Why did you, or why are you considering, leaving the church?

"Leaving the Church" (cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward)

“Leaving the Church” (cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward)

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I didn’t leave the church because of abuses. I left the church because I could no longer grow there.

Being a pastor has its challenges. One of them is that your spiritual life is public. Pastors, unless they are great actors, display their spirituality week after week. They have to open their mouths and expose their spiritual innards.

This is what happened to me. I could have pretended and taught the party line. But I’m not that kind of person. Even though my blog was growing in popularity, many in the congregation didn’t read it. They heard from me all the time, so why read my blog too?! But when it started getting infamous and other local people were talking about it and even informing my leadership and the leadership of the church denomination I was in, then things started to become a challenge.

I was obviously thinking outside of the box, and this was causing great discomfort to people inside my congregation as well as people outside of it. It came to the point where I chose to leave because I and the church were “no longer compatible”.

This is unfortunate. But it happens to a lot of people. Lots of people are leaving the church. I suspect most of them are leaving because intellectually it doesn’t make sense to them any more. Conscientiously, they have no choice but to set themselves free to think with integrity.

On the negative side there might have been abuses, control issues, manipulation, money issues, boredom, silliness, etcetera.

On the positive side there might have been friendships, good music, compassionate outreach, etcetera.

But if a person is being restricted intellectually, then I think eventually their church life is going to dry up and become too oppressive to remain.

I’ve come to the conclusion, actually, that Christianity and the church is failing at providing an intellectual, philosophical, theological construct for people today. It is making less and less sense. Which is why I launched the online community The Lasting Supper (Join us!). I’m trying to articulate and provide a construct within which we can understand reality and spirituality.

Is there a way we can progress without rejecting everything that brought us to this point? Is it possible to grow and transition without having to deny everything thus far? Can we expand our theology to include everything? Is there a unifying theory that we can develop and embrace that will satisfy the contemporary intellect of truth-seekers?

Read the story of Sophia. Her story is what this is all about! In fact, one of my drawings in the book is called “Metamorphosis” where she walks with butterflies. Order “The Liberation of Sophia” today!

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11 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    Love this cartoon, David. It is so spot on. It’s not the belief in God, it’s the church that is impeding my belief in a God that is not some sort of cosmic policeman, or one who sends his weak, fragile creations to hell for an eternity over a metaphorical loaf of bread. I have made, and continue to make, good friends who are in the church, but it’s just not a spiritually nourishing place for me anymore for many of the same reasons as your post. Thank you for crystallizing my thoughts into one perfect illustration.

  2. MichaelL65 says:

    For me the reasons were two-fold. I remember having a conversation with my pastor’s wife and stating that I had been at this Christianity for 24 years and it just was not working. She said something that surprised me, “If it is not working, then you need to find something that does work.” At that moment I decided to “take a break” from church and re-evaluate and re-examine what I believed. I went back over the many years I had been involved in church and I looked at what I was taught, and what I had come to believe and realized that I was dying from a lack of intellectual growth. Church was simply, “put your brain in park” and believe God. As I engaged in on line forums dealing in philosophy, science, secular humanism and a host of other ideas, I felt alive again.
    Secondly, there was this idea that I had held onto that we were special. We were ‘different’. We were ‘better’. When I actually decided to leave the church for good, it was almost like the blinders were lifted, and I realized that the people in the church were no different than the people outside the church. (Some were a hell of a lot worse than those outside the church.) For all the talk of sanctification, being filled with the Holy Spirit, being in the ‘river’ of God and all that, there really is no difference.
    I suppose you could say, I just ‘outgrew’ church – I came tot he place where it had served its purpose for a season in my life and I no longer needed it. I am much happier in my unbelief than I ever was in my belief. No longer needing to worry about living to please some God whose standards are impossible to meet is, I find, at least, tremendously freeing.

  3. David says:

    Same for me guys!

  4. Kenneth says:

    Conversely, I believe that the Church should allow creative thinking and wrestling with real life questions (examples: How did I get here? Why is genocide wrong? What if life started by spontaneous generation? Is monotheism exclusive?) even if the answers seems obvious. My church has been willing to let its people think and explore their faith on intellectual terms. And I believe that a reasonable faith should hold up to intellectual examination. Of course, these thoughts are based on a worldview which includes a triune God and absolute truth. As long as there are ground rules (non-nonnegotiables), I think we should be free to think outside status quo.

  5. May people are going through this crisis, including myself. It helps me to consider that the church is the body of Christ, which is so much more than the human institutions in which the body is currently incarnated. But if we leave the human communities that are currently in place, are we not leaving also the body of Christ? Belonging to some Christian community is the only way to be in the body of Christ. Isn’t is possible to “think outside the box” and still be part of a pilgrim community? Easier said than done, but it must be possible, because being a Christian is not feasible in isolation from the body of Christ. Isn’t this what Jesus did with regard to the Jewish Temple community? Let us pray for “courage to change what we can change, serenity to accept what we cannot change, and wisdom to know the difference.”

  6. Jill Lillis says:

    There was a great deal of freedom and love at the last church I attended…I loved the worship. What is hard for me is hearing such terrible misrepresentations of the Divine Presence…

  7. Cecilia Davidson says:

    While it theologically doesn’t make sense, the Christian Church does allow for a place to fulfill psychological needs (the need to belong, to understand, to name but two examples), and, to follow up with Kenneth’s suggestion, it should be trying to tackle real world questions rather than simply rehashing old scripture. There should be genuine discussion on what it means to be human, rather than just telling us to believe we’ll go to heaven (given certain conditions).

  8. MichaelL65 says:

    I have read the other responses and totally appreciate where you are coming from. But as for me, I simply no longer believe in a God/god anymore. I don’t hate God. I don’t think people who believe in Gd are a$$holes. I just simply do not believe in the God of the Bible anymore. I have lost my children over this. I respect those who believe. I served in the church for 24 years. I was married for 15 years. I recently stopped denying who I am and came out as a gay man. I knew I was gay all along. I came to Christ to ‘heal’ me. What I found was torture and pain.

  9. David says:

    Thanks for sharing so honestly Michael.

  10. MichaelL65 says:

    Thank you, David, for creating a place of safety for those like myself to be open and honest without judging. Your words and artwork have moved me to tears more than once! Thank you!

  11. David says:

    That means a lot Michael.

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