that moment you decide to leave the church

"Leaving the Church" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Leaving the Church” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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You see, people leave the church for many reasons. Sometimes it’s over theological disagreements. Sometimes it’s because they’ve been hurt. Sometimes it’s because they don’t feel accepted and don’t fit in. Sometimes it’s just because it feels like there’s no life in it anymore.

Like Sarah here. There’s no animosity. No anger. No hard feelings. She just feels this strange feeling that it’s done.

I remember the day this happened for me.

Actually, it was night. I was a pastor of a Vineyard church. It was becoming somewhat clear that I and the church were no longer compatible. On this evening I met with friends from the church who, up to this point, were very supportive. But we had a meeting in which they expressed concerns. During their presentation my heart sank, and I just knew my time was up.

I left the meeting that night almost five years ago in the same place Sarah is in this cartoon. On the one hand it was devastating. On the other hand I never felt so liberated. I texted Lisa, “I’m done!” She texted back, “Me too!”

And that was it. Within weeks I left the pastorate as well as the church.

Do you remember the moment you were done?
Or are you still waiting for it?
Or did you have a moment where you decided to give it one more shot?

We talk about this stuff all the time at The Lasting Supper. I welcome you! CLICK HERE!

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27 Responses

  1. Lydia says:

    I wish my experience had been that cut and dried. It was a slow progression. It might be that it is harder when you have kids who are real involved. But as they grow up, they start seeing things , too. Teens are experts at sniffing out hypocrisy and unfairness. My responses changed. You see, I can explain the evil unbelievers might do. But how can I keep explaining away the evil believers do to each other– to kids? I can’t. So I stopped trying.

    I am not claiming that Christians are perfect (boy does one hear that a lot these days) but for goodness sake, some stuff is just plain obvious and all the rationalization in the world cannot excuse it— using Jesus like a protective shield. Things such as protecting child molesters and abusers, etc. Shaming victims. Women being marginalized because of their gender. Being ostracized for disagreeing with teachings, etc.

    I wanted my kids to understand that civil/polite dissent is an American tradition. We don’t live in a state church!To be marginalized for asking questions or disagreeing with the leaders is not something I want them to accept lightly or think is normal. to be accused of being in sin for daring to disagree with leaders is OTT. And I certainly did not want them growing up supporting such things by enabling or giving them money.

    Now we talk a lot about Jesus Christ and what He was really like while here. You know, He was pretty hard on the “religious” leaders of His day and tribe. Amazing how different things look to all of us now. Getting out of the bubble has been glorious!

  2. esbee says:

    You mean you left a faulty organization made by men. The Bible says the church is His people– not a building. My husband and I quit going to an organization made by men over 20 years ago. That does not mean we left God or God left us. We still believe God is God, He sent Jesus to die for our sins and offer healing of all kinds and to have that personal relationship with us.

    I have seen believers become atheists because the faulty organizations made by men failed them. The promises from these faulty men erroneously passed off as promises of God that never materialized caused many to even question if there is a God.

    Yes, Vigo, there is a God, and even though many misrepresent Him, He is still able to break through all that nonsense and guide your life to the truth. All these faulty organizations will pass away, but His Word, Jesus, will never pass away. Even God Himself says, “Be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”

    Now if I could only be this nice to my husband!

  3. Gary says:

    I remember that day well. For me it was a bit different in that I taught my adult Sunday school class for the last time (on love) and and then told them it was time for us to move on. We knew we were leaving church entirely, at least for a while, but did not put it in those terms. most of the class hugged us and said goodbye. Many had tears. It was a legalistic church with a young earth believing, fire breathing pastor who seemed to preach on sin and hell way more than love and grace. My teaching was dramatically different in my focus and at least one couple (our former best friends) sat in the back of the class and just glared at us the entire final class (they felt betrayed by my teaching and by the fact we had grown close to another couple they grew to dislike) and said not a word to either of us on our way out. Even though right up to that morning I taught the largest adult class in the church of a 1000 or so members, the pastor NEVER said a word to me or asked why we left, nor did any member of the leadership team. Soon after we began to hear the stories from some who still cared for us. Even though we left with honor and did not attack or tell anyone our true motives for leaving, they were all to glad to sacrifice us for the sake of the church and the party line.

    I’ll never forget sitting in the parking lot for a few minutes that morning after we left watching people come for church. I remember seeing the new youth pastor walking across the lot with his family in tow coming from another building after teaching a children’s class. They were so Norman Rockwell in their presentation. I looked at my wife and said…”WOW – has he drank the Kool-Aid or what?” She chuckled and agreed. (He was kind of a dweeb with a dark side if you know what I mean) We looked around the lot one final time and then drove away.

    That was nearly 4 years ago. I have not been in a church building since other than to perform a wedding (still do for family) or attend a funeral since. Ironically I am not angry, though we were hurt by some and treated badly by many. I have come to recognize that this is what happens when one’s belief system changes. Now we know we will not likely ever return to organized religion.

  4. I remember it well. I had been a Christian since Oct 13, 1984. Billy Graham came to Vancouver and I was one of the last people that went down to the floor and “gave my heart to Jesus”. (BTW, I always hated that term, as, over the following years, I never found any theological basis for it.) I poured my heart and soul, and a hell of a lot of tears into the church over the next 24 years. Went to Bible college. Found who I thought was the woman God had given me to marry. Did the Pastor thing for a few years. Struggled with some things and was forced to leave ministry. (BTW… That marriage should have ended after six months. We slugged it out over 15 years because, you know, being ‘good Christians’ and all that… )

    Once the marriage ended in a very messy divorce, my home church (incidentally a Vineyard Church) really supported me. I did well spiritually for a while. Then things got ugly. I made the decision to move back to the West Coast. I wasn’t even going to go to the church my last Sunday in that prairie city, but someone called and said that people really wanted to say goodbye since I had been there from the start of it and had contributed much. I agreed to go. It was “nice”, in the sense that whatever nice in quotation marks means.

    As I left that morning, a “leader” that had happened to be my “best friend”, that had apparently had major issues with me over the past few months of my time there came running out to me as I was set to drive off. His parting words went something like, “Well, it’s been good hasn’t it?”

    My parting words, “You were supposed to be my best friend and you put me through hell fr two months because of your own insecurities! Fuck You!” Or words to that effect. Once I left there, I knew my life would never be the same.

    I moved back to the small West Coast town near Vancouver where I grew up. Where I first started my Christian journey. But, as they say, you can never come home. I tried to do the church thing when I got here. I found a church as close to the Vineyard as I could, because I really did love, and believe in that style and concept. I found my heart wasn’t in it. I had nothing in common with these people. I spoke with a good friend, who happened to be a former pastor of mine’s wife. I said, “I have really tried for 24 years to do this Christian thing. It hasn’t worked.”

    Her response was so amazing and gracious. “Then you need to try something else.”

    That moment was so freeing. That was the point I left. I left the Church. I left Christianity behind. I can’t say it was easy. My oldest daughter has decided she wants nothing to do with me. There have been guilt induced thoughts of, “What if I am wrong? What if THEY are right? What if HELL is real and awaits me when I die?” Then I read the news about what is going on in the world, and realize, war, terrorism, and all that, is done in the name of one religion or another. Religion. God. Bullshit.

    The social aspect was the hardest. Losing friends that I can no longer relate with. But that’s all church is when I think about it. A social club. A bar for religious folk. A bar where the Jesus Juice flows. I have had my fill of Jesus Juice, thank you.

    Two years ago, I came out. Drunk as a skunk. On Facebook. The world did not end. Those that know me accept me.

    That is all. Thank you for listening. Thank you for this place of safety. You are more a ‘pastor’ now than you ever where in a pulpit.

  5. Phil says:

    It happened more than once for us. First time was very traumatic for me personally, as I had worked so hard as a church musician in the church for 12 years and loved every minute of it. It was like I was being forced to see the unhealthinesses within: the church politics that favored some while abusing others; the passive-aggressive shaming from the pulpit; the fruitless meetings with leadership to attempt to address the issues. I was rather trapped inside that mess, as I had promised the worship leader that I would handle the entire holiday season’s pianist duties. We left the New Year’s service and never looked back. We were free!

  6. Kathi says:

    We had several incidents over several churches that lead us to think it was time to make a final leave, but the final straw was over our kids. We were a part of a house church and our son was telling us that the pastor’s son was bullying him. When my husband had a talk with the pastor he was told, well, boys will be boys. That was it for us. If a leader is going to flippantly dismiss bully behavior, especially on a kid, then we wanted no part of it. We tried visiting other churches but couldn’t stomach the Sunday morning routine any more.

    Michael – Like you, the hardest part of leaving was loss of friends. People that told us that we were like family to them. We ate with them, worshiped with them, served along side them, played with them, and vacationed with them. Once we left the club we never heard from them again. If church is the only reason that makes me friends with someone, I can’t do it anymore.

  7. There are some things about “church” I do not enjoy, but I have not been motivated to leave. Being retired after 51 years of leadership, life in the church is different. My local church has started having small group gatherings (we use the word ConneXtion Groups) and it has been the best experience of my life, spiritually speaking. We gather for food/fellowship, sharing time “how is it with your soul?” to use Methodist language and we study some material that has been selected by the group. Right now we are studying Marcus Borg’s “Heart of Christianity”, may he rest in peace. It sure beats spending one hour looking at the back of some one’s head. My wife and I enjoy the people in both contexts.

  8. esbee says:

    So sorry to hear of all the abuse you took being in the church, but it was people, given free will, who did that to you. God loves you more than ever and understands even when we cuss Him out. Many things have been and are being done in the name of religion but it does not mean God sanctioned those things. But Jesus did not come to bring more religion. He came to bring us Himself. God bless and may you find healing for your broken heart and soul.

  9. Gary says:

    esbee,

    I know you did not direct your comment specifically to me but I would like to respond to it. OF COURSE it was people who did the things many here have spoken of. That is pretty much how religious institutions work. Some no longer believe in God, and some of us simply no longer believe in religion. But if you think we all left “the church” because we were hurt by people then you are trivializing the paths we have chosen. And frankly, your preachy tone in the context of addressing us as if we are children who simply don’t understand is very counter productive.

  10. Colleen says:

    Mine was not a one day in one day out sort of thing. It took about 3 years. But when I finally left, I knew it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t living in integrity by still being a member of my church and then later wasn’t living in integrity even being a believer.

  11. esbee says:

    never meant to sound preachy —just sharing— I am a retired teacher so what I write probably reflects that…but Jesus’s message of salvation is so simple that children can grasp it. It is the practical everyday living of it that gets tricky.

  12. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    You’ve managed to convey such poignancy in this cartoon David. “There’s no animosity. No anger. No hard feelings. She just feels this strange feeling that it’s done.”

    It surprised me when it happened to me. I was a passionate believer. My change of mind was peculiarly quiet. A single moment in time when the questions finally outweighed the answers.

  13. Many people have identified with that feeling.

  14. jason derr says:

    I have a love hate thing for the church. Liturgy, tradition and community – i love it. But i need breaks. I discovered this is seminary – loved my studies but morni g lrayer, enen song community worship sunday worship, it was too much. Now i like the church of the sunday morning sleep in.

  15. Faith says:

    I have always grown up in the church and always felt like an outsider. Even when I entered the church building I never felt like I belonged for some reason. One day about 4 1/2 years ago I was at a home cell group that was associated with the Reformed church and the leader stated that God is Sovereign so Jesus could not be our friend. We were to look at Him with reverence and respect so friendship was out of the question. That was the last time in my heart I went to “church”. Physically I went to a church for about 3 more years off and on, but then it just faded away. I now could not stomach even sitting in a pew to adoringly look up at a pastor again – that was and is it! I do fellowship in my own home and have wonderful discussions with my family about Christ and His Word. The two things I now realize that was tremendously missing from any sermons that were preach was the Holy Spirit and His fruits of the Spirit, which boils down to love. Love was missing.
    The HOly Spirit is what gives us the knowledge, wisdom and love- can we not trust in Him to do so over mans wisdom? He is the One that changes our hearts and I dare anyone to challenge me on this truth. 🙂

  16. JRDM says:

    I had something like this this. Though I cried. It literally got to the point that I really didn’t know anyone, or so few people and I had no mental mechanism to get to know more people there. Many people that I knew that went switched to a crazy church – a church with good people but the things they believed were off the deep end, and with a touch of theocratic political viewpoints. Then the church I stuck with cancelled the group that helped me stay in touch with my other peers there. It was a very big church, so that didn’t help. So I was just lost socially. I loved the teachings, but I just felt alone in the crowd and I could only struggle changing that.

  17. Gary says:

    Yes esbee, the message of salvation is “so simple that children can grasp it.” But do you really believe that those of us here have not heard it already and come to our own conclusion? To many who visit this blog…it is a fable as surely as any of Aesop’s. Others of us may still believe in Christ in some form or another but reject the whole concept of being who we were created to be and condemned for it for all eternity without a “savior”. I personally do not believe in the bastard god concept. The one in which I would be unable to avoid sin by god’s design (and yes, he would be responsible for it) and yet be kept alive for the express purpose of being tortured for all eternity for a condition created by my torturer. What really IS “so simple that children can grasp it” is that such a scenario would be profoundly immoral and unjust. Such an immoral bastard being presented as a god of love is one I no longer believe in. I believe such a barbaric scenario is man made and is a complete perversion to the concept of the God of Agape. (Which I still believe in by the way)

    So you see esbee, while I have no doubt of your sincerity in sharing the gospel as you understand it, surely you can see how it comes across a little insulting when you tell us even a child can understand what you seem to imply we don’t comprehend. Frankly…I have come to view that phrase as a silly talking point which really means nothing.

    It seems to me you have a lot of answers. But my experience has taught me that wisdom, truth, faith, (or whatever you want to call it) is more likely to be found in the questions.

  18. esbee says:

    I appreciate your honesty in what you say. I struggle also, especially with the parts of the Bible that talks about wives being submissive to their husbands. I can only go by what God left as a testament to Who He is and the Jesus he sent. My Christian walk is more like stumble, get up, go a different direction, get back on track, stumble, fall, get up again. And for having all the answers, only God does for the Word says we see through a glass darkly. I just like to share what I know to help others.

  19. Morning2glory says:

    I gave it as many shots as I could. Eventually, I just didn’t go back anymore. When the pastor uses the Word of God to promote his or her own agenda, it’s time to go. Illegal, unethical, manipulative, favoritism, abandonment, cliquish, abusive, liars. I can’t even begin to describe how bad it was. Many of us left when our eyes were opened. Thankfully The Lord is able to take care of His flock without their help. I have more true fellowship with like minded believers now than when I was attending church. Praise God.

  20. Gary says:

    Perhaps esbee here lies the heart of our disconnect.

    You said, “I can only go by what God left as a testament to Who He is and the Jesus he sent.”

    I do not see in the bible the infallibility this statement seems to imply. I do not believe it IS the testament He left. I believe it was written by men. I do believe some of them were inspired and there are a lot of truths within it. But I also recognize that it is full of man’s views and man’s contradictions. It also contains much that is the product of political victories and outright forgeries. As I said, I do believe in God. But the God I believe transcends the poor representation of Him I find in the bible.

  21. In 1961 I corresponded with an old timer in a remote village in Alaska where I had been the pastor for a brief period of time. He was very well read, especially on the Church Fathers of the first few centuries. He wrote me a twelve page letter (typed, single spaced) as we continued to correspond. A bit colorful, but it shows that people were thinking about such things, even in 1961. LOL

    “Now I am not antagonistic toward preachers, except those arrogant, self-appointed sort, who suddenly think they ought to take charge of OUR “SPIRITUAL” development AS A MEANS OF IMPROVING THEIR OWN TEMPORAL AND FINANCIAL SITUATION.!

    SOME of these people never went to a theological seminary, nor in fact ever really STUDIED anything much — they assume a top-lofty and superior attitude, and begin telling ME that I should get a BIBLE and read it — even though I have read it from cover to cover 6 or more times! (end of quote)

    Pastoral calls in his cabin were always interesting. I learned things there that I didn’t learn in seminary.

  22. Ha what an interesting story. Pastoral calls in a cabin. Cool!

  23. Gary says:

    Steve, that sounds nice. And I know that it is true that there are churches just like that.

    Don’t mean to be cynical…but every abusive church I have been involved with, or even known of, has said the very same things. And for me…leaving the church was at least as much about my changing beliefs as it was their abuse.

  24. I have had to deal with abusive individuals, but in nearly every case, there were others who did not support their abuse and I felt affirmed.

    Today I have in mind a lawyer who reacted to my concern about the environment. He went on the attack because professionally he defended polluters from having any liability for what they were doing. He didn’t want to hear about it at church.

    Even earlier, the chair of the pulpit committee made an unreasonable demand. I defied him and ALL members of the committee supported me and he, fortunately, resigned. One needs to stand up to bullies and trust that truth will prevail. Who said: “if good people do nothing, then evil prevails”?

  25. thomas tonsky says:

    One Sunday our pastor preached a sermon on heaven the next he preach one on hell. I guess they were both pretty good but after the second one my wife and I looked at each other and said “I don’t think I can listen to this schizophrenic BS any longer. That was ten years ago.

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