If you were a part of the church for a long time and have decided to bow out, you will experience a real sense of personal loss! The mission of the church, and that of your particular local church, was probably something you deeply believed in. Now that you can no longer, in good conscience, support it, you probably feel a little homeless. You need something to believe in, but are convinced church as you have known it is not it. Being unsure of what you believe has left you in a “no man’s land,” dealing with a void in your life.
Of course, you will eventually find your way, and you’re probably not the heretic some people think you are, but right now, there is a gaping hole in your soul.
You need to feel your loss deeply and you need to talk about it. Cry out to God about it. You will probably feel your sense of purpose, direction, and identity threatened for a while, but it will pass.
You may feel angry. I did. I felt as though I was sold a bill of goods. It cost me thousands of dollars to get a “good Bible education” that didn’t do me one bit of good when I wasn’t a pastor anymore. I had over twenty years of valuable experience, but nobody recognized the transferable skills I had honed for all of those years. I had moved my family all over the Midwest to pastor small churches that had a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming vital and relevant. I was maligned when I had “wild ideas” about the church serving the community and being somewhat relevant to the culture. I loved the church, but it left me high and dry. I put all of my eggs into one basket, the church basket, only to have them crushed.
It hurt, I mean, really hurt! At times, I cried out audibly to God asking him just what he was doing.
Mourn your loss and express your anger. It’s a big deal. You have the right to be disappointed, hurt, and angry.
This is only the initial reaction to something a lot of people have been through. It is not a destination, but a phase. I talk about more how to process all of this in my book, An Irreligious Faith: How to Starve Religion and Feed Life of which this is an excerpt.
I going to respectfully challenge the notion of ‘leaving church’, and while I’ m at it, I may as well take a swipe at how its usually done.
First, I don’t think we should use the term ‘leaving’ as if the church is a place. But of course, the common understanding of church has morphed from being a body of humans indwelt by Jesus, to being a basilica and its members. Identity has been trumped by geography and being by doing.
And, to confuse the equation even more, the early church met daily from house to house, because of course they lived next door to each other, while today, most believers are not living close knit communal lives, and meeting is an infrequent, planned and almost theatrical activity. While church meetings in first century certainly had some components of singing, teaching and prayer, they didn’t differentiate that from taking a bowl of soup over to the neighbor, doing laundry together or visiting an overworked new mother.
So, when a disillusioned and hurt believer eaves a church today, she does so silently, shamefully and often unnoticed.
If only she realized that she isn’t actually leaving the church, but rather she may in fact be starting a journey to find it. As a matter of fact, if she were to begin speaking to everyone, loudly, about the things that offend her or that are clearly wrong, she might find allies, and even start a discussion that may change her decision to leave. And having started that discussion in humility and boldness, she might see that leaving may actually be cowardly or selfish, while staying could be just what the doctor ordered to fix a blind and hurting body.
Once she gets into a genuinely concerned discussion with others who share her concerns, she will soon become aware that a very few power hungry, mouthy men or women control the agenda, and that if even a small group of dissenters speak up, major change can happen.
But of course, there is always that devilish teaching that might equals right, or in church-ese, the divine right of kings was transferred to pastors and priests, to rule over Gods family.
All this to say, before leaving your church, consider staying long enough to shake things up a bit, and maybe change history.
I think that’s what Jesus did.
He didn’t leave idolatrous Israel, but rather he stayed, challenged the minority leadership that had hijacked the OT church, showed others how to do it and after his murder, spread himself far and wide within the lives and hearts of millions of believers.
Its the trouble making leaders who should leave God’s house if they wont humble themselves like servants, washing others feet, laying down their lives daily for others, being the first to be killed, wounded and lose all for Jesus name sake.
So I say, don’t leave until you have tried, even at great personal cost, to help fix what shouldn’t be broken.
There was so much in your remarks that I will probably miss something as I comment on your comment. In general, I agree with a lot of what you have to say, but you didn’t seem to understand where I was coming from as I wrote the post.
I do think most readers here understand that The Church does not refer to a geographical location or an institution, though it is often equated to both.
Here is where I differ with you. My experience and that of many of my acquaintances do not reveal a church or church leaders who are open to questions that threaten their theology, their position, or allow room for a mysterious God. It makes perfect sense when you understand their vested interest in maintaining an organization they believe in, helped to build, and are dependent upon for their position, their job, and personal sense of purpose.
In regard to Jesus, I am not sure how he could have left Israel or why he would want to. Those were his people, but not his only people and he was simply part of that culture. There obviously was no Old Testament church. Jesus was not a reformer of Judaism. He taught and modeled a whole new way of living.
Personally, I wish you would have done a little background reading on the blog, at least, the “about” page because you would have found out that I was a pastor for over twenty years and “have tried, even at great personal cost, to help fix what shouldn’t be broken.”
Lastly, realize that what you were reading was an excerpt of a book meant to encourage people who believe they must leave the church to be true to themselves and Jesus.
Greg, while I think there was an error or two in your comment, I do really appreciate your love of The Church, your love of Jesus, your understanding that the church has been significantly corrupted, and your compassion for those who feel uncomfortable in that environment.
Glen. In fact I had read the about page, and obviously misunderstood then,as still do, why your story would have caused me to think other than I did, and do, about your sentiments regarding the institutional systems.
Though I have never been part of a church in the sense most Christians experience today, I have gone thru much pain and rejection at the hand of Christians who thought to do God a favor by cutting me off from fellowship, and I felt a kindredness to your feelings of alone-ness. My only quibble was with the ease with which people leave their churches when they disagree. Clearly, I am misinformed, and am missing the obvious.
Greg – I expect our different assessments of the institutional church come from the fact I was immersed in it for most of my life and you were not. However, we agree on so much. I think we are struggling with the limits of communicating in writing. We would have a an enjoyable conversation while drinking cup of coffee and looking each other in the eye. Thanks for your response.
I suspect u r right. I don’t know much about the
machinantions of institutional churches though many of our friends are embedded in them. Regrettably, Im left to borrow from my long (often frustrating) experience wrestling with increasingly pedantic governments & public schools, to translate and craft constructive dialogue with Christians who share those institutions common philosophical axioms.
I admit the burden to be the peace maker seems to usually fall to me, and in spite of my attempts to transcend minor differences, we rarely get past them. I guess that goes to making my point. Your generous offer of coffee & eye to eye meeting is refreshing. Given the fortunate ubiquity of McDonald’s & their wise choice of quality Aribica coffee, which is my favorite, who knows if someday we can actually do that. Till then, blessings brother.
Greg – Coffee, commiseration, and community. Sounds like a great combination!