Missing the Intensity of the Churches of Christ

People who leave sects complain that they can’t find anything similar in their lives to take up the place of the missing piece. There is an intensity to the relationships in a sect that is seldom replicated in another, more open, church.

In the more rigid, sectarian Churches of Christ, it is required to attend Sunday morning Bible study, Sunday morning worship, Sunday night worship, and Wednesday night Bible study, especially if it is a small congregation. If any one of these is skipped, the preacher and/or elders will ask:
1. “Where were you?”  Variations of this include: “We missed you,” and “Why were you absent (from the Lord’s body)?” If your excuse is insufficient (the only valid excuses: sick or traveling out of town), then you will be asked:
2. “Do you think that is a good example to the young people? ”
or told:
3. “Do you think the Lord would be pleased with you being absent?” Variations of this include: “Your faith is weak,” “What if the Lord came back and found you at [insert where you said you were] instead of at church?”
4. “You need to repent.” Variations include: “Do you really think you can go to heaven attending only once per week?” or “You’re not going to get to heaven attending only once per week.”

If your excuse is that you had to work instead of go to church, then you have a fifty per cent chance of hearing:
5. “I would never take a job if I had to work Wednesday night and miss Bible study.” or “Do you think Jesus would take a job where He had to miss church?”

This reminds me of a classic Church of Christ joke: Once a member of the Church of Christ died and was standing in line for the Judgment. All at once a big cheer went up at the front of the line. He asked what the hubbub was about, but it took quite a few minutes before the news spread to the end of the line: “Wednesday nights don’t count!”

The response from the elders is even worse if your excuse for not attending was that you attended a nearby Church of Christ NOT ON THE LIST. That very week the elders will descend on your house with their Bibles open, and they will reason with you until your eyes roll back in your head.

Even though Jesus never asked any of his followers to attend synagogue or church, attendance at sects becomes the primary definition of faithfulness to God. This attitude creates a group of people who tend to believe that their church attendance is more important than their job or school attendance. This sets them apart from almost all of their peers. It is awkward to explain to outsiders why it is so important to go to Bible study on Wednesday night and skip the annual office Christmas party. The attendance policy helps to isolate members from having close relationships outside the church, and helps to solidify relationships within the congregation. A feeling of us-against-them arises in the members against outsiders. Conversion becomes more a matter of joining our isolated group that is superior to, and stands against, outsiders, than a matter of believing in Jesus. We stood around and talked to each other after every church service for at least 45 minutes.

But what if you leave? If you leave you lose your group that you spent so much time with: about 7 to 8 hours per week, not including gospel meetings and time spent with friends from church. This is a huge amount of time. Ask all your co-workers, and they will tell you none of them spend 7 hours per week with any one group of people. Exceptions are: people putting on a play, people in boot camp, people being initiated into a fraternity or sorority, or people in a multi-level marketing group.

So those who leave a strict sect wander from church to church wondering why everything feels so bland. They are lonely. They may have few social skills, their social needs having been met by attending church so often. They may have no idea how to function in a group setting where there might be alcohol or marijuana, where people might be divorced or living together, where people aren’t following the strict clothing rules, where people might want to flirt and take them home for the night.

That is why some people who leave the Churches of Christ go to other sects, or communal living churches, or intenser Pentecostal churches. The book that Churches of Christ study the most is the book of Acts, and in the book of Acts there is an intensity to the fellowship among the Christians. There is a driving need, an urgency to their mission. So people who leave Churches of Christ often look for a church with that same level of urgency.

How long does it take to develop outside relationships so that the loneliness goes away? Well, perhaps one needs to remember the loneliness inside the sect. You may be around seemingly loving people much of the time, but they don’t want to hear that you disagree with them. They are rigid and brittle and cannot tolerate much disagreement before they break. And when they break, they send you and your disagreements out the door. That threat underlies the thinkers within the rigid Churches of Christ. The thinkers have an anxiety, a low level depression, a sneaking suspicion that the smiles and hugs and good times will end as soon as the group discovers the full extent of the doubts and beliefs that have crept into their thinking.

But realistically, it takes about three to five years to adjust to life outside a sect.

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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9 Responses to Missing the Intensity of the Churches of Christ

  1. Jerry says:

    It has come to the point where I have to call you out for what you are. A liar! Your blogs are full of inerrant information and despite my efforts to point out your error, you insist on stating inaccuracies about the church of Christ. Hebrews 10:26

    I will continue to redirect your ‘wise’ mind, Paul spoke about the place in this world for the ‘wise’ in 1 Corinthians. As long as you continue to put Christ back on the cross with your vicious attacks on Christians of the church of Christ faith, I will be here. Wherever our errors may lie in your opinion or anyone else’s, we are all trying to do what is pleasing to God. This is the attitude he asks of us.

    As for the proof of your errors in this text. I am a firemedic and I miss every third Sunday and every third Wed because of work. That is approx. 36 days of missed services for the year. I have NEVER been criticized for my job and so called absences from church. On top of that I serve as a deacon!

    The very thing you accuse the church of Christ for doing, insisting one conforms to their biblical views, you in return do in this blog. Again, your a hypocrite!

    Satan has grabbed your heart and uses you to slander Christ, though you think you are helping and assisting God’s will. Satan is SOOOOO good at deceiving “Christians” in this manner. You’ve been FOOLED! Paul informs the churches in the New Testament to ‘cast out’ the wicked for the dying of the flesh in hopes to save the soul. i will continue to resist your efforts against other Christians.

    Remember, EVERYTHING is under God’s Sovereignty and is His Providence. He still continues to cast His judgment on the wicked today. His WRATH is NOT just reserved for judgement.

  2. Hi Jerry,
    I’m glad that your congregation is not as harsh as the congregations I grew up in. This blog is for those who have left the kinds of congregations that do give these responses when someone misses a service.

    • john p says:

      did he really say your blog is full of “inerrant” information?! Gotta love it. I’ve been attending a pretty conservative congregation and we don’t’ have the uptightness you describe. I’m sure your experience is different. I hope you’re critiques don’t Still…i wonder what is the scope of your familiarity with “the brotherhood”. Do you think your critiques fit most of us? Have you visited mainstream congregations (where Wed. nights’ really don’t count)? It’s sad to think people have to “recover” from the religious fellowship I love!! But then I have friends in recovery (of sorts) from the mother they love—-maybe it’s a bit like that. Anyway, I pray your blog is good for our ex members and a challenge to us still-members. May “grace abound” everywhere it’s needed and loved. God is greater than all our isms and wings…he’ll bless us in spite of ourselves!

      • Hi John,
        No my critiques don’t fit most Churches of Christ. Probably only 10% at this point. I try to remind myself to say “hard line” churches in my blogs. I’m glad you have found a good congregation to be a part of. I am glad there are people who write from the point of view of the hard line churches in the comments section, because some people do not believe these churches exist. But if they don’t exist, who is writing the hard line comments?

  3. justagal says:

    Thank you for starting this blog and keeping the Web site going. You need to be here. So much damage has been done to people in these groups. It takes years of therapy and healing.

  4. Amber Hill says:

    i am amazed at such negativity the current members use in response to claims about their faith. its not very christlike. but i also would like to say i agree. it happened to me. i grew up in the rockford IL coc, went to the florida summer camps in chicagoland, and got kicked out of church twice. i now have a facebook page to help others that have left and i have had to ban quite a few current members for coming on and being rude and egotistical in response to our posts. i think they think it will make others come back. and especially a DEACON…should deal with others in love. not rudeness. i have been out for 6 years but many on my page have been out for 20 and are still not in a good place spiritually. there main questions are about moving on cuz of the brainwashing. and my biggest advice is to first find your faith. for so long it has been told to us how to read our bible and interpret the verses. really go back and read it without prejudice. find your faith and narrow your search for a new church by your beliefs. you cant find what you dont know youre looking for. and the fear of another coc like religion is quite intimidating. (mainly cuz of their preaching of other faiths as useless) and taking a break from your search to find out what youre looking for is just what we need sometimes. good article.

  5. Tim says:

    I know that this is retro post, But the topic and comments are still relevant. I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head, and IMO it’s not just the Churches of Christ, but many religions suffer from many of the things you point out! Why is it that people(myself included) so easily buy into a religious system. And somewhere along the way truth gets replaced with mans opinions… I enjoy your blog because it challenges me to take my faith deeper, more truth less opinion…

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