October 31st, 2013

If you worship in a Church of Christ (my tribe), your church might be primed to lose her minister. And the next one. And the one after that. Quickly.

First, a bit of explanation for non-Church of Christ readers. In my “non-denomination,” the local church selects individual men and women to serve as her ministers / pastors / preachers. These folks may be trained or not. Theologically adept or not. Qualified or not. It’s up to the church.

Since each congregation is autonomous, churches can dismiss their ministers at will.  Likewise, ministers can pick-up and move at will. I know what you’re thinking, “Wow! That sounds like a lot of turnover.” Congratulations, you’re right. You’re so right that when Church of Christ ministers get together with colleagues, conversations typically begin like this: “Are you still at ________________?” We anticipate moving. What can I say? We’re mobile.

While pastoral (yeah, I just used the “p” word) turnover is high among most Christians denominations, many Churches of Christ, I feel, are at unprecedented risk of chasing away the most gifted and best trained leaders in her midst.

Why am I concerned?


Increasingly, ministers of all stripes are sharing with me their desires to get out of Churches of Christ. I currently serve a non-traditional church, so I suspect I hear more of this than most people. Still, ministers say, “I’m pretty sure my next church will not be a Church of Christ.” Of course, as long as their have been ministers there have been ministers complaining about ministry — the pay, the stress, the feelings of inadequacy, lack of recognition, and unfair expectations, but this is different. People aren’t talking about leaving ministry, they’re talking about leaving ministry in Churches of Christ.

As young men and women break-up with Churches of Christ, they are not saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.” They’re saying, “It’s you!”  The hidden distress inside the church is not merely that she is losing younger people, we are also losing younger ministers – if we are developing them to begin with. More and more, universities are reporting fewer and fewer young men and women training for ministry, most opting, instead, to work with or begin non-profit charities.

I’ve tried to listen closely, without bias or reading into their reasoning. And here’s what I think I’m hearing about why they’re flirting with exits ( in rank order):

1. Women’s Roles. You may be shocked to find this the #1 reason, but nearly every minister I speak with believes churches of Christ are dead wrong on our limitation of women’s roles. A friend told me recently, “I have a daughter who is gifted and I’m not sure how much longer I can tolerate a church that treats her as second-class.” I hear this sentiment nearly every week.

Yet the irritation is not primarily borne from having female children. As advanced education becomes the norm in churches of Christ, ministers are better educated regarding all the issues present in the Biblical text regarding both the gospel and the role of women. While disagreements persists, no educated Bible reader relies on the handy, but intellectually faulty, ground of “The Bible says what it says…” rationalizations. These men and women know more is going on in scripture than flat, thoughtless readings will allow. Again, disagreements remain between people equally educated, but at least all the educated understand that the other side has a good argument to make.

At the same time, our female ministers have zoomed passed frustration to the point of exit with restrictive roles, male-dominated imagery and language, and a church that limits not just the public voice of women, but demeans their perspective and gifts altogether. To be sure, these convictions aren’t birthed from culture or liberalism, but a dedicated dwelling in and study of the Scriptures. These folks have come to different conclusions than their predecessors and while they love their non-denomination, they are not willing to re-erect the dividing wall they believe Jesus’ death tore down. I mean just this week, I heard someone blaming the decline in masculinity (which is not a problem in the first place), on too much support (Pink!) for breast cancer awareness. People have grown excruciatingly weary of that kind of thinking.

2. Leadership. Churches of Christ  are technically “elder-led.” In many places, this is a misnomer. The congregation selects elders; they are not appointed by a pastor or apostle. This “election” coupled with the deeply adopted American sense of representation means that  church leadership is congregational and often partisan. While there are no congregational votes, per se,  not much can happen  without the consent of the congregation. Problems arise because less spiritually mature Christians know they are in charge. They understand that should they raise enough stink, cause enough pain, withhold enough funds, or hurt enough feelings, they’ll get whatever they want, regardless of it’s righteousness or wisdom.

Strong, spiritually formed elderships navigate this well. However, many elderships tend to only listen to the will of the people. “We don’t want to upset people.” The result? Olive Garden, safe, palatable, unchallenging, churches. Success becomes measured only by uncomplaining butts in well-grooved pews.  Nothing new or challenging ever happens; the status quo always holds. Frustration arises, then, for leaders – as ministers tend to be – become stuck in a cycle of both never being freed to change nor accomplish anything while simultaneously being judged for their lack of effectiveness or progress. This is not ministry; it’s plate-spinning.

3. Traditionalism Wins. Ministers are saying, Churches of Christ are spiritually formed by neither Christ nor the Scriptures. Rather, we are primarily formed by the tradition of Churches of Christ itself. Here’s what they mean: When a thorny issue is raised, church of Christ people – even with all our gesturing to the text – will ultimately err on the side of traditional Church of Christ practice.

For instance, I love a cappella worship, though my church doesn’t practice it. I know of very few thoughtful Church of Christ members who would try to make a Biblical argument against instrumental worship, though a handful still rely on poor textual exegesis to maintain an a cappella only perspective. Church members will, however, leave long time friends, family, and their worshipping community when that particular tradition changes. Of course, they will cite “preference” and that may be true.  I can’t know for certain. They will say, “I don’t disagree with it, but I…” as they walk out the door. This is not about Christ nor the Scriptures, but the tradition itself.

Obviously, people can make whatever decisions about church they want to make,  and can worship where they desire – or anything else regarding congregational life – but we cannot call blue red and expect to be taken seriously. If tradition is the trump card, the church’s ministers would prefer we simply say so. We cannot make the argument that “I just want what I grew up with…” and it not be about tradition. The appeal itself is about past practice, which is, by definition, tradition.

The same is true regarding any hot-button issue when traditional practice is questioned – worship style, women’s participation, new approaches to ministries, etc…. If you listen to arguments carefully, many of them boil down to an appeal to church of Christ tradition and the linguistic dead giveaway begins with, “I don’t have a problem with it, but…” or “I don’t think it’s wrong, but…” or – and this is the grand-daddy of all church of Christ traditionalism arguments – “I don’t think it’s a salvation issue, but…” (as if anything other than Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is a salvation issue).

Many churches of Christ only discover our unspoken allegiance to tradition the hard way, after they’ve survey the congregation about a hot issue (Problem #2 in effect), and hear back that few are against it, and then watch hundreds leave when change is implemented.

Women’s roles, leadership, and traditionalism are the three rationales I hear most frequently from ministers flirting with changing denominations.

Have you had similar conversations? What are you hearing?

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 31st, 2013 at 7:12 am and is filed under leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

95 Responses to “It’s You, Not Me: Why More & More Ministers Are Leaving Churches of Christ”

Jeff Says:

As a minister who recently left the Church of Christ, I can say that you hit the nail on the head with this post! I would also add this: Church of Christ ministers are given all responsibility but no authority. They are expected to accomplish great things while being nothing but a hired hand, who can be dismissed at the drop of a hat for not visiting sister so-and-so often enough.

Mark Aaron Humphrey Says:

Leadership: If not democracy, what? I know the potential pain of having a dad who once was and of I myself being an “at will” employee (IRS term, not mine). I’ve also worked in Presbyterian churches where pastors are employed by the Presbytery, not the church. It’s designed to be difficult to transition a pastor. This fact, the great retirement plan, and the arduous ordination process attract a particular type of person, often unable to lead well. I have several Methodist colleagues who have even worse stories about the seemingly random and undermining impact of their system as well. My experience in teaching suggests that termed contracts tend to create artificial drama, and tenure makes accountability difficult. A democracy is built upon an engaged electorate and a free/independent press. It suffers without those things. I tend to agree that it is the “least worst form of governance.”

Tradition: There is great wisdom in the silence of Scripture, and nowhere is this more true than in regards to worship. We create idols when we speak for God. The New Testament is wonderfully vague as to questions of “how” and pretty demanding about questions of “why.” The most consistent scripture related to worship (if you define “song” narrowly) is to Sing to the Lord a new song. I think the message is that a grounded, unchanging “why” is our only hope to weather the relentlessly changing “how.” Important traditions don’t die just because a better idea comes along. They die because people lose touch with why they are worth protecting.

Sean Palmer Says:


There are several models that produce poor leadership. The main difficulty with the democratic model is that no one can ever really lead and churches are beholden to the least spiritual contingent among them, that is, though willing to hurt the most people and cause the biggest stink. This is an anti-spiritual formation model. We are actually de-formed from Christ.

neshort Says:

I agree with Palmer about church leadership. I don’t agree with the traditionalism. The usual reason churches are leaning to the introduction of new things – particularly instrumental music – is to become more “purpose driven.” That’s a terrible reason! I like what you say about people knowing why they are defending a particular tradition. If somebody comes along and wants to break some tradition, he/she had better have a good spiritual reason to do it. Battles need to be well selected. The role of women might be a good thing to talk about. Instrumental music is not.

In some peoples’ minds, a-Capella may be a tradition. Biblical authority is a very strong “tradition” in the churches of Christ; and if we are looking to the Scriptures for counsel, the exegesis is strong enough — closer to conclusive.

Johnny Says:

is an extremely shallow naivete among so many younger preachers and
members about why we believe and practice as we do. Part of that may be
a failure to be clear and persistent in our explanations.

every distinctive doctrine and practice among churches of Christ are
NOT merely traditions. They were arrived at from two vantage points.
ONE: serious study in the face of divisive denominationalism and a
struggle for unity based on the restoration ideal. TWO: a significant
amount of what we hold was hammered out on the polemic platform —
debate. Truth and error laid bare for all to see… truth wins.

It tics me a lot when folks are so dismissive of the ground we gained as if those who came before were ignorant or something.

I am reminded of the Scripture:

went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us,
they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might
become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19, ESV)

Stephen Holt Says:

Johnny, with all due respect, I think you have hit on two important reasons for the demise of our denomination (reasons also found among all other declining Christian groups): 1) “serious study in the face of divisive denominationalism.” We have spend way too much time assembling our doctrines based on what the Baptists, Catholics, etc. believe. We have spent nearly 200 years focusing on what others are doing wrong and not enough time on what God calls each of us to. We were told that our fight is not against flesh and blood, and yet that’s where CofC has mainly dwelled. 2) “hammered out on the polemic platform–debate.” God’s ideal is not fashioned through debate. Debate only divides. Love is the answer. Acceptance and mercy create dialogue through which God forms community. He’s the judge; we’re called to love and get along.

Teresa Says:

“It tics me a lot when folks are so dismissive of the ground we gained as if those who came before were ignorant or something.”

If I may…the COC is dismissive of 2000 years of those who came before, and were martyred, boiled in oil, burned at the stake in the Reformation, etc., church leaders who hammered out decisions at councils through the ages, etc….as if those who came before were not only ignorant, but believed what they believed out of malice. I grew up in the COC and was always taught that “Luther didn’t go far enough” and “Lutherans are going to Hell because they named their denomination after Martin Luther”; “Billy Graham knows better but knows he will lose his popularity if he preaches the truth about baptism”; “denominations only want a watered-down feel-good gospel” etc., completely dismissing the entire Reformation and the COC’s origins in history.

I was always taught that people in other denominations ignored “The Truth” because they had “itching ears” and wanted to follow Martin Luther (for example) instead of The Bible. So basically I think dismissing 2000 years of good Christians as if they were ignorant or something, is bigger than dismissing 100 years of the COC’s traditions as if they had not been hammered out by debate. I think we should study both. The 2000-year history of all of Christendom…not the way the COC teaches it, because the COC is wrong on that. And also we should study the COC’s history and where they got their traditions. I believe the COC got its a capella tradition from the Calvinist Regulative Principle, myself. There are small Presbyterian sects that don’t use instrumental music.

Stephen Holt Says:

Great thoughts, Sean. Thanks. I do think that, although preachers leaving in droves is certainly a concern, there are bigger problems within Christendom as a whole. The whole issue of institutionalism must be addressed. Churches today look more like the institution Constantine (4th century) brought about than what God envisioned for his called-out people. Constantine made Christianity fashionable by taking it out of the shadows and away from the margins. And today, although fashionable (as opposed to popular), Christianity around the world is having less and less effect on its cultures. For the most part, we are lazy, content, bored, ineffective agents of a corrupted system. I think God is bringing about a change through rising generations who seem to align themselves more with the issues God deems important (care for the forgotten, the earth, the poor, justice, etc.) than my own generation. Seems like God could use more “older” believers who are willing to set aside the baggage of institutionalism and direct the younger folks toward assuming the mantle of faith Jesus left on the day he ascended. Maybe the dismantling of our beloved but impotent tradition (CofC) is a good thing, beginning with a wholesale dispersing of the clergy. I’m for whatever it takes to get the train back on the rail. I delight in the rise, worldwide, of intentional faith communities whose aim is to put vibrant communities of faith within easy reach of every person on earth. Read more at http://www.neorestorationists.com. Blessings.

Agape COC Says:

Great thoughts as well Sean. I appreciate your writing this. I am a church planter in the churches of Christ and have been in ministry in the COC 27 years. I teach at an Evangelical seminary in Portland. I don’t foresee leaving the COC basically because in the church planting arena we have much more freedom and our own network. However, I agree, I am hearing many ministers older and younger who are planning to leave. I think you hit the nail on the head with many of the reasons. I might also add that I have observed how churches and community people outside the COC treat me and my wife as a minister/pastor. Compared to our fellowship it is very different. I feel that many times COC ministers are treated like hirelings and not supported for our education and vision. The seminary, my students, and many other religious leaders we work with seem to go out of their way to care for us and make sure we are OK. It is humbling and sometimes brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know how many times I have had Christians in other churches pray over me and say how hard my family works and that we are some of the busiest people in the community. Unfortunately this is not something I heard from elders whom I have served with in the past, nor do we see this level of respect in the young people leaving our Christian colleges and attending church. Somehow we have created an environment where ministers are outsiders and seen as disruptive to the harmony of a church. I don’t think that our ministers are leaving because they want their egos stroked, I just think that many leave because its easier to lead when people respect and value your role and vision for the church. Just my observations.

Darin L. Hamm Says:

Yes and with local leadership and individual churches being autonomous not much hope for change. I would probably also add the Holy Spirit. Even with a begrudging nod to the indwelling it seems the ingrained thinking ignores or at the minimum minimizes and discounts the fact that the Spirit is active every day in our lives and the world around us.

Just a Preacher Says:

Amen. I am a 30 year old preacher at a Church of Christ, and I think you stated this very well. I had a conversation with a minister friend of mine just days ago as we both talked about how we feel stuck in our tradition because moving out of the C of C bubble is so difficult. We get trained at C of C universities that are so far ahead of where our churches are that it becomes difficult to go backwards into the life of a congregation. I’m definitely frustrated!

Patrick Andrews Says:

In the first place Christ never authorized a CofC university, but therein lies the problem. You folks didn’t have enough faith in the church that Christ died for. You thought like Israel of old; to go outside the body of Christ to train preachers. The Lord’s church is sufficient to train her young men into preachers, elders and deacons. But no, no, no, we want our preachers to be doctors, we want to be like the denominations around us, give us a king,(university) so that we can be like the nations (denominations) around us. You can’t fix a church that has apostacized, and that is what your problem is.

Nobody Says:

Mr. Andrews, I really hope you’ll have the patience and humility of our Christ to hear what I have to say. One who would teach a preacher of Christ, who is saved by the grace of Christ through faith, confession, repentance, and baptism, ought by these same principles, be ready to repent at all times, simply because he counts his mature life in Christ to be nothing compared to the surpassing glory of knowing Christ. Now, please listen. Consider King Saul and David. Yes, Israel was wrong for wanting a king like those around them. But even in less than ideal circumstances, God worked through His servant David and brought forth the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham (father of many nations, Christ reconciling us as God’s own children through faith like Abraham’s (Gal. 3:29)) through David, a king, by bringing the Christ from his line. On the outside, David’s kingship is simply consistent with the other nations. But we know of the promise fulfilled through his Offspring, and even the Law gave room for a king, whether it was ideal or not (Deut. 17:14-20). In the same way, though one may go to school like the rest of the world, that does not implicitly mean that he or she is like the rest of the world. In fact, being a body of Christ universally, it makes since that together, a university itself, centered on God in Christ, can be a church for itself, however large. If you desire ‘Just a Preacher’ to have eternal salvation, consider how you might treat him like a brother. Even if he is wrong, consider that even Paul calls the Corinthians saints (1 Corinthians 1:2) and even privately thanks God for them always (v 4). Do you thank God for those you disagree with? Your enemies? I only ask because I would hope you would reconsider your stance, and by this, keep from wrecking a tender person’s faith.

disqus_9qRusyJ5Xe Says:

Mr. Andrews,

Your post intrigues me. Can you enlighten me as to why you believe that “The Lord’s church is sufficient to train her young men into preachers, elders, and deacons”? Also, where does the bible tell us to “have enough faith in the church” for education?

If no one at my congregation knows the Biblical languages, and since no CofC preachers seem to be publishing Bible translations, I must accept whatever English Bible I can find. One of the oldest is James the I’s translation. But, the original KJV also contained the Apocrypha, so should I accept all of James’ translation or just the parts that I want to accept?

Speaking of James I, his translators were probably not CofC members. James was a member of the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. Even if one believes that a CofC existed in England in 1604, the possibility of CofC translators on James’ committee is small. The possibility that CofC translators dictated the KJV is zero. When we read James’ translation (or ANY other English version), we go outside of the CofC by trusting a “denominationalist” to translate the very text upon which we base our beliefs (and upon which they base their differing beliefs, too).

If education is important for anyone, then it is even more important for someone who should be an expert. I fail to see how a Christian university education is Biblically, spiritually, or morally wrong. I would like to understand your statements.

Kraig Says:

The churches of Christ were distinctive as a group of Christians, managing to significantly impact people living from Tennessee to Texas, largely because they offered a vision of a Christian way of life in which a restoration to primative Christianity (a way of being a Christian under which ordinary people could read and understand the Bible) would lead to a Christian unity, free of denominationalism. (In other words, many early members of the restoration movement actually believed that if people started practicing primitive Christianity, it would spread, and the denominations would fold up). Some believed that Christian unity would usher in a golden age of humanity in the world, and some believed that the separation between the church and the world was more pronounced than that, having no hope for a golden age for humanity.

Fewer and fewer people in the churches of Christ believe a restoration to primitive Christianity is as simple as that, and fewer and fewer believe that such a restoration, even if it could be accomplished, would lead to a unified church free of all denominationalism. Missing (some of) the distinctive features that allowed the churches of Christ to draw people, there is going to have to be a reshaping of our identity. I suggest a re-shaping that is in harmony with the overriding concern of the intent of the restoration movement (unity and priesthood of all believers). The autonomy of local churches is, I think, an important distinctive feature of the churches of Christ, and it can be incorporated within an informal structure that emphasizes the making of disciples – an overriding corporate concern of helping people actually become like Jesus in thought and deed, and of dong this while avoiding, as far as possible, drawing “line in the sand” theological stances.

Jason Martin Says:

You hit on all of the main reasons why Kari and I left the CofC for the better part of 11 years, role of women and traditionalism perhaps being the primary reasons. While at ACU, I took a course on the Reformation movement. It was very interesting, but ironically, it helped me see the Church of Christ as a reaction to the religious traditions of the day, rather than a true search for the heart of God, authentic in its intentions but reactionary in its execution. I know that’s a gross oversimplification, but that’s the impression I was left with. The only reason we’re toying with the idea of returning at this time is that it seems there are fewer people (and more importantly, fewer people in leadership) who hold to those issues so dogmatically. Frankly, tradition has a very important place in religious observance, but I don’t know a denomination that doesn’t overemphasize it, in my opinion. (After all, wasn’t the primary problem of the Pharisees that Jesus would call out typically related to their dogmatic adherence to tradition?)

Paul Castleman Says:

I know you are simply stating fact and what you have heard…I am cool with that! My question is why leave? I do not surrender myself to the traditions of the Church of Christ adhere to. (My Baptist pastor buddies call me a covert Baptist!) I assign myself to Scripture and so do you…anyone who is a preacher should. But change is never easy, especially for people who have been taught the SAME things all their lives.

But, a preacher is meant to be engaged with his congregation and teach them…with sweating and tears!! The Apostle Paul knew what it meant to grow people in the Lord! Why leave? Because THEY aren’t changing fast enough for me? Then that preacher doesn’t truly love that congregation like the Apostle Paul did.

Now, I understand some of the constraints…I get it…it is VERY frustrating, but just because preachers don’t see ANY movement or growth doesn’t mean that God is NOT working…we must be more vigilant WHERE we are and our purpose there! I just don’t think we (preachers) know TRULY what it means to suffer for the sake of Christ and for our CoC to grow out of the bondage of traditionalism…BTW, every “tribe” or “church group” has traditional bondage issues…the grass is not greener on the other side…what are preachers willing to go through for the sake of the people to know Christ more intimately? What are preachers willing to suffer out of LOVE for their congregation?
I love your words today, BTW! LOL!

Sean Palmer Says:


I think you pose a good question.

Some leave because they are naive about how much better it’ll be elsewhere. Still others lack the will or strength to work and suffer for change, but there are myriad issues.

Some leave out of the concretization of the church, that is, they know the church will NEVER change. This is banging your head against the wall. And the only outcomes are leaving or getting fired and then plenty of people get hurt in the meantime. This is not about a church changing “fast enough,” but the inability for things to change at all. As a matter of fact, some churches label their intransigence as a calling-card.

Others leave because, though ever group has problems, they want different problems.

Still others find it a matter of conviction. This is particularly trur for the growing number of men and women who consider gender-inclusion a justice issue. They believe it is right or wrong. Like the civil rights movement before, some have come to see gender-exclusivity not as a minor debatable point, but an issue of sin.

From what I hear, that’s what’s happening.

Paul Castleman Says:

And the Apostle Paul experienced those myriad issues as well (if not worse), but we don’t see the Apostle Paul walking away from the people in the New Testament either. He was willing to go to prison for them to realize their glory in Christ!
I am not saying that the “Church of Christ” is the New Testament church, but what I am saying is the Apostle had several opportunities to throw his hands up and move on with some of the stupid things that the churches he founded were going through…but he doesn’t! He loves them and struggles with them and moves forward with them. And he continued to “hear” from his naysayer, super-apostles on the other side of the fence, as well.

Another question…since when did we as preachers get to decide what form or type or evaluation of “growth” was important to the Church? This may seem a loaded question, but our task is to preach, declare, and proclaim not gripe and moan about “changes in preference”. I think of Jeremiah and his preaching at this point. Maybe I am being too “conservative” at this point, LOL!

Sean Palmer Says:

I’m not sure preachers (or anyone) gets to decide how to evaluate growth. The tension is that the preacher (or someone) has to decide what text to preach and what it means. They have to decide what to preach about Junia, or Galatians 3:28 or Pheobe or what Paul means when he says Jesus tore down the dividing wall. Those all fall under your definition, and it’s not a wrong definition. Then we have to deal with what happens when the preacher’s study and prayer conflict with the belief and/or practice of a particular church.

There’s just no way of getting around these kinds of issue.

Paul Castleman Says:

Are simply misusing Scripture to promote an ideology? Galatians is not discussing women’s role…thorough study of the Scripture would say that Paul is discussing how the gospel crosses all boundaries, be it gender, social, or status. Phoebe and Junias were servants of Christ. Phoebe a deaconess or servant of Christ. Simple as that…are elevating what does not need to be elevated? Are we misinterpreting Scripture based on our own opinions? The dividing wall is meant for the Jews and Gentile conflict within the Ephesian church not for gender inclusion. Maybe, a better Bible knowledge would help! I agree with what you are saying Sean, what happens when the Scriptures are plain, understandable and reasonable? It then becomes our responsibility to humble ourselves to God’s Word and not rely on our own understanding…are we practicing these things?

Paul Castleman Says:

Besides the best passage of Scripture to use for gender inclusion would have to be 1 Corinthians 14:26ff anyways…LOL!!

Sean Palmer Says:

Paul, we’ll just have to disagree about Galatians, because I think your reading is far too narrow in terms of Paul’s intent. In my view, Paul believes Jesus to have destroyed all barriers humans create and use to distance themselves and creat hierarchies. If Galatians is nit about gender, why mention “male and female”? That seems odd to me, to expressly mention a distinction that you’re not talking about.

Rob McRay Says:

Paul, I would add that many ministers no longer feel they have a choice. A frequent situation I have encountered are ministers who were fired for trying to do what you describe. They were not allowed to stay and love their congregations any longer. And now they are simply no longer willing to put themselves and their families in another such unsustainable position with another church “family” that will divorce them rather easily if they attempt to break the “bondage of traditionalism.”

ed_dodds Says:

Rob, I didn’t grow up in the Churches of Christ (Catholic) but did do the “FHU/ACU preacher boy hoping to be missionary thing” but landed at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society for awhile (which has a great CoC collection, btw, consider joining!) and got bit by the “restoration history” bug. One oversimplification I keep seeing again and again is that the “great men of the past” seem to always have had an independent source of income which did not depend on congregational leadership approval… fwiw.

Tangent alert: I mention this “income thing” in part because of the general North American (global) 99% / 1% discussions which have highlighted what I perceive to be a situation wherein a growing number of people no longer see a correlation between labor and wages in any context (contrary, I believe, to the “scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his hire.” worldview). My wife works in the disabilities services related nonprofit sector picking up the slack of congregations (not just CoC but Nashville and TN generally) more intent on being the gated community than the beloved community (steeple people). There is little, if any, correlation between what the “ministers” in this sector are expected to accomplish vs. the challenge (not too mention the lack of funding available). But the same can be said of many teachers, health care workers, scientists, engineers, etc. in their sectors.

Tangent alert: Sean, I listened to your recent sermon on Confession and the concept of liberation of the lost jumped out at me (Zacc). The concept “of the acceptable year of the Lord/Jubilee/debt” is a massive undercurrent with which the North American religio/industrio/politico/eieio complex just is not willing to deal. And congregations should be lights shining not selling bushels. But i digress… Thanks much for hosting up an open “feedback back mechanism” for a fellowship with these comments. I had just joined the social media site that Ford has available which has an “open to members” idea suggestion board and I thought “what if every congregational web page were required to have one of those?

Mike Says:

I’m a young Church of Christ minister. I’m 26, graduated from ACU, and have been preaching at my small 50-member church in the northern Midwest for 2.5 years.

This could perhaps change in the future, but as for today, I don’t foresee myself leaving the Churches of Christ. This is not to say that I agree 100% with “CofC doctrine” (you know, for a non-creedal tradition, I think people know exactly what that means). I have my frustrations, many of which you named.

But I don’t really want to leave. A few reasons why:

* I’m not sure where I would go. I spend a lot of my time talking with people of different denominations, from Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics, to Seventh-Day Adventists, to Anabaptists, and so on. One thing I’ve come to find out: I disagree with all of them! Some I agree with more than others, but I have come to be very skeptical of the “perfect church.” Such a place that I see eye-to-eye completely with would likely be the Church of Me. I suppose I could start my own denomination, but that hasn’t really solved any problems in the last 2000 years….

* I believe the best change comes from within. If I’m a crewman on a boat that is sailing off course, jumping ship won’t save the passengers. Poor analogy, but I believe it is important to be a voice in steering where we are going. I do see a lot of change happening within Churches of Christ, which I believe is for the better, but this cannot happen without open dialogue with both “sides” (conservative and progressive) being in discussion with each other.

* I love our history. As an armchair Restoration Movement historian, I have come to love the Stone-Campbell Movement. I don’t idealize it or imagine it as a Christian utopia by any means. But I do think they were on to something. When I read Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address,” I see words that resonate to today, which is even more fractured by division in our 12,000+ denominations. I feel like we have lost the passion for ecumenical unity that the early leaders had, but that it is not too late to reignite that spark.

* The “Church of Christ network” has something to do with it. Perhaps you all know what I’m talking about. Having grown up in the Churches of Christ and attended a CofC university, I’m fairly certain that I can walk into any Church of Christ and find at least one person that either I know, or knows someone that I know. I don’t know how many denominations share that and I’ll admit to being a little afraid of ever leaving it. In many ways, this tribe is my family and I love them.

Perhaps I’m young and naive. For the record, I do say this as someone who has really been hurt by our churches. I’ve seen the church politics and have been a part of nasty church splits over minuscule issue. In my short time in ministry, I have been unjustly fired and felt the pain of betrayal from people I had come to love and serve. I have seen the ugly part of church…and I’m only 26. I’m sure more will come. Again, perhaps I’m foolish for sticking around and even desiring to stay…but I’m sticking around.

Preaching with stories Says:

Kudos to you for seeing the issue for what it really is and sticking with it anyway. I applaud your tenacity and wish you God speed in your ministry.

Justin Says:

I have a Masters degree, was a National Merit Scholar, accepted at Harvard, bilingual, sing in multiple languages, play two musical instruments, and I even listen to NPR. I disagree with the two following statements:

While disagreements persists, no educated Bible reader relies on the handy, but intellectually faulty, ground of “The Bible says what it says…” rationalizations.

I know of very few thoughtful Church of Christ members who would try to
make a Biblical argument against instrumental worship, though a handful
still rely on poor textual exegesis to maintain an a cappella only perspective.

The author seems to maintain that his perspective on women’s roles and instrumental music are the only ones that any intelligent, honest, student of the Bible could hold. Is that a Christlike attitude? Is it a correct one?

Sean Palmer Says:


Thanks for you comment. I think, however, you’d be hard-pressed to prove that the view on gender or music presented were presented as “the only ones that ant intelligent, honest, student of the Bible could hold.”

In fact, I say, “Again, disagreements remain between people equally educated, but at least all the educated understand that the other side has a good argument to make.”

Justin Says:

Sean, Thanks brother for allowing my post and for taking the time to reply. I don’t know you and can’t judge you. I can only judge what you wrote. Those are my honest impressions based on what you wrote. I wish you well as you seek Christ and his word in your life and ministry…I just got the attitude of condescension from your article, and it bothered me. Have you ever read a very conservative piece that had an air of condescension to it? That’s the way this article seemed to me. Perhaps that does not represent you nor your actual views…but I think its helpful for you to know that some people have interpreted it that way. In fact, a brother I know wrote a kind of reaction piece to it. His name is Jeff Jenkins.

Psalm 2 Says:

The issues stated are not unique to churches of Christ. Let’s grow beyond the issues. Those who will lift their eyes long enough and gaze beyond their preferences will notice a sea of unbelievers who are searching for their Savior. Let’s welcome them as Christ has welcomed so many before… with open arms… not issues. This goes for all of us – even ministers. We are not called to accomplish the trendiest worship services or the largest gatherings. We are to live and proclaim. Spend some time with true unbelievers and learn that they couldn’t care less about your/our issues. It’s silly business and diminishes our mission. It’s you Lord, not me.

Paul Smith Says:

IF these preachers are correct, they need to explain why it is that the churches that are the most progressive in ordaining women (and homosexuals, I might add) are hemorrhaging members at an explosive rate. Many denominations are losing entire congregations, some even entire dioceses. IF these preachers are correct they need to explain how it is possible to exist in a non-traditional tradition. If tradition kills, then you cannot do the same thing twice in a row – or you will have created a tradition. IF these preachers are correct, exactly what form of leadership is to be preferred? Dictatorial? Anarchy? IF they have all the answers, why not share them, why not create a new and utterly perfect church with them at the top of the pyramid? I want to know!

Alex Keith Says:

But the issue at hand is not that doing something more than once makes it a tradition and therefor bad. The issue is doing things because we’ve always done them whether they are spirit led or not. When our practices are marginalizing and hurting our brothers and sisters, we need to ask why we do things that way, and be willing to change them if the answer is “because that’s how our church does it,” rather than “because it is consistent with a holistic understanding of Scripture.”

CB Says:

interestingly, that is what the CofC thought they were doing when they started 200 years ago. Then they fell into the same trap. There will always be problems, the question is how much can you tolerate and when you hit the tipping point.

micahfoster Says:

I used to think, “I’ll be a catalyst for change from the inside.” Naive as it was, I believed I could change the whole system, in regards to these issues. Having grown up in the CoC, attending Pepperdine, majoring in Religion, touring with Won by One, interning at the a CoC in Fresno, working part-time at the CoC in SoCal and upon graduation landing a job at a CoC in the LA area… I had seen literally 100’s, maybe over one thousand CoCs in my lifetime.

I was in deep.

I was passionate. I wanted to reach people. But everything I tried, every attempt to do something new, creative or exciting was shot down. I was told what to do and I was also told I was being groomed to be the minister one day… even though I was very clear in the hiring process that I would not stay there forever.

My wife and I lasted 9 months. NINE MONTHS, before we knew we needed to get out. And we got out fast. It’s been 7 years since then and I’m so grateful God gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone.

I don’t hold to a tradition any longer. My wife and I are planting a church modeled after North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) and let me tell you, following in those footsteps has been one of the best decisions of my life. It’s so liberating. It’s so freeing. It’s so, not traditional.

Feel free to see what we’re doing:

Creating a church unchurched people would love to attend all for the purpose of leading them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Victor Says:

All I see is.. I dont want to follow the biblical church….

Matt Flanigan Says:

And what is the “Biblical Church” Victor?

JRBProf Says:

Victor, which Biblical Church do you prefer? The Jerusalem church where the apostles gave out instructions to all the others? The Corinthian church where they partied during communion? The Roman church in caves? Do you prefer the all Jewish congregations? Do you prefer the all Greek congregations? Is your church full of prostitutes and slaves? Does your church have all things in common and redistribute its wealth to care for the poor? Do you like Laodicea or Philadelphia? Are y’all speaking a lot of Greek at your church or Aramaic?

Are you more interested in the form of your Sunday mornings or the principles of the communities who worshiped together?

Church Member Says:

I come at this in a pragmatic way.

If there are ministers who would prefer a type of church with women in leadership roles, instrumental worship and a different leadership structure, those kinds of churches and denominations already exist. Is there a problem with those ministers migrating to those kinds of churches?

Missionary Says:

I’m a missionary, and not a minister in a U.S. church (you think you have difficulties with some of the things above, and you haven’t seen anything). I would just like to add here, that as church leaders, we should not pay attention to what church we are ministers at, whether we are under appreciated, or whether things are difficult. Instead, we should focus on obeying Jesus and making disciples. Those two things are hard enough. Then let the chips fall where they may. Of course, in many of our churches, if we do these things, many are not going to like it so much. But that is what we are called to do, and ignore the rest. If we begin to reflect the life of Jesus, then we are successful, and everything else will work itself out. I know that sounds simplistic, but I have learned that it is quite true. As long as we are reflecting Jesus’s life and obeying his commands and making disciples, then we will always be a part of the one true church. And that is what the restoration movement is all about.

Thomas Franckowiak Says:

Dear Sean:

Thank you for sharing the thoughts of your heart. Moreover,
may God bless you for speaking genuinely and sincerely about your observations
of conditions within the Churches of Christ.

Your first issue concerns women’s roles within the Church.
Many have voiced that they feel like second-class citizens of their
congregations. They do not feel like they are able to use their talents freely
because of their gender. When one considers their roles in society, within
their families, and within their marriage their influence is astonishing. Most
public school teachers from kindergarten to twelfth grade are females. Almost
half if not more than half of all government employees at Bexar County are females.
More females than males are graduating from universities. Mothers spend much
more time with their children than do fathers. Many mothers also work. Wives
have quite a say in the marriages today. A man really must listen to his wife
and agree quite a bit if he wants to avoid divorce, losing the home, and losing
primary custody of the children. In
Genesis, Eve wanted to become equal to God. Thus, that women want to be equal,
considered the same as men, is to be expected. God gives women unique value
just as He gives men unique value. But we are not the same. We are different
anatomically and psychologically. A man cannot conceive children as a woman
can. Men tend to be stronger than women but this is not always true. Some women
are as strong or they are stronger than men. Thus men are a creation of
tendencies: often but not always. If one thinks about it, there would be
nothing left for a man to do. A man must be assigned some unique responsibility
and women, although capable, must sometimes be silent and listen to someone. It
reminds them that as capable and as influential as they are, they still are not
God. They still are human. So God assigning men to teach and to lead in their
congregations and in their families is a way to remind women that they are
human and therefore not above instruction and correction.

Actually the behavioral pattern that you described—a woman
attending a seminary and becoming frustrated when she cannot preach at a Church
of Christ congregation—is itself a dysfunctional dynamic. The woman knows that
Churches of Christ congregations do not allow a woman to preach but she decides
to study Bible and then she is somehow frustrated and upset when she cannot use
her Bible education for that role. It is the proverbial “dog chasing its tail.”

It is about being content with blessings and the roles that
God has given us and not demanding more. For example, I am 5’ 7”. If I were
unhappy with my height, no matter how much taller I wanted to be, I would still
remain 5’7”. This is the height that God has assigned to me and it is the
height that I must accept. Unfortunately, because leadership and ministry are
not based upon biological limitations and genetics but based upon God’s
blessing, acknowledging that leadership and ministry within a congregation are
roles intended solely for men is difficult to accept. There is no absolute or
observable limitation or barrier that a determined woman would observe that
would explain why she should not get to do this, too. Only interpretation of
Scripture which she would interpret according to her ambition is a barrier from
preaching and leading. And in today’s society, when women do everything else,
this does not seem to be a plausible reason for why a woman should not be able
to do what she wants to do.

Next you mentioned the bleak conditions of the leadership
and ministry roles within the Churches of Christ that discourage men from
pursuing leadership and ministry at Churches of Christ congregations. No the
ministry is not a “walk in the park.” It is not for the faint-hearted. Within
every congregation are both wheat and tares, many of which attend regularly.
The ministry requires much prayer and fasting before our Lord Jesus Christ
because the ministry is a spiritual battle. It has taken me 7 years to gain an
opportunity to teach at my congregation on Sunday mornings. However, I belong
to a Thursday night Bible study of 5 to 6 men. 1 man always arrives and immediately
dives onto the carpet and stays there for the entire Bible study and remains
silent during our entire study. Another man arrives hardly says anything and
will not pray with us. I do not know what these 2 men think they are doing or
how they would explain their behavior, but it is not my apartment. So I must
pray and fast for them. They may very well be tares and lost to eternal
destruction. But if I do not go to the Bible study and exercise patience and find
the appropriate remedies and apply them at the appropriate time I will isolate
myself. This is why prayer and fasting to God is so effective. We bring those
people before God so we do not rush to take matters into our own hands and
suffer defeat. When I begin teaching, when I stop attending that Bible study,
they will be the ones to criticize my teaching on Sundays. So it is about being
as innocent as doves but being wise as serpents. Many people, by observing
them, would cause me to conclude that they are hopelessly damned to hell. But
it is about focusing on our mission rather than falling for the bait that these
people set in our way to create an issue and deter us from being effective
servants of our Lord God Christ Jesus. This calls us also to entrust our
observations to God before we rush headlong into confrontations and
controversies with the tares.

Another issue that you presented was the debate about
acapella and instrumental music. It would not have been a big deal 70 years
ago, but with the advent of rock and roll and sound equipment, people want to
go for the latest rage. Many people of many denominations would not even
consider worshipping God without a band and phenomenal sound equipment. They
have to have all of that before they would even imagine praising God. That is a
spiritual condition that has nothing to do with music, but has to do with their
salvation. Were their confessions true? Were their baptisms authentic? I have
observed that the majority at many congregations that have rock bands and
sophisticated sound equipment or big worship teams do not even sing. They just
watch the concert. But the idea is to corporately worship God as one body. Many
people who say that they need a band and sound equipment to sing better do not
sing at all. No, people who are saved are going to praise and worship God no
matter what. Paul and Silas worshipped God in the Philippian jail. It is again
the reality of the wheat and the tare. The tares are always going to cause
problems and they are always going to be stagnant.

I remember this one Baby-Boom elder telling my class his
compelling story to explain why he voted in favor to remove the “of Christ”
from our name. It is always the same. A baby boomer explains why his parents
did not “get it right” at their congregation and now, after much soul
searching, he is coming out of the closet to “right” everything that they did
wrong to regain the “Age of Aquarius” balance and peace in his life.

So the key reason why there are so many of these issues is
that people are not confident in Christ because they do not indeed really have
Christ, so they are ashamed of their congregations. It is the same story again
and again. There is nothing new under the sun.

BigMikeLewis Says:

Great response. All things I was thinking and more. I love the Churches of Christ all because these are not problems in our CofC and we’re the largest in the NW (Oregon). We’re growing.

We have no issues with women in leadership because they aren’t. Our church is fantastic and draws all sorts of people under the leadership of men. It is my passion that men are trained to lead holy and righteously, not lord over others and our church is doing a great job at that. And they truly lead. They voice vision for the church and people are drawn to that. We’re called to lead the church and it’s a calling I view as a huge responsibility and will continue to seek improvement. It would hurt me and my conscience if women were to try and push me out of the role I know God has called me to. I am extremely offended by women moving into leadership roles because of what that means for me. They are treating me as a second class citizen; that I’m not worthy to lead. That’s offensive.

And we’re not constrained by old “traditions” but we relish our traditions that make us unique. We love our traditions and acknowledge them as such. Our singing is wonderful a cappella singing. I love leading our worship.

So I say if people have issues with these 3 things, maybe its their problem for not modeling good traits in each of these 3. I know we’ve lacked in the past in our broad church of Christ scope, but we can fix it. Lead by example. Maybe these aren’t problems to change but traditions to embrace and love and improve.

Mark Says:

I don’t think most women are trying to push you out. They just want a seat at the table and rights to use their talents. Look, I know some males who are younger than 40 who don’t have a seat at the table either and would like to have one.

Matthew 25 Says:

Your first problem is stating that your church has no problems. That is a lie. Every church has problems. Sure, maybe you work well through them but to publicly state you have no problems is ridiculous. Secondly, you’re offended by women moving into leadership roles because of what that means for you? I call that selfish and scared. Why be scared? Celebrate that others have God-given talents and want to use them too. Learn to share the leadership roles, support others, guide with praise–all traits of a good leader. Don’t stand back and just be scared and toot your own horn. May God bless you and your vision to grow and expand your church and to, at times, step into the unknown and be challenged.

Stephen Holt Says:

Would any of the issues you mentioned–women’s roles, leadership and traditionalism–be issues at all if God’s ideal for his church had not been pirated by institutionalism? Traditional church (religion) is a petri dish for growing dissention, fostering isolation and promoting unhealthy hierarchy. Power and money rule in such a scenario. And the true God seekers are pushed aside. We see it in Jesus’s band of 12 who deserved and received their Lord’s wrath. We just don’t seem to learn.

Jake Says:

Where do I begin. Let’s start here. Where in Scripture do you find the authority to allow women to lead in a public worship service? Where in Scripture do you find the authority to use instrumental music? Statistically speaking, more young people are leaving PROGRESSIVE and ANTI congregations of the LORD’S CHURCH than the congregations striving to worship the way God intended worship. And yes, the Church of Christ is the Lord’s Church. The one and only. Find a passage of Scripture that disputes that-you can’t. Matthew 16:8, Acts 2, Romans 16:16 all talk about the ONE CHURCH BEING THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.

Paul Castleman Says:

Jake–there must be some liberty for some of your topics you bring up. Instrumental music is not an issue here because it is NOT expressly mentioned in Scripture (except for its allowance even in the Temple worship)…there must be liberty. Technically, your term “lead in public worship” is a loaded term due to the fact that prayer can be “led” by a woman because there is nothing in Scripture that says she can’t. A woman can serve on the Lord’s Supper because there is no authority there either, only Jesus. The Lord determines who is HIS Church not us…I can list a myriad of traditions that are extremely problematic for CoCs. Don’t get me started on the Lord’s Supper…and statistically, young people are leaving all churches because of the formal regulations and lack of “participation or involvement” in worship services and real, genuine discipleship seems to be an issue as well…

JRBProf Says:

Jake, at the risk of repetition of my comment elsewhere, to be sure you see it, I here point you to just some of the authority for the ministry and leadership of women in the church. This is part of the constant, unswerving narrative of scripture in which God constantly destroys the barriers and hierarchies of the people:

First, Mary, the mother of
Christ, was the means by which God achieved the incarnation, and we
should not neglect the theological import of this.

Second, the risen Christ revealed Himself first to Mary M. and the
other women who appeared at the tomb. She proclaimed the resurrection
to the apostles and other assembled believers.

Third, I Cor. 11 instructs the women who are praying and prophesying
in the assembly publicly to do so with their heads covered.

Fourth, we have Lydia leading and financing a home church.

Fifth, we have Priscilla teaching Apollos.

Sixth, Galatians 3:28.

Seventh, Paul commends Junia as “outstanding among the apostles.”

Eighth, Paul continues to commend woman after woman in his letters alongside the men in service to those churches.

This is not to mention Deborah, Esther, the King’s Mother in Proverbs
31, Elizabeth and others who were pivotal among God’s people in the

In fact, it is the cultural blindness of the West and early American
patriarchy that has blinded us to these examples, these necessary
inferences. The Church of Christ has based the prohibition of
instruments on the ABSENCE of any mention in the NT, and the Church of
Christ has based weekly communion on one oblique reference to breaking
bread “on the first day of the week.” With such little support for
such important things, how is it conceivably possible that we ignore so
willfully the presence and voices of women in leadership and ministry in
scripture. It’s not even a close call.

Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts » Blog Archive » Friday’s Links To Go Says:

[…] It’s You, Not Me: Why More & More Ministers Are Leaving Churches of Christ […]

Adrienne Kirby Says:

I agree that there is a lack of real contextual bible study. It is frustrating, but if a “minister” leaves the body of Christ to go to a different body, then their understanding of the scriptures isn’t perfect either.It’s way off. So maybe they aren’t as “educated” as you think. If you look at all the beliefs of the denominations or any other religion you will find “major” flaws that don’t line up with the truth.
I know every congregation has it’s problem, as they did in the first century.
I don’t see Paul, or Peter or Timothy giving up and leaving the church and “blaming”
the people. Anytime there is blame involved there is usually a lack of responsibility on the part of the person doing the blaming.
If they think the people need more in depth Bible study, then that is the challenge.
Lack of Bible knowledge is a huge problem, and we need problem solvers in this day and age, not people giving up and running away.
I know Paul would not give up on the bride of Christ.

Sean Palmer Says:

Thank you for your comment, and you’re absolutely right, Adrienne. There are problems, half-truths, and non-truths in all denominations and non-denominations. People are fallible.

I want to be careful though. Someone leaving one denomination to serve in another is not, at least in my view, giving up on the Bride of Christ. If someone goes out to eat burgers instead of Italian food, they have not given up on food, if I can use that as an illustration.

Neither is this about “love” of Churches of Christ, as some across the Internet have suggested. To blindly accept the status quo is not love. Ask any parent whose child has brought home an “F” on their grades when the parents know they are capable of more.

It’s not about the global or communal bride of Christ, it’s about a failing system in a portion of people who are part of the church. Now, of course, some will disagree and limit the church universal to churches of Christ. I understand that, I just don’t.

David Dominguez Says:

Sean, I believe your last statement is the crux of the whole matter, and speaks to the core questions I have never seen a congregation of the Church of Christ deal with openly, publicly, and unequivocally: “What do we really believe about believers outside the Church of Christ?”, and “Are we willing to go public together with whatever that belief is?” Without putting these questions on the table and dealing with them, they become an elephant in the middle of the room.

Adrienne Kirby Says:

Sean, I am confused. If you don’t feel that someone leaving the church of Christ to “minister” in another denomination is not giving up on the church, then why even write the article? If that is the case, then it is just a matter of someone finding the “church” that suits them. So, why put the church of Christ down. If what you believe is true it’s a non-issue. So, once again, what is your motivation for writing this article? If someone is unhappy in their job, move on.
I will repeat what I said earlier. I don’t think that Paul would have given up on a troubled church, well, he didn’t.
But, who am I?

Sean Palmer Says:

Adrienne, let me see if I can clear up your confusion. Ministers leave individual churches all the time and that is rarely, I think, seen as giving up on a church. Churches dismiss minsters all the time, likewise, that is rarely seen as giving up. Like any organization, there come times when groups need to go separate ways. You invoke Paul, yet he and John Mark make a decision that the way to be most effective is to partner with different people but continue to share the same mission.

Also, you claim I’m putting the church down. I disagree with the premise. If you equate limiting women’s roles and instrumental music as “the church,” then you might be in the neighborhood of being correct. First, this post – which people continue to deliberately overlook – is a report about what I hear from others and why, I think, they say it.

Your argument seems to suggest that to disagree with a practice of the church is tantamount to putting it down. Is that what you mean to suggest? For instance, are people who are critical of the government “putting it down” when they disagree with a policy or official? Or are they calling it to her highest ideals a purposes? I think silence as love, as you seem to suggest, would be a difficult practice to live in daily life. To do so would mean to never criticize anyone, even if you deeply believe that what they are choosing is harmful to them or others.

Mark Says:

Are you willing to let the problem solvers have a seat at the table regardless of marital status or gender? Are you sure the need is more bible knowledge? All that bible knowledge still does not seem to get people to respect one another and be willing to accept someone with a different opinion.

Jerry8484 Says:

I appreciate your thoughtful reflections.
My story is this: I am at the other end of the spectrum–I logged just over two decades in the CofC ministry (all in the same church). There were many great people whom I still love. It was a church that made significant advances in women’s roles, and some advances over traditionalism. It was issues of leadership that caused me to leave.
While there was the ‘usual’ inability for elders to stand up to church members who were disgruntled, or misbehaving, or even living poorly (volunteer leaders seem to seek peace at all cost), but that wasn’t what damaged my enthusiasm or burned me out (though it contributed to it).
The most frustrating of all, way beyond the lack of support, was the inability to make clear, thoughtful decisions and stick with the decision once it was made. The insecurity of the leadership made them feel they needed to revisit painful decisions over and over and over again–death by a thousand paper cuts.
This sweet church, with educated and talented people in their respective vocations in their leadership, became enigmatically docile and indecisive.
I believe the CofC inadvertently sets up its leadership to fail–both minister & elder.
Leadership requires change which produces conflict because change always produces friction and friction produces sparks. Our system has no means for effectively handling conflict so the loudest voices in the room gets the most attention and usually their way.
Godly men and women, many times honestly wanting to do the right thing, reduce themselves as representatives of the people rather than leaders of the people–probably because they genuinely don’t know how to. So in a tug-o-war situation, out of love for their peers and fear of loss, choose not to make needed, timely decisions which is in and of itself the worst decision possible.
I grieve for the graves we’ve dug for Godly leadership of good people our system just does not provide for.
So, to the uninitiated, yes, I entered the ministry with nothing but the desire of teaching and modeling Jesus in my life’s work. I still cling to that vision–I just believe leaders work should be a joy (and yes, I include ministers and elders in that statement).

Douglas Young Says:

I really love your comment!!!

Jason E Ridgeway Says:

As a “church of Christ” minister, I would have to disagree with your premises. One cannot lean on the change in world as his/her authority. Just because people disagree with something being taught is not a reason to change the overall teaching of scripture. The church does not demean women just because they are not “preachers.” God is the authority on the roles of men and women in the church. Your article is very interesting in that you quote very little of God’s word to back up anything that you believe. Have you not read, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve;” (1 Timothy 2:12-13). God set up a pattern for worship unto Him. He gives His reason for this design through His apostle Paul. The reason was not because of culture but creation. Something that cannot change in fact. Christian men and women are equal in the sight of God (Galatians 3:28). But men and women have different roles in the church of Jesus Christ. In Titus 2:3-5 we read, “Older women…are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…that the word of God may not be reviled.” I, as a man, cannot serve in this role that is reserved strictly for women. Should I then “quit” the church because God will not let me serve in this role?
I have so much more to say but this is getting to be a long message. The clear and honest point that I want to make is that we are to submit to God and His word rather than our worldly and selfish conceited wants and desires. Just because we don’t “like” something does not mean that it should be changed. Please, let’s allow the word of God direct us not what is popular in the moment.

James Says:

Please go do a little research on the (extensive) Scriptural case for equality of value and roles for men and women. When you pretend those 2 verses are the entirety of what Scripture says about women’s roles, you just sound ridiculous.

Church Member Says:

When you call someone’s scriptural position “ridiculous,” you are doing to them exactly what you say they are doing to you.

His point is a valid interpretation of scripture. You might not agree with it, but it is one of the possible options.

K. Rex Butts Says:

You already know what I think but I’ll state it for the record here. . . Good post!

Just a Nobody Says:

If a portion of a congregation wants instrumental music in worship and a portion prefers not to have it and yet another portion believes that instrumental music is not a biblical practice and therefore should not be included…. How are these portions of the body of Christ going to worship together in unity? The last group has a problem – either ignore their conscience or leave.

JRBProf Says:

The arch narrative of the Bible, from the Hebrew scriptures to the gospel to the epistles, is a constant trend and movement toward reconciliation and the destruction of barriers among humans. From the Fall, the movement of God in the Bible is to continually reconcile the people to each other and to God. Isaiah 25 presents a prophecy of God’s will for “all people,” that they would be gathered together before God without shame, without fear of death and without exclusion, “all people.” Do we doubt that all means all?

Next to the gospel and the migration of the good news to the Gentiles, a massive leap from the exclusive claim of Jews, to a broad call for to include all people. The great disruption of Paul’s ministry was the disruption of social hierarchy, the radical inclusion of all people at the table. In the early church, Gentiles, rich and poor, slave and free, Greek and barbarian, women and men, all lead, preached, prophesied, served, supported and hosted the church. Women lead, preached, prophesied, taught, supported, financed, hosted and evangelized to men and women; this is plan in the scripture. It was radical then, but it was the real thing.

It is our culture that permitted slavery and apartheid. It is our culture that subjugated women to men. It is our culture that teaches us to objectify women and to relegate women to silence. This is anti-Christian, unscriptural, counter to the Bible, and in defiance of the will of God that all people who bear the imago dei (that is, all people) find full dignity and giftedness it life and the church.

Those who insist that women cannot preach, teach, lead and pray publicly in the church stand against the witness and authority of scripture. Once again, as in the days of slavery, then segregation, and now in defense of patriarchy, the American Churches of Christ lag behind in the moral, righteous, Christian imperative to dignify all people in Christ. The movement toward gender justice is inevitable and righteous. Those defiant, recalcitrant, stiff-necked churches who insist on silencing half of the Christians in the room will wither and fail. The minister who would serve them face a reckoning and decisions to ensure whether they will participate in the godly arc of the moral universe or to die hard in the cause of human division.

Tim Spivey Says:

I would probably move the hierarchy a bit…leadership is the runaway #1 in my experience…which is tied to the other two at different levels, of course. If there is a silver lining to this for Churches of Christ, it’s that more individual leaders are differentiating themselves…staying connected but not allowing the broader CofC to tell them what they must believe or practice. This is a better option to “leaving,” I believe.

The other thing I might offer is that not all Churches of Christ are as bad as others…but the bad ones are so bad it’s a miracle people don’t leave them to become atheists. Many people I know that leave do so because of horrific experiences they believe aren’t exceptional–or because of the naïve hope such terrible things don’t happen in other tribes. Of course they do.

The people I would love to spend more time with are people who chose to stay in the CofC but get out of ministry–because they knew they couldn’t stay in ministry in the CofC. They chose the tribe over the call. I know some might say, “They were never in it for the right reasons.” I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case.
Great post, Sean.

Mark Says:

The problem with the leadership is that there are usually a few people or families which control the eldership. They then determine if topics are open for discussion and what the preacher needs to do. Also, preachers have to quickly learn who calls the shots. Hence, if the congregation likes the preacher, but the ruler or ruling family does not, the preacher has to leave. The only topic more volatile than religion and politics is the politics of religion.

keithbrenton Says:

There was a time I’d have joined in this fray,
To speak what I think and say what I say.
But that time is over; I’ve chosen to stay.
I love you all too much to go far away.

I know my faith troubles a few that I cherish.
I know that some of them are sure I will perish.
I know that a few think I have my own parish
and most of the many are barely aware-ish.

That the church that Christ died for will always be one
And He will decide when the battles are done
Who lived to embrace and who lived to shun;
Who judged others lost and who wanted them won.

So please excuse me from this present exchange.
The answers are not within my mental range.
But men, women, led, leaders — let’s use hearts and brains:
We’re none of us perfect.
We’ve all got to change.

Em* Says:

Reading this, I’m reminded of why I left. But then, I’m a woman. It’s a fair bet I won’t be missed.

btotherock Says:

this is why gender inclusion is an important issue. people who feel this way. it makes me sad. i’m sorry.

Karla Holton Says:

Spot on! I’ve spoken the exact same thing and had many of these same thoughts for years…it’s why we left 6 years ago and I’m sure they don’t miss me either! I hadn’t learned to stop studying for myself and just sit in the pew and be submissive. I saw myself and my gifts just dying a slow death. I had slipped off the slope and saw the other side was solid ground. God be praised I’m not going to hell because I sing and lead worship on a worship team with instruments and I speak, do communion meditation thoughts and lead prayer in worship!!!

Melissa Bundrick Says:

How do you “get out of the church of Christ”? Do you ignore parts of the Bible? Use only what you want to use? I am a woman in the church of Christ and in no way do I feel second rate or offended or demeaned because of my role in the church. No, I can’t get up in front of the congregation and lead songs or prayer or a sermon or communion. (1 Timothy 2:12-13) But there are plenty of things I can do. Teach the younger children, prepare communion, help my husband in his duties (he is a deacon). Woman was created to be a help man, not to lead man (Genesis 2:20-22). I don’t do these things to be recognized – that is not what worship is about. It’s not about me. Or you. It’s about GOD! The leadership in the church is outlined in 1 Timothy 3. And the way the congregation is to treat the elders is described in I Timothy 5:17-25. The church is not about making everyone happy, but is about following the Bible. Tradationalism in the church is not a bad thing. It’s what the Bible says. Why does it need to change or “evolve”? 2+2=4. It always will. It won’t evolve to be something else. Nobody questions that! I am a member of the cofC not because I was raised in the church, but because I have studied and found why I believe what I believe. The Bible is our example of how we need to live and worship God and our map to Heaven. In Acts 16:25, in prison Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns (no instruments mentioned) and Ephesians 5:19 tells us how to worship (again, no instruments mentioned). Revelation 22:18-19 gives the warning not to add or take anything from His word! How do you argue with that? I just finished an amazing book “Muscle and a Shovel” by Michael Shank that really clarifies a lot of the topics you question and debate.

discipler Says:

Melissa, nice words. The church of Christ doesn’t treat women as second rate. Women are God’s daughter and we men know very well that even our prayers could be hindered should we dishonor you. The truth is that these people who are leaving the church are people who have listened less to the Bible and have listened more to the feminism and secular culture we are in. But we can’t be right with God by ignoring the clear roles God has given to His children. Men have clear roles, not better or worse, just different. Same for women. Many of my heroes in the faith are women who submit to their husbands as men submit to Christ. It’s a Biblical concept (Eph 5) but the readers, like the 2 that gave you the negative vote, probably find Paul’s words as anathema. The culture has led many of these to turn worship into entertainment, ala 31st & Vine. “How are you going to win the lost if you don’t give them what they like”, seems to be the philosophy. Well I say the philosophy is wrong. God bless you Melissa for being a godly woman. Sincerely, Dan Mayfield

ConcernedSK Says:

I have a Bachelor of Theology from a C of C institution. I spent several years in the mission field. Got back home and had no desire to be a paid ‘minister’ anywhere in North America. While my preference is C of C as that is my upbringing I don’t believe that we have it right. We tried so hard to replicate certain things the 1st century church did but we missed out on trying to recapture the spirit of the early church. The Christian life is not a checklist that we mark off and then we can sit back and we are good. It is so much more than that. I got a glimpse of that during my missionary days and am thrilled to see some people at home gaining a similar paradigm shift. While I love dearly my brothers and sisters in Christ I choose to work with those who have a deep desire for MORE.

Carl Says:

I am 4th generation CofC, but I have broken away to a Jewish Messianic congregation. These are the believing Jews that were back in Jesus’ day. Their understanding of the entire Bible is amazing! I would highly recommend looking into a Messianic approach to worship. Remember, Jesus is Jewish!

Doug Says:

I am a man and a Christian and a member of a Church of Christ. I feel that all our problems are usually created within ourselves when we allow our human nature to rear it’s head. Truth is the most valuable ingredient in resolving conflict but we tend to hold back our feelings in regards to our thoughts. I believe that there is definitely a problem developing in the decline of men’s participation in the Church maybe not on Sunday but the other 6 days of the week.The Church is hemorrhaging lay members and their families too many women attend without their husbands and our children suffer from this home divided phenomenon. I have come to approach my Faith very differently as of late. When I was saved (baptized) I felt that I loved the Church because of God, now I Love God despite the Church.Everyone just wants to feel like they belong and humans naturally divide into clicks and groups and it is hard to infiltrate these when you first come to a new church environment.

Mark Says:

What age groups are you talking about? Some men do not allow other men to contribute or have a seat at the table. There are always those run who control things and who cannot be outvoted. Men contribute by doing and coming with ideas that can be implemented. However, after being shot down a few times, they quit suggesting and when offers to help are rejected a few times, they quit volunteering. Also, men are not the most interested in praise teams and clapping and holding hands, why not have a morning service for men once a month on Sunday a out 8 am. Sing a few hymns, read the gospel portions on doing and have a short homily to reinforce it. That is a men’s service.

Lori Says:

These may indeed be the insider reasons, but the younger generation walking away your refer to I’d bet my tithe on is directly impacted by the harsh unloving manner in which those churched of all denominations are handling the controversial moral issues of our day. If I didn’t know with 100% certainty with scripture and knowledge of the Character of God that Jesus would have much more compassion, love, understanding, grace and empathetic discipleship than most very vocal Christians use, I’d have walked away long ago myself.

Mark Says:

As maligned as the term may be, Christianity is a liberal religion. Jesus himself was a liberal. He did not stick to orthodoxy and allowed anyone to join his sect, tribe, whatever you want to call it. Even sinners and tax collectors for Rome could join. His instructions were go and sin no more and take care of those who can not take care of themselves. This is not conservative Christianity of the recent decades where everything was declared wrong, grace was non-existent, and salvation is by works.

Don Hudgins Says:

Are there any examples in the new testament that show the Church using instrumental music, women in leadership roles, etc???

JRBProf Says:

Also, the early Christians used instruments in worship, too. This is just a historical fact. The Jewish people worshiped with instruments in the synagogues and temple, and that was always Paul’s first stop. Jesus, all the apostles, Paul and all the first Jewish Christians worshiped in the synagogues and Temple with instruments. They did not stop when they became Christians. Why would they?

discipler Says:

“Christians used instruments in early worship, too. This is just a historical fact.”

Excuse me, show the history to back that up. In fact, it’s a historical fact that the Catholic church was the first to add an instrument in the 7th century A.D.

Dan Says:

Just wondering — so what’s the big deal if we leave? If virtually every denomination and church group is equally valid, what does it matter? Shouldn’t we rejoice in the demise of “Churches of Christ” and rejoice that “our preachers” are dissolving into “the larger body of Christ?” I find it absolutely fascinating that preachers like you seem to lament the demise of something they obviously loathe.

Sean Palmer Says:

Dan, you’d be right about caring if you were right about loathing. There’s nothing fascinating, because I think you misread the nature of critique. It sounds as if you’re suggesting that the only, or at least best, way to demonstrate care is silence. Is that what you’re suggesting?

You don’t have to agree with the vision for the church the young ministers I know have expressed to me, but unless you know something about their heart and minds that involves loathing, I think you’d be hard-pressed to prove such.

If silence is love, then you’re right, but I think most people would have a difficult time applying that principle across their lives – marriage, children, voting, etc…. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I just don’t see how.

discipler Says:

Dear Sir,
The article here might also be titled: “It’s Me, Not You: Why More & More Ministers are Leaving Churches of Christ.” That’s not to say that Preachers aren’t abused, but it’s NEVER an excuse to leave the church.

There’s no perfect congregation as we can see in the Scriptures – except for maybe the church at Philadelphia. But I don’t see first century preachers complaining and leaving. If they left, where would they go? There was no denomination. Today there shouldn’t be a denomination. There is only the church, imperfect as it is. So why would SCRIPTURAL preachers leave the church? It’s illogical based on your premise that it’s the churches that are at fault.

Some congregations have always been more mature than others. Paul indicated that there may be time for splitting, but the faithful group doesn’t start a denomination – it just remains the church of Christ. Preachers are leaving the work with greater frequency? If so, where are they going? Are they going where there’s “contemporary” worship, worship that goes beyond what is sanctioned by Scripture? That sounds like it’s the preacher, not the congregation. The “31st & Vine” band looks to be just such a departure for you. I don’t intend to debate you on what is scriptural worship, but I do challenge the premise of your argument. Are you defending men who leave the church because they wish to have instruments? It sounds like it. Perhaps men are leaving the church with greater frequency for this very thing. If this is the “it’s not me” you speak of, then the discussion has just change from faulty churches to faulty preachers who want to blame others. My perception tells me you are primarily defending culture creep where men are looking for the next popular thing.

It is the job of the preacher to teach with love and patience and to overcome the kind of hurdles, the legitimate ones, that you describe. For faithful Preachers, leaving the church is not an option. And what you describe sounds like nothing more than justification of liberal preachers who are not being tolerated. Men who leave to because they want instruments or to soften the plan of salvation should leave pronto. Let them leave immediately. There are hundreds of denominations that will identify with them.

I’m not defending so-called “church of Christ” traditions? And personality issues and traditions should be worked through. But if this is about defending men who leave to adopt unscriptural things, then the title of this article should honestly be, “It’s Me, Not You: Why More & More Ministers are Leaving Churches of Christ.” My experience is that most are unwilling to admit that they are just making excuses and the real issue is the desire to compromise on remarriage, on worship, on women’s roles, on cooperation with denominations. I know there are good preachers who have been mistreated by weak leaders. That’s going to happen anywhere. But I also know that culture is creeping in and many preachers are leading the way. When you expose these, then I’ll know you are a friend and not foe.

Dan Mayfield

Sam Middlebrook Says:

Having been raised in a CoC family by a lifetime CoC preacher (who is my hero), having studied at ACU at served for five years full-time as a CoC minister, I can relate with everything Sean wrote about. I left the CoC tribe 13 years ago and have never looked back.
It turns out that there truly is freedom in Christ, but it’s very unfortunate that I had to leave a church movement I love in order to both discover and truly experience that freedom.

Sean Palmer Says:

Don’t know if I’ve ever said it, Sam, but I appreciate you and am inspired by what your congregation is doing.

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Loran Norderum Says:

Have you ever considered the thought of not having a “minister” at your church? I mean the Bible is loaded with example after example of churches not having a minister. for example: church of Antioch, Acts 13:1, Church of Jerusalem Acts 15:32 church of Corinthians 1 Cor 14:31 in fact we have no example of having a minister system like we have today in our churches. At our church the teaching and preaching rotates though the men of the congregation so that all people may be edified and taught and encouraged. Also with that no man in the NT, from Jesus to Peter, Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Stephen, Philip is ever referred to as a preacher of a congregation

Also you made the comment about how elders are selected by the congregation, well this may be true in some churches, not going to doubt you their that is not the example of the bible, Paul tell Timothy very specifically to “do the work of an evangelist” and “ordain elders and deacons in the congregations” so our example is that elders are ordained by evangelists not congregations.

Also i would like to discuss why you feel that A Capella worship is not acceptable and what are the roles of women but i do not want to write an essay, i do hope you respond


Loran Norderum

Lessons I learned from Hill Andrews | Robbie Mackenzie Says:

[…] viewpoints. To illustrate this I noticed last week Sean Palmer wrote a blog post called, “It’s You, Not Me: Why More & More Ministers Are Leaving Churches of Christ.” In it he talked about some things he believes are reasons why ministers are leaving based […]

Neil Vines Says:

Thanks for the discussion. First let me address a couple of things about what I see as a problem with this whole line of thought concerning authorized female roles in worship and leadership. We need to decouple how God views worthiness (obedience through faith) versus how we see worthiness (fill in leadership role that I want here). As a man who cannot fill the role of an elder (don’t meet the qualifications) should I complain that I’m not as worthy in God’s eyes or should I get about doing the things that I am authorized to do (which are much more than I could fulfill in a lifetime of useful service btw). Because God has authorized certain role differentials between genders some automatically see that as somehow making me less of a Christian than someone who can fulfill them? That’s just bad thinking. In my opinion it’s also a tell…a tell of true motivations.

If we are obedient through faith we’re justified, sactified, washed, useful, joint-heirs with Christ, and more!!! Don’t think you’re worthy? Look at the purchase price again. That should shore up our view of self. God wants us so bad that he put it all on the line. So that’s not enough to make men happy? Salvation even when we didn’t deserve it? Wow…. Doesn’t that mindset sound even a little bit unthankful? Even men who aren’t qualified can’t do certain things. Sooooo what?! I’m afraid that equating “human equality” with role authorization is just plain wrong.

The real questions we should be asking is what does God want me to do? (Authority) Can I do it? No? (Ok Lord got it!) Yes? (Let’s get crackin!) Instead we come at it from a selfish perspective I’m afraid. Leadership = more worth than other Christians. That is a plain out falsehood.

The REAL problem in the church is loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul to the point we’ll all be adequate enough students of the word to pick out good ministers and elders. That we’ll be humble enough to live with the answers that God gives us. That we’ll work the plan he’s laid before us in whatever way he’s allowed us to do it.

Scott E. Starr Says:

You should add politics to the list. I left because I was completely worn out by the one-sidedness and monolithic view of the Republican Party as an extension of the Church. BTW, I am not a Democrat.

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Jolson Says:

I am a former Christian Church Youth Minister, and honestly I’m done with vocational ministry because of it. For me a lot of my issues stem from how poorly I was treated by the older generation. Because I didn’t look and sound like many older people thought I should I got treated pretty poorly. The lack of maturity from the older generations in our churches just stuns me. How can we expect maturity from our younger members when our older generations are rife with gossip, slander, and hatred?

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Amy Jones Says:

Again, you make comments equating a woman’s desire to have a man’s “unique value” with her desire to have God’s “unique value”. And all the while you seems to want to think that you are not trying to equate men with God. The examples you give, give you away. Your statement about why Eve disobeyed God is not supported by scripture. The serpent told her that it would allow her to know Good from Evil and allow her to be like God. About her motivation it says that it looked good and that it would give her wisdom. Elsewhere it says that she was deceived… not that she rebelled out of a desire to equate herself to God. Honestly your entire statement is shaky at best. Far from knowing that you are right, I am now even more convinced that you are more interested in retaining power obtained illegitimately than you are in having Biblical, healthy relationships with the women around you… a depressing perpetuation of the curse.

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