When You Leave A Church
I stared out the passenger window, arms crossed rigidly, jaw clenched, willing the tears to keep their place inside my eyes. Rebellious, one slipped free, sliding silently down my face. I pursed my lips tighter, ordering the others to stay in place.
"Don't go causing a scene."
I didn't look over at my husband. I stared stubbornly out the side window, as the single tear urged his friends to join him on my cheeks. Silently one slid down, followed by more. I prayed silently for strength. For a shred of dignity. For peace and forgiveness to fill my crushed, empty heart.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I mustered enough courage and gaiety to lead the kids into our new church. At the door, we were greeted by an army of smiling strangers, welcoming us with a warm handshake, and a firm clap on the back. I breathed slowly and deeply, afraid to let any emotion escape. I plastered the largest smile on my face, teeth bared in a menacing grin.
Making our way down strange hallways, searching for the appropriate Sunday School class for each child, signing them in, introducing ourselves. The need for some formality and order allowed us to communicate without talking. After the youngest child was deposited in the nursery, we suddenly had no protective barrier of children between us.
"I'll go find us seats. Go wash your face, and try to look happy. And lose that stupid smile."
He headed toward the sanctuary, boisterously greeting a few people and loudly introducing himself to the pastor.
Strains of worship music drifted into the hallway, the familiar strains of "Angus Dei", causing my eyes to fill again with tears. I walked quickly into the bathroom, and hid in the last stall. As the music grew louder in the sancturary, I began to freely weep.
"Lord, why have you abandoned me? Why did you bring me here now, with no friends, no one to turn to and no support?" I sobbed uncontrollably, near hysterical. I never felt more alone in my life, than I did at that moment.
And quietly, between my sobs, I heard a small voice, "I am here."
At first I ignored the gentle admonishment. As my crying slowed in intensity and volume I could hear the soft sound inside my head, of a gently reassuring voice. "I am here. I will never leave you or forsake you."
As I scrubbed my face with hot water, I realized that there is one body, and we all worship God. Ultimately, the friendships, bible studies, worship, all of it is for the purpose of glorifying God.
I realized that it isn't about me.
1 Corinthians 12:13 "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (NIV)
Ephesians 4:25 "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood, and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one body." (NIV)
There are many reasons to leave a church.
The church grows in a direction you dislike. The pastor is called to serve elsewhere. The worship leader leaves to make an album, and start a band.
Maybe your family changes and the old church family no longer fits, for whatever reason. Divorce, kids growing up, fleeing from accountability...
Regardless of why you leave, separating from a church body is painful. Following is a list of things you can expect to be different once you make a move.
1. You may not be invited to participate in bible studies and small groups. Although they have been your friends for years, once you leave their church, they pull away too. If you attend church somewhere else, it is a good opportunity to get plugged in to new groups and meet your "new family". If you aren't attending church, you may have to look harder for a place to grow.
2. Your friends will not call so often. This hurts, but is an extension of protection. They want to disassociate from you. If you left a church on bad terms, they do not want to get dragged into the drama. If you left on good terms, they may feel weird about still being friends. Although we are all one body, there is often an unspoken segregation among different types of churches.
3. You can no longer receive counsel from the pastor. Again, a painful but necessary separation. If you left on bad terms, you probably don't want his counsel anyway. Even if the parting was agreeable, he may want you to seek your spiritual sustenance elsewhere.
The point is that we should all seek support from God.
After getting kicked out of our first church (what I really mean to say is, after getting kicked out of a church the first time), I felt isolated, guilty and lonely. Although our reason for leaving was not my fault, I still carried the stigma of shame around. I finally realized that God did not judge me. He loves me regardless of what my husband or kids or friends think.
We are all one body. One body of people worshipping the infinite, powerful, loving Creator. Let us not forget the message of love and forgiveness.
Let us leave the confines of a building, of rules and regulations, and with one voice,