When You Leave the Institutional Church


Image by t0xicsunshyne. Creative Commons.

De-toxing, de-constructing, re-constructing, healing, and sorting things out, takes time. So, be patient with the process. Be patient with yourself.

I missed the extended family the church provided. I missed the sense of validation and destiny that caused me to feel I was doing something significant, something I was well-suited for.

As you move into this new phase of your life away from the church, you will discover a void. If you were heavily involved in church, you will have a time void. If you were a financial supporter, you will have a contribution void. If many or most of your relationships were through church, you will have a relationship void. As you re-evaluate your beliefs, you will have a belief void. If your sense of purpose was interwoven with your church work, as mine was, you will have an identity void.

The void presents new freedom and new opportunities, but it also brings some new dangers. It is a vortex that quickly tries to suck something into it. Freedom is a dangerous blessing.

Between leaving the church, leaving the pastorate, being unemployed, and turning away from any relationship that smacked of unhealthiness, I suddenly had a lot of alone time. I needed a lot of it just to process my thoughts and keep my emotions in check, but enough is enough.

I grew fascinated with my new freedom to not be stuck in a relationship that wasn’t meaningful. I love the people in my life, but I could use a few more relationships right now. It’s different after all of those years of being a pastor who was pulled so many directions that I couldn’t get around to everybody.

Don’t let the disappointing relationships turn you into a hermit. There’s a word for people who have too much time alone with just their thoughts, without the forward motion of productivity and the sweet comfort of friends. The word is “crazy.”

I have noticed when people get divorced they tend to gravitate toward either depression, indulgence, or another relationship. These are immediate knee-jerk reactions that happen when you haven’t allowed yourself time to process your grief and learn how to deal with your new freedom.

When you leave church, you will probably be tempted to react in ways you will later regret. It’s easy to overreact and turn against all expressions of faith. It’s easy to become depressed and stuck in a victim mentality. It’s easy to quickly rebound and join another group when it isn’t really what you are looking for. It’s easy to jettison all sense of right and wrong and become a hedonist because you feel God let you down.

Put a moratorium on major decisions or changes for a while. Allow yourself time to adjust to your new reality.

 -An excerpt from my soon-to-be-released book, An Irreligious Faith: How to Starve Religion and Feed Life

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply