How To Leave Church, Properly, without Mistakes

You can be sure that, if there is anything you want learn how to do, there is a book written on it.

You can also be sure that most of the self-assistance books (especially the ones that trumpet being “Everything You Need to Know about . . .”) aren’t worth the price of the postage to send them, consisting of quickly cobbled together rehashed material with a sprinkling of inspirational photos showing you what the finished product is supposed to look like. (You’ll never replicate it: the project is too complex, and the instructions too simplistic. But the photos are “inspiring”).

Hand in Hand inspirational original oil painting of couple walking on coastal ocean beach by Steve Henderson

Leaving one place to go to another is essentially a process of walking. Hand in Hand, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

So it is when you choose to leave the established, weekly church service paradigm — a decision more and more people are making these days. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of books written on this — YET — simply because it is not in the interest of the corporate Christian complex, with its voice represented by major Christian publishers, to encourage, or even acknowledge, any rebellious act of independence on the part of acolytes.

But as more and more of these acolytes wake up, shake our heads, and blink, the shockingly rare occasion of a person deciding to

  1. leave the corporate church situation without
  2. giving up on God, but rather
  3. pursue God outside of the conventional “norm”

becomes less and less of a rarity. And as things become less of a rarity, they alarm those who have a vested (read: financial) interest in keeping things the same.

Not All Fruit Is Sweet

(Stop, for a moment, and consider the fruit of massive church attendance: there is a literally captive audience that sits, passively, in the pews and absorbs what it is told from the pulpit.  Is what they are taught sufficient to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity”? [Ephesians 4:12] The most unifying factors we see among many evangelical, churched Christians today are fear of the future, an obligation to support anything the modern state of Israel does, denigration of entire religious or ethnic groups, worship of the military and anyone else in uniform, blind acquiescence to authority, and a distinct tendency to vote Republican.)

So the first thing to do is to stop us from leaving in the first place. This is initially well accomplished by peer pressure, as well as regular applications of Hebrews 10:25 (“not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”), but at some point, really irritatingly persistent people, with serious questions about the gospel and why what we’re told it is, is such good news, eventually see leaving as their only option. (At this point, many of their “leaders” emit a sigh of relief, as these difficult people only cause others in the group to bestir and feel the first pangs of discomfort that, unless quickly repressed, result in further questioning.)

Sunday Morning Looks Different, Now

But after we leave, what then?

How does one “assemble together” and “worship” and “live the community Christian life” in accordance with the way that the first century Christians did, which, we are constantly given to believe, is the only right and proper way to do it? In other words, how do we make sure that we don’t do this whole thing wrong?

The Way That It Should Be inspirational original oil painting of couple standing and embracing on coastal ocean beach by Steve Henderson

As we free ourselves from traditional and man made conventions of how things should be done, we’ll find ourselves doing things differently. The Way That It Should Be, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

This very concern we have of doing things “wrong” is a leverage that can be used against us, and cleverly enough applied, keeps people from making a clean break from an adulterated system, because we  know so little of God’s mercy, love, guidance, and interest in us that we’re convinced He’ll drop us for not following the “rules.”

But in the first place, there are no “rules” — nobody really knows how the first century Christians worshiped, although plenty of emerging voices (funded by the corporate Christian establishment) are willing to lay out the system for us. It’s not much of a stretch of commonsense, however, to grasp that how our earliest brothers and sisters worshiped doesn’t resemble traditional, 21st century, corporate church service.

So if you leave that, you’re not leaving the ways of Peter, Paul, and Mary.

But what to do? Does one start a house church? And if so, how does one run it?

Who speaks? Just the elders? Only men? And how do we choose them?

Is it okay to not meet officially at all, but simply to read and meditate on one’s own, and informally get together with other believers, and just talk? Does talking with immediate family members and very close friends count as fellowship?

Whose Answers Meet Our Needs?

These are good and valid questions, ones without definitive answers, but as the literal movement of people from the pews to someplace outside of the pews continues, wait for it: the books, with definitive answers, will come; they will be published by major Christian houses (which don’t look at writings from individual “nobodies,” by the way, so don’t think they’re discovering fresh and unusual voices); and they will guide us, step by step, into a doctrinally correct form of worship outside of the box.

At some point, celebrity Christians will speak — first to urge us back to the box, then, as disobedience to their authority (they get that from us, by the way, when we give it to them) persists, to “guide” and “teach” us how to be this new type of Christian. At some point, they may go to the airwaves,  allowing us to “worship,” in the privacy of our homes, under their aegis.

Oh, wait. They already do that.

Our path, as Christians, is a narrow one — anyone who hikes knows that narrow paths are generally more difficult, far less populated, and not easy to pick out — they require stamina, patience, clear thinking, and persistence because they take us to incredible places.

The only book you need to do this does not pay royalty fees to its author, nor did He write accompanying workbooks. Start there. Open your mind as well as your eyes, and pray for the discernment and guidance you need to take the next steps.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where a companion article to this one is Leaving Church: Is It Rebellious or Obedient? As this has, at the end, the caveat about “not all churches being bad, etc., ” and “this may not be for you, etc.,” I will not repeat them here.

My goal, as a writer and a Christian, is to encourage the seekers and believers who are tired of twisting and contorting themselves to fit into the very small space they are being squeezed into.

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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, spirituality, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How To Leave Church, Properly, without Mistakes

  1. Jewell says:

    Ironically, it was the last sentence in this article regarding those of us who are “tired of twisting and contorting themselves to fit into the very small space they are being squeezed into” that resonates with me the most. I think the word “tired” describes my last 20+ years in the establishment. Is it too much to ask for genuine love and fellowship from other believers? I feel most (if not all) of what I found in the building was more or less fabricated by everyone because we were expected to be “brothers and sisters in Christ.” I cared for many people there, but mostly it was on a superficial level because we were not involved in life together outside the building. I have retained only a very few (as in one or two) friends from church that I actually see on a regular basis now. Just tired of the box.

    • Our experience mirrors yours, Jewell, and I suspect it is not unique to the two of us. Any time we operate within a group, we adjust our behavior in accordance with “group dynamics” (a favorite term of a church elder I remember from earlier days). One on one, or with just a couple people, most people admit to feeling freer to “be themselves,” which then begs the question, “Why don’t we seek out, more often, the relationships that work, and devote our time to these?”

      There is an illusion that, unless we participate in a religious group activity, we are not fellowshipping, but true honesty dictates that what we’re doing isn’t meaningful, honest conversation with another person or persons, but a fulfillment of social obligations: we listen, we raise our hand to make an (appropriate) comment, we check the boxes on the paper. “Ah, but we are being taught,” we are told.

      Really? Many people have spent hours in small group “study” of a pop-culture book by a Christian celebrity author, which serious reflection (difficult to accomplish with many of these books, since they are so shallow) would result in the conclusion that what is being taught is minimal at best, misleading and misdirecting at the rest. More than one sermon we’ve endured looks like it follows a universal pattern (as if the method were taught in a seminary class on “How to Give a Sermon”): we start with a funny joke, segue into some Bible verses which are then used to illustrate the theme of the day, or the week, or the month: “community,” “financial stewardship,” “ministry participation,” “cooperation.” Top it all off with a hymn (or chorus, in the more “modern” churches), carefully selected to reflect the sermon’s title.

      If we leave this, what are we missing? And if we insist upon staying, what are we missing that we can’t find, because our time is so taken up with multiple weekly obligations?

      Whether we stay in the system or not, it is important that each individual Christian devote serious time to his or her relationship with our merciful, loving Father, learning about Him, learning about Jesus and His words and His works and His love for us — without the “assistance” of workbooks, elder committee recommendations, and pop-Christian-pap. We are on a good path, Jewell, and our Guide is one we can trust.

      • Biniam says:

        I will start by confessing that I have not read the entire content of your article. I happened to know a couple of people who decided to leave the church based on the same premise you point out in your article. Sadly, none of these people are walking with God at this time. They have lost their zeal for God and their privatized life has become fruitful ground for bitterness and animosity. Whether we like it or not God has called us into fellowship and Jesus specifically told us that the world would know us for our love. My point is that non of the characters of a mature christian are to be found in leaving and in separating himself/herself from the body of christ. I am in no way advocating in being a victims of greedy individuals but at the same time, I would not advise anyone to leave. They would rather clean their father’s house and help their fellow believers who would otherwise be dubbed.

        • Biniam: It is always a wise and gracious act to read the entire article before commenting upon it.

          I am sorry for your friends, who left a standard church situation, who no longer are walking with God, although I question how much we can know about the inner lives of others. Many who reach the point of leaving experience, as you observe, bitterness and acrimony, often resulting from their church experiences, and it takes awhile for this to be worked through. But be assured that our good Father, who loves His children dearly, does not abandon them to their fate. He teaches, always and constantly, and as with any teaching, it takes time for lessons to be absorbed. We must have faith, as children of our Father, that He is able to teach outside the confines of what men deem appropriate venues.

          Our own experience in interacting with de-churched people has been quite different, and we maintain contact, in various formats, with growing, questioning, excited believers who share what they are learning with us, as we share with them. It is a misconception — deliberately put forth by some people, unconsciously by others (who often just repeat what they hear), that de-churched people are out of fellowship with the body of Christ. It is the same argument used to describe homeschoolers as unsocialized because they do not attend government schools, as if this is the only suitable format for “socialization.”

          Indeed, because many people leave because they do not find meaningful fellowship, teaching, or interaction within the church experience, they are adamant about connecting with others, and do so in non-traditional ways. The people “left behind” in the church situation rarely know the updated lives of those who leave, because few church relationships are strong enough to survive the split. We ourselves do not keep up with acquaintanceships from our church days, nor do they with us, so it is difficult to state with conviction who is growing how.

          If the people that you mention are friends of yours, or if you care for them in any fashion, then I encourage you to talk to God about how you can be a part of their lives. They do not need you as someone who judges them for not attending church, any more than you need them as someone who judges you for doing so. But it is possible to interact as sons and daughters of the same Father, with humility, understanding, and grace — the same way we interact with blood brothers, sisters, children, and parents.

          • Jewell says:

            I would add, also, that saying that all those YOU personally know who “leave” the building lose their zeal and are fruitless thereby proving that “leaving” is wrong or unbiblical is an incorrect inference. It would be like me saying “I know some people who are still attending church but are not zealous or producing fruit; therefore, attending church is a terrible mistake that no one should make.” You can’t infer something when you don’t know all the details. I know many, many who have stayed who are probably lukewarm. By your argument, Biniam, EVERYONE who still attends church is zealous and fruitful, and we all know that is not the case. In reality, there are both zealous and unfruitful in both camps. I try not to judge those who stay and ask kindly for the same in return for leaving. No one has ever really asked me why we left, but they sure have a lot of opinions on why we were wrong.

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