Before I launch into this topic, I have some questions for you:
Are you looking for a safe community? Are you longing for fellowship where you are free to grow in your own way? Do you need support while you explore, discover, and walk your own spiritual path? I warmly invite you to join The Lasting Supper. We’ll be waiting there for you with open arms!
Okay! So, why does the church make it so hard to grow and go? Here’s 10 reasons, but I’ll expand after. One or more of these may apply to any particular church:
- loss of relationship (they really love you);
- loss of volunteers (free help gone!);
- loss of control over your life (how you believe and behave);
- loss of revenue (tithes and offerings keep a church running);
- loss of good influencers on other members (if you’re mature you mentor others);
- loss of hope for dreams of a larger church (higher attendance rocks!);
- loss of salvation of a member (no salvation outside the church);
- loss of a person from “us/them” paradigm (real Christians don’t enter the world);
- loss of an evangelist (good members share how great the church is with others);
- loss of confidence in reputation (if you left, are we as great as we thought?).
Loss. And loss equals grief. And grief is always hard.
Like this cartoon suggests, clamping the umbilical cord is necessary at some point. The separation, or individuation, is natural and necessary. It doesn’t mean rejection. It means grow and go!
When I finally left the ministry in 2010, I also left the church. For the most part. But it was because I wasn’t really given a choice if I want to be conscientiously true to myself. I have attended church several times since. I’ve found one that works for me that I visit when I can. But when I left the church, it wasn’t so much over conflict (although there was that), but more over the sense that I no longer fit inside the box. In fact, I had a revelatory experience that there was no box! It was a growth moment for me. But, generally speaking, the church has no place for that in its paradigm. You’re either totally in or totally out.
I sometimes compare it to a young adult leaving home. It’s natural and necessary. If things are okay at home, it’s not because of conflict the young adult leaves. He or she leaves because it’s time to branch out on his or her own. It’s not a rejection of home, but simply a growing beyond it. Again, if things are okay, you may go back for visits and sometimes even to stay for a while if need be.
It is possible to stay in a church. Especially if the church provides a wide space to grow, even beyond its own theology and praxis. But most churches don’t and won’t do this. This far and no further is the unwritten manifesto.
What if the church, like a good parent, provides a large, safe space to grow? What if the church understood that there might come a time when it was necessary to move on in order to keep growing, especially if staying meant stunting growth? What if the church actually encouraged people to move on and start a family of their own? What if leaving a church didn’t necessarily mean a nasty divorce, but a gentle progression where we could return if we wanted or needed for a time or forever? What if the church understood that some people still interested in their spirituality can no longer abide ordered organizational, institutional, religious observance? What if churches provided a rich intellectual space for thought where people could explore all kinds of intellectual avenues, even if it included other religions, spiritualities, and philosophies, including agnosticism and atheism? What if… well… you get my point.
Here’s my advice to each one of you nevertheless: grow and go!