Why Church: In the Age of Decontructing, is the Church Worth Keeping?
Essay by: Larissa Lee
When I was growing up, there were a lot of prayers asking God for “revival”. I’m not sure what we were asking for, but I suspect it was some kind of emotional church service moment. Nevertheless, I believe God heard those prayers and answered them. But revival, to God, isn’t about emotions. It’s about death and rebirth. This is the revival he is bringing to the American Church right now.
All of our agreements with the kingdom of darkness – racism, nationalism, greed, exploitation, oppression – are starting to be broken. A whole generation is waking up to the reality that we built our faith on foundations of unholy sand and we need to tear that down. Bad theology, sexual abuse, broken human power structures – these foundations have destroyed many churches and rightfully so. We should not try to save buildings that are dangerous and unstable; we should tear them down.
In fact, if you are doing the hard, lonely, terrifying work of deconstructing your faith, I applaud you. And I can wholeheartedly tell you that God is not opposed to the work you are doing.
The question is, when we’ve torn it all down, then what? Is faith worth rebuilding? And even if it is, what about the Church? That place that has been the source of so many of the problems, is it worth fighting for? I think it is and this is why: Our God is a creating God, a redeeming God, a new-life-out-of-death God. And I believe that true revival isn’t just about tearing down altars to false gods but it is also about building new altars to a God who is worthy of them.
That is hard to do alone.
I’ve done some house remodeling. Deconstruction is the easy part. Sledge hammers are fun. Reconstruction is the careful, time-intensive, body-ache-inducing part. And it is usually easier with help. Then you can say “Here, you hold this piece of ceiling sheetrock up while I screw it in place.” Instead of doing the near impossible of trying to hold it up with one hand (and your head…) and place screws with the other hand.
So it is with faith rebuilding. I could not have rebuilt my faith without other people. Some were great authors of helpful books. Some were online friends—because that is a real and important community. But some were real life people. Theology isn’t just mental assent, it is practiced life. I need real people to do the slow daily grind with. Parenting, marriage, character, my job, sexuality, death, sickness, all of it. We need real-life people to help us work out our faith through those things.
We need other Jesus-people to spur us on, and build us up, and occasionally say, “I don’t think you’re getting that right.” This is why we need the Church. I can listen to a lot of online sermons. I can get worship music on Spotify. I need the Church for community and support and character development.
But the Church can be ugly. I get it. I have personally known pastors that have cheated on their wives, stolen money, abused their staff, and sexually assaulted women. I have seen greed and power struggles and nepotism run rampant through church leadership. And I have been the pastor and the staff member that has been lied about, falsely accused, had my family targeted, given too much with no margins and been told that it wasn’t enough.
I have sat in ugly board meetings, staff meetings with screaming, and closed-door meetings that still flare up my PTSD sometimes. Church is stupid ugly. And if you’ve left—I get it and I’m praying that you heal and find peace. However long that takes, however you need to do it.
And yet, despite all of that, I still believe in the Church. It is something worth fighting for. There is a power of the Holy Spirit there that doesn’t show up the same way when we are alone. It feels ridiculous at times but I still believe it is God’s plan to bring His Kingdom to earth.
I left my church in November. My community of nine years. Since then I visited eight other churches and looked up dozens online before settling at the one I’m at now.
And it’s hard: I don’t know anyone and I feel awkward, and I don’t know who to trust, and I miss the people that I used to love. But I believe in the Church. And so I will lean in again. I will show up to small groups and serving and friendships and the possibility of getting hurt again. And I think that if all of the people who are doing the work to tear down the faith and church experiences that were broken and brutal, if those people will stick with the Church and work to make it better then the revival we prayed for will come to be.
By all means, leave bad churches. Do not stay under abuse or corrupt leadership. Rip up faith doctrines that violate people and mischaracterize God. Those things deserve to be torn down.
The Church in America needs to change. Some parts of it need to die. Some parts of it need to do some deep repentance and reconciliation work. Some parts of it need to grow and be given a voice and a chance to make a new path. Deconstruction is just the beginning. Revival is coming.
But only if we stay.
Larissa Lee has worked with Youth, Worship, College, and Children’s ministries.