An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church

Margaret —  October 29, 2012 — 136 Comments

An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church

To whom it may concern and to whom, more importantly, it should concern:

Over the last few months I've met so many of you. Maybe I haven't met you, but I've met others with enough similarities in their stories that I thought I should write. You're over 40, and you've been in the church for years.

If you have children, then more than anything you want your kids to have a strong foundation, to grow up knowing the Lord. I think that's beautiful. But now your kids are older--either following the Lord bravely or choosing to sin boldly. Depending on the day, your heart celebrates or mourns with your kids. It probably always will.

As the years have passed and the nest grows emptier, you're no longer going to church for them, you're going for you. And that creates a void. Deep down inside, you're wondering whether you really should bother going at all.

Now that your kids are older, you can't overlook everything you used to for their sake. You're wrestling with what the church is versus what it should be. You're not alone. We're all wrestling. Why is the church more concerned with style than substance and marketing than making disciples?

The church you knew has been steadily changing and not all for the better. When your church added a contemporary service, there were some bumps in the road. Most of those have been ironed out, though hard feelings still surface from time to time. You're glad your church is reaching to the next generation, but really, isn't there a way to do it that doesn't let go of your generation?

You've voiced your concerns, some heard, but most overlooked. And over time, you've grown weary. You're tired of spiritual leaders who act more like celebrities and worse, for the Christians who treat them that way. Small groups are good, but if truth be told, most are shallow gatherings rather than real spiritual communities. You struggle that your own small group lacks depth, real connection or deep caring. And then there's that one small group member who won't stop talking or complaining about their life.

What's happened to the church?

You're not sure. But you know that your breaking point is near. One final issue will push you out. Maybe it already has. The issue doesn't even have to be significant at this point--any one will do. A sermon that sounds more like a story than an exposition of Scripture. Another series of skits or video productions that once again transform church into a place of entertainment. Another gathering where food and fellowship are the main courses, and Jesus, well, He's not invited at all. You may find your breaking point over the new building fund, a change in leadership, a moral failing of your leadership and/or secretary, or the brand of car/size of house/style of clothing your pastor chooses to buy. Truth be told, you can hang your exit sign anywhere.

But before you go, and even if you already have, I need to let you know a little secret:

We need you.

We need you more than you could know. We need you more than you can imagine. We need you, yes, you. Your own children may be out of the house, but your spiritual children are still inside--waiting for you to come in and offer your wisdom, your guidance and your friendship. We need you as mentors, encouragers and people who have our backs in prayer. We need you in our life.

An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church

We need to break bread with you, confess our personal, moral, relational, and marital conundrums and be assured that that those who have gone before us have made it. We need to know that God is as real and true when you're 20 as when you're 80, and we can't make the journey without you.

I know you probably don't miss church, but we miss you. To walk into a church and only see old people is tragic. To walk into a church and only see young people is devastating. The loss cannot be quantified. We have to learn to do this together. To be the bride. Yes, she may have stains on her dress, makeup smeared on her face and really bad hair, but at the end of the day, she's still the bride.

An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church

So please, come back. We miss you.

Lovingly,
Margaret

What words of encouragement do you have for those over 40 who have left the church?

 

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136 responses to An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church

  1. Please. Stay. I don’t know if you need me, or my young family, or my husband in PhD school. I don’t know if you need my blog or my opinions, you probably don’t need the space to hang out in my dining room and have coffee (the one and two year old do not do Starbucks) but I need people over forty in my church. I need the grounding of it, the Jesus is still the answer of it, the I don’t care at all about being hip because I was and it was over-rated of it. Please stay, please come and give my young church plant a try. Overlook all the obnoxious youthful mistakes (I teach High School, I know how obnoxious youth can be.) and teach us how to serve you!

    • Abby, Absolutely love your addition to the letter. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Abby I also love your addition too Margaret’s wonderful letter. I am a few years over 40 and I can tell you that I have been heartbroken by how many wonderful people are holding onto their faith, but leaving their church. I also feel for those who are in leadership, and those who pastor a church for it is a great sacrifice. My hubby and I have been Christians for over 15 years (pretty active members), and we have not been discipled, and now it is time where we are to disciple the next generation. Oh there have been great Bible studies, retreats, small groups, etc, but not the 1:1 personal, intimate discipleship that Christ laid out for us to follow. So where do we go from here?

      If a person did not have loving Christian Parents when s/he grew up, does that mean that s/he can not be a loving Christian Parent? No. GOD will provide what we need to move us forward along life’s journey. Is it easy without a mentor, or a big brother or sister to help you along the way? No. But we must press on, because the alternative to stop means that the devil wins.

      I am praying that the Spirit of GOD will fall fresh upon those in leadership, that they will be more concerned with preparing the next generation of leaders. That they give up being worried about who is showing up to church and focus on who is growing up in Christ. I pray that leadership shift the majority of their focus from the 90% who show up to be served, and spend more time investing on the 10%-20% who are actively serving who are in need of strengthening.

      I have been blessed to be apart of various Women’s Bible Studies, different churches & different denominations and the reoccurring concern is that women are being brunt out by constantly having to be the spiritual leader of the family — when is this going to be intently addressed?

      I gotta tell you where the Church is concerned I have more questions than answers, but the one thing I know is that we do need each other, and leaving is not the answer.

      Hang in there! Do not get discouraged, instead get determined to make a difference! Be the change you want to see in the Church.

      • Anissa,

        Love that line about 1:1 intimate discipleship. I think that is oh so important–having those people are can speak freely in your life and being intentional not just about building those relationships but being those relationships.

      • Anissa, Wow! Your words totally touched my heart. Just this past weekend we were at a Senior Pastor’s Retreat where they challenged us about what makes a “successful” church (when you don’t factor in “numbers”). I believe you just hit the nail on the head. I’d rather use the word “faithfulness” instead of successful. Are we being faithful to the 10-20% who need strengthening and encouragement, who will quite possible be “the church” when the rest of us are gone. I’m only 54, so I’ve lived a little more than half my life already. My kids are adults now who have to decide for themselves the “as for me and my house…” But there are plenty other kids, youth, adults who need spiritual parents to speak into their life, teaching them how to KNOW, LOVE and FOLLOW JESUS. May it begin with me.

    • Abby, I love your addition to this article. I wish I knew of more young couples in my area who felt as you do, but I just don’t :-( I have often wondered if it is my fault, but somehow I don’t think that’s it — my hubs & I would love to befriend young couples — we’re not totally square or out-of-touch, but we do have the wisdom of decades that we would love to share with hungry young ones… We remember being in your season of life, we sympathize with the challenges & want to make some difference in your generation. We can only wait & hope that the opportunities will present themselves….. In the meantime, we are busy “going to the highways & byways,” compelling inmates in the local jail to “come to the banquet.” We continue to serve where there clearly ARE hungry & broken people. And in the meantime, I pray for you, your PhD seeking husband & your precious young family, that God will send co-laborers with you to build you up, encourage you, & love you, as you build your lives on the Rock of Jesus & work to see His Kingdom come on Earth, as it is in Heaven ….

      • Deborah,
        Thank you for your gracious, sweet response.

      • You had me crying over my Kindle at the side of the tub. It is a late night for my husband so dinner, baths and bedtime belong to me. I hear your prayers. Thank you. I am praying you find a young couple that needs you as much as we do…There isn’t a chance you live in the Atlanta area, is there? At 29 I am in the older half of my congregation!

    • Yes, yes, yes–I echo Abby on this. My heart cherishes the beloved over-40 women at church who continue to pour into my life (so much love and godly thoughts and sweet mothering!), and the couples married 20+ years who have been encouraging my husband’s and my newly married selves. Not sure how much they need us, but we need them and cherish their wisdom.

    • Oh I so, so agree! We were part of a group of young couples who started a church plant 8/9 years ago in London. We’re a proper grown-up church these days, but nearly all of us have had babies and are severely in need of the “older women” from Titus 2:3. I think we’re desperate for the community cohesion that comes with that sort of (wonderful) woman taking an interest in us during the little years when things are so hard.

  2. I know this is not going to be a popular post. That’s okay.

    Dear over 40 church leavers….
    Grow up.
    Life is not about you. Church is not about you.
    You may not want to hear this, and that’s okay.
    But the way that you “did church” for all of those years has created a vacuum and a void. You stayed in one place while God moved to another.
    So instead of complaining about “being fed” from the pulpit – FEED YOURSELF. and FEED OTHERS.

    Church is not about what you get out of it – it’s about what you put into it.

    So stop being stuck on yourself, your preferences, your music, your hairstyles, your theology…. and try to embrace the message of Jesus itself – stripped naked of everything man has made it. Look at what the bible SAYS – not what so and so SAYS that it SAYS.

    and THEN tell me that I’m doing it wrong. If I’m out of line with scripture – (and not man’s interpretation of scripture) then we’ll certainly make adjustments.

    But stop it. Just stop being so stubborn and fixated on your ways.

    I’m really glad that Margaret is trying to reach out to you, and show you how important you are to the church.

    but darn it – did you NOT READ WHAT THE WORD SAYS? If you had, then you would recognize your role in the church. You would embrace it – and refuse to let 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work… You would refuse to let your church suffer a crippling financial budget… you would make sure that your pastor is supported and uplifted…

    Hebrews 5:11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

    • Josh, I think many understand your frustrations. How as churches and church leaders can we reach out to those leaving and encourage them to stay?

    • Josh, I’m almost speechless. As a 53 year old woman & a 4-decade Christ-follower, I regret your over-simplified response. My husband & I left our local church body of nearly 10 years (admittedly after the children were gone) because we did not sense an opening for us to contribute in meaningful ways. Through the decades of church attendance, we had been note-takers, sponges, eager learners, participants of small groups, & had served in every capacity that we could. We taught Sunday School, were deacons, youth group leaders, served in men’s & women’s ministries, the decoration committee, nursery duty, pot-luck organizers, you name it. But ultimately, we grew tired of being observers, absorbers, & pew-sitters in our church services, & tired of meaningless activities, never really seeming to have an affect on the Kingdom of God. We wanted to engage on the outside of the 4 walls, & also during the services & various gatherings … We wanted to be involved in the work of the ministry, not just being forever fattened and never exercising it off. Frankly, we were tired of the endless sermons … we wanted to DO the work of the ministry. Since leaving, we continue to love the Lord, follow Him, pray, fellowship with other believers as often as possible (usually in homes) and have served by bringing church services into the local jail & mentoring released inmates on the outside. The ironic thing is that we continue to COLLABORATE with as many local Christian churches as possible, striving to plug new born babes in Christ into LOCAL churches, because this truly IS the community they need to learn to become disciples. However, this has led me to consider that perhaps some of our local church organizations are more like nurseries — fit for young babes who need constant nourishment, diaper changes & baby-sitting than they are fit for growing, thriving, committed followers of Christ, who long to serve Him so that His Kingdom may come on Earth, as it is in Heaven… There is much more that I could say, but time limits ….

      • I agree with what you have said. I too experienced the “lack of need” for disciples in some of todays churches. I wasn’t interested in elbowing my way “to the top” so decided instead to let God disciple journeys in “his” time rather than mine. I still love the Lord, pray for self and others but i think if there are those that are more zealous then it’s all yours. I tend to pick up the “I don’t believe in God because … types of people in conversation, and hopefully say enough to convince them they might be wrong, and that’s enough for now.

    • Josh, I don’t think we are complaining because we don’t like the style of music. We are disillusioned because WE HAVE A CONTRIBUTION TO MAKE AND WE CAN’T SEEM TO MAKE IT. Many churches today focus so much on learning, learning and more learning, and I’m pretty well learned already. I’ve been to everything my church offers looking for meaningful community, and all I am offered is more learning. I KNOW from the word that I am valuable to the church, but I cannot find an avenue in which to contribute. That’s what I’m hearing more than people thinking it’s all about them, and being unwilling to grow up. I am as frustrated as you are, seriously. I wish I could express this to someone who could help me. Instead, I left my church, I’m now I’m following the Lord into other avenues in which to find community and to make a contribution. Love your heart, but I think you are not hearing what these many posts are saying: let us contribute, instead of giving us another ladies’ bible study to attend. Ugh. I’m sick to death of them.

  3. Josh. Wow. You don’t know us at all. 1 Corinthians 13, hon. I guess you really do still need us.

    • Suzanne, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, even as someone in this group who hasn’t left the church. How can others better encourage people to stay?

      • Margaret, Oh dear! I could write VOLUMES on this subject. As a matter of fact, I did. I deleted it all, though; it was simply TOO MUCH.

        But your question is, how to encourage the over 40 crowd to stay. For me, I need to know I have something of value to offer that is appreciated (and that doesn’t involve changing diapers). I don’t need a lot of thank you’s or hugs, but I’m smart enough to know when I’m spending my time in a way that helps someone else. I want to feel that my presence has value. Also, I would like to have a sense of community when I am at church. It is harder than you’d think to be part of the too-old-for-parenting-classes-yet-too-young-for-senior-potlucks crowd. It’s a pretty small club and we often slip through the ministry cracks. Feeling invisible is never fun. It’s super easy to slip away when you think no one will notice.

        I’ve also reached that ominous place in my life where making a real mark on this planet means more to me than ever. I’d like to be involved in ministry in a more impactful way. Sunday School is nice, Worship is lovely, but if my local church actively engaged in a serious social issue (like eradicating Human Trafficking), I’d be proud to participate.

        Ultimately, I’d love it if my church attendance had value, gave me a sense of community, and had real impact on what’s going on in the world right now. Thanks for asking me to share my thoughts!

        • Suzanne,
          You bring up such a good point about those “slipping through the cracks”. Sometimes it feels like if your life doesn’t follow the main life script–kids too young, kids too old, no kids, never married, whatever that may be…that sometimes there’s not really a place for you…I know we’ve felt that, and also had to get over that and make a place where one didn’t exist…which is a ton of work…and requires becoming the solution…which sometimes can feel like an uphill battle.

          • Margaret, this is a significant struggle for me as a church leader (who, consequently, also falls into the believers-over-40 category). My own heart resonates with so much of what Suzanne has written. But, a few years ago, our 80 year old faith community strategically chose to move from where we were and replant in a moderate to low income, urban area in order to strategically impact the lives of both single individuals and married couples who were actively parenting. Many, if not most of our current 40+ crowd joined our fellowship years before we moved into this neighborhood and corporately took up this mission. Both personally and as a fellowship, we deeply value and desperately need this cadre of now mature believers, but their felt needs are no longer at the center of our applied energy.

            This same group of spiritually vibrant men and women— obedient risk takers who were integral to the development of resources and strategies for meeting the needs of this spiritually neglected part of our city, now that their kids are grown, echo the mantra, “there’s not really a place for me.” And, I cannot honestly say I don’t understand or even identify. But, we cannot serve and share Hope with single and married moms and dads (and their children) merely as a church filled with single and married moms and dads (and their children). We NEED the whole body in order to fulfill God’s call.

            Unfortunately, we are a small fellowship with limited resources. We cannot meet every felt need AND effectively/responsibly obey God’s charge to us regarding this community.

            My experience is that it’s the exception and not the rule that mature believers leave the church because of the music or sermon series’ or the coffee bar. Nevertheless, I have witnessed over and over the resignation, “I’m done with the diaper changing season of my life.” Do we only give and serve and grow when the environment— the context is personally relevant? Or, do we redefine what makes something “personally relevant?” I believe God did just that in the lives of countless men and women throughout scripture. He made spiritually and socially relevant things personal.

            I don’t think chastisement is the answer. My heart longs to encourage and be encouraged. But, I struggle to fully grasp what God is saying here or how to give and receive accordingly. I am very thankful that you have created this forum for discussion around the topic.

            • James, I would LOVE to be a part of a congregation that was involved in such a ministry as your church! I think Deborah was able to articulate that desire to be less of a sponge and more of a salt shaker. I have many “felt” needs, but they are definitely more others-oriented at this stage in my life. It’s tough to find a way to reach out to others in a congregation that rarely asks me to do more than change the diapers or make the casseroles. I went on a mission trip last year. I did the whole thing by myself: contacted the organization involved, arranged transportation, paid my own way. My church didn’t even pray for me before I left. In that instance, my only “felt” need was for some sort of support. I understand that meeting the needs of growing families and aging parishioners takes a high priority, but I would have seriously appreciated a serious, hands-laid-on-me, prayer time. That’s what I mean by falling between the cracks. I don’t need a lot of hand-holding, but encouragement would be nice.

        • I concur (see my responses to Josh & Abby above.)

      • Margaret, Here is The Need as you mentioned it: “We need you as mentors, encouragers and people who have our backs in prayer. We need you in our life. We need to break bread with you, confess our personal, moral, relational, and marital conundrums and be assured that that those who have gone before us have made it. We need to know that God is as real and true when you’re 20 as when you’re 80, and we can’t make the journey without you.”
        I suggest that though you may see the need and many others agree with you, the things that the older generations have to offer is not usually sought after, requested, welcomed or respected. Their money is respected or should I say expected. But when their ministry gifts and capabilities are not desired then how are they to graciously excercise them?

        • David,

          I don’t like that you’re right. But you are…”the things that the older generations have to offer is not usually sought after, requested, welcomed or respected”….how do we begin changing that in church?

  4. thank you to all who are over 40 and haven’t left the church! thanks for continuing to serve and to teach! we need your life experience and your strength to build our church around! i have been so blessed by so many moms in their 40s who are still pouring into the younger moms- thank you for imparting your wisdom and choosing to spend your time with us! i didn’t grow up in a christian home, and desperately need these wise women in my life to help guide me and encourage me to be all that god has for me and for my family!

  5. Yes! The generation gap is exhausting to navigate when there are so few reaching across it. We have so much to learn from each other because we don’t only learn when we are taught, but also when we teach. If this post from Margaret speaks to you loudly, I pray that the Lord will encourage you to see how many of us who are under 40, and even approaching 40, need your example of faith and service. I would love your example for my children, as well. It is such a blessing to spend some quality time with a woman who loves the Lord and is old enough to be my mother or grandmother. I am also so thankful for the older men who pour into my husband’s life. Be blessed to be a blessing, and see what the Lord has in store. It will be amazing.

    • I love your plea to the older generations, Kristen. Many desperately need to be poured into. The wisdom from older generations is invaluable!

  6. Thank you, Margaret.
    My life has been an extended journey from church to church. There have been times when I needed to leave a particular congregation, but not the church as a whole. There have been times when I felt lost, and abandoned, but it has become clearer to me that those were times of growth and exploration.
    It is not, for me, about finding a church that gives me what I want. It is about finding a church community, a home.
    The first step is appreciating what that is so I can recognize it.

  7. Just wanted to add one more thing… I am so thankful for those of you who haven’t left and who lovingly pour into the lives of the next generation. Pray for us, please! Pray that we will be humble enough to allow God to use you in our lives.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Kristen! Praying for all generations to bridge gaps and join as the Body of Christ– his beautiful and broken Bride to reach the lost.

  8. Suzanne. Bravo! Agreed!

    The way church is being done today is not significantly different as a general rule, just new colors and noises. There are pockets of real change – I doubt Josh is in one of them because his is not a new attitude. When we are young, we like to believe we see what is wrong with how those ahead of us are doing church. So we change it – and eventually it ends up with the same sort of issues and irrelevance. I think part of the problem is that we spend too much time arguing about how to do church, instead of figuring out how to be the church.

    • So true…”arguing about how to do church” instead of figuring out how to “be the church.” I sometimes wonder if I truly realized that I’m not just accountable for my time and money but how I spend my energy–how we all spend out our energy..how we’d live differently. Sometimes it feels our abundance is our greatest persecution.

  9. Margaret, it’s interesting you post this as we were having this same discussion the other day at my Ladies’ Bible Study.

    As one who has left the Church several times (for different reasons, some personal), I’ve struggled with this issue. It wasn’t until I realized that I shouldn’t be going for “them” but I should be going for Jesus. Jesus is the Bridegroom and He is the one I’m going to Worship. People are People – not divine. They make mistakes and our judging of them hurts us as well as them. But, as a Christian, I am to be obedient to God. “Going to Church” somedays takes all I have but through the power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to do so.

    I went back to Church because the longer I stayed away, I could feel myself slipping further and further away from God. Don’t be fooled by those who say they can “do” Church by themselves. They can’t. For those who left – Please GO Back. Don’t return because someone asked you to – return because that is where God is and He is asking you too. He is there and that is where – as a community – He wants to be Blessed and Worshipped.

    I know it’s scary to return but we have an example in Moses when he returned to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to ‘Let God’s People Go’ – he went by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jonah returned – by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Peter returned to Christ (after denying Him) – by the Power of the Holy Spirit. You can return – by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Just Return – I did.. Like Margaret said – WE NEED YOU – you never know who’s life you will bless by doing so.

    • Lorna,
      I love the Biblical examples you provided..the key word being “returned”…it’s hard sometimes to return..but return we must if we’re going to live as Christ calls us to live.

  10. I’m a 20-something whose parents left the church years ago – and whose mother came back last Sunday.

    What I see in all this is not so much a generational gap as it is a lack of understanding what the Church is. The 80-year-old is just as vital in her wisdom as the 4-year-old is in his wide-eyed wonder over the flannel-graph stories of Jonah and the whale. All of us get far too wrapped up in how and where we serve, what spiritual gifts we have (or can’t have, depending on where you fall on the spectrum). We miss that we are FAMILY. I could no more kick my grandma out of my family than I could my little baby cousins.

    So, I guess I would say to those who are older: Have patience. Remember what it is to be young and full of mistakes. It may not seem like people my age listen to your input, but we do. We crave it. So many of us come from broken homes, broken families. We need a place where we can come under the love of a wise grammy or a fun auntie. We need your experience, your wisdom and your love.

    I would also say that you must allow for the rhythms of change. I’ve been in a church where the young pastor was ousted because the older crowd wouldn’t accept that their long-beloved, older pastor needed to retire. That kind of thing is devastating to all, no matter what the age. You may have taught Sunday-school for 40 years, but what if God is calling a young dad to do teach your class? What a unique roll you could have in uplifting and advising him! What an adventure God may be calling you to as you step away from that class in faith!

    We young people might get bossy sometimes. We might even say hurtful things in our ignorance. But endure! Stay with us! We will undoubtedly learn from your example of a life lived in humble faith.

  11. There’s another reason people of all ages leave the church: they see the local church as nothing more than a man-made institution, a dried-up religious organization and not the “organism” it actually is. They are right. But the irony is, many of them hole up alone at home, too cynical to darken the doorway of the four walls where the true Church gathers in highest concentration. If Jesus could go to the temple (talk about man-made tradition!) DAILY and minister to people in desperate need of hope, far be it from me to put my lofty New Testament ideals above the needs of the Body of Christ. Those who are too “mature” to stay in the “institution” are, sadly, the most needed. (I am not speaking of the many healthy house churches who are in it for the right reason.)

  12. This is a very timely post. In one way, you’ve nailed it but in another way, it’s unfair as it generalizes people’s feelings/motives as to why they may have left the church.

    Some leave because of hurt & offenses… some leave because of disillusionment… some leave because it’s time to move one… some leave because there’s no place for them…

    As a man in his mid-40′s, I can offer some insight here.. I left the church over 2 years ago, but I’ll never leave the Church. Confused? I left the modern, institutional church structure for the more organic Church of the Living God.

    There’s a key question in this post that is relevant to the entire post & all responses: “What’s happened to the church?”

    Simply put, it’s changing… or rather, it’s changing back to the Early Church; where ministry was more in the open, in the community & in homes. Yes, some small groups are shallow, but many of them are much deeper than you realize; there’s real discipleship happening, there’s real connection & it’s much more organic: dialog replaces monologue, everyone has something to bring to the table, etc…

    If there’s no place for people (the mature in the Lord) then there’s no place for them & there’s no changing that. If a modern, institutional church structure focuses on the children or the youth or marrieds or their worship team, naturally some group is going to be alienated & therefore, excluded. Ideally, we need to glean the wisdom of the elders, but like I said, if no place is made for them…

    There was no place [in the modern church structure] for people like me & after much prayer, I left. I’m much more effective now, outside any building, than ever before; I’m discipling, encouraging & still accountable to those around me. All the functions are operating equally: the apostolic, the prophetic, the pastoral, the evangelistic & the teaching; in the modern church, the pastoral calls all the shots & many are left out…

    Too much time is spent trying to get people to either come to church or come back to church, when Jesus spent very little time in the temple (yes, sometimes He taught there) but the majority of His ministry was in the community, where the people were. He never commanded, begged or implored people to come to the temple, He took the temple/church to the people. This is why the Great Commission emphasizes “Go” & not “Come” or even “Come Back”, it’s just “Go” & make disciples.

    Church is not something you go to, it’s something you are & take with you everywhere, like Jesus did. I don’t want to argue semantics here either, but your question regarding what has happened to the church all hinges upon your perception of what the Church is: church = building, Church = organism.

    I love the Church (organism) & I serve it, just not inside a building…

    I know where you’re coming in this post & I do appreciate you writing it, but please don’t beg people to “come back” to something they already are. Perhaps we should encourage them to simply find their place in the Body & “Go” make disciples.

    • Philip,

      I understand, see and agree with much of what you’re saying…but I still think the plea is important to make. Maybe this is a horrible comparison–so please give me much, much grace–but sometimes I feel like the church is like a nation who is underesourced. They raise up leaders who are educated and strong, people of character who could transform the nation, but instead, they go live in another nation. It’s good for them…but what about their homeland. Maybe that’s a terriible comparison, but that is the plea–please come back, for the church to be all it’s going to be, we need YOU!

      • Margaret, from a brother in the kingdom. I do not see the church as a nation. The Kingdom of God is so much more than going to a group of people who share similar beliefs. The “going to part” is quite bothering. Not until the last 70-80 years, did we have a professional ministry in evangelical life with the seemingly compulsory attendance on Sunday mornings, then also Sunday nights, then of course mid-week.

        We seem to feel that our task is to “get people into the doors” so the pros can explain and teach. This statement hurts me alot because, as you now, for 16 years I was in Full-Time ministry. We have at best reduced serving the Lord to going to multiple services. An at worst we have taken precious moments away from serving by going to services. And, if we are really committed, even more time taken in rehearsing elements in the service. And as you know I did that for another 16 years. 32 years of spending many, many hours away from my neighbors, away from my community except when I had an agenda. Lots of questions.

        How much time is left for going into the day-to-day life of the wonderful people we live around and touching them for Christ? I do not know the answers. I admit that. These are questions that God could get a donkey to ask. He has even that before. Continue to pray, I know the Holy Spirit will help us to obedience.

    • I love this, & I love what Jesus said, ” …. and on this rock I will build my Church, & the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16-18)

  13. Margaret, a great post. I have not read all the replies but enough to know that it is an issue. I will soon be 55. I have been in a local church all my life. I have been in local church ministry for 25 years and I will confess that it is easier and easier to tend toward cynicism and leave it all behind. But having a strong sense that where I am right where God wants me to be helps me stay focused on following Christ. I have two teen boys and I am beginning to have significant convos with both of them about life and faith. I expect to have such convos in the years ahead. But I know when they graduate from HS, that a new chapter will begin and I am trusting God to lead my wife and I because it is about serving Him and not what I want.

    • Jim,
      Thanks for your abundant faithfulness–I cannot imagine all the lives that have been impacted because of it! Thanks for not leaving.

  14. I am a retired pastor. I am deeply committed to following Jesus, but I’m no longer convinced that the institutional church is the place for me to do that.

    I was a pioneer clergywoman in my denomination (ordained in 1979. I served small churches for 24 years, and I repeatedly faced rejection. I served 13 churches, and my longest stay was 4 years in a cross-racial assignment. I did my best to make a difference; and I did in some situations. Other women have stood in my footsteps.

    Over time, however, I came to expect the rejection of the churches I worked so hard to love. Usually it was just a handful of people in the congregation who made life difficult. Most people liked and supported me. But that handful knew how to cause trouble. They knew the process to get rid of a preacher.

    Finally, I received a true gift from denominational authorities. I was assigned to take a sabbatical. Although I had no salary for a year, it was the BEST year of my life. I packed up my possessions in a storage facility, and traveled the world for a year. I visited thriving, healthy churches all over the world. Churches brimming with young adults, churches engaged in mission, churches that were warm and hospitable. And I learned some new strategies for being in ministry.

    When I returned to ministry, I was sent to a congregation that obviously needed to close. It had a lawsuit hanging over its head,and a congregation of forty members who could not support a full-time pastor for more than a year, and several other thriving churches of my denomination close by. We made the decision to close, and I became a hospice chaplain to the congregation. I gave classes on how to find a healthy church. I offered information about other local churches; and I preached on the promises of God.

    A year later, I retired. I realized that I would never be appointed to serve a church that might grow.

    I started attending a church that was served by a man I was ordained with—a growing church, with resources. A church that I saw as a “Pregnant.” There was no land to expand to near the current site, so I expected it to give birth to a new church somehow. That is the kind of ministry I wanted to be associated with.

    But I am NOT able to use my gifts in this church. I assist the pastors in serving communion now and then, when I am asked to do so; and I asked to visit shut-ins. I did so for a few years, but now there is only one left. I looked for ways to use my spiritual gifts, training and education in the church; and finally I began to focus on prayer. For literally YEARS, I went to the church on Saturdays and prayer walked. Then, after a while I felt that developing prayer ministries was my call. And I did. I taught small group classes on the Lord’s Prayer to leaders of the church. And they learned to pray. They BEGAN to pray. And new ministries emerged. And finally the church is giving birth to a new congregation.

    I am 60 years old now. I am also unemployed. I own a home, and my mortgage payments are twice as much as my pension. My nest egg is almost gone. When I “retired” from active ministry, I became a public school teacher; and I taught for four years. But frankly teaching remedial reading to teenagers who don’t like to read, is NOT my passion. I have earned my teaching credentials (I have credentials out the wazzoo.) I am now working as a substitute teacher, but that is NOT my calling and it does NOT meet my financial needs.

    I want to serve God in the church. I want to preach, teach, and work to develop and shape ministries. But the church I have been attending will not hire me. I do NOT want to serve in a declining congregation. I have applied to be a church staff member in nearby churches; but younger people get the job.

    I am about to leave the church I love. I am tired of the rejection and being bypassed. Church is NOT a healthy place for me. I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter Christian fitting into someone else’s system. And I really hate feeling put-down.

    So convince me to stay. I want to stay. But church does not seem to be a healthy place for me. I love Jesus. I am proud to be a pioneer clergywoman. I love preaching, teaching and serving the sacraments; but I think it is about time I got the message that I am not really valued or wanted.

    • Holly,

      First, thank you for your faithful service. Thank you for loving Christ’s bride…for sacrificing so much, for living out faithfulness.

      Second, I am sorry. I’m sorry for the lack of place, the closed doors, the frustration, the financial burden that on some nights probably leave you sleepless (I know that have for me).

      It sounds like you’re in that place of stepping back when you write, “I am about to leave the church I love.” Let me ask this: are you stepping back from the church or from a particular denomination? Are you open to serving at another church with a different denomination? Or is part of the challenge that few denominations ordain women as pastors (a whole other issue!) so there just aren’t many places to go?

      • I have considered changing denominations. But there are few other denominations that I feel would be a good fit. Certainly, I would NOT serve in a a denomination that would require me to denounce my ordination, or that would not accept my ordination as valid. That leaves a handful of mainline groups, or perhaps even a Pentecostal church. However, because I am ALSO adamant in my objection to “marriage equality” and the ordination of homosexuals, Most of those mainline groups are out of the question for me.

        I am considering the option of maintaining a very loose connection with my church; but focusing on developing a Christian community in my neighborhood. My neighbors include some deeply committed Christians of different backgrounds. We ALL drive 5-10 miles to different churches. We are Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, and maybe a few I don’t know about. I may even have some gay neighbors; and I would feel perfectly delighted to welcome them into such a gathering.

        A few months ago, an elderly neighbor fell and broke her hip. She lay on her front porch in the blazing sun before the mailman found her and called the emergency squad. As she recovered, I began to feel convicted because I did not know her well enough to feel comfortable visiting her in the hospital. Yet, I have been driving about 35 miles once a month to visit a member of my church in a nursing home (at the request of the associate pastor)! Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, and in a very literal sense, I have hardly met the people in my neighborhood. My community of faith is 8 miles away, and they drive equal distances to their faith communities. I do not want to start a new church, and I don’t want to take them away from churches where they are content. But I do want to know my neighbors, and develop a Christian community HERE. Even if we attend different churches on Sunday, we can still pray together, and serve God in our local neighborhood.

        In this generation we have seen the decline of small churches and the growth of mega churches. I live a former parsonage of a church of my denomination that closed about 5 years ago, and I have been driving 8 miles to a large church. Do you see the pattern? I don’t like this trend. It seems to me that the large mega churches have killed off the little churches. They have sapped our resources, and in the process we have abandoned our actual neighbors.

        So I’m not sure exactly where I’m going. If I can’t pay my mortgage, I will be moving in with my elderly mother–probably within a year. So that keeps me from starting a neighborhood group just yet. We’ll see what unfolds.

        • Holly,

          I do see the pattern….In researching for Scouting the Divine, I spent time with both a vintner who grew thousands of acres of grapes and another who tended but a few acres. One produced mass wines for Gallo, another fine artisan wines. Their approaches were different. Their produce was different. Both are needed. But the techniques used are wildly different. And the callings to what they were to create were very different. I am so grateful for all those who are serving faithful in churches whose membership may be small but impact is enormous.

    • Holly,

      I can so appreciate your reasons for wanting to leave. I am a co-pastor along with my husband, and am well acquainted with the vibrant sexism that pervades the church, and I will always feel its sting (since I do most of the preaching).

      I can’t help but wonder if you just need to start something fresh and new. The harvest will be white until the Lord returns. There are plenty of people who need what you have to offer. It can be as simple as starting a spiritual discussion group in a downtown cafe. One never knows where that could lead. Everyone is into spirituality these days. Just a thought….

      Praying for guidance,
      Faith

      • Holly and Faith,

        I think both of you are pointing to something that is oh-so-true and that is that being part of the church at times is difficult, uncomfortable, and downright painful. I know I’ve had brutal experiences at church where people said and did the worst things. I grimace twice as hard, though, when I think about times when I inadvertently did them to others. But at what point to we become the salve, the healing, the hope to others…and at what point to we need to step back to heal, too, and look for the new thing God may want to be doing….

        • Margaret, I HAVE stepped back for 9 years. I have attended church faithfully (sometimes twice on Sunday mornings); and I have tried to find an avenue to exercise my spiritual gifts in this community. I have assisted with serving communion, and I was asked to officiate at one graveside service. I have visited shut-ins, and led small group classes. I faithfully supported the pastors of the church with intense routine prayer. I have made a real effort to do NOTHING or say NOTHING publicly that might be critical of the pastors or the ministry. Although I have spoken privately and directly to the senior pastor about some concerns. The senior pastor has told me that he does not see a place for me in the church. I still have a fire in my bones, and I have been muzzled.

          • Holly,
            If the pastor doesn’t see a place for you in the church, then girlfriend, it’s time to prayerfully seek God about finding another place He wants you. One thing I do know is that we can’t have people like you with so many gifts and talents on the sidelines. We need you on the field, serving, loving, pouring into the lives of others and making the impact you’re created to make. Praying for wisdom, grace and open doors for you!

            • Thank you for your prayers. I value them greatly.

              • Gosh, Holly, I feel like you. I so feel the pain of being not needed. I did leave, and am now in a new place much better for me. Thank you, thank you, for all you’ve done, for your sweet heart for the Lord and for your neighbors. Oh, I pray that He lead you so sweetly and specifically and fill your heart to overflowing with HIS place for you, that HE has a place you can be of value. Bless you.

    • Holly, you know the wonderful gifts GOD has given you, so please do not get discouraged, but determined to continue to use them. As a woman of GOD with a gift to preach please do not let that gift be hidden away. Keep moving forward, as Margaret suggested being open to another church w/a different denomination that will support you sharing the message/s that GOD places in your heart. Is there a network of women preachers that you can connect with for support?

      Faith brought up one of the main reasons I believe people are leaving the institution of church. We call it legalism, but what it is is sexism, and an ugly sin that weakens the Church. We have a generation of Deborahs who are the spiritual leaders of their family, and the message that is constantly given is pray that your husband will lead, yet the men are not leading, so then what? Because men are not leading, women are getting discouraged and leaving, and with them the rest of the family leaves too. For many leaving the church is also leaving their faith, and that is very heartbreaking & devastating for countless reasons. This hits very close to home for me, because I have two neighbors who are wonderful sisters & brothers in Christ, yet they do not have a church home, however they have created a home church where there is worship, fellowship, and discipleship, and where they are invested in one another’s lives. What they are doing resembles what Christ did with His disciples, 1:1 personal intimate relationships. We do need to be apart of a larger church community as well as be connected to a smaller spiritual family, so that we may strengthen one another and be apart of something much bigger than ourselves.

    • Holly… I just encourage you to use your gifts. Coming from church leadership in a traditional setting myself, I think we can often associate our livelihoods with our callings. Our culture tells us what we do (in terms of earning a living) is who we are. But is it? Paul was a tent maker by trade… but so much more in spirit… his trade wasn’t his identity in Christ… it wasn’t his calling. As I grow in Christ and hungry to know him on a deeper level I am more and more convinced that who I am in Christ permeates all other realms of life, not the other way around. I don’t have to be employed by a church or ministry to make a difference. I can just do it… I can say yes and bring glory to him without an official title or paycheck. He has made you a powerful strong praying woman for a reason. Don’t let others discourage your calling and don’t let society define you by what you do to pay your mortgage. Just be you… the woman who God created you to be… you don’t have to leave your congregation if you don’t want to… just go about your business… don’t let the enemy in, don’t let him cause division. It’s distraction tactic to keep you from moving mountains and blazing a trail of holy fire for the Kingdom of God. Stay at it girl!

  15. I’m over 30, and I’m a former pastor who has not attended church in 3 years. I love Jesus and definitely miss some aspects of the church. But I’m not sure when I’ll ever be going back. I identify with Holly in that I gave my heart to serving God, but have been under-appreciated and mistreated (big understatement).

    I know the context of the letter deal with empty nesters who leave due to feeling unwanted in the church. But after speaking with my retired father who attends a church but is pulling away…I think the problem is more than that.

    To be honest, I feel that-though beautifully eloquent-the closing statement about the messy bride still being the bride is giving the bride too much credit. As I see it, this bride is abusive and mentally ill. In abusive relationships, many times the logical step is to leave that relationship. My wife was raised in an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church and was spiritually abused. She has undergone much therapy and help. She was deeply scarred.

    I see people leaving as a good thing. The bride needs some help in the meantime until she can get the help she needs.

    • Matt,
      I think you are right that there are churches that are not healthy and I’m in no way suggesting that people stay in those. If a church isn’t teaching from the Bible or impregnating people with false doctrine etc, absolutely leave. But leave and find another community of believers to join and be a part of. Don’t leave and not darken the door of a church again. That’s what I’m trying to get at. Sorry if that wasn’t more clear.

  16. I just wonder what you mean… “church” in terms of the organizational congregation is not in the bible. Church as in ekklesia “the body of christ” is… so is leaving a building more concerned with creating programs and numbers really a horrible thing. Leaving a congregation is not the same as leaving the body of Christ. Hebrews 10 says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

    We can meet together, we can HOLD FAST in our hope and faith in him, we can grow and move the kingdom forward outside the confines of a congregation. It’s harder, you have to be intentional, you can no longer just graze on the work of others, you can no longer check off attendance as your spiritual act for the week, you have step up and be accountable, but it is possible. I don’t want to start a big hoopla here, I’m not “anti institution” if it’s where God has called you, but I think for a growing number of us, it’s not… and I think that needs to be OK too. You can be stagnant or spiritually consumer driven inside walls or outside walls… whether you’re happy in your congregation or happy just doing life with other believers it’s time for us all to take responsibility for the state of our spiritual lives. I think that is the bigger issue… where we are spiritually is not ultimately connected to where we choose to do it… Just something to think about…:)

    • Lindsay,
      Thanks for bringing up that issue, too. I think it’s an important one for sure. And that many people like to distinguish between little c church and big C Church….

  17. Thank you so much for this forum. It has been very helpful to read everyone’s thoughts and comments. A lot of has to do with people in general finding a connection. All of us are not in tune for many reasons. We have found out that through serving we have been able to find many people’s connection points. These connections points become entry points for the local church. It is amazing how teenagers of today can connect with the elderly. In many ways that have experienced many of the same things bad economic times, war and they have found some common ground. Many folks 40 plus can provide opportunity to others to serve within their own work and passion. I believe when generations can come together and serve we all receive a better connection, we can tune in to God at work in our lives, in our neighborhoods, and in our churches. The Spirit leads us to come together rather than to divide.

    • Jeff,
      So true! “The Spirit leads us to come together rather than divide.” I know I benefit and grow so much with younger people in my life and the older….the voices of those younger and far more wise (though there’s a ton of wisdom from those who are younger!)

  18. I’m over 40. I go to a great church that truly knows how to be the church. We have videos, great music and all that “stuff”. I think we would be considered a mega church (not sure). Anyway, we still have small kids (6 and 3).
    As great as my church is I still have doubts. It’s really conservative, I’m not. Its getting really big. They always need people to serve and we should serve because it’s our calling. We are doing this all for the “kingdom”. It has great programs but a greater heart for the community and the world. I actually work in our community counseling center that is funded by the church.
    My frustration with “church”, the organization as a whole, is in discipleship. We convert and plug people into small group but there is not real one on one discipleship. People don’t understand their freedom in Christ. I see legalism everywhere and people don’t even know it. We are pushed to go, serve, commit, etc. and sometimes I think that can be very dangerous because instead of learning how to fall in love with Jesus and understand who you are in Christ, new followers just go and do while learning and before we know it we are caught up in getting our fulfillment in the wrong places. As Augustine put it, “our loves are not rightly ordered”. And guess what? From that comes disappointment, frustration, then anger, pride and before you know it we decide to leave the church because it is obviously not doing anything for us anymore and we question where God fits into all of this. Why would He allow all this pain and hurt when you were trying to follow his word and his commands.

    I don’t Have many answers but I understand the frustration. I don’t have any solutions except that the answer is not in the church, it’s in falling in love with Jesus and He being your source and checkpoint for satisfaction. People and organizations are always going to let you down. God is not. Feelings and emotions lie. God does not.

    • Susan, I love that “our loves are not rightly ordered”.
      Dear Jesus, help us order our loves–and may you reign in our hearts and lives. Amen.

  19. Margaret, I hate to admit this, but I’m just now coming to know your work. We were introduced on the NINES. I just want to say I love your writings, and I hope God continues to bless your ministry. Your writing is beautiful to read, and has real substance.

  20. Margaret, this is a beautiful, very sensitively written letter, but the question must be asked: If someone has lost interest in the Bride, can they truly know the Bridegroom?

    • Katy,
      Great question…and my answer to your question is YES! Though we love Christ and follow Christ, sometimes we as His followers are poor representations of Christ (intentionally or unintentionally). So I think we can love the Bridegroom but be frustrated, disappointed, and hurt by the bride at times. Should it be? No. But sometimes it is…and that is felt in many of the aches and expressions on these replies.

      Would love to hear others weigh in on Katy’s question!

  21. Interesting conversation going on here. As one very nearly 40 and seeing what is happening in the American church culture, I have to wonder if we’re not completely missing the point? A lot of what I see in the comments above speaks of coming to the church as a consumer and not so much as a disciple of Jesus. I think a big reason many, many people across all age groups are leaving the institution of church is because the institution is leaving them empty. Every one of us longs to be involved in something bigger than ourselves and what better place to do that than the church? But when we are not given opportunity or our visions and dreams are not valued, guess what? we will probably find a different place to find fulfillment in giving and serving.

    What if church was decentralized, and instead of everyone trying to find a need to fill or service to render WITHIN the church, the body of Christ would look for ways to serve TOGETHER OUTSIDE the four walls of the church? Yes, come together on a Sunday morning, but keep it simple and make the focus discipleship and then TOGETHER reach out to meet the needs of community around us. Church was not created to keep us safe, to keep the evil out, to keep the good in. It was created to glorify God and we do that best when we are the hands and feet of Jesus to those who do not know Him. We long to make a difference. Church, let your people, especially those 40+ (although I don’t see this as only a 40+ problem) do what they have been called to do and stop trying to control how, when and where it’s done! Send them out!

    There are tons of resources out there to help us start down this path. It is changing my life and changing the way I think about church and the Church. Blessings!

    • Rosanna,

      You use a word that I see in sooooo many places that I go and that’s the word “decentralization”. I think it’s happening and when people are equipped as able ministers they are free to impact the community and world in powerful ways. But some move from decentralization and the good impacts to unplugged and cut themselves off completely….I see some who say I’m going to step back from church for a season, but that season ends up not having a end.

      Do you see that happening at all among the people you know?

      • Maybe I should not have used that word… and maybe what I take it to mean and what others mean are two different things.

        I do think some people use decentralization as a way to disengage, and then I wonder if the discipleship didn’t happen the way it could have or if they were not willing to engage in the first place. I don’t know. There are so many variables.

        The concept I’m talking about is one where instead of the focus being on growing the church bigger and better, the focus would be on making true disciples and then sending them out. What I see is so much being poured into the church instead of the church pouring out to the community locally and globally. I know that there are many who are doing this – I pray that many more will catch the vision.

        It’s a huge topic and I feel like I can’t even articulate what I’m trying to convey.

        • Rosanna,
          Thanks for clarification. When I was referring to decentralization, I mean that churches are seeing every person an able minister–so instead of, for example, every small group having to be on church property and every study pre-selected that leaders are raised up and trained and empowered to really grow communities of believers right in their own homes. So yes, it’s a huge concept and so many of the words we use have different meanings.

  22. Hi Margaret,

    I wrote a reply write after this was posted but I guess something happened to it as I didn’t see it posted here. Sorry if you get this twice. I love the way you expressed what so many are feeling. I am 61 years of age and have seen the church go through many changes. Some good, and some perhaps not so good. I could have been the person you were writing too. But I did not leave, I chose to stay and be a part of the solution. I chose the route much of which was stated in your letter. I have a few Spiritual Children which I mentor; they are the highlight of my life at times. Keeps me in touch with the younger generation. I teach a Bible study every week (an in-depth meaty one). I serve where and when I am able. I realized that part of my discontentment came because life was changing. I was changing – it isn’t easy finding one’s way when you reach an age that, let’s be honest here, that you just can’t function in the ways you used to. The multi-tasking, fast paced, making a difference in dynamic ways changes to the softer, slower, pace of life. The mind isn’t quite as sharp and the body appears to have a mind of it’s own sometimes.We reach an age where we begin to question our usefulness and doubt sets in as our place in the world begins to change. Top that off with what I knew as church was changing too and I didn’t like it. The core value is the same Jesus son of God that has always been taught. No bending of Scripture. But how they went about teaching it, how they went about reaching the lost, how they went about _______ well anyone can fill in the blanks was and is changing. And the reality is… it needs to. My mom’s generation and how they did church would not have met me where I needed to be met. My generation and it’s ways will most likely not met the next generation and where it is heading. When we don’t change we grow stagnant, we become “Old Hat”. I don’t like old hat necessarily and why should I expect others to embrace it, just because it is what I am comfortable with. In order for me to reach the lost for Christ means they must be somewhere in my presence. If that means’ readjusting my thinking and how I present things than so be it. Once they know I care about them as a person, how they think, what they believe, what interests them; then I can teach them about Jesus and how He so deeply cares for them and wants to have a relationship. I could go on, but this comment has turned into a letter in and of itself. A long letter to simply say, you spoke for my heart’s struggle. And you also wrote many of the reasons I chose to stay! Thank you for taking time to write such a well expressed and beautifully written letter!

    Hugs, Sandra

    • Sandra,

      Okay, first, YOUR LETTER BLESSED MY SOCKS OFF! And it’s exactly why I so desperately want those who are older in the church–we need you, your wisdom, your perspective.

      To be honest, I’ve never heard anyone in their sixties say what you said so clearly and so eloquently. I know growing old is hard. We all know growing old is hard. Our bodies wear out. Diseases, inflammation, aches, and mysterious pains set in. The world speeds up as we begin slowing down. I get that. But the way you said it…dives into the why, what and struggles emerge as someone faithfully follows Jesus and we grow older. I need more people like YOU in my life to have these conversations with–to find the wisdom, grace, and wonder in both where we are now and where we’ll be soon.

      When you said, “We reach an age where we begin to question our usefulness and doubt sets in as our place in the world begins to change.” So honest. So true. So what we will all face (and some of us, a little earlier), but knowing this is normal, knowing this is part of the journey, knowing that we can keep pursuing Christ and stay plugged into the church in the midst is so important…and also gives us eyes to see and compassion for those who are older in the church..to be sensitive to them..to be encouragements to them…oh thank you for writing this Sweet Sandra!

  23. Thank you Josh- for speaking with the plain and simple truth! Church is NOT about YOU- no matter what angle you look from. WE ARE the church- NOT the building we go to every Sunday. When you can finally wrap your head around that- YOU GET IT!

  24. Over 40 and have left the church? Suck it up and get back in the pews. The CHURCH is the BRIDE of CHRIST. If you are not affiliated how can you share the glory of the bride? Jesus loves the church; this we know. So, please get back in the church if only out of obedience to God. Find a church that fits.

    • Janette,

      I like the “Find a church that fits”. Every church is unique and has a different DNA. We’ve been in churches that weren’t a good or natural fit for us…but even there I grew and matured. Now that doesn’t mean I’d sign up to go to that particular church again, and no church is the perfect church…but the commitment to find one is so important.

  25. Next Margaret why are older minister’s leaving their callings? Only 1 out of 10 guys starting in pastoral ministry retire still active. We need these men and their wisdom.

  26. My pastor, who was the founder of the church I attended (and was actively involved in), closed the church after deciding to pursue another ministry path. And I have found it impossible to find anywhere else to attend. Either the church body is primarily elderly members who want assistance with fundraising dinners and craft bazaars, and who like their sermons short and simple. Or they are mostly younger members who are focused on careers and families and prefer services with a lot of multimedia. As a forty-something, I feel utterly out of place and useless….and I don’t know what the answer is.

    • D.S.
      Sometimes I think we all feel out of place in the church in some way. I wonder, if you took a survey, how many people in the church really feel like they’ve found their place…what percentage would you estimate?

      But maybe it isn’t about finding our place…as His place…
      Yet I understand the tension, the displacement you highlight…I just think we all feel it.

      • It’s interesting to consider what percentage of people do or do not feel that they’ve found their place. And if is a high percentage, it would seem to point to a big problem within the Church. If people are starving, they certainly have nothing to give to others. But if no one is giving to others, than people are starving…and have nothing to share. What a conundrum!

  27. I’m barely over 40 and a pastor. We need young and old. It is what makes us a functioning, healthy family. I would hope that our churches are multi-generational with all the generations contributing to the life of the family and the mission of the church. When any group is marginalized it is unfortunate. We are missing out on people’s story, the beauty of their journey and the wisdom they have. This is a complex issue and many times addressed with negative motivations. That being said I want people from all generations in my church. If they are feeling overlooked then share that and let’s figure out a way where everyone’s voice is heard….whether it’s youthful or seasoned and wise.

    • Lance,
      I wish your voice and perspective were even more wildly heralded. Reading through many of the comments, some would find comfort and joy being in your church. Grateful for you.

      • Thanks Margaret. Thanks for raising this issue and tackling a sensitive subject with grace and respect. The tenor of your comments are loving, kind and encouraging. I have found that when people are scared, overlooked or anxious they behave in a way that first and foremost protects themselves from further hurt. To me, nothing is more relevant than the picture of a family. As a 41 year old I have one parent and 1 grandparent left to care for, love, nurture, laugh with and receive from. I also have kids to protect, shape, shepherd, empower and release. Isn’t that a picture of the church? All ages coming together, not because we agree but because we are in love….with Christ and with others? Coming together to give and to receive?

  28. As part of the over 40 crowd, I want to be part of the congregation!! I crave it, want it, need it! We moved cross country a few years ago and have been to 5 different churches, this last one we’ve been attending for over a year. Four of the churches have been ‘church-lite’, we call them for the top of the line music and the catchy sermons without meat. We also could not break into the cliques of people who raised their kids together and had lifelong memories of doing things together. We are at this last church because the Pastor, sermons, leadership are amazing. But hey, we’re standing here, we’re trying to get involved, please don’t greet us and then turn away. We have something to offer. We love Jesus and want to serve.

    • Lisa,
      I love that you were so persistent in finding a church. You freely acknowledge that some of the churches weren’t a good fit..but you kept on keeping on and now you’ve found one and you’re looking to engage. And I love when you said, “Please don’t greet us and then turn away”–oh so true!!!

  29. Margaret, I could not have described better what has happened to my husband and myself in the past 2 years. I am 54 and my husband 61 with grown daughters in their 20s and we recently experienced a “why do I still go to church” crisis. We recently left our church family of 21 years, a huge church of 4,000, where we raised our daughters, where they made their commitments of faith and were baptized, where my husband was a licensed minister-at-large, we had wonderful friends and where I was involved in worship leading for the last 10 years. For us, it wasn’t so much that we felt unused and overlooked by a younger mindset, but that the mega-church model that had served our family so well as our children grew up was suddenly not right anymore…..not “wrong”, just not right for us. It felt impersonal, large, loud, overproduced,too program oriented and staff -led for starters.What prompted the change in our viewpoints (although I think God had started this stirring in us a few years before) was when we spent a year overseas living with college students as a faculty mentor couple with the university where my husband teaches. One of our responsibilities was to lead a weekly house church for and with the students. It was a small gathering of 30-40 people…organic, informal, lay led, intimate. It wasn’t perfect by any means (trying to get 20 year olds to remember to plan a worship set when they’re running out the door to spend the weekend in France??) but it was one of most wonderful parts of our 8 months in Switzerland. We come back home, go back to our church and wham…..loud, big, impersonal, preaching with no interaction, too politically conservative, not inclusive enough, relying too much on media and “flashy presentation”…:)….. The church had not changed in those 8 months, WE had changed. I had been a part of that “flashiness” for 10 years and thought we were the coolest church around! It took my husband and I about 6 months to even say out loud to each other “I feel no connection here any more”. We had started going less and less, finding excuses more Sundays than not. We knew that we would be changed by our overseas experience (we had done this twice before) and would come back with new and different perspectives but we never imagined this. And as hard as it was, we chose to find a new church body because we knew that if we stayed we would sit in the back and do nothing, become apathetic and probably eventually stop going altogether.We had prayed before our trip that God would show us how to use the changes He was going to do in us and we became convicted that a change in a church family was one of the things He had in mind. We didn’t know why but we knew this was God. We said “What do we do now? How do we look for a church after 21 years?” Was it scary? Oh yeah. Do we sometimes feel like we have a family somewhere else that we abandoned? Yes. Do we run into people in town who, when they say “where have you been” and we tell them, give us a look of complete bafflement or, worse, disapproval? All the time. Because where we ended up was the last place I would have expected…in the denomination (or really an associated group of churches with no central organization) where I was raised, that we had left years ago for being too narrow-minded, legalistic, and not “hip” enough. I will be amazed to the day I die that God gave me this gift of a “new” church congregation, where I know so many people from my college days and names familiar from my youth, where we feel like we have come home. This small, local church has all the good I remember from my youth and all of what I was craving in a church body and couldn’t even articulate. Multi-generational, lay-led, organic, inclusive, thoughtful, intellectual teaching, outreach oriented without making a big deal about it, on and on. And besides us feeling “comfortable”, we have so many opportunities to serve both inside the walls and in the community. Do I miss high-energy worship with a full band and the excitement of being in a huge congregation? Sometimes. But I will thank God forever for giving my husband and I this gift of a church that, for us, is a perfect fit for this season in our lives. I agree with the young man, Josh. Church is NOT all about me… getting my needs met and being within my comfort zone. The point of telling my story is to say that for us, we had to be willing to LEAVE our comfort zone, what we had known for over 20 years, leave the familiar and comfortable and step out in faith to find a new church body, where we could feel a connection so that not only we would continue to grow spiritually but so we could serve. And because we were obedient, God gave us something that in a million years we couldn’t have imagined. And we have not abandoned our former relationships at our wonderful former church. We get together with a group for dinner once a month, we attend functions there that promote ministries we still support financially and that are important to us. We LOVE those people and always will…They and the ministries of that church will always be important to us. But we knew that the season for us at that church was over and we had to be willing to be faithful to God in what He was calling us to next. That would be my advice and admonition to all the over-40 somethings. Where you have been for all these years may not be where God wants you to stay. There are seasons in life where your family needs certain things from a church body and where you are meant to serve. If you are feeling a lack of connection and a confusion about where you fit, especially if circumstances have changed in your family and life, maybe God is prompting you to make a change.

  30. It seems that the people saying just suck it up and go to church are ignoring the deeper issue. I’m glad that you brought it up Margaret because I feel like communication is the real key. I’m over 40 and although I didn’t leave the church, I did leave a congregation that is just as you described. The pastoral staff could plan a series, campaign or show in their sleep but lack the interpersonal skills to minister to people on a personal level. When the Pastor solicited sermon ideas via Twitter that was it for me. During a conversation with a fellow triathlete team member I realized that I wasn’t the only one that had that experience and they got me plugged into a different congregation that was more about substance. As humans we seem to have a tendency to believe we te the only one facing whatever issue we’re facing and disengage.

  31. Have you ever heard of Frances Chan? I highly recommend listening to his series BASIC- on Fellowship. I really do believe that the term “fellowship” has lost it’s true meaning by GOD in our society. I think that may be why this topic was started in the first place and why it has SO many people weighing in.

  32. I also thought this was a very clear message about WHO the church is- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE2hbAccf14 And how we should not be dependent on each other- why so many leave their church.

  33. As a 20-something, I have much mixed feelings on this. And I will admit, my response is very, very selfish. Just a warning before you read further.

    Everyone needs a place to belong and grow. But God will not call you to stop gathering with a body of believers. Even if He calls you to change churches, He will not call you to quit. He may call you to be a missionary in the deepest jungle but He will not call you to stop worshiping Him in the presence of fellow believers. Your struggle with the church, while understood, is still a struggle. Just like the struggles I have. And the struggles you are passing on to me.

    I come from a long line of pastors and pastor’s kids. Not the winked at version of pastor’s kids that ran wild (although a few did) and barely made it in time to join the choir on Sunday. No. I came from a line of God-fearing, worker-bee women. I learned quite well what my place is. Sure, works won’t save you. But if they did, I’d have a spot reserved. And that has worked well for me. Even the times I was convinced I couldn’t be further from God, my hands were still in the mud, my feet in the trenches and I worked for the church. Because it was expected of me. And somewhere, in the midst of that work God would touch me and I would remember my joy. And as a 20-something, with as many years left as God feels necessary to give me, I hope I never feel such discontent. However, I am tired. I’m a 20-something and tired. Not burnt-out, just tired.

    And discouraged.

    When I see those 40 and 50 and even yes, 60 and 70 something’s in your situation, here is what I feel. I’m selfish. And I’m angered. And I’m saddened. I have all of these pent-up feelings I have been longing to tell you. When I see your kids leave, and you leave soon after, I wonder what happened to your faith. And why it compelled you to quit worshipping with us. I start to doubt those conversations we had and all of that God-given wisdom. Because I wonder if you were here just for your kids, and if you ever really had any faith for yourself. And I feel sad that we aren’t enough to keep you around.

    Like I said before, I come from a long line of worker bees. I know the stories of generations of churches and the changes that occur. And it is a cycle. I know that you leaving us now (in the case that you quit church all together), that it will happen to your kids. Only they will be younger. In their 30s maybe, with their host of reasons for leaving. And then their kids. Until eventually, there it goes. The family breakdown of generations no longer raised in church. Those of us who stayed around are now left to try to pick up the pieces and bring you back in. And we are left, wondering what happened to so-and-so who was raised in the church and then one day woke up and quit with no reason given. If it’s not important to you, I wonder what example you’ve left your own children. And what example you’ve left me.

    I know our worship is different, and maybe something you don’t understand. Like how my kids don’t understand the old hymns we still sing. And how Sunday after Sunday I try to teach them the importance and the lesson hidden in your songs. The importance of the old words and phrases and the lessons in the Bible and the passion of your generation. Or at least what I thought was the passion of your generation. I try week after week and when another one of you leaves, I wonder why I try at all. I wonder if they will grow up to be just like you, these kids…not in it for the long haul but just long enough for us to care about them and I weep for the future of half-hearted workers and empty churches.

    I’m sorry if you have been exposed to churches and pastors that weren’t real. I apologize for the fake Christians. But I assure you we aren’t all fake and we don’t resort to cheap theatrics just for the sake of theatrics. We are trying our best to speak the same Gospel-language in a way that these young ones will understand. And hopefully in a way that won’t turn you away either. Do you know how hard that is for me too? Because I’ll be honest. I feel like you’re at an age where I shouldn’t have to worry over your soul anymore. I feel like we’re the adults here and that I shouldn’t have to pray over your disillusionment when there is so much else I have to pray for. So now in between trying to keep this church not just on life support but actually alive and kicking I now have to find you. Call you. Wonder why you aren’t there anymore. It’s no longer us as fellow soldiers sharing in the joys of the work it’s back to me alone once again and you….gone. And for what I don’t know.

    Because you see, when I hear your complaints about this younger generation and all of their distractions, I know that you and your complacency is just as dangerous.

    And it’s not just me who needs you. These little ones need you…the little boy that needs a father figure because his dad just killed himself needs you. Or the teenager that has no home because she’s pregnant. What about the college student that needs someone to look over their shoulder because they just don’t see the point in God anymore? There is always work for you. We need your help. I can guarantee that not a single one of you is a member of church that doesn’t have place for you: choir member, pastor, deacon, elder, youth minister, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, secretary, financial director, somewhere! SOMEWHERE! Because I’m a 20-something and I’m already tired and I can’t do it all. I’m jealous that you are at that age where you finally have free time and you can’t seem to spare any of it with the church. While I work two jobs with a family of my own growing and still get up every morning to pour my heart and soul into these lost people. I can’t help all of these kids at once and cater to you. I’m a human with limited resources. I’m sorry.

    I’m sorry I can’t reach out to you in a way that you understand. Or that you can’t see past your own pain right now to realize that I need you as an ally in this war not as the lost solider I have to turn back for because I’ve only got two arms and I’m already struggling with the body of the future generation I’m trying to carry. The church is dying and I’m upset because you just want to roll over and die with it. I’m only 26 and how am I supposed to do this by myself? Because if you think we are in the kind of condition that you can just leave us…….we aren’t. We need you in the church, and working out of the church and reaching others like you and your age that I can’t reach. I’m trying my best to reach my best friend with the earphones and iPod and if I can barely get her to understand God how can I get someone your age to as well? You’re the only one that can reach the lost of your generation. And you’d rather become one of them.

    If you saw another work, another church, another mission field I would herald you into it, with joy and tears in my heart. Because I love you and I know God has called you to it. But I won’t have such joy when you willing drop out.

    You think nobody notices. Week after week goes by and you’ll just slip out. If you did, then maybe you would care a little more. Because I see the empty pew. I see not just the seat but the soul of the person I thought I could count on. And someone that I loved. I’m crying now as I’m writing all that I am trying to say and my plea for you to stay. We see the feigned interest when we run into you in the supermarket. The dodging of concerned questions. And we feel it to our souls.

    I told you I’m already tired. Maybe I’ll grow up to be just like you.

    Because if you, of all people, can’t give me a reason to run the long race, why should I?

    • Heidi,

      Wow! Thank you for sharing. It is easy when we feel at a loss to understand change, when we feel no longer useful, no longer needed, when our confidence slips because what we knew is ever so slowly slipping and are footing is no longer stable, to lose perspective. As I read your letter I realized we need to open the lines of communication; not formally but as we do life together, in the church and without. In an attempt to meet the unique needs of each generation we became inadvertently segregated; we lost community. The young ones all serving in their areas, seniors in theirs, couples in theirs, singles in theirs, etc. as a result, I believe we (all generations) lost sight that we need each other and that everyone in their season of life has something not only to offer, but something that is desired, valued by other generations and vitally needed. I have two gals in their early twenties and a few in their 30′s that I mentor, fancy word for doing life together as we grow in Gods Word and in our faith. As a result they have come to understand my generation (60+) with all its struggles, fears, successes, failures and desires and I theirs. I love what they bring to my life and I know they feel the same. And here is the surprising thing…. their struggles, fears etc. are not all that different at the core, they simply present themselves differently.

      You make some very valid points in your letter. It is true that much of church life cycles, but each cycle seems to have a twist of its own and each generation needs to find its way through the course. My path is not the same as my mother’s, my daughters path will not be the same as mine and so on. It has the same name, aging, but the journey, while similar, will be unique to each and everyone. So what will make the difference? I believe it will be as we share our lives with each other. As we choose to make the choice to understand the struggles and fears of others, no matter the age. It will be as we make compassion our main line of interaction, and as we offer grace to others as they fail us. And last but of most importance it will be as we keep Christ as our focus.

      Sorry this so long, but your response tugged at my heart. There are a few other things in your letter that I would love to chat with you over a cup of tea; if only that could be. I will simply say I am sorry you are so tired, and I am sorry for the lossmof relationships in your life, and I hear the hurt within your words.

      May The Lord bless you in your service, and may you find rest in Him.

      Sandra

      • Sandra,

        Thank you for your kindness and love and tenderness throughout your response. You make me wanna hug your neck!

        • Thank you for the Hug Margaret… I so wish we lived closer to I could give you one as well. But for now, a cyberspace hug it will have to be.

          HUGS my friend; Hugs.

    • Heidi,

      Your response brings tears to my eyes.

    • Heidi, I am sorry you are tired and discouraged. And I commend your faithful diligent work for the good of the church and the glory of God.

      I wonder if some of the tired is from trying to do and be more than the Lord of the Church expects? That kind of tired is what can lead to burnout, even if you are not there yet. Are you trying to maintain something that is God’s job to maintain? I’m sure your history with the church and your faithfulness in it lead you to believe that all should continue as it has been.

      Are you worrying over souls when you should “simply” love those around you and find rest in the Lord? (I know that is over-simplifying it.) If I was your friend with the earphones, I might not be interested in your God if following him meant carrying a dying institution on my tired back. I would be more interested in the Jesus who said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

      And the Church is not dying – it is amazingly alive in so many places. Some of the old institutions are dying, and though I sincerely want to do life with the future generation, I do not want to join you in trying to rescue things that maybe need to change.

      I hope you will be able to run the long race, and that you don’t burn out by stubbornly insisting on running in the same lane forever.

  34. Margaret, Yesterday I posted this to my church’s FB page. Almost immediately, I heard back from a friend who is a senior and longtime member of our church; she was thanking me for it. She felt valued and affirmed. Obviously, given the conversation(s) above, it was a timely and important piece to write. (Fodder for a new MF book, maybe? Hope so!) Thank you for raising this matter. As for me, at 45, having been a member of the same denomination since college and same local church for the past 13+ years, I have stayed, been glad I stayed, and gone through long parched times, a split, and other truly painful times. But in those more difficult times, relationships and maturity happened. Under the surface. God didn’t leave me or leave the church and I have come to know Him better by being a part of my church community. More and more, I think community is vital. Really appreciate – as I know you do – all of these comments. So open and authentic.

  35. Margaret- first off, thank you! I think this letter is relevant to any age. I told you part of my story in a previous comment, so already I have wanted to walk away because I felt forgotten. But, maybe the key is twofold. First, those who have commented that those who walk away need to stop be selfish are part of the negativity that so abides in the church. And honestly, there is no place for it. Hebrews 10 talks about how we should encourage each other even more as the day draws near. The negativity is definitely not encouraging. Should we help each other strive to be more like Christ? YES! But, in love and patience. If we all worked towards encouragement and stepped away from the critiquing, then maybe everyone might feel comfortable to share their voice.

    Speaking of that- number two. PLEASE SPEAK UP! I love love love the older generation. I have multiple adopted parents/grandparents from Bellingham, WA to New York to Texas to Ireland to England to New Zealand and India and beyond. To say I love and connect with you older friends on a deeper level is the understatement of the century. You have saved me on multiple occasions, by prayer, word or action. God knows how much I need you. But, I long to be needed too. I can’t be there for you if you are not honest with me. I am sick of the surface level stuff too. So let’s start a multi-generational group that depends on one on one discipleship. I received the gift of my mentors because one of us reached out and said, “I need you.” That may have been said in a different way, like “Coffee?” “Let’s discuss your exegesis.” or “Hunky’s hamburgers are the best!” Whatever the case, one of us was willing and honest enough to step out and make the connection. So please, I miss so much because I am selfish like every one else in this world. Break my bubble, I beg you. Tell me what is going on and I will try my best to make changes or introduce you to someone I know will listen and move too.

    • Miranda,
      You’re right–the need for encouragement is essential and the urge to speak up. I love when you said, “Break my bubble, I beg you.” I know I’ve been guilty of holding people at arm’s length or coming across as aloof when that wasn’t my hearts desire…and at times I need people to break my bubble, too.

    • Miranda,

      I so love the “Break my bubble”. I hope you don’t mind but I think I will be using this phrase in many ways over the next few months. You are so right too in saying it only takes one move on one person’s part to make the difference. I wonder how many bubbles I can burst this coming weekend. Stay tune ….

      Hugs, Sandra

  36. I’m sitting here being 45. Someone who grew up in church, but didn’t hear the gospel or have a clue that God was more than just for Heaven and emergencies. Lived with one foot in the Kingdom and one in the world for most of my life. Always found peace in church, thought it was the beautiful building. Then I met Jesus in the depths. Because deep calls unto deep, He met me in my brokenness and while I was still sinning and He brought me home. The God he showed me, has swept me off my feet. The passion He awakened has redefined being the Bride. The struggle of labor, of being born in Him and of Him simultaneously- is excruciating at times. But here’s the thing: It’s not about us. It’s about Him.

    This age is so unique. Scripture calls us to come to Him as a little child with wonder and awe and untainted faith. That is a place where He met me and I’m so thankful that He lets me see Him with the faith of a child, even as my physical body lives out the reality of age. On the other hand, He’s given me wisdom and knowledge through an insatiable hunger for His Word, which lives and breathes and shows up EVERY DAY. I can identify with the awakening and passionate worship happening in the college age and young adult crowd. The call to the Heavens and I find it so, so beautiful. As He’s grown me though, I can identify with the structure and reserved, solid rock of the mature that still want to sit in pews and sing the hymns of old. There is a comfort there- a security in their stability.

    So I find myself stuck. Identifying with everyone- fitting in with no one. I’m a single mom of 2 great kids who I KNOW will come around, and around again. I don’t worry about them because I have entrusted them to Jesus. If He’s taught me anything, its that the outward doesn’t matter and that applies till he takes us home. But where I’m stuck, is that all the things that have drawn me close to Him, are a wedge or a stumbling stone to the church. I am CALLED to write and teach. But my divorce prevents me from stepping up to lead in some scenarios. My singleness, even though I haven’t dated for 4 years because Jesus asked me to be His bride, causes awkwardness in small groups filled with married couples when my light shines. Our church wants men in charge of youth and college age, even though Ive traveled and have a passion for empowering kids to serve with a world view. It’s hard being this age, in this position, with this longing. All the things that have been my greatest failings are the very things that God has used to propel me to such great heights with Him. But nobody in my world sees that as valuable enough to believe in or invest in. I want to write a book. I want to travel around speaking to women about God and the AMAZING things He’s done and the way that He shows me His mercy and grace. But what breaks my heart, is that people I love, and I LOVE my current church, but they are not people who are willing to dream big with me, because they see who I was- they saw me as I was struggling to be born- and now, it’s hard for them to see the person who I KNOW God is making me to be. I won’t leave the church, ever. I love the church. I love the Body. I just don’t know what to do when I have to turn to outside sources for the confirmation I should be getting from within. I need one person- just one- to say I’m worth the risk.

    • Deana,

      While I am not a part of your congregation may I just say, “You are worth the risk”. I can say that with confidence and surety as Christ said it long before I did. I pray that you too will see, even if no one else does, that you are worth it. Write that book Girlfriend I hear a best seller within you. Don’t let the enemy defeat you.

      Lifting you up in prayer,
      Sandra

  37. I am 78 years old and due to travel and one time leaving a church for personal reasons have attended many different churches and denominations. I loved going to church but I didn’t get a personal relationship with Jesus and begin to learn the true meaning of being a Christian until I was middle aged. The church I attended then and still do was the one that my children were raised in. They both are strong believers but both left the church. One for churches that had more young people. When our pastor died and our church split the results were that young people went one way and the older ones stayed. So many of our new young families left for churches more attuned to young families. Not that our church wasn/t. It had always had a really strong youth ministry and childrens ministry. But the next generation left and with them went our small children and now it is difficult for us to appeal to young people because there are too many gray hairs in our church. But we are also next to a high school and elementary school so our ministry is finding ways outside our building to help our community and introduce them to Jesus. Many of our “gray heads” are now mentoring high school students. We pack meals for the latch key kids for the weekends. We give special gift certificates to those who have no funds to join their friends for a coke after school. We offer small jobs for the kids to earn a few bucks and our church gets cleaned. Our church is trying to encourage our aged congregation to get out in the community where God is already working and join Him in His purposes. This takes many different avenues. Still we love to get together in our small groups for encouragement and prayer support. One group from our church does door to door evangelism plus speaking to and presenting the Gospel message every Monday a.m. at a major bus stop. We still miss the young people but we are still finding ways we can be productive Christians in our neighborhood. Our congregation is still small and still older but we are vibrant in our love of Christ and our fellow man. We haven’t left the church. We have looked to God for dirction where He wants to use us. And we are still praying that He sends us a new generation of young families.

    • Pat,
      I love your commitment to be “vibrant in our love of Christ and our fellow man”–that’s the core expression of believers coming together.

  38. Margaret,

    This is such a warm, heartfelt genuine letter. One thing that I decided when I had started to feel a little of the symptoms you mentioned in there, was that I was not going to be another reason why people left the Church. I know it is impossible on the odd occasion to please some people, but for the majority, I made a CONCIOUS decision to be Warm, not Cold…..to be Real, not Fake…. to change my attitude and my surroundings with my Action, not with a bunch of cliche Christian sayings.

    As for my age? I’m not even 34….yet I still feel just as home with 80 year olds as I do 18 year olds.

    Keep up the Solid work! I’m gutted that I missed seeing you when you were out here in Australia.

    Cheers

    Mark :)

  39. Thanks for your words. I’ve realized over the years that it’s my selfishness that gets in the way of my relationship. Learning to overcome that by understanding and appreciating grace and forgiveness!

  40. Well Margaret, there is really more I could say about this than will fit into a comment box. Here we are, leading a church planting movement and finding this to be true in my own home church that is split wide open in division, giving those 40-somethings another reason to not get involved. I’m finding that this group, of which I’m one of them, is so used to small group gatherings being surface meetings that they don’t know how to react when I want to lead them deeper. I’m meeting with lots of them one on one, because there is fear about revealing themselves in a group. And starting some virtual groups on-line as well. I think trust is a big issue in our world inside and outside of church.

  41. Thanks to all who have contributed – I’ve learned a lot. I’m 55 years old. Grew up Catholic then was “born again” at age 17. I dedicated my life, as best I knew how, to following Christ. It led me to be a missionary, an inner city worker, an advocate for victims of child abuse and DV, an advocate for immigrants, including ones without documents….

    I attend a mainline church. It doesn’t feed my spiritual needs, but I go to church because I feel that giving one hour a week back to God for all he has done for me, is the least I can do. It’s not enough. We can never repay Christ for what he did for us on the cross, but we can try.

    Many evangelical churches still don’t accept women as elders or pasters. They are often xenophopic and homophobic, and care more about the unborn than about the born. They have taken scripture out of context and thrown away the gospel for a political version of the truth. They have confused patriotisim with having our citizenship in heaven. They spew hate about our president and have no understanding of how Jesus dealt with the policitcs of his age. They embrace war, and tell abused women to submit to their husbands. They may go to church every Sunday, but it doesn’t prevent them from filling facebook full of hate for anyone who doesn’t agree with them politically. All three of my children have left the church because they can either go to an evangelical church that is more concerned about social/cultureal issues than about teaching discipleship but has great music that they can relate to. Or they can go to a mainline church that bores them to tears. The church in America has “thrown out” young people and old people who do not believe that an unborn is worth more than one who is born (especially since it is only women). They believe that God will deal with homosexuals the same way he will deal with any other sinner. They believe that women are equal to men, at home or at church. So as far as I can see, we have pushed out the younger generation.

    And you’re right. I too am disillusioned with the church. I left a Presbyterian church six years ago. From the pulpit the pastor told the congregation that those who disagreed with him had committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We knew who he was talking about and the reason was because he was trying to kick out our Brazilian members (he’d already gotten rid of the Hatians and Kenyans) and when some of us protested, we were disowned. He had actually invited members of the Presbytery to attend. After a year long investigagtion, they wrote up a 10 page document condeming the actions of the pastor. But that was trashed and in place was a short document telling him to apologize. Which he never did

    Our “family” in the church where we had worked so long cut ties with us. The Presbytery never helped us deal with the spiritual/emotional consequences. My husband has never returned to any church since then. One year ago it was discovered that the pastor had been stalking and sexually harrasing a staff member for several years. Some elders knew about it but said nothing for years. When it finally came out last year, he and his wife finally left. Later it was discovered that the wife had been embezzling from a church member who employed her.

    Not to even mention that 30% of pastors have affairs with women in their congregations and others sexually abuse children. Others provide no help to abused women.

    The chuch itself has lost its moral compass and become more concerned about the politics of this world than about discipleship and preaching the kingdom of God. We’ve traded love for hate for certain political and social groups. While Jesus specifically reached out IN LOVE to the untouchables of his time, we label them and then ostracize them.

    Go back and read AW Tozer’s the Pursuit of God, or Bonhoffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. That is what we have lost because so many Christians (especially older ones) spend more time watching Fox News than reading the word.

    As evangelicals, we often live in fear of treading a different path, not because of where we feel Christ is leading us, but because we get ostracized. Church is not the bride of Christ in American culture. It is the Bride of right wing conservatism.

  42. i found this very interesting. i loved to read all the post. i agree the over 40 is a missed group! you have your mommy groups with small children and your senior groups but nothing in middle. Just before i turned 40 i got involed with a church plant which has been a great blessing to my growing faith. The week i turned 40 i was baptized and it made turning 40 so much easier to deal with. Since turning 40 I have gotten involved with leadership in my church specifically in children ministry. Even though my faith has grown i do feel lonely among the young ins i go to church with. So 40 something people do not leave the church but renew your faith and make it young again!!! You will be amazed how young you will feel and how different you will use your new faith!!! You will find yourself in a place you never thought you would be….I know i did and every year when i turn 40 something I give myself a new challenge to make that new faith i got the day i was baptized stronger. I wonder where i will be when i turn 50??

  43. Hey All,

    I have read many of the responses and replies to this post, although I admit, not ALL of them. I think there are many answers that are coming from many angles, and I would like to throw my hat in the ring, and sum up a few things.

    1.) The Church is the Body Of Christ – it consists of many pieces and parts, all of which have a different function. As such, we need to remember that we are not ALL called to do things in the same way. We need to remember that SOME people may be called to work in the “institutional church” and SOME people may be called to work in a more “organic house church” setting. Some people may be called to minister to those within the 4 walls of the buildings we call ‘churches” and some people are called to get OUT of the church and into the community.

    2.) As Christians, the goal is to always be GROWING in our walk and relationship with Christ. Many of us over 40 at one time listened to “big hair bands” like Poison, Stryper, Def Leppard etc etc, but it doesn’t mean we would now wait in line overnight for concert tickets – because we GREW UP! That DOESN’T mean we should look down our noses and discourage teens and 20-somethings from sitting in line overnight for tickets to a Kid Rock or Taylor Swift concert. Do you think, however, that possibly the very reason so many of us are in fact leaving the “institutional church” is actually for the very specific reason that we did in fact GROW UP! It is time for some of us to get OUT of the 4-walls of the institutional church and “spread the gospel” to the very places that need it the most – the WORLD, not the CHURCH. I think what we need to remember is that what we need in the church is CHRIST, and it is JESUS that supplies all our needs and gives us wisdom, not a certain demographic of people. I don’t see 7th graders complaining that all the college kids grew up and left them, and I think we need to recognize and realize that the needs of 20-somethings are different than the needs of 40-somethings, and while there may be 40-somethings that are CALLED to minister to the 20-somethings, it is up to GOD to lead, guide and direct each of our own individual paths. Our responsibility as Christians is not to respond to “social pressure” to either stay with OR leave the church, but rather to go where GOD calls us to go.

    3.) I think it is important to remember that there are SEASONS of life, and we are not all going through the same season at the same time. There may be a season in a person’s life – at whatever age – when they need to be FED by the body, and there are seasons when they need to reach out to feed others. This has nothing to do with age. There are always going to be selfish people that leave the church, because they want to remain perpetually in the “being fed” stage and never move forward to the “feeding others” stage. Quite frankly, I can’t help but think that is a BLESSING to any church when people like that leave. On the other hand, there may be people that actually feel they need to LEAVE the “institutional” church, because they feel committed to going out into the world and feeding others. I think it’s every bit as selfish of 20-something’s to feel that the 40-somethings have some kind of “responsibility” to stay and feed them as it is for the 40-somethings to leave the church simply because they don’t feel they are being fed appropriately. Bottom line is, some people will leave for selfish reasons, and some people will leave because that’s where God is leading them, and some people will stay for selfish reasons and some people will stay because that’s how they feel God leading them. It is not fair or appropriate to dump everyone in the same basket and put some kind of “guilt trip” on people for choosing one path over another.

    4.) I strongly believe that one of the primary issues in the “institutional church” right now is the continued prevalence of sole masculine leadership, and the reality that the “structure” of the current “institutional” church is built around masculine STYLES of leadership. We live in a culture and age in which women are CEO’s and high-ranking executives in major corporations in the US, and yet in the church, they are largely reduced to children’s pastors (if they get a “pastor” title at all) and church secretaries – although now they are at least called “Administrative Assistants.” I think it could reasonably be argued that women have ALWAYS been the “backbone” of the church, and women have ALWAYS been the spiritual leaders – they were just never given the TITLE. Do we forget that while Peter denied Jesus 3 times, it was the WOMEN who remained faithful to Jesus all throughout his time on the cross, crucifixion AND resurrection. Might it be that we are absolutely sick to DEATH of male pastors teaching series after series of God’s desire for women, and the continued insistence that God gave Adam (and every man after him) authority OVER women? Do you think there’s even the SLIGHTEST possibility that men – even PASTORS – might just have a somewhat BIASED view of what God desires a woman to be – and a woman’s role in relationship to men? And for that matter, what God desires the CHURCH to be? Do you think there’s a possibility that women get sick to death of the never-ending OBSESSION with NUMBERS in the “institutional church” – such as how many people got “saved” last week, how many people have been baptized in the last year, or how many NUMBERS the church has grown by? Just because you have some hip-hop-happening new pastor or worship band that causes everyone to FLOCK to one church over another is not necessary a reason to brag or boast about your NUMBERS. But statistics, facts and figures are the basic staples of most BOY’S entire childhoods, so is it a surprise that they are every bit as obsessed with them in adulthood? This is not to say that ALL statistics, facts and figures are “bad” but it is to suggest that perhaps they are way, way WAY over-used and over-emphasized in the “institutional” church.

    5.) One of the MANY reasons that people are leaving “institutional” churches is because of the idea/ belief/ attitude that an individual church or body “BELONGS” to a pastor or elder board. And by that, I mean that the body as a whole has very little to NO say in the vision/ mission/ direction of the church, it is usually decided by a few people or in the case of “Rock Star Pastors” – often just ONE person. I actually feel like one of the best examples of how the church SHOULD be is found in two arenas AA and Mormonism. In AA, there are no “leaders” there are just people that meet together to confess their addictions and weaknesses together. There is no one “above” anyone else (like we often expect our pastors to be or like our pastors often try to convince us they are) just a bunch of people all struggling with the same issues. In addition, in the Mormon church, “Pastors” (called Bishops) are not hired, it is a volunteer position that they agree to take on in 1 year increments. In addition, the Bishop does not speak every Sunday, but instead every week they have a 5 minute talk delivered by a youth, and a 20 minute talk delivered by a congregant. In that way, there are not “professionals” who’s job it is to educate everyone else, but rather the BODY is responsible for leading the BODY.

    Just so you know, I have been kicked out of any number of various churches and ministries for FIGHTING these very issues. I believe that GOD is the head of the Church, not any person or group of people. So, here’s a little something to add to the discussion: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Do you think perhaps so many people are leaving the church because of CORRUPTION in church leadership, and because the people that actually try to FIGHT that corruption end up simply getting KICKED OUT while everyone in the church simply looks the other way because they don’t want it to happen to them? So then, the corruption continues, and people either know it’s useless to fight it because they’ve watched people get kicked out and have their reputations smeared through the mud for trying – so THEY walk away, and get “lambasted” by the rest of the church for doing so. Or, they don’t know what the problem is, they just know there IS one, so they leave because they can’t see/ understand that our church leadership has become CORRUPTED by their ABSOLUTE authority! Over and over we are taught in the church to RESPECT our authority, not QUESTION it, and yet the very thing Jesus came to earth for – the very thing he was CRUCIFIED for is for taking away the POWER of religious AUTHORITY and placing it back in the hands of the PEOPLE.

    So, while I appreciate your plea to 40-somethings, I think it’s important to recognize this is not a problem based on one demographic, nor is the apparent death of the “institutional church” as we know it in America necessarily a bad thing. In fact, i submit that the very REASON the “institutional church” is “dying” is because it has become corrupt, and quite frankly, it needs to. But, just because the INSTITUTIONAL church is perhaps dying, does not in any way, shape or form mean that The Church – the BODY of Christ in America – is in any way sick or dying. In fact, the death of the “institutional” church may in fact be the very best evidence of the “immune system” of the Body of Christ alive, active and at work. The Bible does of course say to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but it also says where TWO or more are gathered together, there will I be also. I think we need to stop thinking of “the church” as being a certain NUMBER of people gathering together on a certain day of the week in a certain building set aside for that purpose. NOT that that is a ‘bad” thing, or that that practice should die off entirely. I think we need to merely recognize that any changes in people’s desire for that particular “version” of “Church” is not inherently a BAD thing, because that was never what Christ identified His Church as being in the first place. In other words, WE are the ones that created a “box” that we labelled “The Church” – and just because people are abandoning that box in droves does not mean that ANYONE has the right to judge those people as doing something “Wrong” – that’s a box WE created, not GOD.

    • I really appreciated your comments and insights on the seasonality of what people need and how that changes..that is something that has not been brought up.. thank you!!!

  44. Sandra: Yes we need each other! I wish all generations understood that. The bride of Christ was not meant to be different brides at each age, but the same bride at different ages. If only we all understood that better.

    Scott: Oh I agree that the church isn’t dead. Overall, it is alive. But in some places it is dying. There are some areas that are getting harder and harder to reach. Jesus and His life-saving message hasn’t changed, but the hearts don’t want to hear it. The resources aren’t there. They have something else more important. And there are souls dying all around us. As the church we need the upmost passion for her. I realize the church cannot remain as it always has been, and I have been lucky enough to see the ushering in of multiple changes that I applaud for the church as long as they are of God and for Him. I’m hoping I don’t get to the burnout stage, and yes, I will admit I take on too much. But I’ve never been good at sitting on my hands when there is so much that needs to be done and when God calls his people to act. Prayer is not enough when he instead calls us to storm the castle walls. Of course vice versa is truce, sometimes we have to sit still too. As far as the friend with the headphones…at least what I am seeing in my community among the youth I do the most outreach with (preteens and teens 10 – 16), they WANT the work. They LOVE community service. You tell them there is a job to do, and they turn out in droves to do it. They have nothing to do and nowhere to go because most of their homes are miserable that they want the place where they are needed, with a job to do. The thing they crave the most that the church doesn’t give them is community. They don’t see the young and old working together. They don’t feel a connectedness to any generation but their own because other than mine (not quite a generation above them) wants a thing to do with them. At least that is what we are experiencing here. And I will be the first to tell you they are hard to understand, difficult to comprehend, and with the most desperate of discipline problems….but they don’t see the community. They see a place to belong, with work to do, but no one actually caring for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. And as I said, my post was totally selfish. But I want the generations above me to understand not to roll over and die. I see so many in my church who think that is an acceptable answer to any problem they are going through…simply roll over and spiritually dump it all on someone else’s plate like it’s just going to get done by itself. I’m doing my best not to judge…but it’s so hard to see them give up the good fight. I have the same problem with sin in others…not so much that I want to judge them but I’m disappointed. I know it’s not my job to forgive them especially when they haven’t sinned against me but I feel let down, like what’s the point or why even care? Because if they can’t/won’t/don’t want to make it is there anything worth fighting for anymore? I just pray we all understand each other more in an effort to more effectively work together for Christ.

  45. Yes. I know i was a little more than harsh.

    and the conversation is a tough one – primarily because so many people leave for so many reasons.

    while my comments were harsh –
    they were directed specifically to those who have left the church because they “want to be fed” rather than to do the mission and do the work.

    Church is NOT a cafeteria. It’s mission control.

  46. Margaret,

    The title of your posting here is “An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church”.

    It should read “An Open Letter to Every Parent Over 40 Who Has Left the Church”.

    Not everybody in their 40s is parent. (I know, it’s not that apparent.)

    Have you anything to offer those of us who are childless, uncoupled and still attend church?

    Besides an invitation to stay after and help stack chairs.

    Lars

    • Lars,
      You’re right–there was an assumption made that they had children. Thanks for pointing that out. Leif and I do not have kids, so we are particularly aware of the position. This article speaks to many who have kids, but is written from one who does not. How could we change this….so it did apply to everyone? Do you think it’s true that 40 year olds who aren’t married or don’t have kids are tempted to leave the church, too? Or does the age change? Or desire?

  47. I am over forty and I just left our church — my heart is still raw. I was there a year, and I had a terrible time forging intimate relationships. I have oh-so-much to offer, but we had just moved here, having come through a ridiculously trying time. I’m facing, again, a problem endemic in church community: it is a mile wide and an inch deep. That is, we are all kind and smiley to each other, but not so willing to roll up our sleeves and do life together. I do not need anyone to say hello nicely to me — I need someone who wants to know me and to connect authentically. I admit I came in more needy than usual, and my heart was already broken relationally, but that’s sometimes the people you get — and they still need to be incorporated. Margaret, nothing would have been more satisfying than to be able to share what I have to offer — that’s completely why I suffered through it, isn’t it? But instead, the church corrals us into service for another sermon, gets us into Sunday school for another teaching, and enrolls us in Women’s Bible Study to read another book. I don’t want another teaching. I want to teach what I already know! I want to do life together, to encourage and be encouraged. Instead, I was dying on the vine. I appreciate your heart — and I agree, but I think the problem is much bigger than over-40s hanging in there in a broken construct. I’m no longer willing to go year after year, hoping for a random occasion to have some kind of impact. It’s too tiring to go through this and NOT be making a difference. Perhaps what’s really happening in the over-forties: we know our time is finite and don’t want to squander it sitting in a pew instead of connecting for real. I think it’s a large-scale problem.

    • Susan,

      That’s an interesting insight you bring to the discussion that maybe part of it is a shift that’s taking place that time is limited and the desire to make an impact is so strong. Maybe part of the solution is more tangible ways for that to happen. And specifically reaching out to those in their 40s to serve and lead.

      • Yes, Margaret, I agree that the church would do well to reach out to its wealth of seasoned people and let them contribute. They resist, I am sure, from fear of losing control. Leaders unwilling to surrender control have forgotten whose church it is, and they lose out on the beautiful things God would have unfolded if they had trusted Him.

  48. Waseem Yousaf March 6, 2014 at 6:48 am

    Dear Friend,

    The Lord be with you and make God’s face to shine upon you and give you peace.

    I am Waseem Yousaf from Pakistan . I have studied your web site, and have found it to be one of many wonderful sites offered on the internet which gets to the Truth of the Word of God. As is the case with others whom I have contacted, you have created material which is full of knowledge concerning development of religious faith. Living in Pakistan , we Christians face many obstacles in getting access to God’s Word. Most people in Pakistan speak Urdu, and are not capable of understanding the English language. Because of limited access in our native tongue, my people have a true hunger for fresh Christian Perspectives.

    Proficient in both English and my native languages, I would like to offer my services as translator to you. Presenting your material in both Urdu and Punjabi would be a true blessing to the Pakistani and Indian people. For a nominal fee, I will enable you to bring the message of Salvation to a most deserving people.

    Blessing you in advance for your consideration,

    Email: waseemyousaf153@yahoo.com

    In Him,

    Waseem Yousaf
    Pakistan

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. A Response To “An Open Letter To Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left The Church” @ Michelle van Loon - October 30, 2012

    [...] and genuine expression of concern for those who have left the institutional church at midlife. (Click here to read it.) She affirms the types of issues that typically push some empty-nesters out of the [...]

  2. Returning | Follow 2 Serve - October 30, 2012

    [...] yet wasn’t in Church.  Then yesterday, one of my favorite authors wrote a Letter to those Over 40 who have left the Church asking us to Return.  It’s beautifully written and makes some valid points.  (Click here [...]

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