Where You Go To Church Matters


church-membership, spiritual-abuse, grace


I grew up believing Baptists were the only folks going to heaven. The Methodists, the Catholics, the Presbyterians, and all the other denominations were going to hell. In fact, I don’t remember ever going to church with friends that weren’t Baptists.

Since quitting church four years ago, the only denomination I’ve frequented is a Methodist church. By “frequented,” I mean I attend there a couple of times per year. It’s a nice church, but I’ve by no means checked into the doctrine or visited small groups or anything else that might be interpreted as looking for a church home.

Recently, I’ve started considering looking for a church, mainly because I’m interested in being part of a local community that likes to discuss theology and live out love through social justice. While the Methodist church I visit might ultimately be the place for me, I’m interested in exploring my options.

Some Christians encourage us non-attenders to go to church somewhere. Anywhere. Just go to church because it’s the right thing to do. Or, as the sign in South Alabama says, Go to church or the devil will get you. But where you go to church (if you want to go to church) matters. To be clear, I don’t think it’s necessary for Christians to attend church, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Where you go to church matters because you’ll most likely end up spending a considerable amount of time with the other people who attend there. And while disagreeing about theology is fine (even healthy), those types of disagreements (at least in my experience) often lead to control and manipulation upon the folks whose opinions are in the minority.

Just this week, I learned of another couple whose church has labeled them as dangerous simply because the couple believes in a kind, loving, gracious God, and their theology differs a bit from what the church is teaching. Don’t believe for one minute that when your church family tries to control your belief system that there are not major reprecussions when you don’t submit.

Let me give you an example: if I believe in radical grace and a God that has already redeemed all of humanity, my beliefs and questions are most likely not going to be welcomed in a church that believes in a God who punishes and demands obedience. If I enjoy reading and listening to Rob Bell’s work, my conversations and expression of thoughts about that work will most likely be shut down. Therefore, it matters that I attend a church where I am comfortable expressing my beliefs without fear of punishment for not conforming.

If you’ve never experienced church hurt, you might not understand what I’m saying here. However, I know what it’s like to be called to a meeting by a church staff member and have the beliefs I’ve shared through my blog and social media questioned. I know what it’s like to be removed from using my gifts in church until someone on staff could talk to me. I know what it’s like to be told to go talk to the pastor about my beliefs. The control and manipulation some churches exercise is extremely harmful. The rejection is debilitating.

I can’t attend just any church simply because I want to be connected with people who call themselves Jesus followers. I need to know what it means to those people to be a Jesus follower. Does that mean they believe they must follow a set of rules? Do they believe their denomination is the only one going to heaven? Do they welcome doubt and questions, or do they try to shut those down? Do they believe God has already redeemed all of mankind, or do they believe saying the sinner’s prayer is the magic trick that gets them to heaven? Do they believe hell is a real place or a state of being apart from the love of God? Do they welcome LGBT folks into their community as part of God’s creation, or do they accept them only on the basis of trying to change them, or do they shun them altogether? Does the church staff hold secret meetings to protect their own and the church’s reputation, but quickly discard lay members who need help? (Yes, that happens in churches . . . frequently). Do they welcome everyone to the Table, or are there restrictions on who can participate? All of these questions — and answers — matter because they affect the way people relate to each other and to the world.

Think of it this way: there were no Pharisees among Jesus’ followers. Jesus wouldn’t tolerate their rules or they way they tried to make him behave. Even when the disciples tried to control the way Jesus interacted with people, he shut them down. His only agendas were to love and to set prisoners free.

It matters where we go to church and the folks we choose to allow to speak into our lives. We need people who will encourage God’s grace and lovingkindness. We need people with whom we can disagree respectfully and peacefully, without shame and labels. The churches we choose to attend and the people we select to influence our lives matters.


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  1. Marilynn Newman says:

    Well said!

  2. You would really like our church

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