Tag Archives: leaving church

Should I Leave My Church?

7 Mar

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If you’ve been engaged in a church community for any length of time, you imagine the blissful fellowship will never end—the hilarious dunk tank in the community park, the annual yard sale, the youth car wash, and the missions trips.  You remember when your small group prayed for you when you were awash in sorrow and how the whole church rallied around a family in a time of deep need.  You’ve been the first one in and the last one out.  You have given hours of time and talent to the church and your money and your whole heart because you believed God was doing something amazing in your community.

And now, you’re not sure if you should stay there anymore.

Some of your friends have already left—a couple of your friends from small group, a respected Bible study leader, and people who served in major ministry positions.  There are murmurs of this and that, and you don’t know what’s true anymore.  You don’t know who to believe.

But really, if you’re honest, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore.  Instead of jumping out of bed on Sunday morning, you think about sleeping in—just this Sunday.  The sermons seem, well, boring.  You don’t tear up when you sing your favorite worship song. And communion—it doesn’t feel all that sacred. You’re absolutely starved for something more, something real, something authentic and you didn’t even know it until a friend told you about his or her church.

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, you think, because it doesn’t seem like the seeds you are sowing at your church are growing at all.

You are discouraged and possibly suffering from ministry burn-out.  You thought if you built a great ministry with the vision God has given you, they would come.  And you realize you don’t even want to come anymore.

So, the question pressing on your heart is—should I stay at my church or should I leave my church?

You’ve been seeking God’s Will and asking Him to make it completely obvious to You.  You desperately want to see your church change, the leadership to turn from its pride, and for your ministries to become a beacon of light in the community.  You love your church and (most of) the people inside it.  You don’t want to leave.  You don’t want to start over.  You just want your church to be how it used to be.

I don’t have all the answers; I just have my story. (See The Church We Leave Behind) As I wrestled with all of the above, I said to myself, almost in jest if this, this, and this happen, then I will know God wants me to leave my church.  I never, ever thought all those things would happen, but over the course of five months, they ALL happened.  As I did Jennie Allen’s Restless study with a friend, I knew that my restless heart needed to find a new home.  My soul was beat down, burn out, and in desperate need of spiritual food.

Going to services at my church was gut-wrenching. I stayed because I loved working with the teenagers and didn’t know what would happen to them if I left.  As things got worse, as ministry became controlled and micromanaged, as it seemed appearances and numbers were more important than people, I knew I had to leave.

My best friend and fellow small group leader and I prayerfully developed an exit strategy to help transition our students. However, as soon as our replacements were found, we were essentially told if we were leaving, we should just leave.  While it offered no closure, it did get me out of a bad situation sooner than I anticipated.  The swift severing of fellowship left me wounded and bleeding.

But not everyone is called to leave.  When the Northern Kingdom of Israel went into the first captivity with the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom of Judah went second captivity with the Babylonians, there was always a remnant that remained in the land.  In fact, the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative shares about how Nehemiah, a cup bearer to the king, longed for the land of his forefathers and returned from captivity to restore Jerusalem.  He faced oppression from outside foes, yet Nehemiah led his people to build a wall of protection around the city. (For more information, read Nehemiah-The Man Behind the Wall.)

We all want to be Nehemiah’s.  We want to take the ruins of our broken church and use them to build something better for the women’s ministry or the children’s ministry or the youth.  We want to be the change and to see dry bones dance again because we know all things can be redeemed through God’s power.  We look at our own lives as examples of this. We are the Redeemed people.

If you stand up against the wrongs you see in your church, you could become a target of abuse and gossip.  If no one talks about what is going on, why people are leaving, and how it can change, it never will.  There are some warriors that no longer have the strength or will or call to fight anymore, but maybe you do.  Abuses of power, which can also result in spiritual abuse, will continue if no one stands up to the church bullies.  You may be called to speak truth into the silence.

It comes down to this—what is God telling you to do?  Fast, pray, ask for advice, and seek a network of support.  You cannot and should not do this alone.  Leaving a church is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and sometimes staying is even harder.

Hold tight to the good memories of your church because that is something staying or leaving can never and should never erase.

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The Church We Leave Behind

1 Mar

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I was gasping for breath as my best friend drove us away.  Maybe it was raining, maybe not.  It felt like it should’ve been raining like tears streaked on the car’s windows.  It was a full snot, screaming, and messy tears kind of crying as we pulled out of the church parking lot for the last time after we were told by church staff if we were leaving anyway, we might as well just leave now.

And so we left the grounds immediate and just like that, over five years of commitment and ministry was over. In an instant, the church and I were now two separate entities.

It felt like how I imagined a divorce would feel.

I realized that I just divorced my church.  And it wasn’t amicable.

Leaving a church under difficult circumstances, whether it is because of a difference of opinions, God’s call elsewhere, or other reasons, is heartbreaking. Even leaving one that wasn’t healthy for me anymore, has been one of the most painful and haunting experiences of my life.  Here’s why:

It’s not just breaking up with a building; it’s breaking up with a whole bunch of other people.  The lady at the welcome desk who’s always in the know, the elderly greeters, and those people who you just say “hi” to in passing—they’re not in your anymore.  Those peripheral friends with who you have a few inside jokes, but nothing more, are gone.  You say goodbye to the safe confines of knowing and being known.

Maybe it’s me, not them.  A lot of self-reflection comes with making a major life change.  Am I doing the right thing?  God, is this really want you want?  I can be the solution to this mounting problem.  Well, maybe I’m not seeking God enough. These questions and thoughts are mentally draining.  But eventually, I came to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I couldn’t sing on the praise team with mock sincerity.  I could not stomach attending Sunday services.  I was getting spiritually and physically ill because God told me to go and I stayed too long.  Sometimes it’s actually them, not you.

But it isn’t supposed to be like this!  We all love God, for crying out loud! No, it’s not supposed to be like this and it breaks the heart of all involved.  I did not take lightly the issue of leaving my church of five years. It was prayed over for almost 10 months.  There was restlessness, dissatisfaction, and a sense that the church was unhealthy.  And it grew more and more unhealthy despite my best efforts to allow God use me to be the change.  Change can’t happen in hardened hearts, so sometimes we need to dust off our sandals and move on.  It happened to Jesus and the apostles and we can expect the same.  Plus, people can all love God and still make decisions that don’t honor Him.  Other times, it’s just about agreeing to disagree

It causes spiritual and emotional wounds, which we try to hide.  I’m fine, right?  I followed God to a new church and because I’m doing what God wants, I’m fine.  Right?  Right?!?!  I was not and am still not “fine.” I miss things about my old church, like the youth group students and the friends I had and belonging to a community.  I miss being able to just pick a Bible study and lead it and helping with VBS.  But I don’t miss the other parts—the ones that are stuck deep within me, that ones I need to offer up to God and forgive, the ones I dare not write about because the wounds are still too fresh.  So many thoughts and feelings are between my journal, God and me.  It seems wrong to talk about our pain, how church leaders failed us and hurt us, how we feel all washed up and used up, and how we’re not sure if we want to be a part of a community again.

It can be a lonely, misunderstood journey.  It has been for me.  Literally, people just don’t get it unless they’ve been through it.  I run into people who left the old  church as well.  We talk about things that happened at the old church sometimes while standing in the hallways of our new church, not sure if we should laugh or cry at the ridiculousness.   It feels like we all survived this major thing and have become spiritual refugees in a strange, new church.  We were front row Christians, and now we still in the back row hoping no one will notice us, yet desperately hoping someone will reach out to us.

You are brave.  No matter what your old church says, what rumors you may hear, or what takes place, you must not let it destroy you.  You made the difficult decision to walk, maybe run away from a bad, unhealthy, and possibly spiritually abusive church, and that takes a lot of courage.  Walk hand-in-hand with God as He guides you for in Him is your true strength.

I had a plan.  I would slowly fade out, savor the last moments keeping a mental scrapbook, and I would move on to a new church to find rest, to be fed, and to just be.

But it didn’t end like that.

I didn’t ride off in my cosmic gray Hyundai Elantra proud of my work with youth, women’s ministry, praise team, and volunteerism.

Instead, it was harsh and sad and shameful.  Yet I know my God has and is still walking with me through this wilderness.  He knows how He will bind these wounds and use them for His glory.  He will gather these ashes and create beauty.

No matter what ending you had planned, remember that God will use this to mold you, grow you.  He has far, far better things ahead than what you leave behind.

Book Review:: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

25 Feb

In his book, Mere Churchianity, Michael Spencer asks a question that has been rattling around my brain for days now: If I were to spend three years with Jesus, what kind of person would I be?  Spencer argues that the disciples who followed Jesus had their worldviews, especially about God, rocked again and again by God-in-the-flesh, Jesus.  He writes, “Jesus wouldn’t leave their ideas of God alone until he was their idea of God.” Such is the start of the argument that Spencer makes for Jesus-shaped spirituality.

And it’s an argument that I liked.  Instead of choosing one group as the Christian cultural elite, Spencer goes after the whole establishment.  He wants to break down the ideas of the modern church and follow what he calls “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” This spirituality is Jesus, having a genuine experience of God, and figuring out how a life gets transformed.  Sounds simple, right?  Then why aren’t churches in the United States doing just that, Spencer asks.

Mere Churchianity is a response to those disgusted with church, but who desperately want to find God.  He says that this book is for those ready to walk out the door, or to those who have already left.  However, this book is really for anyone who wants to change the status quo and who feels that God has a deeper plan for the church.  Really, it is getting beyond phony smiles and pat answers, to the grimy mire of where people really live, where Jesus really ministered.

Instead of coming across as a know-it-all, Spencer eagerly admits his own shortcomings as a pastor and shares a lot of stories that illustrate his points.  Most of all, Spencer points people to Jesus.  His message is not to look at the institution of church, other people, but to Jesus Himself if you want to know who God really is, if you want to have a spirituality shaped by God, not by man.

Spencer, known to many though his website InternetMonk.com, passed away last April after a long fight with cancer.  Fortunately, his words still live on in his website and in this book, Mere Churchianity.

Download and read the first chapter of Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer.

*With thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for my review copy of this book.*




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