Image by epiclectic. Creative Commons.
When I was doing Communitas Collective, I found a lot of people in their thirties and forties were pulling the plug and saying “enough,” as they walked away from the institutional church they had known for so long. Often they were blindsided by the sudden change in their relationships. When I was pastor, some friends (certainly, not all) who earlier couldn’t say enough glowing things about me, would quickly turn into bitter critics when I did something they didn’t like.
With the changes in my life, my relational well nearly ran dry. My pastor “friends” acted as though I had died, and I never heard from any of them again. I wish they would have reached out to me, but I just had to let it go. If thing were reversed, I think I would have reached out to them, but honestly, I didn’t take the initiative to make contact with them because by then I was in a different world.
Naturally, some of the people in what remained of our small fellowship were unified only by the church; but a couple of families were great friends. My relationship with them gradually changed. Even now, eleven years later, we are still friends, but we don’t see each other much. We simply move in different circles. That’s just the way life works.
There were people who hurt me, people who had given me grief along the way and those who actually brought the church down, self-righteously, thinking they were on a mission from God (or something). We talked and talked. All that was left to do was to forgive them, forget the wrongs, and go on.
I could make a long list of people who hurt me. It would include the arrogant pastor from my teenage years who seemed to take every opportunity he could find to run me down. It would include my pastor friend who went from self-proclaimed best friend to not returning my phone calls all in one step. It would also include the head of the local Christian charity who dissed me because I was part of a house church and not a “real” church. I could go on and on, but all I can do is forgive them and get on with life.
Leaving church is difficult enough, but when people turn their back on you because you are no longer a member of the club, it is very hard to deal with. We never truly know how strong a relationship is until it is tested.
When people disappoint us like that, we need to decide if we are going to address the issue or just let the person quietly slip out of our life. Honestly, it’s painful and troubling. You thought these relationships were strong enough to weather a significant change, but often, they are not.
An excerpt from An Irreligious Faith