Monday, October 24, 2011

Leaving a Church

One day we were there, and then we weren't.

It's a particular kind of pain, this unexpected separation. One Sunday you have a big family (complete with everyone from your beloved grandparents to the cousins you don't really get along with), and the next you have a basket of fragments, shards fallen here and there. You have anger, disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and an utter loss of trust. Loss.

Grief and relief: they are a peculiar pair.

On one hand, we left familiarity. A kitchen where we knew where every pot and pan belonged. Pews we've lovingly cleaned. Flowerpots we've filled with petunias, spring after spring after spring. My children's outgrown toys and dress-up clothes in the nursery. The blue Christmas decorations. Angel wings and shepherd's gowns. Even the big, nasty stains on the carpet in the fellowship hall.

Grievingly, we left people we've known over a decade. Little old ladies in their hose and pleated skirts. Sweet-cheeked preschoolers in pretty dresses. Families caught in the crossfire. Special-needs friends who sang loudly and badly and with utmost joy. My children's Sunday school teachers, who have loved them and nurtured them. My youngest son was born into this church, grown up with these children. Sat in pews drawing pictures on the back of offering envelopes, participated in Christmas programs, recited memory verses.

Relieved, we left others—people we tried to love but couldn't trust. We left people who rolled their eyes, who made snide comments, who didn't love us enough, who didn't trust us. Nor we them.

Here is what I want to say: leaders in a church should live with complete honesty and integrity and pursue holiness. They should seek to do like Christ and to honor God with every word and action.

So should I. So. Should. I.

And I don't, always. I have said mean things. I have made snide comments and rolled my eyes, too. I have nurtured a healthy dose of self-righteousness. I have sneered and had angry conversations in my head.

Leaving a church is a hard, hard thing. But here's the thing: we haven't left the Church. We left a local congregation in order to survive and thrive. We had to break away in order to grow, and I know without a doubt that God called us to leave. Pushed us out the door, in fact, and said, "It's time."

Honestly, I don't want to go back. The ashes are cooling, and I believe in God's promise of beauty from ashes, of a brand-new thing. Someday, there will be a restoration of sorts. The anger will dissipate, the questions will seem unimportant, the need to be right will dissolve.

When it happens, I pray my pride will long be swallowed and my fists so long unclenched that we can all shake hands and share high fives.

Have you been there?


  1. Awesome. Out of these ashes, beauty will rise. I love you.

  2. Oh my! I can not even tell you! We are there right now. Although we are still ... having a hard time actually separating. Our old pastor left three years ago and we ADORED the man. LOVED him. Sure, he had his issues, as we all do, but he was there for us when we needed him and he was amazing and just had great advice and offered so, so much. Anyway, after he left (to pursue an advanced degree, something he did not feel he could do and adequately serve the congregation). After he left, so many people had so many things to say...really, really, bad things. I have been questioning so much. I know that I am FAR from perfect, but I really didn't find anything Christ-like in these reactions. There were some things said that I know were blatant lies, blatant untruths meant to serve someone else. And we started to feel like we didn't belong there. It's been such an internal struggle...we look at many people differently now. We visited several churches, but none are like home. like you, I know ever pot and pan and dish in the kitchen. I know what is kept in each cupboard. I ran the nursery for three years, all of my girls outgrown toys are in there. My husband worked on building and grounds and the cemetary foundation and knows the ins and outs of each building, each bit of lawn, etc. We hoped that when our new pastor started we would feel differently, but it has not happened yet. We actually just went out to dinner tonight and it came up. The new pastor is changing the schedule on Sunday mornings and I don't like the changes. Maybe I am just a stick in the mud, who doesn't like change...or maybe it's time to move on.

    I am sorry to write a book was just, reading this post...I felt our hearts connect. I am so right there right now.

  3. Yes. As someone who has grown up in the church, it was by far the most painful thing I've ever experienced within a faith family.

    I'm so sorry.

  4. Unfortunately, we've been there more than once. It's tough but I know that God does indeed work all things to the good of those who love Him. We have now connected with a great group that really needs us. We felt used, not needed at our last church. I know I still have residue from that last experience to deal with, but I'm realizing that we were freed from some serious control, and as I hear of more and more of our friends coming away from there, I believe we just may be part in their healing & freedom. Beauty from ashes, amen.

  5. Yes we have ... and leaving is hard. But somehow in the chaos when Jesus shines through the clouds of dust that man seems to leave in his wake of "I want it my way" ... it is beauty to see how the same spirit you felt will be there to envelope you in a new season ... with a new fellowship of believers ... I will be praying for you all! The most important thing is to find a place to land and heal as you seek His direction for your family!

  6. Yes, I've been there... more than once. It's always been painful, but yes, beauty has always come out of the ashes. At least we know we can trust God! : )

  7. We have been there once before...although we hadn't belonged as long as it sounds like you have. I'm so sorry for the difficulty you've gone through...for some reason it hurts more when you're hurt by fellow Christians. Hugs to you! Holly

  8. Oh, you have no idea. But what I can tell you is there is much freedom and joy out here in the wild blue yonder following hard after Christ and sometimes it just seems more right to be a part of the body of Christ while stepping away from the establishment so to speak.

  9. I am so hurt by our choice to leave our church that I felt was home that I almost didn't comment.

    I am so bummed. It is so difficult to start anew without holding on to that bitterness from the departure.

    It's tough; in our neck of the woods there aren't a lot of small church choices (we live in the land of mega churches). These churches are very much businesses. I understand that they need to balance the business and spiritual side of a church, but I guess I didn't expect so much business!

    Oh, and in the mail today: a postcard from old church inviting us to an "intimiate gathering to discuss faithful giving." Ugh.

    *sigh* Hugs to you!

  10. I have also been there, but on the other side. I have been a pastor's wife for 13 years. I am still hurting and struggling over numerous families that left our church two years ago because our church voted to buy a different property. Women that I really trusted and believed I had a strong relationship with just left without ever talking to me again. It's so HARD to trust anyone now. So please remember the pastors and their wives are hurting too.

  11. Theresa--"There were some things said that I know were blatant lies, blatant untruths meant to serve someone else." I so understand. Your story is much like ours, except that we did love our new pastor that came in. Unfortunately, 6 years later, our elders did the same thing to him that they did to the first pastor. That's when we called it quits.

    Joy--We need to chat sometime!

    Abby--We really are going to visit RO sometime!

    Melanie--I feel your pain.

    Anonymous--Actually, we left in support of our pastor and his wife. They were asked to resign by our elders and we felt that was entirely wrong.

  12. Sometimes I think Christians (or those who call themselves such) do more to wound/offend each other than any non-believer can. I am so grateful to have a good church home now, but when we were still "looking," we experienced several things that left bitter tastes in our mouths.

    We attended one church for a short period of time where we struggled to become engaged ... finally, we attended a meeting to start helping with the children's ministry. Only knew the name of one person in a room full of probably 10 people, and they never even asked us our names! Frightening to think they would let us work with kids and not know anything about us. So we continued looking.

    We attended a "mega-church" where the children's pastor told us we were letting our daughter run our home because we allowed her to stay in "big people church" with us, rather than MAKE her go to children's church. (She was @ 5 at the time and the children's services were very loud, which frightened her.) I could not believe she would say something so judgmental to us, considering she knew NOTHING about us outside of the five minutes before and after the children's church service when parents drop their kids off and pick them up outside that room.

  13. i grew up as a pastor's daughter and we moved about every 3-5 years. part my dad's fault...part the fault of whatever church we were in. as a result, as an adult, i do not attend a church meeting regularly. my husband was a youth pastor in a small church right out of bible college and was turned out because he refused to cave into something he wasn't just because a certain group felt he should. he walked away and was angry for years. we have only been involved in one church setting since we married 18 years ago. it was a lovely experience and seemingly the perfect church. (any church that meets in a big old catholic building and would play U2 blasting out the door would be a church for me!) fortunately, we didn't leave on bad was just logistics. we had lots of kids and most of the folks there were single or had teenagers. they also only did house churches for awhile and that just didn't work for us and our 5 kids:). now, i'm loosely involved in a vineyard. my kids have not grown up going to a church meeting. we decided awhile ago that it might be nice to grow up without the contraints that we did. mind you, they know the bible, they know who God is because we've taught them. they have no idea of church politics. they have an incredible sense of community because we've built it ourselves. ours is a strange world. sometimes i find myself thinking it's wrong or bad but i have to give that up. God exists outside walls, people, religion, and yes church meetings. it took me 30 someish years to realize that. and i'm so glad i did. i'm so sorry you're going through what you're going through. AND i've heard from my other friends who live in the knoxville area that small intimate church meetings are hard to find. i say you start your own house meetings. i think that concept is beautiful. just invite people over for meals and have fabulous discussion. you seem to have a community who would thrive without walls:)

  14. Oh, yes, have been there more than once. In fact, this weekend I was with a group of Christians that had had a church split some years back over homeschooling. The church wanted to and started a school but wanted to require their minister to put his own kids in there. He was, and is a homeschool dad and refused to put his kids in his own church school, a split resulted. Now, his church, many years later, is absolutely full of homeschool families and is thriving! This church is dead set against government schools, as am I and I applaud them for their stand!

  15. Great post, I enjoyed ready reading it!

  16. Sarah, Thank you for pointing me to this post today, when you read my own account of leaving our church.
    Thank you for your perspective and for giving me food for thought:)

    I'm going to respond to you over there so others who are following can hear my reply.

    Thanks again for your honesty!


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