when you just can’t do church anymore

"Can't Do Church Anymore" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Can’t Do Church Anymore” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Here’s my theory on why so many people are leaving the church: it’s not the order of service, the liturgy, the music, the methods, or the style. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!

No, it’s not about the style!

Oh, it may be for some. This is why churches will continue to tweak their style because it does matter to some. But it doesn’t matter to most.

What matters to most? I think it’s the severe restriction on freedom of thought. Essentially, theology has not changed since it was born. We are not allowed, for the most part, to explore new intellectual frontiers.

It’s gone stale. The church is stalemated.

This is why I eventually left. After serving the church for over 30 years, I left not because of its style. I left because I couldn’t continue my intellectual, theological, philosophical journey and stay. You can read about it in my new book Questions Are The Answer: nakedpastor and the search for understanding.

As the cartoon suggests, this is not only true for members but clergy as well.

Many of you know what I’m talking about. Don’t you!? Then come join us at The Lasting Supper. The intellectual frontier there is wide open territory.


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6 Responses

  1. Bernardo says:

    Why I left:- all encompassing

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the “bowers”, kneelers” and “pew peasants (like i was) ” are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of “worthless worship” aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

  2. Ducatihero says:

    That was funny with the concluding speech bubble from the pastor after all those of the congregants.

    I her what you say about freedom of thought and theology. In my experience the theology you talk of has applied in some situations but not others. So then to maintain freedom in this has required me to be careful in choosing which gatherings to attend in order to maintain the freedom I have found.

    So this may for me be church as thought of in human tradition, or it may be the more literal meaning of church ekklesia – the Greek word for gathering.

    So I guess it depends on what church / gathering I would go to that either encourages or limits freedom of thought. And as control is a symptom of the human condition, I know that attempts to control or at least influence my thought can happen elsewhere too – the media, advertising, Oprah even?

    Thankfully, the beauty of living in a free country is that I have choices and am not obligated to be attached to any particular group for my survival.

  3. Caryn LeMur says:

    While I agree with the cartoon, David, I think you are focused on the core issue that creates the picture of the Unthinking Jesus.

    May I offer that there are also secondary issues that create the picture of the Unwelcoming Jesus?

    1. Unequal Welcoming or Unequal Opportunities: We ultimately left because we were not equally welcomed by the Vineyard. Sadly, many transgender people have the same experience in many denominations.

    – Divorced and remarried?- Welcome!
    – Still married but transgender?- say again? maybe you can come after interview by the elders…. oh, and are you changing back anytime soon?
    – Bisexual?- Holy Shit! We redefine that as Automatically Promiscuous… even though it is just a sexual orientation to the rest of the world…!

    2. Increasing Calcification of Rules: I have observed the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel (Costa Mesa style) becoming more and more calcified and rule-driven (or statement of faith driven). The very people that wished to have the freedom of the spirit in the beginning, could not continue in that welcoming freedom later on… and rules simply appeared…. statements of faith became larger and longer… and ‘answers’ were given to ‘common questions’. The answers were unwelcoming – and focused on the offense rather than the opportunity.

    3. Internal Power Struggles: In my opinion, the Vineyard (once known for welcoming the least), and Calvary Chapel (once known for welcoming the hippies), are now known for their music, a few celebrity pastors earning great incomes (and sometimes destroying staff), and strange wars of succession.

    The War of Succession is due to this: as celebrity pastors retire, and boards take over control … and hire the replacement pastor… the power of control has moved from the founding pastor to the hiring board. The power remains with the board… sometimes, this is the first time the board has ever had real power… and board-member vs board-member henpecking ensues until a new Dominant Rooster is found… and that Rooster will be a board member (not the new pastor).

    The Wars of Succession, while hidden from the congregants, split the boards… shift power… and ultimately create a tension for months within the church staff (pastors, elders, board, etc.). We loose some of the best people in the church leadership during those wars due to exhaustion… and they leave the church. We loose congregants who are frustrated with whiplash from changing statements issued by the combatants.

    The loss of people is too rapid for a business to sustain… and the income drops. The dropping income creates a need for pleas for tithing, pleas to ‘trust your leadership’, and sermons on why a ‘good believer would stay’ (guilt manipulation).

    So you are right in many ways: the power/desire to restrict the freedom of thinking is killing the church institution. That is the picture of the Unthinking Jesus. And… I think… the Unwelcoming Jesus is not far behind the Unthinking Jesus.

    Those three items/issues come to my mind this morning….

    Maybe others can add in their thoughts.

    Cheers! Caryn

  4. Jennie says:

    I left and went back, left and went back. I remember asking my pastor what I was supposed to do when my husband preferred picking up men in gay bars to making love with me. He couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. When churches catch up with modern issues, perhaps they’ll increase their attendances again.

  5. Yes… the theology manifests in practice. True. The behinder we are in practice indicates the behinder we are in theology/philosophy/etcetera.

  6. Ducatihero says:


    I hear what you say the “we ultimately left because we were not equally welcomed by the Vineyard” because of being transgender.

    When I left the Vineyard it was because the pastor had proclaimed I have a “prophetic anointing” but then when I’d said something he didn’t like claimed that he had misunderstood him and that what he he been communicating was that it is a time of prophecy for everyone.

    Many with a theological inclination left as the pastor repeatedly preached “this is not just theology” and on one occasion “don’t go to Bible College”. Theology is not the issue, nor its it power. It is false theology and inappropriate use of power. 3 of us left around the same time one talking of the Sunday meetings killing her spirit.

    Thankfully I have found gatherings that don’t do that but are inspiring theologically and edifying with power that enable me to go out into the world and make a healthy contribution to society.

    I hope you have/will find an opportinty for community and freedom that Christs affords Caryn.