and I’m not sure I like it. It starts the minute the cord is cut and it is a cutting that continues with every year that comes and goes by. Each year you are a little more of you and a little less of me. And really, that is so good. But it makes my heart twinge just a bit, ‘cause I wonder if it’s enough.

 View More: http://coastlineimagery.pass.us/judah

But again, I’m talking grown-up.

For now, just have fun playing with Lego’s and shooting your bow and arrow. And riding your bike and playing with friends, telling jokes and being silly. Enjoy going to school and learning cursive and a little Latin. Be a good big brother and a good little brother and a brother to a sister who sometimes drives you nuts. There is still so much divine tucked in all these beautiful, childhood wonders. Glory in them, my son. And I’ll worry with the other.

I seriously can’t even tell you how much I love you and just how thankful to God I am for you. You most definitely win the “Best Birthday Present Ever” award!

Happy Birthday!!

Love,

Your Momma

Dear Baby Boy

I am anxious to meet you…

to smell you…

to see you…

to know your name…

to show you off to your big brothers and sister…

to count your fingers…

and your toes…

to kiss you all over…

to love again…

Soon, my baby boy. Oh so very soon…

Dear Deacon

It’s been a while since I wrote you a letter. I let life distract me from the important things. I’m sorry. I used to have a journal and I would write you notes in it all the time. One day I will have to go through and find them all, so that you will be able to have them and read them when you get bigger.

I remember the day I found out you were in my tummy. I was hungry. Hungry for salad, with ranch dressing. And I knew.

I went home from the gym and took a test. I still have that test that told me you were coming. I surprised daddy with that test that night during dinner. He was so happy and so was I. We couldn’t wait to see who you were going to be.

And then the sickness hit. It came on so quickly and all I could do was lay on the couch and throw up for 5 long months. Long gone was the desire for salad and ranch dressing or any food at all, even the smell of food I couldn’t stand!

Your sister was such a trooper during that time. She loved her play-pen most of the time and got so good at watching Baby Einstein!

you had been in my tummy for 6 months here

And as sick as I was, it didn’t matter. You were in my belly growing and getting stronger and I loved you and I would do it again.

And then the day came when we found out you were a boy. It was your daddy’s birthday and what a gift. To know a son was coming and in 4 short months we would get to meet you.

I couldn’t sing that song to you anymore (although I did and still do):

Little Baby yet unborn,
In my womb so safe and warm.
Are you a girl, are you a boy?
Little gift that brings such joy.
Mmm, my little baby.
Mmm, Mmm, Mmmmm.
Mmm, my little baby.
Ohh, ohh, ohh, ohh, oh!
For now we knew! And we began to pray for a name.
Your name came from God through Daddy. He liked it first and I loved the meaning. Servant or Messenger. And believe it or not, the “UN-Christian” meaning means “Dusty One”. How fitting (since your dad’s name is Dustin)!

We decided you would be Deacon after we saw you. A moment that is etched in my brain, my very skin, for all eternity.

You were covered in white, your lips red, searching. You were wet and warm and I felt that warmth all the way down to my heart. I cried when they laid you on my chest. I cried when I kissed you. I cried when I spoke to you. Oh how I loved you, so fast, so deep. God was giving me hope through you, my son. A glimmer of light during a dark time in my life and I was so thankful. Thankful to have you and so thankful to be your Mama. You were a gift in so  many ways.

Well then you decided to get bigger.

And you hated your baby food.

And your hair got longer and stuck up straighter and it made people come up to me and say how cute you were with that crazy hair.

And your favorite toy was a ball. And actually, ball was your first word.

And you gave the best hugs, even when you were little.

And you woke up early (and still do).
And you wanted your breakfast right away and (still do).
And you hated the car and you still do!

And when you got even bigger, you always wanted to be outside and would cry when I made you come in for a nap.

And you loved your pacie and your blue blankie.  

And your cowboy boots,

and your red shirt,

and you loved stacking things,

and your hair still stood up on end, but I didn’t mind, cause you were just so cute.

And then before you knew it, you became a big brother.

And there you were smack in the middle and it made this Mama worry for you, you having such a tender heart. And I knew that the older and the younger required so much more from me and what would happen to my sweet Deacon? But you have never seemed to mind. And you love your bossy sister and your rambunctious brother and it’s ok with you being the quiet, shy one. You don’t mind when Olivia answers for you, you just smile and let her. And you always want them to go first and you give all your Easter eggs to your little brother and you wonder where God is and how strong He is and if he can pick up the biggest rock and if He made the roads and the trees and the biggest fish in the ocean.  And you are sensitive and gentle and you cry when you miss Abby and cry when you miss Nana or Baba, even if you have just seen them, and I don’t mind staying with you until your done crying. Cause I worry anyway if I give you enough.

The bigger you have grown, the more you have become your daddy. You have his hands and his walk and his knees and his eyes, his toes and his mouth. And you have his quiet, introspective personality and it’s hard for you to share your feelings. And I worry for your wife. =) And I remind you all the time that even though it’s hard, you have to be able to share your thoughts because one day you will be a husband and a daddy. And what a sweet husband you will be and I can’t wait to see you as a daddy, even though I can.

But I am getting ahead of myself, because for now you are six.

SIX!!

It really is hard for me to believe. For so long you were so little, my baby. And I had to do everything for you. But now… now you are a big six year old boy. Who can brush his own teeth and go potty without me supervising. And you get dressed on your own every morning, and get your own breakfast – and even bring me breakfast in bed. And you take care of your turtles and go in the woods all by yourself. And you want to do great things and get frustrated because you’re still learning. And you are learning! You are even learning to read this year! Really learning! And I’m so proud.

So stinkin’ proud.

Even though there’s so much you can do on your own now, I know there is so much you still need.

Like your Mama and your Daddy and your brother and your sister. You need to know that we love you and approve of you and think you are great. You need to hear it. And I’m sorry I don’t say it enough.

Because you are great. You are such a sweet, loving boy. I love how you love the outdoors and want to live in the woods like your Uncle Hunter and Aunt Amy. I love how you want to open the door for me and be a gentleman. How you want to protect us. And catch worms and crickets so your turtles have something to eat. How you want to be bigger so you can be ‘good at something like Daddy’.

But, Deacon, you are already good at so much. You are such a good servant to your siblings and to Mommy. You give me the message of love and hope each day. You will be a fine man one day. Just be patient. Before you can be a man, you must first learn to be a man and that’s by being a boy.

Thank you for being my boy. Thank you for teaching me, teaching me to love deeply, fully and without conditions.

You truly are my Sunshine.

Love,
Your Mama