Why I joined a Church of Christ (and why I might leave)

This summer, I joined Parkside Church of Christ as one of their ministers. Ever since, I’ve been consistently asked, “Why did you choose the Church of Christ?”

The question itself betrays an interesting/alarming reality currently at work in the Church of Christ. The two dominant narratives in the Church of Christ today seem to be “Everyone is leaving!” and “We must keep on keepin’ on.” As a transplant into this community, I fall outside those two narratives. I didn’t grow up in the Churches of Christ; I was raised in an Assembly of God church and a fundamentalist Baptist school (my dad used to call us Bapticostals). But somehow, I’ve found myself pastoring a Church of Christ, which seems to astonish more than a few people. In a church where leaving or staying seem to be the only two options, a newcomer—especially a young one—presents a fascinating anomaly.

So how did I end up here?

It wasn’t because I fell in love with the elegant simplicity of acapella worship music. It wasn’t because of the Church of Christ’s high view of baptism. It wasn’t because of this community’s deep love of the Bible, nor was it due to their weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, their commitment to intergenerational friendship, or their flat(ish) church hierarchy. I’ve definitely come to appreciate each of these things (in an evangelical culture saturated with cool, cool musicians leading a room full of people who look just like me in low-impact personal experiences, it’s surprisingly refreshing to sing stripped down songs and share an ancient meal with babies and old ladies). But I didn’t choose the C of C for any of these reasons.

I’m here because this is the family that welcomed me.

When I had pretty much given up on organized churches, it was a couple Church of Christ professors who taught me the value of the local church community.  When my parents split up, it was a handful of Church of Christ families who mentored me, nurtured me, and allowed me to heal. When I could no longer afford school, a stranger from a local Church of Christ paid part of my tuition. It was a Church of Christ that provided my first internship, and later, my first preaching gig. When I moved away to plant a campus ministry, the majority of my budget was raised by members of the Church of Christ.

I didn’t choose the Church of Christ because it’s the one true church, or even because I think it’s the best church. I chose it because it was the community that embodied the hospitality of God when I needed it most. “Chose” isn’t even the right word for how I wound up here; I ended up in this family the same way I ended up in my biological family—they just happened to be the people through whom I found life.   

That said, I’ve found this to be a fairly dysfunctional family. There’s a surprising undercurrent of gender inequality in many Churches of Christ; it’s a lot more fun to be a man in this family than a woman. There’s also often an ugly combination of legalism and nasty in-fighting. You won’t believe the things some churches split or “disfellowship” over. Likewise, I can’t help feeling like many members of the Church of Christ family care much more about what goes down in the building on Sunday morning than what happens out in the world throughout the week. This really isn’t my ideal church.

But it is my family. And as a family, I’ve come to expect brokenness that requires long-lasting grace; I’ve never met a family that didn’t need daily forgiveness. Grace is the thread woven into every sustained relationship—why should I expect my church experience to be any different? It’s not like I’ll ever find a church that gets it all right, a family with no hints of unhealth. I’ve been a part of enough congregations to know that the Churches of Christ don’t have a monopoly on dysfunction.

This doesn’t mean I’m content with the ugliness in my new church family. A number of my sisters and brothers across the country are being abused by this family and need to get out. Grace does not require toughing it out in an abusive situation, even when (especially when!) it comes to family.

But my situation is definitely not abusive. And yet, it’s not the healthiest family either. As a member of this family, I’ve been welcomed to the table, invited to effect healthy change. As certain as I am to bring my own brokenness into this family, I also have the opportunity to join in God’s healing my church.

So dysfunction won’t make me leave the Churches of Christ. However, I might leave if I’m ever convinced that this family has ceased to move. We can’t follow Jesus standing still. If our dysfunction ever becomes our identity—if our mission to maintain our peculiarities usurps God’s mission in the world—our body will die, cut off from our source of life.

But, as far as I can tell, that’s not a risk right now. There are so many glimpses of life, so many signs of motion in the Churches of Christ that I’m tempted to label movement as the norm, not the exception. The missional impulse of Mark Love, the patient compassion of Sara Barton, the prophetic imagination of the Woods, the unwavering trajectory of Rubel Shelly, the merciful insight of Richard Beck, the courageous storytelling of Naomi Walters, the persistent call for justice from Josh Graves, the commitment to embodied hospitality of Coleman Yoakum, the Christ-centered inclusivity of Rochester College, and especially the faithful love of Parkside all give me reason to stay put.

This is my family now. Thanks for having me.


44 thoughts on “Why I joined a Church of Christ (and why I might leave)

  1. I was born into the Church of Christ and spent 43 years as a faithful member.
    Having moved on 13 years ago, I feel like I’ve seen enough to really understand Gods people. The people are the church of course. I wish more Christian people would just concentrate on that.
    Be the Church. Spread the Word. Serve as Jesus did. Make disciples. Spend every moment in relationship with God, His Son and His Spirit.
    Thank you for a wonderful article!! I wish I could have articulated it so well!

  2. I agree with Terri Garcia! I grew up in C of C and chose to “move on” when I was a young adult, married with one child. I will quote what Wayne said interjecting my own comments. 🙂 “So dysfunction won’t make me leave C of C (we are all dysfunctional), however, I might leave if I’m ever convinced that this family has ceased to MOVE (this was the case for me back in the 70’s). We can’t follow Jesus standing still. If our dysfunction ever becomes our identity – if our missions to maintain our peculiarities usurps God’s mission in the world – our body will die cut off from it’s source of life.” Back in the day, it was WE are the way, the truth, and the life: not I (Jesus) am the Way the Truth and the Life. Unfortunately, I was one of the kids who did not find Jesus at a C of C. I found the Lord in high school with other on fire Christians who belonged to other churches. After I was married, I tried to make it work at a C of C, but it was too legalistic. It took me 7 years to leave. I know there are probably growing C of C’s around the world; however, I have not encountered this when I visit a C of C (I still have family members who attend). As Terri said, “We (the people) are the church. We need to be about God’s business, not ours. People need the LORD! Amen!

  3. Pingback: Why I Joined a Church of Christ (and Why I Might Leave) | One In Jesus

  4. I’ve always been a frustrated woman in the CoC. Why? Because I have a degree in music and don’t have a way to use my talent in the family. I watch under-qualified men get to do anything and everything while I sit in a pew. My hope is that future generations of women will be allowed to do whatever they feel called to do for the kingdom.

    • That is my frustration every Sunday. My church won’t even send me emails, everything goes through my husband. He grew up Baptist, and thinks its absurd!

      • FYI, there are now women in the cofC pulpits and some preach. Baptist churches have women in the pulpit too.

    • The only concern I have about this sister, is that if we change the church based on our “feelings” or “opinions” we will all soon face division and further separation from the unity that we are called to have. It’s not about what we want, it’s about what God wants. As you know from scriptures, each member of the body has their own purpose and God has made man different from woman for a reason. If we continue to blur the lines, we will bring destruction among His church. I do understand how you feel as a woman myself, but we have to consider what is our true focus. We are made to serve, not to seek out our own way.

      • Right susie. If the people are Christ’s church, then our job is to worship and serve Him. We must study His inspired word and try,humbly, to please our almighty God and not ourselves.

    • Its really not about what you want… It never has been. Its about what God wants. You can serve him best and glorify Him by honoring the way He set up His creation. If you’d rather follow current cultural trends than be happy following God, then that’s your choice, but I think the NT speaks abundantly on people that are focused more on the world (and its cultural and social changes) than on Him. +6,000 years God placed men over women, from creation to judaic laws to Paul’s letters of encouragement, and now all of a sudden in the 21st century its a cultural thing? I’m blessed to have a faithful and submissive wife who understands what our God wants from His ppl

  5. Hi Bro,I’m aware there are and have been many good men/leaders in the Church church who chose to lead humbly, as you are. Mandelas’ quote” there is a war of good and evil happening, good men will chose”.

  6. I also know that many times it was and is the “church of Paul.” When I went, it seemed like all sermons were taken from Paul’s letters, rarely was the gospel read. Peter and the rest of apostles were rarely mentioned. Occasionally, a verse from the gospels would be rattled off. Everything focused on church structure and proof texting and never the example of Jesus. Sermons on Moses occurred on Palm Sunday and Easter. I have learned more gospel in the episcopal/Anglican Church in 6 months than the cofC will read in decades.

    Now it is amazing that Naomi Walters who is one of the first women cofC ministers actually preached for the first Sunday of advent on the assumption of Mary. Now that takes someone with “guts”. I guess if a woman has gained entry to the pulpit in a cofC she might as well discuss the taboo topic of Mary while she is up there. And, no, the building did not collapse.

    • St. Peter brings a new entrant to heaven. They look around and marvel at the incredible sights. In the distance is a huge dome. “What’s up with the dome?” St. Peter replied, “That’s where we keep the people from the Churches of Christ…they think they are the only ones up here!”

      Moses sermons on Easter…Ha!! I went to a CoC like that…funny…sad, but funny. Fortunately, most CoC’s are moving forward. I hung in and so did about 500 of my best friends in the world. I wish everyone could be so blessed…

      • I heard too many sermons on Moses on Easter. Some cofC are moving forward and some are moving backward. This is evidenced by the churches with Christmas Eve services vs those that just say dec. 25–no meeting. The tragedy was one a flagship cofC had Christmas one year but not the next. I guess someone had to ruin it for everyone. Interestingly, There sure does seem to be a lot of CofC people in the episcopal and Methodist churches on Christmas Eve. I am also reading about the number of cofC people who are now episcopalians.

    • Our church of christ theme is “look like Jesus”. I have been to another c of c where we went through the entire bible in a year. So please do not judge all c of c by one church. There are plenty of churches going through the entire bible and lots of the gospels. We don’t talk now at Spring Creek Church of Christ one sunday without asking how do we look like Jesus this week? I am sorry for your disappointment and glad you are seeking to look like Jesus.

  7. “if our mission to maintain our peculiarities usurps God’s mission in the world—our body will die, cut off from our source of life.” In my opinion that was always true through the 1950’s to when I left in the 1990’s. However an organization can continue on just because people want it to. There is an old story about a lifeboat rescuing organization that became a country club. There are plenty of churches both CofC and others who are tiny and holding on just because they choose to.

  8. More liberal diatribe from a change agent.

    Nah, just messin’ with ya, man. This is very good and deeply appreciated. Imitate Christ, and God will add to His assembly. It’s the Church of Christ, but in many quarters it feels like the Church of Church of Christ.

  9. I’m sorry that you have had such an experience that you might leave the church, but I am just suggesting something for you.. Maybe you should rethink a few things, when you say that you did not join the church because you think it is the one true church. It is wonderful to have found a good church family that supports you but what is the point if you do not have faith that the church of Christ is the one true church? Also, when it comes to the role of women, being one I can say I do not feel suppressed at all. I teach sweet 2 and 3 year old babies and attempt to serve whenever needed, the women have formed a “sisters in service” group at church where we can help take care of people in the community, our elders are so busy and the need is there so we are doing it. We are providing Christmas to needy families at the moment and encouraging others as much as we can. I have been on a couple of mission trips to Mexico to help with VBS. I hope to find a way to help start a mission to Germany and Austria in the future. See, the roles are different for a reason, God made us with different natures and abilities, I am proud to have the abilities he gave. For those who have been saying they learned more with episcopalians, I work at a collegiate school with an emphasis in that belief and while they stick to the facts, there are noticeable gaps. The Bible is not used it is one of the summary versions, which does not always tell the accounts accurately. I do believe in giving developmentally appropriate information, but also true information.
    I do not mean to sound rude or impurtanent, I just felt I needed to show you a different side to the church than what it seems you have seen.

    • As a Christian and a member of the so called C of C, I never joined it, but Christ added me to it when I was baptized back in 1952. I have seen churches split over little minor instances and also bigger issues, but that is mostly because we stray from the Scriptures and as human beings, we are selfish individuals. We want our way or we will take our ball and go some place else. The Church has struggled for centuries and always will as long as human beings are involved. We should be about ministering to the needy and converting the dying world to Christ. As a woman I never felt like I was being mistreated or any such thing. There are plenty of ways to use talents and it can involve working with schools and community service if you want to play an instrument or sing or do whatever. I feel as Christ is the head of the Church and the man is the head of the woman as is stated in the bible, I am not in any way equal to that, but it does not make me any less a Christian. Someone has to have authority as Christ is the authority we should follow and men should follow the example of being leaders for their families. Just look at our World today and see what a mess it is in because men have not practiced this example laid out in the Scriptures. God have mercy on all of us!!

    • And therein lies the problem. Too many members of the Churches of Christ think their version or doctrine, worship, etc. reflects that of THE church; the one and only. The church is not the sign on the outside of the building. It is the aggregate of those who call Jesus their savior and place their faith in Him. It creates a culture of elitism breeding the disenfranchisement of anyone who questions any habit, practice, or tradition that has nothing to do with Jesus, but everything to do with the comfort level of regular attendees. Reluctance to “move” encourages the kind of stagnation that keeps even “veteran” Christians from finding that there really is more to learn about Jesus and being a follower.

  10. I am a member of the Church of Christ and appreciated this article! Far too long the COC has gotten a bad rep due to so many peoples over zealousness to get back to the root of biblical teaching. They went overboard. Became legalistic to the point that they embodied the Pharisees and Sadducees holding rules and regulations over people’s heads they simply couldn’t live by. Amen for the COC stepping away and really rooting itself in the Bible, using grace and love as it’s driving force for study. I am disappointed however, in how you explained that women are victims of gender inequality. I love to be a woman of the COC. God placed men over the workings in the body of the church during worship. That’s just how it is. Do I feel victimized or shorted, far from it. I feel loved, protected and heard. I have so many opportunities to serve, lead, and evangelize in many ways, never feeling constricted. So what if women can’t lead singing, say a prayer, or preach, or whatever. We are all created in His image, we all have equality, but different roles. Talented, smart, servant hearted women need to stop worrying on what they feel is holding them back because they want to do what the men do, and start focusing on what they can do as a woman of God. This isn’t sexist or unequal it’s biblical. If we are going to teach others that the word of God is real, living, breathing, and applicable, we simply cannot skip over the place of women in worship. God is the head of Jesus, Jesus the head of the Church, we are the members. Men are expected to lead because God made them leaders. Women are to submit out of love to those leaders. Submission isn’t a bad word. It’s not cowering down and becoming a slave. It is telling those who are over you, “I trust you.” I submit to Christ because he died for me. I submit to my husband because he does everything in his power to serve his family and provide for us. I truly feel that women aren’t at the “bottom” because we aren’t qualified or worthy, we are at the “bottom”
    because we are to be cherished, loved, and protected by God, Jesus, and the men who love us. It’s a pretty good umbrella to be under if you ask me 🙂
    Anyways, I know there are extremes out there who truly treat women terribly, society has a long way to go in that aspect, but I’m asking please do not dismiss the design of the body of the church, the design of marriage, and the calling we all have as men and women. I’m glad you found such and amazing group to work with! Welcome home.

    • Ashley! Well said my sister! Amen! You were taught very well! I am in agreement. May God continue to bless you and your entire family! John 3:16. And therefore I love as Christ loves us.

      Brother George B. Washington
      Northside CoC
      Charlotte, NC 28215

  11. Call me old fashioned, but I think choosing a church because they’re “family” is sad. So very sad. I hope you truly believe the theology you preach, and your statements regarding why you chose the church do not reflect your beliefs now. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for both you and your flock if the doctrine of your church was not something you agreed with. I pray this is not the case for you!

  12. I’m a life-long member of the COC and have moved to another city in another state. I’m searching for a church family with an open mind and haven’t found it yet. Perhaps because I miss some things I grew up with in the COC environment, perhaps because I need those things. Thank you for your honest perspective about church families. Pointing out human imperfections inside church groups isn’t flattering but sure is true. I’ll keep your thoughts in mind and keep looking.

    • I found that when I moved, the cofCs there were about 40 years behind where I had come from. I wound up in old traditional Episcopal church which has been rapidly growing in the past few years for reasons they still can’t figure out.

  13. I converted to the CoC when I was 16 and left two years ago. Spent nearly 30 years in many CoC’s in several states. I believed everything they taught for so long with such conviction and dedication. Taught Bible classes, went on short-term mission trips, led ministries. I devoted my entire life to it, raised my children there and taught them the same. Then my husband divorced me and abandoned the children and I was suddenly anathema. Ignored, forgotten, shunned. The family you speak of was only “family” while I fit the mold of CoC thinking and legalism. No thanks. I’m glad I quit, but now church membership anywhere doesn’t interest me anymore. I agree with other post, it is the Church of the Church of Christ.

  14. Something very unique about CoC is that each and every church is different because there is not one governing body over all the CoCs. I was a youth minister at my CoC for over 10 years, and I am a female. They hired me to be a youth minister, not a female youth minister (ministering only to the girls). This church also hired another young couple to be part of the ministry team. Because of this amazing situation, this CoC church has had the same team of ministers for over 12 years (I quit two years ago to spend more time with my family), but my job was passed along to the husband/wife team.

    If you are feeling frustrated by the CoC you attend, then find a solution. Do not just sit and be frustrated. You are given talents for the reason of using them. Ultimately, if you feel like that is not happening in your CoC then find another church that you can use them in, if necessary.

  15. Such a wonderful post – thank you! I feel the same way. I grew up in the CofC and feel that through nature and nurture this is the group that has chosen me. I’m not committed to staying if the Lord leads me elsewhere, but for now I’m blessed to be a part of this tradition. And I agree about movement – I see it everywhere and it is so good! Blessings to you and your ministry.

  16. Pingback: My church is full of heretics | A Friendly Emptiness

    • However there are now female cofC ministers whose sermons are online. Now we can hear from everyone too. Competition is a wonderful thing.

  17. As concerns our sisters and brother (or the royal priesthood of believers) in response to the call of heaven to teach and preach I remained baffled by the stone silence, ironically, from men. Specifically, I have asked for and invited feedback and comment from preachers, elders and other leaders on by blog article on the same.
    The call of heaven for the saints to teach and preach is subject neither to the personal likes and dislikes of those who would hear them nor of those who receive that burden to fulfill it.

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