Leaving Church: Is It Rebellious, or Obedient?

A reader recently wrote me concerning her leaving the established church. As with most of us who go through this process, she finds herself isolated from people she had grown to believe were friends, or at least “brothers and sisters in Christ,” which, oddly in corporate church circles, is a more detached way of phrasing things.

“No one around me understands, so they work hard sometimes to persuade me that ‘going it alone’ is how cults get started,” she writes, adding that, in both Old and New Testament times, it wasn’t considered normal to meet multiple times a week and do whatever it is we do when we meet multiple times a week.

Cadence inspirational original oil painting of woman walking on coastal beach by Steve Henderson licensed wall art at Fulcrum Gallery, iCanvas, Allposters, Art.com, Prints.com

We are called to walk the path set before us — and if we’re on the right path, it will probably be narrow, and unpopulated. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Fulcrum Gallery, Prints.com, iCanvas, Allposters.com, and more

She concluded,

“Thank you for helping me NOT feel rebellious and anti-social!”

You are welcome, my friend and sister.

So what of it? Is this woman, who left the conventional church setting because she felt over stressed, underappreciated, quite possibly bored, and frustrated at the shallowness of the (multiple) weekly experience, rebellious?

Or — because she is listening to something deep inside her that simply will not be quiet —  is she obedient?

Those of us who have left the established, conventional, corporate, industrial Christian weekly experience generally do not do so precipitately, so offended by something said that we refuse to come back, ever again. Such behavior in anyone borders upon childishness, and from what I have seen of people who leave conventional church, they are not childish.

We Tried, We Really Tried

Rather, many are deep thinkers, followers of Christ who have tried for a long time to acquiesce to the invisible rules of the group: they give up their Saturdays for church work days, they take over unpopular “ministries” like chair arrangement or the washing of communion cups, they manage the ministry of doughnuts and coffee (especially if they’re female) they teach children’s church (female again), they show up at annual meetings in which everything is decided beforehand and all they are expected to do is vote “yes” where they are told to vote yes. (This latter reminds me, a bit, of presidential elections).

Not content to sulk in silence, as they are frequently accused of doing, they go out of their way to approach elders and the pastor privately and non-confrontationally, in order to express misgiving about the way things are being run: in our own church experience we found the over-emphasis upon programs and leadership-approved ministries cloying, with little time left over for serious fellowship among the saints.

Focus on an Elite Few

No offense to the pastor’s PhD or anything, but we really did want time to talk and listen to our ordinary brothers and sisters in Christ who were living real, gritty lives and had questions and answers we wanted to hear. But we were unable to do so, because predominance was accorded to the voice of leadership, which had so much to say about “community,” “intentional living,” “transparency,” and “purposefulness,” that our assembling ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), pretty much consisted of making a worshipful circle around a few men.

Leaving, for us, was a long, ongoing process, because leaving the established, conventional church — until we grew close enough to God to actually learn more about Him — seemed akin to leaving Christianity.

But it isn’t, you know, and those of us who have left to the point of never wanting to come back generally grow in our Christianity, no longer receiving a weekly (or multiple weekly) injection of doctrine that doesn’t necessarily reflect Christ’s words. It’s interesting to note that He never said “intentional,” “totally transparent,” or “purposeful.” His message, unlike many messages we endured from the pulpit, was markedly devoid of corporate-speak.

Not Lightly Done

Leaving isn’t easy, and those who do so, don’t do it lightly. But we do it because something inside of us says, “Go. This isn’t working. Leave.”

Not all Christians hear this message, and more importantly, not all who hear it act upon it, so convinced are they that God would never call His people out of what they consider to be the only representation of His church, but He does make this call, and some of us do answer it.

It’s not an easy road. It’s not a popular road. It’s certainly not a wide road.

But if you are called to walk it, it’s definitely a road worth taking.

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. If you have made it this far, allow me to insert the usual caveat that not all churches are bad, and not all Christians should leave them. However, the opposite applies: not all churches are good, and not all Christians should stay in them because this is the only way to serve God and interact with other believers.

Are you learning, are you growing, are you fellowshipping with believers in an informal, free way? Then by all means, stay where you are receiving — and able to give — spiritual richness.

But if you are frustrated, or feel as if you are in a rut, or battle sensations of inadequacy or sadness every time you return home from service, then don’t necessarily blame yourself. If going to church starts feeling like going to work, then maybe your church is running more like a business than a ministry to the saints.

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
This entry was posted in Christian, church, Daily Life, Faith, Family, home, Life, Lifestyle, religion, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Leaving Church: Is It Rebellious, or Obedient?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Nicely written Carolyn! We were raised to be there every single time the doors were open and we did so, as much as was humanly possible. It took a great lot of church abuse, and yes, that is what happened to several in our little family, for us to give up. Even then, we did not give up for a long time, but by the time we moved back to N. Carolina and attended a church we pretty much agreed with doctrine-wise, and there came the day when the associate pastor gave a whole “sermon” on how they needed to get out and invite the people of the neighborhood into church services!! And he in particular, though the youth minister, could not be bothered all those 11 months to even speak to us, much less our daughter. SO!! I nearly threw up on that one…could not wait to get out of the bldg and we never returned. We had had enough. Life is a journey and our faith path as well…and we continue along ours.

    • Elizabeth — isn’t it amazing how our strongest, biggest steps in the journey come through pain? There’s a shaft that goes through my heart when I see your sentence about the youth pastor not bothering to speak to your daughter. I’m guessing as a parent you could deal with his ignoring you, but not a “little one,” even if that little one is a teenager. I am reminded of the time a man in one of the churches we attended approached our daughter who was standing with a friend/acquaintance (that’s generally what they are) from church. Completely overlooking our daughter, he turned to the friend and showered her with praise on how beautiful and talented and wonderful she was! Our daughter stood there, just wondering if he would even notice her existence, and then he walked away. He was a good man, unknowingly influenced by the “caste system” of that particular group, and while he didn’t mean to hurt, he definitely left an impression that is not easily removed.

      I am glad that you are strongly on your walk, confident in your Guide — and confident, as well, in your ability to hear, listen to, and understand that guide. As you no doubt know — that ability to understand isn’t because you or I are so amazing, but because He is. It wasn’t until we were strongly enough pulled away from the standard church environment that we realized, “Hey, this understanding thing, this following thing, this loving thing — this isn’t something we have to generate within ourselves before He’ll turn and notice us. Because He is a gentle teacher and lowly of heart, He does just that — He teaches us.” Within the standard church environment, we constantly battle that sensation that we’ve got to get this right, first. So liberating to be away from that!

      I am glad that, in your life and faith journey, you write to me and share your wisdom. May you be richly blessed, in the things that matter, in 2016 and beyond. And even further, may you be given the discernment to see just how richly blessed you are. (It’s a challenge — we’re always fighting the Christian cultural teaching that God’s blessings look like the world’s — lots of money, accolades from other human beings, position, and power. Or even more insidious, that we get all those great blessings of peace and joy and contentment and all that, PLUS the stuff that really matters to us, the worldly bonus.)

      • Elizabeth says:

        Thank you for understanding, even more, what is “written between the lines” of our experience. I am on a journey, tis true…well, hubby and me both…and there is still a lot of pain…much sometimes…I do not understand, but I trust in my loving FATHER (my REAL FATHER I like to call HIM) to lead us along bit by bit, step by step…and somehow in the end of things, it will be ok. If not before. My heart goes out to your daughter in her experience…and yep, happened to us numerous times with probably all in our little family. I often wanted to say, “Uh, and I guess I am mincement or chopped liver or something?” Never did. When such happens you are always kind of struck dumb…at least I am. You are right, what happens to us as adults is one thing…and yet another our young child. But such “overlooking” was the least of what happened to our kids when we lived in Richland. The least!! I could write a book about that place…but don’t books need a good ending? The best ending was finally getting to move away!! But it was where I learned that you could be hated simply for breathing air and taking up space…by people who did not know your name even, nor anything about you. There, to me, was a huge heavy blanket of depression that hung over that area…when we would go someplace else, and head up higher, out of Kennewick…as we reached those hills, the blanket of depression would lift. I did meet a couple others there who felt it as well…one left and the other is stuck here, until her husband dies as he will never leave…a woman who lives in a worse situation than most can imagine. I love her…and we do keep in touch…and once in awhile we get together…as we can. Our older daughter who suffered the most there, will never set foot in a church again…but that is ok too…I do not see us so-doing either. I just hope someday she will come to the FATHER!! I think it will come…but maybe not in my lifetime…just so she comes…and her family.

        One of the things that I have appreciated the most, in our attending a synagogue, is during Yom Kippur services, when the prayers of repentence are said…there seems to always be time in each service for personal reflection and prayers, but this prayer is repenting for everything…takes awhile to say it…but the reason is that no one is pointed out, and by repenting as a group, for what we have not done, we are helping those who have done those things, to be able to repent and with the support of the others, as well as having the group’s support in repenting for the sins we are guilty of too. Very meaningful and comforting. They never think people are perfect…and yet the sermons can go into some things more deeply, pointing out how certain sins are really bad…with more explanations than I ever heard from a preacher too. They want to be sure every aspect of repentance is covered. You are never pointed at or singled out in any way. All done in helping everyone to reach a good place in their repentance.

        Thanks for your kind words of support. Sometimes the journey can be quite lonely. But with internet we do have more connectedness sometimes I think… Blessings on you and yours and all you are doing too!! May this year be a better year for us all, or at least may we be more comforted in the midst of whatever comes!!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    PS…need to be clear that our experience with church abuse did NOT occur in your town…we were not there very long and all our memories of that area are very sweet actually…

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