Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Unchurched, or Church Free?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
When we walk with God, it's important to get outside, away from walls on each side. Dream Catcher, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

When we walk with God, it’s important to get outside, away from walls on each side. Dream Catcher, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

We are a society that parses words, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — consider the difference of implications between “anti-abortion” and “anti-choice” — and how we phrase things makes a huge difference in how our listeners or readers interpret our message.

For instance, lately in the news there are articles about couples choosing to not have children, and they refer to themselves as “child-free,” as opposed to “childless,” because they don’t like the impression that they are missing something, somehow, by the latter term. As the mum of four, I know that they are missing something indeed, just as I and the Norwegian Artist missed out on a different type of lifestyle because we chose to make less money and spend more time tracking down random socks and incomplete board games without all the pieces. You can’t have it all, and we’re fine with that.

Making A Conscious Decision to Pursue an Alternative

Within the Christian community, there is an unpleasant little term, “unchurched,” that seriously needs a modern counterpart, given that there are a number of committed Christians these days — like us — who for various reasons, no longer attend weekly worship services or participate in a community church establishment:


Like childfree, it implies a conscious decision to go about things a different way, although in our case, our conscious decision came after years and years of trying to fit in, adapting ourselves into a paradigm that the leadership community had set up, and resisting as we were gently, but inexorably, nudged out of the fold. What began as a three-month sabbatical from it all grew into a lifestyle that we embrace, and that works for us.

Many of today's church establishments have little patience, or room, for non-conformity. Diaphanous, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

Many of today’s church establishments have little patience, or room, for non-conformity. Diaphanous, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

With more than 75 combined years of sitting in church pews, the Norwegian Artist and I could hardly be considered “unchurched,” which implies, incidentally, that we are “un-Christian.” If you could get us to walk into a church, any Protestant church, on a Sunday morning, we would fit right in, singing the proper songs, putting on the appropriate face, turning to greet one another in the allotted time, listening and looking interested during announcement time, maybe (but it’s really, really unlikely) writing notes about the sermon onto the back of the bulletin.

We are completely and totally versed with proper church etiquette, so we are not “unchurched.” We are simply not in a church building on any given Sunday morning because we choose not to be.

The Numbers Are Increasing

And we are a growing population of committed, frustrated Christians, who fully recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect church, so that’s not why we’re staying away. But we are bored with the routine, not interested in joining a series of groups, and tired of being pressed into a mold. As I mentioned to one pastor (yes, I, a lowly woman, expressed my opinion to a leadership male), “If we were rounded up and sent to jail for attending these services, would our sacrifice be worth it?”

Danged if he didn’t shake his head, lightly, “No.”

Immediately afterward he launched into the “no church is perfect” spiel and encouraged me to “be patient.”

It Takes All Kinds of People

Our lifestyle choice obviously doesn’t work for everyone, and we didn’t approach it cavalierly — as I said, we have 75 combined years of trying to make this work. It is, however,  the best choice for us, and many others like us, right now. In our own case, we added homeschooling, homebirth, and building our own home to the mix, so we’re either really, really weird or really, really independent, but that very series of factors made us really, really uncomfortable in the weekly — and now it’s multiple times weekly — community church environment.

At times, I do wish that there were an intimate group situation into which we could fit and thrive. And I do realize that we have to make some adaptations — we have, for many years. We chose to stop, however, when we realized that all the required adaptations came from our side, and if we were ever going to truly fit in, we would have to radically change who we are.



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  • Carolyn Henderson

    You are welcome, my friend — I am glad that this touched a chord. We spent many years feeling like 80-percent Christians because we just couldn’t fit into the system, and even when we left it, part of our minds would say, “You’ll be complete, someday, when you find a way to go back.”

    No more. We are where we are because God has put us there, and we marvel at each day’s journey. The very frustration we felt in trying to fit into the system is what prompted me to start writing about it, because I realized, “We’re not alone. There are others out there, marginalized, and many of them have no desire to go back, or find a substitute. But they’re tired of feeling alone and unimportant.” I write to find seekers, and let them know — keep seeking, keep asking, keep striving to know more of God — you’re not on a path to the right path, you are, right now, on the right path.

  • Anonymous

    I love you, sister! I could not have expressed this for my husband and I any better! Thank you for your candid, honest truth!

  • Carolyn Henderson

    Hi, Faith — I’m glad that you found me over here. Last year at FASO, when I began exploring the concept of deception and deceit in the world of art and the world of business, things began meshing for me — I began to see how my life as a Christian, and a businessperson, a writer, and wife/partner to the Norwegian Artist, were intrinsically related. You can’t talk about routing out deceit, or thinking independently, or valuing your privacy, or pursuing what you do with integrity and honor, without it coming, full circle, back to your belief system — and when you’re a Christian, you realize that it really is ALL Christ, not just dropping the name of Jesus here and there to give yourself the illusion that He matters to you, but doing the hard stuff: trusting Him, believing what He says, and asking Him to align your life in accordance with that belief and His words.

    While I am church-free at the moment, I don’t advocate people storming out the doors en masse — but I do encourage those who stay in a regular church environment to take it back for themselves, and not allow a leadership segment at the top of the pyramid to dictate how everything is run. We were simply not interested enough to put the energy in, when too many people in the local flock were satisfied with the status quo.

    I have not read the book you read, but Jacobson’s book, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Any More (with Dave Coleman) was one we read in the earlier part of our journey. It provided insight at the time when we needed it, but then we were ready, mature, and grown-up enough to walk the path Christ was setting before us. It’s great that people are finding alternatives, but one must always be aware when the alternatives are pushed so hard that they become the ultimate answer — it’s like insisting that everyone homeschool. Some will do it, and do it well. Others will thrive in private or public school settings, but the options, and additional ones, must be open. The Organic Church movement seems to be big on the alternative setting now which is nice, but it’s not something we have found ourselves drawn to. As Christians, we must be free to walk the path Christ sets before each of us, and if others do not understand or accept this path, then that’s just part of the walk.

    Thank you for finding me, and for writing such thoughtful commentary — despite the mysterious three boxes. It looks like your comment came through just fine!

  • Faith

    How fascinating to read you here! So far I have been reading your articles on FASO and always find them very interesting. Now I am discovering your Christian side in addition to the artistic side. And I am fascinated that we have a lot in common.
    I would not call my self “churchless” but I have come to a place in life where I am at peace not to go to church every Sunday, partly because I realized that I do not need more “left-brain information” but deeper fellowship with God and fellow travelers. And I am a person you finds that more in one-on-one or small group settings.
    So, I was wondering if you know “The God Journey” where Wayne Jacobsen enourages people to pursue intentional community and living “inside the love of an awesome Father and outside the box of religious performance”?

    P.S. There are three boxes above this one, but I am not sure what to put in there. There are no hints.

  • Carolyn Henderson

    Tom: This is fascinating. The concept of hell is indeed a controversial one, and I appreciate the information that you have shared. I will keep this in mind as I read, meditate, study, and continue to learn.

    I like your last sentence, and while I don’t think that the first part is going to happen in a mass exodus anytime soon, I do hope that the last part will do so. Because whether or not the first part happens, the second part shapes and creates people who stand up, speak out, think for themselves, and grow. They may find, as my family did, that the standard church experience hinders them in this process; they may also use their growth and maturity to effect change from the inside.

    I think of it like homeschooling — we ourselves had no interest in working with the public school system, because we find it pretty much broken, so we pulled out. We have no problem with the people who are still in the system — if they are aware of its problems and actively working to do something about it. It may be a losing battle, but the first part of winning any battle is awareness on the part of the people in the midst of it.

    The book of John repeatedly tells us to love one another, and I confess I have difficulty doing this with people who approach me and say, “You’re not a Christian because you’re not in church.” I came to the conclusion that, in my life, I wasn’t going to turn this into the equivalent of the Mommy wars — moms at home versus moms working outside the home — so while I can’t help it if pro-church service people attack my position, I won’t lash out at theirs (which you haven’t, in your comment, by the way).

    Your words exhibit a strong confidence and comfort in your relationship with Christ, attributes that cannot fail but come through in your daily interaction with people. I wish you joy and peace, and I thank you for reading my article, and taking time to write such a thoughtful, measured reply.

  • Tom H

    I’m an exchurcher. I believe the inspired written word of God is sufficient. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but I left it when I was a young man to seek the truth elsewhere. I experimented with psychedelics and Asian philosophies, and then I tried the Protestant Church for awhile.

    Eventually I studied church history and realized the church is just the remnant of the religious arm of the Roman Empire. The word “church” is not even in scripture. It is a mistranslation of the Greek “ekklesia,” literally “out-called,” correctly translated “ecclesia,” referring to those called out of all nations to be the body of Christ.

    The church tortured and killed people for reading scripture because the church did not want people to know the truth about universal reconciliation and the salvation of all mankind.

    The church failed to suppress scripture by killing people with fire, but the church intentionally mistranslated scripture to deceive people and control them with fear of torture in fire forever.

    The common misconception of “hell” is a lie perpetrated by the church supported by forgery in the popular translations of scripture.

    The word “hell” is an Old English word used to translate the Greek “hades,” literally meaning “un-perceived” or “unseen,” which refers to the “unseen” state of a dead soul.

    “Gehenna” was confused with “hell” by intentional mistranslation twelve times in the Douay-Rheims Catholic Version and the King James Version in the following verses: Matthew 5:22,29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

    “Gehenna,” the ravine of Hinnom southwest of Jerusalem, was used by the ancient apostate Jews to sacrifice their children in fire to Moloch, an Ammonite god.

    “Gehenna” was later used to burn the corpses of criminals condemned to death as it will be in the coming eon.

    Christ did not use the English word “hell” when he spoke of “Gehenna.”

    Christ referred to Isaiah 66:23,24 when he spoke of “Gehenna.”

    “And it will come to be, as often as the new moon comes in its monthly time, And as often as the sabbath comes in its sabbath cycle, All flesh shall come to worship before Me, says Yahweh. And they will go forth and see the corpses of the mortals who transgressed against Me, For their worm shall not die, And their fire shall not be quenched, And they will become a repulsion to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:23,24)

    “Hell” is obviously not “the lake of fire” because “hell” will be cast into “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14).

    Even the adulterated versions of scripture say God is the savior of all mankind who will reconcile all through Christ so that God may be all in all.

    “we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers” (1 Timothy 4:10)

    “through Him to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross), through Him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens” (Colossians 1:20)

    “Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ’s in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

    “out of Him and through Him and for Him is all” (Romans 11:36)

    Get out of church and into the word of God.

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  • Carolyn Henderson

    Yvonne — one of the reasons I began writing about the subject of commonsense Christianity is because I was looking for the Lost Sheep of Israel — that’s you and me, and people like us, who have either been marginalized out of a church setting, or, if a person is still in it, they just don’t feel like they “belong,” or that they have any gifts, ideas, or abilities that anyone would want or need.

    This is a sad loss of a large segment of Christ’s church. Many of us have left because we do not feel that independent thought is recognized or encouraged, so that means that many, many independently thinking Christians are going through the day, thinking that they’re worthless or unneeded. We need one another, and as we communicate and grow together, we learn how to reach out to the people back in the pews — our brothers and sisters who think that we are lost — and bury our differences so that we can work together to show Christ to a lost world.

    It’s amazing how, when you tell people that you don’t attend church, one of the first responses is, “You are leaving the body of Christ!” This is like telling a homeschooler, “You don’t educate your children!” There are many different personalities, and many ways of doing things, and those of us who are church-free, are pursuing an alternative where we are not given many to choose from. I love getting together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I do so when the opportunity presents itself — in person, over tea, on the Internet. Just not in a church pew, anymore.

    I’m glad you found me! — Carolyn

  • R Yvonne Colclasure

    I too am a Church Free Christian. I long for the day I find a church (or group) that is open to the presence of the Holy Ghost once again. I do miss the worship services, but I put in my worship CDs while I work in my studio. I am glad to know I am in Good Company. Thank you for a place to come for comradery.

  • Carolyn Henderson

    Lori: I recently read in an issue of Voice of the Martyrs how one pastor in a closed country, where people cannot meet together safely, creatively solved the problem: he picks up six or so church members at a time in the van, they drive around singing and learning, sharing and listening, and then he drops them off and picks up six more. This way, they just look like people driving around in a van, and not like a church. A very imaginative, creative approach.

    Our issue in this country is not that we can’t meet together, but that when we do, it’s frequently the same old thing, or worse, a promotion of new and improved ways of doing things that mimic what we’re seeing in the corporate world, and many people, like you or me, feel as if we don’t fit in. I am happy that you have found a good place where you can ignore what bothers you, and still pull out of it what you need. We, in a very rural area, have few options, and they all pretty much look the same. After awhile, we just got tired of adapting and changing and putting up with things, and found that we returned home in a more depressed state than when we arrived. As I mentioned, we would love to find an option — and it will be along the lines of the creative pastor in the van — but for now, our option is to connect with Christians as we can and do outside of a conventional setting.

    It reminds me a bit of homeschooling, or home birth, both of which were looked down upon initially, and the people wanting to do them were told, “You just need to make what exists work.” But they didn’t — they said, as we are saying, “This just isn’t working. Too many people aren’t listening. And for us — me and my household — we’ll strike out on our own and see where it takes us.” We’re not out to drag people with us, but we are there to encourage others who have found the same experience as ourselves, and we want them to know that they’re not reprobate losers who are ruining everything for everyone else.

    The family of God is filled with all sorts of people who think all sorts of ways. I wish you the best of a beautiful day in your beautiful house — even when it’s messy, like mine, it’s filled with good things, good people, good memories, and good times! — Carolyn

  • Lori Woodward

    Sounds good to me Carolyn. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I prefer meeting with Christian friends for fellowship and prayer on occasion. I’ve never really fit in well with a congregation because I was not able to have children and I run a business. My house is a mess too. I just won’t ever fit the mold.

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