When the Church is More Like an Exclusive Social Club Than an Assembly of Believers

I have watched changes occur in my church over the years–some changes good and some not so good. But one thing that seems to always stay the same is our tendency to have people among us that are “outsiders.” They worship with us, they love our people and we love them, but they will always remain outsiders because of some idiosyncratic distinction that sets them apart from us. It is usually an outward thing, an application of scripture that they interpret differently than the rest of the church. We view it as the one thing that they refuse to “give up.” And because of that “one thing”, they will always remain an outsider. We don’t deny that they are believers, we don’t doubt their salvation, we just can’t include them as being a true part of our particular assembly.

church1We point out our “outsiders” to others and say, “Look how inclusive we are! We have people from the community that worship along with us.”

Never mind that they can never be members. They are and always will be permanent visitors unless they are willing to give up more and look like the rest of us.

Is that being inclusive or exclusive?

Recently I was reading about some exclusive social clubs and I was struck once again by the similarities of many of their requirements and the requirements of our Anabaptist churches.

Social Clubs

What is a social club? The Wikipedia defines it like this: “a social club may be a group of people or the place where they meet, generally formed around a common interest, occupation or activity.”

There are many different kinds of social clubs. Many are centered around golf, others around art, hunting, sailing, yachts, music, writing, etc. Basically, you could probably find a social club for whatever interests you may have. But in order to join a club, you must be able to prove that you are worthy to be a part of the club before you can be a member.

In some clubs, anyone can apply for membership; in others you can only apply if you know someone who is already a member. In one club, the Loblolly Pines Club, a current member must sponsor you and four others must second it before you can even apply. The most exclusive clubs do not allow applications– you can only become a member by invitation. For others, lineage and money are the key to get in.

All clubs have some standard or expectations you must meet in order to join. Some are not open about information regarding their membership requirements, saying, “If you need to ask, don’t bother..” Dress codes and decorum are strictly enforced, and rules regarding language, etiquette, and lifestyle keep members from being an embarrassment to the club. Not keeping up with all expectations could result in getting your membership revoked. Some clubs, such as the Plainfield Country Club, will give the errant member a written reprimand, and if they receive several written reprimands, their membership is suspended.

The purpose of a club is to foster a sense of community, a feeling of belonging. It promotes the idea that people will grow closer in their relationships with each others that have the same social status, interests, and lifestyle. The idea is to be with those that are like-minded and to keep out the undesirables.

Exclusive clubs vary in their levels of exclusiveness. Some will allow visitors to come freely, others will only allow visitors to come with other members, and the most exclusive rarely allow any visitors. For some, visitors are allowed only at special events, and then only to observe. Each club has their own rules about visitors, but the most exclusive clubs tend to look down on those clubs that are not as exclusive as they are. Each club varies in what visitors are allowed to do, but none allow visitors to participate in all that members can do.

So I ask again, are we as Anabaptists inclusive or exclusive?

If we claim to follow Jesus, we should do as He did. Did Jesus ever turn certain types of people away? What about the early church? Was there ever a dress standard or social status or lifestyle that needed to be met in order to be considered a “member in good standing?”

Certainly, if there is sin, it needs to be rebuked; but that is not what I’m addressing. When other believers are at a different place on their road of life than we are, are we willing to be patient and let the Holy Spirit work at His own pace? Or do we insist that all who wish to be a part of our assembly should also be at the same place that we are?

That is where I see the resemblance of an exclusive social club. We wish to keep out those that are not of “like-mind”. We tend to view those who don’t look like us, talk like us, and live the same lifestyle as us to be an undesirable that we really don’t want to share membership with us unless they are willing to change to become exactly like us. It’s a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of mentality. If we can do it, you can do it! We don’t leave much room for the changing power of the Holy Spirit. We want to see change before you join.

An exclusive club generally only attracts those that want to look like, sound like, and be like those in the club. Only a certain type of people are attracted to that specific club. Is this what the body of Christ should be like? Did Christ die for all, or only the ones who manage to clean up and look right on their own first?


If we really believe that Christ died for all, then we should want to extend His invitation to all, not just the ones that are like-minded with us. If our evangelizing becomes more about telling people what they need to be willing to give up (in order to look right and meet our church dress standards) than it is about what Christ did on the cross, we are not comprehending the Gospel or the Great Commission.

Most of the time we are content not evangelizing. It’s hard inviting someone to a church that will require an entire cultural change in order to be accepted. We figure if someone wants to join an Anabaptist group, they will find one to join. So if I’m only going to tell someone about Jesus, I need to have a church ready to recommend that they could join in case they don’t want to look like us.

When someone from a non-Anabaptist background wants to join an Anabaptist church, there are often so many unspoken rules (along with the written rules), that they end up discouraged and give up– even if they were trying to follow the written rules. And I am suddenly hearing “If you need to ask, don’t bother…”

We view those with some sort of an Anabaptist background as having a better chance at fitting in. There is usually some truth to this because they are already somewhat familiar with the culture. But here I see “lineage” being of importance to us. We think this raises the chances of them fitting in our club better.

Having money helps too. In our culture, we believe this shows that you are a good steward. Those that don’t have much money will be spoken of negatively as others critique any financial decisions and purchases made.

Many of us don’t know what to do with the “outsiders” in our groups. Some members complain. They worry that they might have a bad influence on the rest. But it’s not just the “outsiders” that other members complain about. Anyone who deviates at all from the standard is viewed as a troublemaker. Have you ever heard remarks like, “Why can’t they go find a church where they can be with people more like themselves?” Or if people do leave, comments are made such as, “It’s just as well. They didn’t really fit in and they didn’t meet the dress/social standards anyway.”

I wonder what Jesus says when one of His lambs goes astray? Does He say, “Oh well. He/she never fit in well with the others anyhow. He/she didn’t look the same and didn’t perform as well as some of the others.”

God forbid.

(Luke 15:4,5,7 “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing…likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”)

Maybe the reason we aren’t concerned is because we know they aren’t lost sheep. They just have a different view of scriptural application than we do. So we don’t want them in our club.



Some of my sources:





39 thoughts on “When the Church is More Like an Exclusive Social Club Than an Assembly of Believers

  1. We spend far too much effort and time maintaining and protecting the organization (club?) and too little time focusing on the organism called ” The Bride of Christ “. Keep in mind, organizations (church clubs?) split and splinter. The Bride of Christ never does, and will continue to grow. Elmer


    • Hi Elmer,
      I agree. If we’d remember that we are part of something bigger than just what we see on Sunday, it would probably affect how we relate to others more.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.


  2. Wow. I think you hit the nail on the head in so many ways. I had previously seen the connection between “social clubs” and the liberal, anything-goes churches where it seems to be more about having a good time in a religious setting than real worship of God. But the parallels between exclusive country clubs and Anabaptist churches are amazing.

    In fact, even during my Mennonite days, I felt nervous about getting together with more conservative Mennonites. I was a member of a BMA church in the Washington, DC area, and was only moderately conservative. Quite honestly, I felt like an outsider myself when, around 14-15 years old, I went to Christian Light Publications’ Writer’s Conference. Not that anyone actually treated me differently, mind you. It was just that my branch of Mennonites didn’t include cape dresses and plain suits, for the most part, and I wasn’t quite sure how to relate to people who held to a higher standard than I did.

    I remember, as a boy, someone asking me one time what faith I was a part of. I said, “Mennonite Christian.” “Christian” wasn’t enough–especially when my Mennonite culture probably sparked the question. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was raised Mennonite and find what you say is true… I married a man who joined the Mennonites and he feels these things distinctly… And while the Bible is our guide the church rules far to often are standard; especially unspoken ones…
    And way to often they can’t actually help those struggling spiritually with life even from their ranks and for sure not those from the ‘outside’.
    One other thing we have run into a number of times is the rules can change if it is the leaders and their family’s doing things but let a poor outsider try it and it is against the rules.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “…often they can’t actually help those struggling spiritually with life..” And there is one of the problems of the “social club” mindset. If we only want to look good outwardly and keep up the appearance and reputation of our “club”, doing “real church” can seem like too much of a problem. But we are all broken people and we all have something to offer to someone else struggling. Getting rid of the person who is struggling doesn’t help us. God has a purpose for each person He brings, no matter what they are struggling with.
      May God in His mercy change our mindset..

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I would never put having the correct social graces and qualifications on the same level as having a conviction for women to wear something on their head. One is a preference and one is a command from God. How soon will it go from a unified bride of Christ to a disoriented group of “Christians” that argue over preferrnce than instead of focusing on what’s important? i agree that there can be an attitude amongst the anabaptists and non anabaptists that should not be there. But if we believe that a standard is asked of us Biblically and accept those who do not share our beliefs how soon will other sins enter our churches such as divorce and remarriage and same sex marriages? Once we accept one how can we argue that we cannot accept the other? It would show the “outsiders” that we are not a unified body of Christ, and that can only confuse them more. Interestingly enough… If you look at many anabaptists missions around the world, most everyone in those churches have accepted the anabaptist beliefs and convictions and adapted it to their own unique culture… Yet in America it is unacceptable for us to ask for the same? I don’t mean to offend anyone, and yes there a good points and arguments above, but I feel that only one side was represented.


    • Hi Vivian,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I find it interesting that you bring up the covering. That seems to always be what we think of immediately. But what about those that do wear a covering and are still refused membership because of shape, size, or color? Or maybe they are within the written rules, but there are so many unwritten rules that they can never really fit in? And judging from some of the private emails I have received, this is a hurtful thing that many have experienced.

      And as I said in the post, “…if there is sin, it needs to be rebuked; but that is not what I’m addressing. When other believers are at a different place on their road of life than we are, are we willing to be patient and let the Holy Spirit work at His own pace? Or do we insist that all who wish to be a part of our assembly should also be at the same place that we are?”

      And what factor makes us decide which commands are more important than others? I imagine our picking and choosing of which commandments we deem are more important than others is already “confusing to outsiders.”

      Have you ever wondered why it is only the outward appearance that we are so worried about maintaining control over? Have you ever wondered why we don’t have applications/rules for other commands in Scripture? Do we decide “when, where and what” in regards to others obeying the Great Commission? Do we require that for membership or communion? Do we allow “mixed practices” for that in our church fellowship? Or do we give grace to each other because we trust that others will practice it as led by the Holy Spirit?

      How about rules for much money we should have?(1Tim. 6:10) How many hours we should have to work?(2Thess. 3:10) How about rules in regards to men lifting their hands while praying?(1Tim. 2:8) Have you ever seen membership or communion denied to someone who was covetous, or a railer, or an extortioner? (1Cor 5:11) Have you known people who fit this description and yet it was never even addressed?

      Who gets to decide which commandments are greater? Why do we refuse membership to someone only when they disobey our favorite commands but then are willing to overlook commands that we deem “less important”? No wonder “outsiders” get confused!

      That’s great that Anabaptist Missions around the world allow churches to adapt our beliefs and convictions to their own culture. What if we’d do that here? American culture is not the same as Mennonite culture. And culture is not the same as a Biblical command. When an “outsider” wants to join, we expect them to completely leave everything about their own culture behind and adapt ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This article speaks my heart! When you look at what Christ did while he was here on this earth in His ministry we have gotten so far from that! Why do we think it is ok? Why don’t we all just love as Christ loved and live by His principles and standards the he clearly laid out and practiced in His very own life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jason,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Christ left the perfect example and yet too often we think we have a better way… Maybe we have confused salvation with behavior management.
      Please join me in praying for change for our people. That we can love as He loved and live as He lived. That His Spirit would fall afresh on us and breathe life into our dry bones. Blessings!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes! I think we need revival! A study of the early church, a return to a heart after our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! And a keen awareness of letting the Holy Spirit work in our lives… to build relationships, strengthen brotherhood and bear one another’s burdens! On a side note are you on Facebook? I would enjoy following your posts….


  6. Simon, I am wondering how you will practically act on some of the very legitimate concerns you have, some of the same ones I had many years ago that brought me out of that system of things.


    • Hi John,
      I don’t know that I have all the answers but I’m planning to address some of this in the next several posts. I want to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guiding in everything I write in this because I don’t want it to be just man’s opinions, but rather “what does the Word say?” Prayers would be appreciated..


  7. After reading your posts the term ” behaviour management “came to mind. In fact I was positive that I had read it somewhere in the post/responses but in looking back realized it wasn’t there. But I think it definitely explains why some are “in” and some are “out” . I always found it interesting that for many Anabaptists the standard was how “clean” a person kept their house- yet a person who was obsessive/compulsive who was NOT Mennonite wasn’t fully welcomed UNLESS they were willing to have their total behaviour managed. That explains a whole lot of how its determined who is included and who is not.


    • Unfortunately, I think you are right. I have witnessed people refusing to go to a certain family’s house because their house was too dirty. This was a community family that had started attending and did not realize this church had a certain social status that needed to be met. The family was viewed as being “undesirable” and no matter how hard they tried to fit in, they were rejected. They only attended this particular Mennonite church for about two years. And the remarks that followed were pretty much summed up in the above post. Sad.

      If we could only see people as Jesus sees them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The question that this brings up, and it is one I struggle with myself, is how can we be seen for our love? When I was part of a very conservative church, many of the people who came and wanted to join were there because they admired the culture. They wanted to be part of that social club and so fell in line with the rules (which they heartily endorsed) for as long as they could stand it before moving on. It was that life they were seeking, and when the love did not follow or their messy lives did not mesh seamlessly with the culture, they left. BUT, what drew them there in the first place? It wasn’t because they saw love, but a culture. In light of that, we have to believe that culture is not always bad in and of itself, and Christianity has always been practiced within a culture of some type. I’m not sticking up for extra-Biblical rules that are needed in order to receive conditional love from brothers and sisters in Christ. My dilemma is how to make Christ attractive and not put our church culture at the forefront when that seems to be the draw? Great post, by the way, and I pray for all those who have been hurt by those who were meant to love them.
    Also, I don’t actually expect you to answer my questions, I’m guessing they mirror some of your thoughts as well.


    • Hi Monica,
      You bring up some good questions. There are those that wish to join because the culture itself is what attracts them. And there are things within our culture that are very good things. We stick together and help each other within the brotherhood, we are a disciplined people, we are family oriented, etc. But being attracted to a culture is not usually enough to keep people there. So then that brings up your valid question of how do we make Christ the forefront attraction and not the culture? I’m not sure if there really is a good answer for that because even while our uniformity attracts, it is also often the very thing that turns people away again. Often it is because they suddenly realize what all is actually in place to guard that culture. Or as one person shared, they realize they will not ever be able to fit no matter how hard they try.

      Maybe another question to ask also would be which do we love more– Christ or our culture? Some of our rules are there more to keep our culture in place than it is to obey Scripture. So if our love of our culture takes precedence over loving as Christ loved, causing us to reject people, then it has become an idol.

      I have seen people attracted to our communities because they were shown love. But the problem is that we don’t always show unconditional love. Too often our love comes with expectations and conditions, and when those conditions aren’t met, the love and acceptance that was previously offered ends. We expect them to conform to our cultural rules and applications because we want uniformity. And by this, I am not referring to Scriptural principles, but rather our applications of those principles.

      Perhaps when we begin to love Christ more than we love our culture, and love more like He did, we will be able to bring in others for the right reasons.


      • A good start would be to define which rules are cultural and which rules are based on Biblical principle, and I’m guessing there would be no consensus among the members of any single church on exactly what those are, ideally. Most conservative churches are pretty adept at making a far reach for a Scriptural basis for just about any practice.
        Good thoughts, though, especially the concept of culture as an idol. Even the good in anything can become an idol. For example, I have long believed that for many-not all-but many, family is an idol. Again, it’s one of those things that bring people in until they realize that unless they can be related by blood they will forever feel like an outsider.
        Also, people who are interested in our denomination also bring bits of their own culture, which can include some things that are difficult to navigate for us. These things may even include sin, although they refuse to see it as such. It’s a fine line on both sides. I’m very interested in this topic because I am part of a moderately conservative fellowship that has tried to elevate Christ above all, and although there have been some successes, there have also been some massive failures. I’m interested in ways of doing it better and, as you said so well, attracting those who want us for the right reasons.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Simon, Good article! God has been showing me some similar things about the exclusive social club problem. The following is some of what God has showed me:
    Showing Partiality – The Exclusive Amish or Mennonite Congregational Social Club
    One of the dangers of conservatism, especially among the most conservative groups, is separating themselves from others who are not part of their church group just like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

    There is a tendency among many conservative religious groups to separate themselves from other more liberal church groups and not associate with them. There is also a tendency for conservatives to judge themselves as more Godly and to treat others as sinners, or not as Godly because of the other’s appearance or the group that the other is a part of. This is most evident among Amish and conservative Mennonites in their practice of communion. Most Amish and conservative Mennonite groups make communion an exclusive club membership thing in which they prohibit visiting Christians from taking communion with them if they are not a member of their group or a very similarly dressed group. Withholding communion is contrary to the example that Jesus gave us. Jesus gave communion to Judas Iscariot, even though He knew the wickedness Judas was doing behind His back in betraying Him.

    The conservative practice of separating themselves from others who do not believe the same as they do is a prideful act. It is in effect telling others that they are not good enough or holy enough to associate with. God tells us in Isaiah 65:3-5: “A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face… Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.”

    Jesus wants us to love everyone and to try to help everyone come to a relationship with Him. This is the example that Jesus gave us: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

    James 3:17 “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”

    James 2:1-4 (Paraphrased) My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a late model car, in a plain suit, and there come in also a poor man in blue jeans and a t-shirt; And ye have respect to him that weareth the plain clothing, and say unto him, you can take communion with us; and say to the poor, communion is for members only, sit there and watch: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?”

    Matthew 11:19 “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”
    Luke 19:7 “And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.”
    Matthew 5:44-48 “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Myron, you wrote above:

      “There is a tendency among many conservative religious groups to separate themselves from other more liberal church groups and not associate with them. There is also a tendency for conservatives to judge themselves as more Godly and to treat others as sinners, or not as Godly because of the other’s appearance or the group that the other is a part of.” This is sadly true, and happens when the focus is on tradition, performance, and fear – mostly anything but a looking unto Jesus, Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

      You also make the comment that “Jesus gave communion to Judas Iscariot”, apparently as justification for an open communion. I believe this is incorrect. The only place where this seems to have occurred, upon first reading, is in Luke 22, but upon closer examination and comparing the other gospels, we find that Luke is often by divine design not chronological, and that Mark is the most chronological. So when we read in Mark 14:20 that Jesus sets up the identification of the betrayer by indicating he was one who dipped with Himself in the dish, and then read John 13:25-30, seeing that Judas went out “immediately” after receiving the sop, we see that he was gone by the time the Passover meal had progressed to the point of the Lord instituting the Supper.

      I disagree with an “open communion”, for it goes against the grain of other Scriptures, but the point is that only sin and heretical (schismatic) behavior should be the cause for excluding Christians at the Lord’s table, never a form of dress or other traditions.


  10. Interesting post. As a member of a conservative Mennonite church I have given a fair amount of thought to the exclusiveness our “club” requires. We have also thought a lot about about what kind of life and culture we want to provide for our children as they grow up. There are a lot of things we don’t want in our home or in the homes of our friends where our kids hang out, have sleepovers, etc. and bc of this our family has chosen to stay in the conservative Mennonite culture when most of our family and childhood friends have not. I do not apologize for, regret or try to spiritualize the exclusive nature of our church. Anyone is free to join, but they are then held to the same standard as the rest of the church. Anyone is free to attend without the accountability. Anyone is also free at anytime to leave if they find a church elsewhere that more closely mirrors their own beliefs. Why is this seen as a negative? If i wanted to move to Finland and join up with a culture that I thought would be want I wanted for me and my family that would be my right, but I would expect to adapt to them. The exclusiveness of our culture preserves it. If we value it I see no problem with asking, “outsiders” (your term) to conform to our way of life.

    As an example of what I am talking about: Our kids have cousins who spend a good bit of their time playing video games and watching movies. Is there anything nonspiritual about this? No. But I am glad that in the community we are a part of, little boys ride bikes, build forts and play monopoly when they get together. i hope this part of our culture continues to be preserved. Nothing spiritual about it, just a social club exclusion.

    Disclaimer: I am aware of the abuse and dysfunction among our Mennonite churches. I do not mean to imply that by being part of a conservative church we can be less vigilant as parents.


    • So if I’m understanding you right, you recognize that our people are like an exclusive social club but you feel there is nothing wrong with it because there is “nothing spiritual about it”?

      If we would not use religion to maintain and enforce our culture, I could almost be okay with your line of thinking. But the problem is that we do make it “spiritual” and we use the church and religion to enforce our culture. And I say religion because it is not Christianity or anything Biblical that refuses to allow certain people into the Body of Christ because of the cut of our clothes, or the hair on my face (or lack thereof), or the color of our head coverings, etc.

      Is Christ exclusive? What does He require to become a member of His Body? I just can’t see Him turning people away from His Church or refusing to commune with them because of an outward look. Do we really have the right to say that what He requires is not enough?

      If Jesus were to show up today, looking and dressing just as He did while He was on earth 2000 years ago, most of us would not allow Him to be a member of most of “our clubs” because He would not look right.

      What if we would just live by the principles and standards that Christ taught and practiced without adding or detracting?

      Culture is not a bad thing unless it goes against Christianity or turns people away from Christ. If maintaining, preserving, and protecting our culture becomes more important to us than reaching the lost for Christ, something is wrong. Did Christ call us to be fishers of men or keepers of the aquarium?

      As was mentioned previously, we seem to have exchanged salvation for behavior management. We have at times been completely accepting of people with no personal salvation experience as long as their outward look and behavior was maintained; and at the same time rejected those who are doing great work in God’s kingdom but differed slightly in practice than us.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I know how it is to wish the best for my children–I struggle with this, too. But I have concluded that it is better for them to join their parents in bringing Jesus to a messed up world than it is for them to live in an idyllic setting. Yes, it’s hard. But even Paul was willing to give up his culture in order to “gain Christ”.

      If God has specifically called you to minister in that culture, then I wholeheartedly bless you! We need Spirit-filled people in every culture! But give some thought to equipping your children so that they will be able to leave well if God calls them into a different culture.

      God bless!

      Liked by 2 people

    • But do you realize the cost? Do you have classes or “fellowship times” where you lay out this is how to act? I vividly remember the times of weeping and begging to please explain the rules – to help me understand the culture etc. But no – I was just expected to copy and to know. Thank you for helping me understand just how deep the loyalty to a culture is. Not everyone can handle a church culture that demands that a woman talks with her arms crossed and without expression. Thats just one example. Its one thing to ask a person to give up their sin . Its quite another to ask them to give up their personality and the gifts God has given them.

      Liked by 2 people

      • In reply to what Shirley said,I can actually relate to what you are trying to convey, I moved to my husband’s community when we got married. I found the people very different then where I grew up. I cried for about 5 years bc everything was so different and I felt i could never feel at home here. All the other ladies seemed so proper, quiet and polite, I’m not. Everyone cans alot of food,(even soup!) and has big gardens, I don’t. (btw, no one dis liked me or rejected me of this) Because they related differently then me I assumed they didn’t have close relationships.(I was wrong) Just saying I do understand that feeling. However no one was rejecting me, it’s not that I wasn’t accepted. I was different and neither they nor I could help or change that . Today 12 years later I don’t have girlfriends that I can sit up late with, laughing and drinking sweet tea. My friends don’t want to hang out in the middle of the week with me at the park watching our kids play. This is not what I envisioned for myself when I said, I do, and followed my husband away from my home and family. However I have learned, that I have to accept these people just like I want them to accept me. I cannot demand they hangout and relate to me the way I am or was used to. Not everything is the way I would choose it, and I still cry every now and then. I see the community as a package deal, and you know what, it’s taken years but after all this time I am learning to connect on a deeper level with the ladies in my church, not the way i naturally would have, but the way they do it, and surprisingly,connection feels good however it happens. Just saying I understand those little cultural differences and how huge they can be. When I said, I see no problem with asking, “outsiders” (your term) to conform to our way of life.” I was referring to things like specific standards of dress or practice, NOT personalities, ways of relating, how clean someones house is, etc.


      • I too have thought quite about culture vs. Bible practice and having moved around in various Menno. circles I too have felt the differences that are almost impossible to break through at first… but like you said almost never out right unkindness or rejection just the uncomfortable feeling of not fitting. (My 6 year old asked “who is your best friend at church?” “Um, I don’t know.” was my reply.)
        But I too have come to the place that there is a lot of Bible embedded in the culture and I want that and will go after that and not be ashamed of the culture I am from. The apostle Paul was still a Jew and identified himself as such every where he went. Yet he was first a Christian and was able to not require all the Jewish practices of every one.
        This is my goal to be first a Christian and then a Mennonite.
        And to Shirley I would like to say they can’t tell you those little rules because they are taught by mothers to little girls who have no idea they are rules. They don’t have a book and don’t know what some of their own rules for ‘different’ and ‘not proper’ are. And some of their own people don’t always follow them either.
        I think R Fisher is right – and is suggesting you don’t focus on the little things that are unwritten but on the big things of the Bible that you all agree on…


  11. Again you point out what we experienced while being costant visitors at a mennonite church.
    Even tough we where Aware of all that and had our doubts if we would ever be able to really take that road to its end we kept on staying and enjoyed our status as special ‘potential Mennonites 🙂
    Anyhow, we had to move back home to Switzerland and i have since very often contemplained about the what if’s and how would it have been’s.
    There most likely will never be the perfect church in this life. Even the first christians had their differences, about jew and gentiles for instance :-).
    But i think Jesus wants us all to sincerely seek for the will of God and try all we can to bring forth HIS love to our fellow men. Maybe that’s what it really is all about even if conclusions may vary more often that we’d like to.
    God bless

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This article describes the conservative Mennonite church group my family left to a tee! In fact, my mom’s very own words to describe them at one point was actually “an exclusive social club”! We came in from the outside, my parents joined when I was 6 or 7. We learned a lot of really good life skills like canning and sewing and such from the Mennonites, we learned hundreds of beautiful hymns we wouldn’t have learned otherwise, and we learned things from the Bible there we might not have learned in a more contemporary church setting.

    The part about the “unspoken rules” is absolutely on point. As a second grader and a new student in the Mennonite School, I had to learn a new way of thinking and speaking just to fit in with my peers. I might have looked just like them in dress and hairstyle, but I was outed and picked on from students and the teacher alike for not being just like the rest. I learned quickly that year to save myself from further humiliation.

    When I was twelve I was saved, and I took the Instruction Class and was baptized later with a group of several other new Christians. By then I was deeply immersed in Mennonite culture and sadly, took on the same exclusive mindset as the rest of them. I, along with my friends from church, took on a similar exclusive view of ourselves in comparison to anyone less conservative than ourselves.

    My parents especially struggled with the dress code at first before joining, as neither of them had grown up in the Mennonite culture. Even throughout iur time in the Mennonite church, my dad didn’t completely conform to the men’s ‘unspoken’ dress code of everyday apparel. He worked a factory job, unlike the other men, and wore blue jeans and Henley’s compared to long-sleeved button-down shirts and black or blue Dickies pants the other men always wore. Sundays he wore the prescribed plain suit and white or blue shirt. He realized what clothing was practical to his own occupation, and therefore didn’t conform to that unspoken dress code.

    The issue of money also hugely impacted our standing in the church. During the recession in 2008-09 my dad went through a period of reduced work hours at his factory and we were barely able to make ends meet. On top of that, in 2010 my mom underwent major open heart surgery. People at church suggested we go to Mexico for the operation since it was cheaper, but there was no money for passports or plane tickets, and though the operation price in Mexico was only a third of what it would have been in the States, it would have had to have been paid in full within 15 days. We didn’t just have $5-10,000 laying around. My mom needed surgery urgently, and was operated on in the US by one of the best surgeons in the country. Our church prohibited any kind of insurance, they relied on brotherhood aid. But nobody lended a hand in helping with our medical bills. Out of desperation, my dad got basic state insurance. He voluntarily gave up his church membership a month later.

    After I finished 8th grade we started attending a church consisting of ex-Amish and ex-Mennonites. Let me tell you, that transition was one of the most difficult experiences I can remember having. I knew what it meant, leaving my conservative Mennonite church family for something less conservative. It meant you and your family were treated like traitors by some. Though several of my friends did stay in contact, many were also never heard from again. My mother went through a very lonely, difficult time, as none of the ladies called anymore to see how she was after the surgery or to pass on news in the prayer chain. We had been cut off, even though she and I hadn’t terminated our membership.

    For a long time after we left, the Mennonite mentality stayed with us, and probably cost us some friendships with some people in our new church. Some of them dressed far from conservatively as we were used to, and sadly, we judged them for it. Brighter clothing and varying styles of dress and veilings were a surprising hurdle to overcome. For the first year, I honestly prided myself in how conservative I dressed. Is that what the Mennonites had taught me? What a shame.

    Over time, as I got used to the change, I began to change as well. I started wearing a hanging veil, and changed my dress pattern and became more flexible in clothing styles, as did the rest of my family. I also struggled at first with the idea of “should I dare use the Internet” since I had been taught it was evil.

    When my dad got a different job in another town a couple years later, we moved and had to find another church. There were no “plain” churches in he area, so we attended a Bible church half an hour away. For the past year, we’ve been attending a small, local Baptist church and I plan on attending a Baptist University an hour away.

    We had been home schooling for three years but couldn’t afford it anymore, so my parents put my brother and sister and I into the public school system. I also got a job at a local restaurant to increase our limited income.

    I still remain in contact with a couple old friends from the Mennonite church who have surprisingly decided to stay in contact, but our lifestyles now are so vastly different, it’s hard to even know what to write to them anymore. We are not “plain” anymore. But I realize now, being “plain” doesn’t save you. It doesn’t get you closer to Heaven or make one a better Christian than another. Only that is for God to judge. He knows the heart.

    Although I do cherish many memories of being in the Mennonite church, I have found I have learned so much more than I would have if we had not left. Being in different churches and with different people has taught me grace for others, and that a common bond in Christ matters more than a dress code. I have grown as a Christian in many ways, and it has also given me witness opportunities I never would have had.

    I greatly appreciated this article, and I wish I could send it to some of my old friends. Not sure how it would come across to them, though.


  13. Pingback: When Culture Takes Precedence Over Evangelism | Another Radical Reformation

  14. Pingback: When the Church is More Like an Exclusive Social Club Than an Assembly of Believers — The Resistance

  15. This is a difficult subject, and one that is manifestly ignored because it is a serious boat rocker. However, as the ground of America becomes increasingly unsteady, never has it been more important to rock this boat because social inclusion/exclusion creates severe disunity. When one’s “inclusion” relies upon ones involvement in the social activities of the church, it has, in a sense, become no different, socially speaking, than a bar room crowd; “Do as we do or get out!” Rather than Christians being identified by their fruits, they become identified by their participation in church social functions. While many true Christians are discretely ousted due to their lack of desire to “play ball,” many “apostate Christians” are brought into the fold where they cause much damage. It is an age old and dangerous assumption that those “warming the pews” at every church gathering Are the faithful and those who aren’t as involved are currently, or soon to be, back-slidden.

    Liked by 1 person

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