On Finding Jesus Outside the Church

photo credit: Eustaquio Santimano via photopin cc

photo credit: Eustaquio Santimano via photopin cc

(Written in response to RHE’s Why Millennials are leaving the church on CNN’s Belief Blog.)

I found myself nodding out loud while reading a recent piece by Rachel Held Evans on the CNN Belief Blog this week.  This is not an unusual phenomenon for me while reading something she has written.  For so many of us with serious qulams about the mainline Christian message, Evans is the writer who can put our jumbled thoughts and complex emotions into the crystal clear.

At this point in the article, I almost stood up and said, “Amen!”

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. (Emphasis my own.)

We don’t find Jesus there.  Bam.  There it is.   It’s either that, or the version of Jesus we do find there is not one who loves us or who loves our neighbors.

I did not grow up in the Church.   I was an outsider of sorts.  I went to Sunday school with a friend here or there and often on the holidays, but I never really connected beyond that.   I also grew up in a very small, very conservative Midwestern town.  And while there are many things I love about small-town America, and my hometown in particular, I did not fall in love with the Jesus I found there.

Then, while away at college and rounding out my liberal arts degree, I took a class called “The Bible as Literature.”  And it changed my life.

The professor was brilliant.  And by brilliant, I mean, the type of professor for whom major universities create lifetime achievement awards. A modern-day prophet who brought the book to life, he didn’t shy away from (or explain away) the hard parts.  His lecture on The Book of Job and the nature of human suffering was an anthem for social justice and a call to action which I will never forget.  And even though we focused on the Old Testament in his class, it may have been the first time I really saw Jesus.

To this day, I do not know the faith identity of my professor.  But his passion for the word, for the story, was captivating.  And it is where I first found Jesus.  Not in a sanctuary, but in a college lecture hall.  Not in a pew, but in an auditorium folding chair.  Not from a pastor, but from a liberal arts professor.

And I’ve been searching ever since.  I’ve caught glimpses along the way as my husband (at first) dragged me to church each Sunday.  There were sightings in a young adult Sunday school class, while chaperoning a youth mission trip to Appalachia or a camping trip in the Georgia mountains, in conversations with friends about faith, in blog posts, in books, and in hearing the stories of others.  And now, thankfully, I find Jesus in an actual church building where I am fully welcomed to ask those real questions that don’t always have answers, where I am invited to wrestle along side.

But still, almost everywhere I look, I see Christianity pushing a different message.  An anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-science, anti-woman, anti-“other” message, and it scares me.  It scares me because I don’t know how many of us have the patience to wait until we find a building where Jesus might also be welcomed.  Instead, we find ourselves turned away for the very same reasons Jesus might stand by our side, and we don’t come back.

For too long it has the loudest, but maybe not the most Christ-like, voices being heard.  But the good news is that there are “other” voices rising.  While their song may still be too soft for some ears now, there is a slow and steady crescendo taking place within the movement.  As I begin seminary this fall, I hope that I might, in some small way, add to the rising choir.  For it will take many voices to drown out that same old song.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but it’s time for a new song.

They will know we are Christians by our love…


This post also appears on Reconciling Ministries Network.



  1. So very proud of you! I just wish we were closer together. I am thanking God for your professor who had no idea how important his words were.

  2. Dear Holli
    After many, many years in organized church, I have never met Jesus. Actually, I met Him one night in my room. After terrible spiritual abuse, I also left church and am now happy and content in Him. I also read that article.
    Blessings XX

    • I’m so sorry for your experience, Mia. I know that your experience is shared by many. Thankful you have found your peace. Thank you for sharing here today.

  3. Holli, I found you through Fellowship Fridays and I am so very grateful that I did! I think we have a lot in common. I am a seminary trained (M.Div.) minister who is apart from the church because of the “anti” message. Then, when I find a church that doesn’t have that message it is pretty homogeneous racially and that doesn’t work for my interracial family. A seminary professor once said that if Jesus was alive today the church itself would kill him and I almost agree with that. I know that God is calling me to start a church where I am but can’t for the life of me figure out where I am supposed to find the community members to form the church. I have been praying, asking God about it and searching for years. I keep getting the message, “wait.” So frustrating! I want my children to grow up in a church home but so far they have not had that and it makes my heart ache. But, in rural NC, I also refuse to allow them to grow up in a church that gives them an oppressive vision of God and Jesus, just to say they go to church.

    I hope we can stay in touch. I would love to chat more. What seminary are you going to be attending?

    • Hi Anne,

      I think we connected via FB as well. Thanks so much for the comments and for connecting. I’ll be attending Chicago Theological Seminary. I look forward to keeping in touch as well. Best to you as you find your place and calling. I’m in that same process, though just starting down the road.


  1. […] sisters.  (Can I get an Amen?)  Sort of a couple, “Diamonds in the Rough” among the mainline Christian message so often to the […]

Speak Your Mind