22 May 2006

Exodus: The Brain Drain in Churches of Christ

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Unity, Voices of Concern
For the last year and a half or so, I have been conducting some informal research on why people leave. Specifically why do people leave the Churches of Christ? In the past we had a small industry of tract writers peddling narratives of why so and so left some denomination. Our sense of identity as the one true church was enhanced by these writings and testimonies.

Though unknown there has also been a steady stream of folks who have left the Churches of Christ for one reason or another. These “exoduses” from our fellowship were often quiet and unrecognized. Ironically some of the first to leave were those who thought we were not sectarian enough. John Thomas first brought the “rebaptism” heresy into the Stone-Campbell Movement in the mid-1830’s but was vigourously opposed by Alexander Campbell. Thomas ended up leaving and founding the Christadelphians (perhaps the slippery slope is true after all!!)

The Churches of Christ received a rude wake up call in 1966 when a book called Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism was published. Many of the essays from this book can be read here: http://www.unc.edu/~elliott/VofC/ This book revealed that for a generation many of the brightest and best known of the Churches of Christ had in fact left or were in the process of leaving. So troubling was this book that James D. Bales was invited by Leroy Garrett to respond for an entire year in Restoration Review to this book. Names like Logan Fox, Norman Parks, J. P. Sanders and Roy Key were widely recognized and their departure (among many others) was a blow to our sense of identity.

In 1973 Dr. Tom Olbricht wrote a short article in Mission Journal reflecting on this exodus by especially the (then) younger people. He writes “It is no secret that a whole generation born between 1930 and 1950 has become Church of Christ drop-outs. Visit churches in St. Louis, in Houston, in Nashville and you won’t see them” (“Is there a Message? Mission [June 1973], 357).

In the 60s and 70s many young people were disillusioned over the seeming disinterest of brotherhood leaders in issues of biblical justice. They believed many were simply mirroring the racial prejudice and lost in a maze of irrelevancies (institutional controversy, premillennial controversy, etc) but with no word on how a Christian should handle segregation, the raging war questions, how to address poverty. So they left. Most did not leave Christianity as such but they did leave Churches of Christ because they felt there was no place for them here.

Have things changed? There is still a brain drain in Churches of Christ. I know many preachers, extremely gifted men of God who have simply given up. From appearances it would almost look as if there is greater exodus now than before. Young people are more interested in spiritual matters than ever before and yet many leave. Is it because they don’t love God? Is it because they simply have no respect for “biblical authority?” Is it because they have, possibly, discovered that Jesus may not be in our assemblies? I am just asking the questions not proposing answers.

These are musings . . . only musings. I am interested in your input. I believe we have a message even in our heritage. One that is relevant and vibrant. How can we connect with these Postmoderns before its too late?

– We need to emphasize the death, burial & resurrection of Christ afresh.
– We need to emphasize the life of the Spirit.
– We need to model prayer in our lives and assemblies.
– We need to model compassion to the disinherited, our churches need to       be concerned about the sound doctrine of ministering to the poor.
– We need to take the entire Story of God which exemplifies the Mission of   God seriously and paradigmatically
– We need to finally believe in the priesthood of all believers and the   giftedness of the saints, including women
– We need to recover the spirit of non-sectarian Christianity and the   doctrine of unity in our churches
– We need to recover the transnational vision of the kingdom, it is not   American nor is it white
– I think we need to refocus the marks of the church on the marks of the   cross . . . specifically in discipleship.

On the flip side, there are those who never left even though they had “a lover’s quarrel” with “us.” Some of these brothers and sisters others would have preferred for them to leave . . . but they never have. Leroy Garrett speaks of his trials and tribulations along his pilgrimage in his recent autobiography called A Lover’s Quarrel. Rather than leave he vowed to be an instrument of God to bring about healthy change . . . as he sees it. Carl Ketcherside calls his life through the Church of Christ as a Pilgrimage of Joy despite his often critical observations on the life and teachings of the CofC. These make for interesting contrasts with those who leave.

What say you?

Stoned-Campbell Disciple

26 Responses to “Exodus: The Brain Drain in Churches of Christ”

  1. Anonymous Says:


    I was amazed you included JP Sanders among the departees. Dear JP won his final victory after several years a member of our congregation here in Reno. Perhaps, following his retirement from Columbia and move to Palm Springs he and Gloria chose to meet with a non-CoC — something I can’t imagine. He was certainly active in a CoC during their short stay in Grass Valley, CA, before coming to Reno.

    Can you give evidence of his departure?

    BTW, it was great to meet you, finally, at PU.

    Dan Smith
    Sparks, NV

  2. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dan it was certainly great to meet you at Pepperdine. I wish we could have visited longer.

    Unfortunately, I think we have some slight confusion here over our Sanders. In our small section of the kingdom of God there were two well known men with the name “J.P. Sanders” though they were very different people.

    The Joel Pilant (J.P.) you speak of was born (1906) and raised in Texas, preached for the Hillsboro church in Nashville, was first editor of 20th Century Christian,became President of Pepperdine.

    The other J.P. Sanders was born in 1917 in Nashville. Being blind did not slow him down in the least. He graduated from ACC with honors in 1940, earned an MA and BD from Vanderbilt and continued to do graduate work at Yale. He was associate editor of Christian Leader and preached for many churches including the Killburn Avenue church in Rockford before leaving the CofCs for the Disciples in 1954. You can read Tom Olbricht’s recollections of Sanders and his controversies in Hearing God’s Voice pages 165-178. You can read Sanders own testimony in Voices of Concern, pp. 34-47. Sorry for the confusion.

    I am gratified you are reading my blog. Blessings on you.

    Bobby Valentine

  3. cwinwc Says:

    I too have noticed in the 20-something years that I’ve been involved with our local Bible Camp, that today’s “young people” are more interested in spiritual matters than their 1980’s counterparts. You can’t miss the sense of irony in being aware of this phenomenon and yet we’re still losing our kids. If that isn’t a wake up call I don’t know what would constitute one for our fellowship.

    Thank you for your post.

  4. Stephen Says:

    Thanks for raising the question, Bobby!
    Since this is a blog, I guess we can just blurt things out.
    My first blurt is to raise a question: If there is a Brain Drain, is there also an Ignoramus Drain, and a Normal Intelligence Drain? In other words, are people leaving Churches of Christ all over the intelligence spectrum, or is there a spike in the numbers toward the brainier end? If people with all kinds of brains leave, then it might just be normal atrophy. If brainy people are leaving in disproportionately high numbers, then there might be some flaw in the church’s traditional logic or attitude or something, and thoughtful people see this. And if huge numbers of nincompoops are flocking out of our churches, then I guess we have the answer why they are leaving: because they are nincompoops! Whatever the case, we ought to at least cast an eye over the whole range of data.
    Now another blurt. I love the idea of healthy change from within. But doesn’t that require some stretchiness from the institution that is being changed? If it won’t stretch, it will split, and if it won’t split, it will expel. (Yes, yes, non-stretchiness will also prevent un-healthy change–but only by preventing all kinds of change whatever.) So if the prevailing culture of Churches of Christ, or of the local church, is to remain inflexible, healthy change becomes difficult. But health itself might be defined as knowing when to stretch and when to hold firm. Now it seems to me
    ironic that what begins as a desire for unity, truth, and the message of God in Scripture can so rapidly become inflexibility in matters of ecclesiology and liturgy. But your list, Bobby–cross, Spirit, prayer, justice, and willingness to learn (i.e., discipleship)–leads in the right direction.

  5. Keith Says:

    I can empathize, Bobby. I toyed with leaving the CoC as well at times. Not recently but earlier own in my academic life.

    Perhaps it is because there is a disconnect between the very Enlightenment-based approach to Scripture/doctrine and the very Post-modern approach of today?

    Or maybe some of us in ministry simply get tired of beating our heads against a proverbial wall?

    Bottom line for me – I am a follower of Christ. No fellowship or denomination is going to be perfect. Only Christ is perfect. In the end, I chose to “dance with who brung me” rather than switch partners in the middle of the dance. It is easier to stay in the CoC, knowing all the potholes to avoid, than to switch to another fellowship and be unaware of them.

    That’s my take.

    What to do about it? I don’t know. I like your ideas (especially refocusing on the Cross, Spirit, compassion ministries).

  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Cecil I have been involved with camp myself and have noticed the trend too. But I also notice on my thursday trips to the coffee shop speaking with college types. I think there is movement in our churches but I think we have a ways to go.


    What an honor to have you on my blog! I think you ask a very good question, or series of questions. I suppose I am less concerned about the “ignoramus drain” than I am the brain drain. That folks will quite because they don’t get their way or whatever seems to be different ball game to me.

    But by “brain” I do not mean just the linear academic types but I mean the right brain creative folks. I know several folks truly gifted in the arts and have left because their is simply no place “here” for them. I think 1 Cor 12 pts us in the direction of cultivating this diversity.

    There does seem to be an institutional tendency towards “self-defense.” Is this an indication of “principalities and powers” taking up residence in our “institutional church.” C. S. Lewis seems to think the one place you can be sure these powers will be is in “church.” (cf. Screwtape Letters).

    You have given me lots to think about Stephen. Thanks for continuing to be my teacher.


    I have wrestled with it. I cannot say that I have ceased. When I was fired over the issue of race I was ready to throw in the towel.

    I do think the CofCs have moved in a positive direction. I just think we need more movement. But as Stephen has pointed out . . . if the institution does not want to stretch division will take place. Sadly I believe that is already taking place.

    Stoned-Campbell Disciple

  7. George Says:


    I talked with a brother twenty years ago about this very thing. We looked around and saw that there were no men who could be elders. There was a significant gap between the older (greatest generation) and the next. I think this has contributed to some of the problems we face today. Then again, it might be beneficial in the sense that a new generation of leaders is coming with less of the baggage of the old – shepherds rather than a broad of directors. I’m sure there are any number of contributing reasons for this and you have mention a few of them. I also think it is just a blindness to reality as well.

    Thanks, George (from Houston)

  8. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…Greeks look for wisdom,…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

    “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?”

    “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.”

    Just wondering what God had to say about brain-drains and ignoramus ship jumpers.

    But, Allah be praised that our Universities have remained strong in academics and integrity.

    I thinks therefore i’s smart.

    “we have found the enemy and they are stoopid”

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    As always I am delighted to have you come by. Thank your for your comments.

    Bobby Valentine

  10. john alan turner Says:

    Andy Wall wrote his dissertation from Fuller on this topic. He conducted interviews from folks who had left the Churches of Christ in California. You might want to see if you could get a copy of his research.

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    JAT thanks for the heads up on the work of Andy Wall. I am sure that would an insightful read.

    Bobby Valentine

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I can’t speak for others, but I can give you my story.

    For years I lived in absolute CoC bliss as a voluntary youth minister, worship leader, teacher, etc. We then gained a MSOP diehard fundamentalist preacher who set about the most shameful series of actions I have ever witnessed in the confines of a church building in an effort to “convert or divert” everyone who wasn’t up to his particular standard of truth.

    It prompted greater study on my part in which I began to give the Bible the sort of study time I always knew I should.

    My first realization was that CoC doctrine was indefensible to the honest observer. My second was that the Bible and subsequently the Christian faith is equally indefensible.

    I am now a happy agnostic.

  13. Wes Woodell Says:

    Speaking personally, I am not concerned with leading people into a Restoration Movement Church of Christ – I am concerned with leading them into Christ. I appreciate many aspects of our tradition, but I appreciate others that are centered around Jesus too and intellectually “left” the RM CoCs a long time ago. I’m just a Christian, and that’s it. Perhaps some of the leaders who have chosen to leave shared this sort of sentiment?

  14. Gardner Hall Says:

    I appreciate so much what Wes said.

    There are two ways to use the term “church of Christ”
    (1) A network of local congregations found in Mac Lynn’s directory.
    (2) All the saved people in the world known only by God.

    I think when you are talking about those leaving “churches of Christ” you have the first concept in mind. Maybe we all need to think of “leaving” the “CoC” in that first sense, and just try to identify primarily with Christ and therefore be satisfied with just being a part of his body. I know this is probably a naïve wish. Historically “we” can’t deny the influence of Campbell, Stone, Lipscomb, et. al, but that still doesn’t mean we have to identify so much with a “network.” The Corinthians were influenced by Paul, but he would have begged them not to be a part of a “Pauline network.”

  15. Wiley Clarkson Says:


    Execellent article! I have heard a number of sermons in the past couple of months at our congregation about the reasons the Millenial Generation, the 19-29 year olds, is leaving and not coming back. Our preacher was only talking about that one specific generation! You pretty well covered alot of what these young adults are saying, along with other generations. However, for some reason, those who talk about this departure from our fellowship miss a very important point, and this is something that crosses many age boundaries. People see us as being full of contradictions and very hipocritical in our practices. We say one thing, then do another. We teach “do not discriminate for any reason” in secular society and then come into the church and we discriminate against gender. The racial discrimination has been more or less handled, along with the class discrimination issue, but we discriminate against women in the worst imaginable way in a free society and we do it in the name of God. We preach a heretical doctrine of service in the church being because of gender instead of service in the church being because of giftedness by the Holy Spirit, which is heresy! Remember the ACU Lectureship race discrimination apology of about 1996 from Dr. Money? So far, there has never been an apology for the discrimination against women in the church (and that does carry into the CoC universities as well!).

    The following link is to the story of Dr. Katie Hays, our only female preacher in the CoC in the first decade of the 21st Century. She and her very gifted husband, Dr. Lance Pape, both moved to the Christian Church DOC after a period of re-examination (there’s alot that remains untold). He is now the Asst Prof of Homiletics at Brite Divity at TCU and her ability as a preacher is outstanding!!! Talk about Brain Drain!!! Her parents and his parents are still members of the CoC. Katie presented her story at the CBE Houston Conference the last of April. I’m proud to say I was the conference committee person who was the one who had the privilege of obtaining and working with Katie up to and during the conference. She has given me permission to publish her story in written form (pdf) on my web site about gender equality in the CoC and the video is available through CBE, Int. at a very reasonable price. I highly recommend the purchase of the video!

    I have heard from many women, young and old, over the last few years who have left our fellowship because of the gender discrimination they have felt in our congregations. Many are very gifted but their gifts were being ignored. When a woman leaves the CoC for another denomination, she usually takes her entire family with her. This multiplies our loss! I have also heard from men who are just plain tired of hearing only male voices in the leadership or the worship of the church and they have problems with the traditional gender theology. I’m sure there are probably many other reasons included, some of which you have very appropriately pointed out as areas of needed change, but the gender issue is one that seems to be overlooked in the discussion and it is a very important reason. In the congregation my wife and I attend, it is strictly male only everything (except teaching children’s bible classes with unbaptized boys), right down to boys handing out the attendance books during the service as this is seen as training for male leadership! If it is done in the worship, it will be done by a male and women are excluded from everything except sitting on the pew, singing a song, and passing communion trays from side to side!

    I hope you will continue with more of what you have found in your study of this issue of “Brain Drain”. The “Brain Drain” issue and the gender issue are well on their way to becoming the two hottest topics in our fellowship over the next decade.

    Grace to you and peace.


  16. Scott Says:

    I wanted to respond to the happy agnostic…

    Dear anonymous,

    Welcome to the club. You say that conservative dogmatism drove you ultimately toward agnosticism. I certainly understand because the same has happened to me. But I want to stress that I am of the belief that all Christians, except those afraid of a little introspection, are in some sense agnostic.

    It is not possible, in my humble opinion, to logically prove the existence of God (most or all of the world’s best apologists say the same thing) and therefore it is impossible to know with any kind of real certainty that he/she/it exists. So we are all a little (or a lot) agnostic. That doesn’t mean we can’t still have faith. In fact, without some degree of doubt, faith cannot exist. I still have faith in Jesus. I love him. This despite the fact that I don’t feel I can prove much about him, including his existence, his teachings, or resurrection. All/some/none of those may be true. But I believe in him. I have faith.

    You have chosen a different path and given your background I can understand why. I almost chose the same path. If my friends and family knew the whole truth about me, they would probably accuse me of that very thing.

    I have grown comfortable in my uncertainty and given the fact that you say you are happy, I assume you have as well. I choose to believe that there is some OTHER behind the universe… maybe there is not. So I will worship my own feeble concept of God, just like every other “believer” does, whether they want to admit it or not. We all worship a construct… our mind creates our conceptual understanding of God but that construct is not God. If there is a God he must, by definition, be far greater than our understanding of him. Or maybe reality is all there is. If so, I’ll worship it.

    Back to the article….

    I believe that the biggest reason so many leave the CoC is that so many are sick of the ongoing arrogance of the “we are right and everyone else is wrong” mentality. The world is becoming philosophically savvy enough to recognize the stupidity of such an attitude. To think that we are smarter, or more dedicated to scripture, etc., has become such an irritation that most are no longer willing to accommodate it. My guess, I don’t think the CoC will survive, at least not in any meaningful numbers.

  17. Greg Bagley Says:

    I think we need to emphasize the resurrection. Tomorrow morning I am preaching on Acts 17. In Thessalonica Paul proclaimed Jesus had to suffer a rise from the dead. In Athens Paul cited the proof of God’s activity is in His raising Jesus from the dead. It is only in Berea, in chapter 17, where the resurrection is not referred to specifically. However, I would hazard a guess that was included in Paul’s message there, too. The key to Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2 is the resurrection. Thus, I think we need to emphazied it along with the cross and suffering of Jesus.

  18. Vincent Eagan III Says:

    I think the entire “we/they” mentality should be rethought. I don’t tell people right off the bat that I am a member of the church of Christ. I tell them I am a Christian. If I get asked to expound on that, or, “What kind of Christian?” I still don’t jump into “Church of Christing”. Why? Because such thinking DOES turn the church into just another denomination.

    I specifically state to people that I don’t believe in denominations. 1 Corinthians 1:10 is pretty straightforward in condemnation of that. (I recently had one guy say to me, “One verse! That’s all you have for that whole argument!” I responded, “Oh – I’m sorry … there are more, but I thought one was enough. So, how many times DOES God have to say something for us to follow it?”)

    Now … God counts me as part of “the church of Christ,” simply because I have obeyed the gospel. When I did, he added me to the church. It happens to come under a DESCRIPTION as “the churches of Christ” biblically … not the NAME. It is helpful for us to use that name so that people who have moved into or are visiting our area have somewhere to start when looking for a church that is Bible-based … but as soon as you start blathering on about how it MUST be called “the Church of Christ”, you have turned it into denominationalism!

    I’m not a “Church of Christer”. I’m just a Christian. I thought that was the heart of the restoration movement anyway. Who cares if the people down the street have the same name as you but teach something different – YOU teach what the Bible says. If I move to a town and there is a “Church of Christ” NOT teaching the Truth, and a “Church” that DOES teach the truth, guess where I’ll be?

  19. Eric Greer, MS LMFT Says:


    My family and I will soon join those who are leaving. Although we are only joining our cousin group the Christian church it is a departure nonetheless – one that brings some sadness to me. I announced my resignation to my church a few weeks ago and explained that we are moving to MA to be involved with church planting. I haven’t flouted our decision in the face of our church but our shepherds know we are making the move to the Christian church and are very supportive of what God is doing. One of the reasons the Christian church makes good sense for us is that the Church of Christ does not really make much of an effort to do church planting aside from Kairos. And I don’t see the Kairos model to be as helpful. The Christian church is making an all out effort to church plant while we languish around and do very little. Sad. I am looking forward to connecting with CoC people in the Greater Boston Area and will of course always have a heart for our group.

    Eric Greer

  20. Royce Ogle Says:

    People who are committed to a cause, a church, or a dogma can easily be disillusioned and disappointed. People who are happily devoted to Jesus and his lordship will not be disappointed because he never fails, never changes.

    I believe most people leave because of unscriptural standards imposed by churches, because Christ is not first in a congregation, and because one who joyfully expresses their love of Jesus is discouraged to do so.

    I think most people are attracted to truth. Much of what traditional churches stand on is not true.

  21. Rix Blog For Leaders Says:

    I love my heritage. But like many with whom I grew up, I did not leave the Church of Christ as much as it sort of pushed me out. I found that questioning many of the conclusions I had been asked to accept was not the best way to seek the answers.

    The presuppositional foundations of our theology simply did not make sense to me any longer, and it became clear that these the “theological underpinnings were more cultural than theological in the first place.

    I know all Christian movements end up crystallizing into monuments of sacred truths, but I still have not discovered how our particular group ended up so sectarian. The “brain drain” could help to offer some answers, but not fully, I suspect.

    I would also point interested readers to Dr. Andrew B Wall’s dissertation work on why people have left the COC in California.

  22. JohnWaddey Says:

    Dear Bro. Valentine: In your list of dropouts you forgot to mention Judas, Demas, the disciples of Asia (II Tim. 1:15) Phygelus and Hermogenes. Amos understood that two cannot walk together unless they agree (Amos 3:3).

    Everyone who has long worked with a congregation knows that a church is blessed when some trouble-maker leaves.

    If the Church of Christ is just another denomination, then the person who leaves for another denomination has not lost any blessing.

    I am not sure that all who have left were the cream of the crop.
    John Waddey

  23. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Brother Waddey delighted to have you read and leave a comment. You are probably right not everyone who has left was the cream of the crop. My real interest is how to address the Exodus though.

    On Amos 3.3. This is a commonly misused text to suggest that disciples of the Lord are carbon copies of one another. So I offer these thoughts on the text.

    Amos 3.3 in the KJV reads: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”

    The one promoting conformity as the basis of unity will point to this text and say see we cannot walk together (i.e. be united) unless we AGREE! But this is a classic case of proof texting and ignoring the context of the sacred author. Also the King James Version is the only version to render the text this way.

    In its literary context Amos 3.3 is a prophetic defense by Amos of his preaching. In vv. 3-6, which are linked poetically, there is a series of things usually associated together in the experience of ancient Israelites. Travelers don’t go together unless they “know” each other; a Lion does not roar without a target (3.4); birds are not snared without a trap (3.5); and city folk tremble at the sound of the trumpet (3.6). As surely as these things are linked inseparably; so Yahweh’s judgment does not come without the voice of his prophet first (3.7).

    Amos 3.3 has absolutely nothing to do with doctrinal uniformity. It has to do with travelers on ancient caravan routes in Israel. This is plainly apparent in the context — and from any modern translation. The RSV translates, “Do two walk together unless they have an appointment?” The TEV renders the Hebrew text, “Do two men start traveling together without arranging to meet?” The REB “Do two people travel together unless they have agreed to do so?” The Tanakh translates “Can two walk together without having met?” These create a different impression than those who proof text this verse for their doctrine of uniformity.

    The word in the KJV translated as “agreed’ is the Hebrew yada. This word is a word of relationships, not abstract thought. The word literally means “to know.” Will folks walk or travel together unless they know each other? It is the same kind of “knowing” that Adam and Eve shared … relationship. When one sees two traveling on the highway it is a fair assumption that they know each other.

    Amos is using a series of common, everyday events in Israel to show that certain things just come in pairs – they are inseparable. God has moved to punish his people, but first he sends his prophet (that is Amos). Amos is declaring he must preach just as surely as two friends travel together or a lion roars in hunt of its prey. On to other things. So can we be united to Christ and the Cross and still not see “eye to eye?” Absolutely! The Story of Jewish and Gentile disciples in the Book of Acts clearly shows this to be the case.

    Bobby Valentine

  24. Jonathan Says:

    I’m a fan of your writing Mr. Valentine and your thoughtfulness. I’m also mostly a practitioner so I appreciate the scholarship behind it. I was a Bible Major at Harding U. My uncle, grandparents were c of c missionaries. My dad was a c of c missionary/preacher so it’s my heritage and I’m grateful.

    I left the c of c 13 years ago or so. Honestly, I don’t think there was a “moment,” and it wasn’t necessarily theological differences at the time. I was at a different place in my faith trying to hang on in the midst of experiencing the suffering of many through my work. Long story short, other opportunities led me to a non-denominational church plant (more in a minute). I have no more intention of throwing c of c under a bus than I would myself. Reading this article just illicits the following thoughts/memories:

    1. I recall my senior year of college at Harding. I went to the Bible departments ceremony of sorts and was awarded the Bible Major of the year. I recall taking the document and going back to my dorm room and throwing in in my closet. 4 years and not one faculty member had invited me into their home. I got an award because I made all A’s and was decent at greek. That was a bummer to me. I started thinking about other avenues in life.

    2. I was a youth minister and had a young man recently become a believer in Jesus. During one of the services, he spontaneously started lifting his hands to Jesus as he was filled with faith. I spent the next week in meetings discussing the issue, if you know what I mean. Also a bummer.

    3. While I was finishing my doctoral studies but relocated to another state, I found a small c of c and figured I could serve while I was in town. i was asked to lead worship one week. I was in no way trying to be an agent for change or any agenda. I found a cool little video of some people talking about Jesus and since this was a wednesday night and there were some youth present, I played it. I had to spend the following week apologizing to an older and very much enraged life long member/gentleman as to why the video had music in the background. I honestly had not even thought of it, which was certainly my bad. Romans 14 and all later, I apologized. Not a big deal as I understood the context of where I was at. It did stick with me though just because he was so angry and so willing to communicate it with a relative stranger and new comer sans any relationship.

    Why the Exodus? If my personal experiences are a microcosm of the greater body, it is not so much orthodoxy but orthopraxy based on the most basic tenets of human relationship; namely, being decent and relational to younger passionate but immature young men and woman and setting them up towards maturity. This is not catering to them but trying to engage them relationally. Having them in your home a lot (as in all the time and not just that one obligatory meal with the staff member or elder).

    For me, there was a lack of leaders behaving like people who were invested in me personally but were easily incited to criticism towards a young buck. i also didn’t see people doing the stuff of the Bible outside of a few friends who became missionaries. Everyone else just labored through the same tiring mess. I remember when putting songs on the wall was a big deal. Kind of funny now. It honestly just wore me out. I was looking for community and purpose; could care less about clapping or not. I imagine most non-believers also could care less about those things. Whether that was mature or not at the time, i don’t know.

    In the last decade I’ve been part of a non-denominational church plant that started about 20 years ago reaching out to non-christians on college campuses. Since that time we have sent 16 (soon to be 17) church plants. A church plant is where we ask the church to pray and then a bunch of them leave their jobs and homes and extended family and move with a (typically younger) pastor and worship leader to start another church in another college town. Last week we launched a church plant and cried as 100 of our core members are picking up their lives and moving to another place for the sake of telling people about Jesus. Wow!

    In summary (as I drone on), for me personally, I really wanted to be about doing some things amidst a lost world today. I needed to be called to uncomfortable lifestyle of giving and sacrifice, not by an evolving worship style, but by seeing people have the great miracle of faith imparted upon their unbelieving souls. Am I now a calvinist? No idea. I haven’t read much of Calvin. Do we have instrumental worship. We do, but that’s not my boast by any means. It’s just not sin as xxxx (bible professor) once told me. We take communion. We believe conservatively in every word of the Bible. We don’t have Christ in our title but we are not ashamed of Him (as one c of c relative once informed me it meant). Are we charismatic? We have no swooshy haired healers on stage if that’s what you mean. I did have a non-believing guy (now a friend) prayed for and physically healed once, which blew my mind and was significant in him coming to faith. I like to raise my hands in worship, though I don’t clap much. The music is not super loud, but we are half college students. We don’t have preachers serving as “elders” without the title or empowerment, and our pastors/elders are all men. Woman serve in many ways including worship. Are we “relevant”? We have no preachers wearing skinny jeans, but we teach the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We may have half a dozen or more baptisms every other month at our baptism service. I think that’s pretty relevant. I lead a small group and dang it!!!! when I see a young man early in faith, I do whatever I can to encourage him. I work to have people into my home every week to do the things of life together. We put our hands on each other to pray. We give a lot of money so we can send people on church plants as it is very expensive.

    I could totally go to a c of c if many of these relational characteristics are present. I also miss acappella worship at times. At other times, I don’t. I make the melody in my heart.

    From what I recall of my restoration movement classes, I feel more connected to stone-campbell in my current path than ever before. I’m still much a part of the church of Christ as there is only one.



    This is perpetually relevant. For me, evolution from a conservative school of preaching’s hermeneutic has come mostly by studying the life of Christ. However, even here I cringe at how some people apply driving out the money changers to a personal judgmental agenda. Jesus is the image of perfect Christianity. Character supersedes liturgy.

  26. Warren Baldein Says:

    Good thoughts. One of our challenges is to reach out to those who know little of the Bible while at the same time stimulating those who are ready for deeper study and diving into the issues. I’m afraid I don’t always balance that well. Good article to stimulate thought and discussion.

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