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.
“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 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.