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11 Reasons Why It’s So Hard to Leave the Church
(*** I originally wrote this for my beloved online community, The Lasting Supper. They found it very helpful. I hope you do too. If you want the friendship and support The Lasting Supper provides, then why not join us?)
I’ve left the church. Many times. The last time I left was 8 years ago. It was painful every time. Here’s just a few of the reasons why it was so difficult to leave.
1. Fear: When I left the church, a profound cloud of fear enveloped me: “What have I done?” No matter how much you rationalize your decision, the years and years of indoctrination collect to shout out jeers and threats for your selfishness, stupidity, sinfulness, and shortsightedness. You have just willingly divorced yourself from God and his people, taken your first step closer to Hell, thrown yourself into the arms of the Devil, and destined yourself to an endless road of Perdition. You have officially branded yourself a Heretic. Lost! Of course this isn’t true, but try telling yourself that! Over and over and over again.
2. Friends: The first time I left the church I imagined I would keep many of the friends I had there. I learned quickly that it never seems to work out. Even the last time I left the church, that fantasy was still burning in my mind. Again, it didn’t work out. You lose friends. Maybe not all, but most of them. Period. You have to learn how to make new ones while you’re grieving the loss of your old ones. Not easy.
3. Inspiration: There is something very inspiring about gathering together with others on pretty much the same page, in agreement, learning together and singing together and supporting each other. I love hearing or delivering a good sermon. Honestly! Most often I walked away refreshed and refueled for the next week. Learning how to do that by yourself is not simple.
4. Music: I was always involved with the music and worship. The last worship band I had rocked! I loved playing and singing with them. We had some great times and even made a CD together that’s pretty good. I haven’t picked up my guitar since I left, but that’s my fault. I don’t listen to worship music much anymore either unless it’s renaissance church music or Russian Orthodox choirs. There’s too much “ick” associated with worship music for me now.
5. Support: When I and my family went through difficult times, we always always had people around us who cared and actually did something about it. We’ve been given food, money, babysitting, cars, rides, help moving, prayers, company, words, vacations… you name it. The church also made it easy for us to be generous and give. Now we’re on our own, and the difference is noticeable. We are learning to be self-sufficient and generous independently.
6. Destiny: The last denomination I was involved with was the Vineyard. Prophetic words, words of wisdom, dreams and visions are a huge part of that culture. My life had meaning and a sense of purpose. I woke up every morning pretty much knowing what I had to do and where my life was heading. I had a destiny! Even though I now believe most of that was hype, I did enjoy living in that matrix of illusion. Then I took the red pill. Oh my!
7. Validation: When you are in the church, you get a very strong sense that you are on the gospel train. You are doing the right thing being counted among the people of God. You are a member, and that gives you a sense of assurance that you are indeed saved, that God has his eye on you and that you are on the right track. When you get off that train, you have to build your own sense of assurance that you are okay, and that is an arduous but necessary task.
8. Boredom: I have so much more time on my hands since I left the church. I remember my first Sunday morning not going. I went for a walk around the time when cars where driving by on their way to church. Did I ever feel strange! It was hard not feeling like a delinquent. A sinner. I’ve gotten used to it to the point now where I relish my Sunday mornings. But that’s not all. When you involve yourself with the church, it can become like a family with its 24/7 demands. Now I have to be self-directed. But I’m learning.
9. Children: Even though Lisa and I are learning our new way of life, we always worry about our children. They are amazing young adults now. But they have been exposed to all the crap that’s been dealt out to us, and their impression of church is not rosy. We never slam the church in front of them, but they aren’t stupid. They catch on. We don’t want them erroneously believing that this means we are enemies of religion, the church, faith, or spirituality. They each have their own brilliant expressions of spirituality, but it’s been forged by fire. Sometimes ours.
10. Inclusion: I fight hard for the church. Some people mistake it for me fighting hard against it. When pressed, I still say my family of origin is Christianity and that I love the church. I totally believe in the right of people to gather together volitionally, but in a healthy manner… which is rare. I am also for spiritual independence. It saddens me when people assume that because I’ve left the church I am no longer in the game. When I was in the church, my voice was criticized as biting the hand that fed me. Now it is criticized as not deserving to critique something I’m not a part of. Can’t win.
*I’m adding another one. After I posted this in The Lasting Supper group, one member mentioned another factor that made it hard. I can’t believe I missed it:
11. Family: Even though I’ve lived away from my family home for all of my adult life, they still played a role in my leaving the church. It was difficult for me because not only was I leaving the church. I was leaving the ministry. This would be a great disappointment for some of my family. Leaving the church was disappointing for them too. But my family was pretty fair with me. However, for some people, their families can make it incredibly difficult and painful. I know some people whose families totally cut them off because they left the church. The implicit and sometimes explicit pressure to stay in spite of what you know is good for you is incredible.
Please understand that even though most of these are really good reasons to stay in the church, most often they come at a price. Like the rabbits of Watership Down who were well fed by the farmer. But the deal was the farmer could occasionally harvest some of them for food and fur. In this case, none of the good the church offers is worth it for me.
Do these reasons apply to you? Or, do you have other reasons?
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