[Disclaimer: I really struggled with whether or not I wanted to make this my second post on this blog. It’s actually something I want a clean break from, to move on from, and stop thinking about. But, being a writer, and this being a huge event in my life, I think my best attempt at processing might actually be writing about it. So here it is. It’s a long read. But I’m not apologizing. Carry on if you’re curious.]
The recent discoveries of my life have led me to conclude that there is something terribly wrong with the way we do church in the Western context. This may be due to that fact that I’m in the midst of some significant life change—all positive, I must add. The most jarring of these shifts has been a very public exit from the church I attended for five years. If you’ve followed me on social media for any length of time during this period, you’ve likely seen frequent posts about it because it has been a significant part of my life.
Before I continue, perhaps I need to separate between the big ‘C’ Church and little ‘c’ church. When I say big ‘C’ Church, I’m referring to the larger, global community of Jesus-followers who call themselves Christians, usually referred to in Christian circles as the “body of Christ” or the “bride of Christ”. When I say small ‘c’ church, I’m referring to a local congregation or body of believers such that you would find in a city or a neighbourhood, who usually meet in a building, have a pastor and/or eldership, and have associated ministries and programs that the local community can get involved with. The small ‘c’ church is a part of, and fits into, the big ‘C’ church. I haven’t come to any conclusions that change my view of the big ‘C’ church. But I definitely have huge issues with the little ‘c’ church that I used to attend. So after five years of contending with those issues, I made the decision to leave.
I realize that there are a lot of posts about not leaving churches in all of the popular and not-so-popular Christian magazines online and in print. It is the subject of some of the most inane Christian platitudes and cliches. And at one point in time, I would have been a proponent of such a view. But not anymore.
Here’s the thing: if you feel gnawing discomfort in any kind of a space, church or otherwise, that’s your intuition alerting you that something’s off. I am not suggesting that you need to leave, but I do recommend investigation, reflection, and arriving at a decision that you have peace about.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told that the church is a family, that every “family” has problems, and that leaving the family is not the solution. But the problem with analogies, is that they are analogies. Stretching an analogy into a doctrine is problematic at best.
So here are my 7 reasons for leaving the little ‘c’ church:
1. Significant Doctrinal Differences
The fact is that if you are a reasonable, thinking person, then no matter where you go to church, it is likely that you won’t agree with everything that is stated from the pulpit. So please understand that what I’m saying is not that you should leave if something is said that you don’t like. But if week after week, you find yourself questioning and wondering and feeling generally uncomfortable with what is being taught (which is distinctly different than feeling convicted about something), maybe that particular church isn’t your cup of tea.
2. The Leadership Irks You
Yes, I’m serious. If you feel your gut and spirit reacting negatively towards your pastors or people on the leadership team, it’s probably a good indication that this is not a place you will thrive in long term. I’m not talking about personality differences. I’m talking about straight up gut level incompatibility. I used to have anxiety attacks going into any type of leadership meeting. And I would often leave in tears, feeling awkward and out of place, my stomach in knots and my mind clouding over in waves of depression. And yet, I kept going, blamed myself, blamed “the devil”, and completely ignored what my gut was telling me.
3. The Revolving Door
This is when people come, stay for a year or two, and then leave (and not because they left the city). I know that every church has people coming and going. But if the only people who ever stay long term are people related to other people in the church, it gets weird. When people who genuinely want to plug in and be a contributing member of the community but can’t find a place or a way to do that, they have no reason to stay. Also, when people don’t feel genuinely cared for, loved, and valued, it is highly unlikely they will stay and put up with all the perky but empty proclamations of “Love you!” Because loving people isn’t just some great sounding word salad that Jesus suggested we throw around to make ourselves feel better. To actually love (value, esteem, cherish, respect, engage with, etc.) people as much as we love ourselves was Jesus’ command to us and it was central to the message of the Gospel.
4. Serious Financial Sketchiness
If you hear about mismanaged funds, this is a red flag, but not necessarily a reason to leave. If, when you look into it, you find excuses, unwillingness to really change, and a lack of transparency in this regard, that is a cue that maybe there’s a deeper issue here. Some huge red flags that I have personally witnessed are pretty ridiculous. For example, when individuals have been asked (or strongly suggested) to go into debt to finance the church, or give “sacrificially” on credit, or when filing for bankruptcy is considered a legitimate solution to people’s financial problems, or when funds are raised for something specific that you never hear of again and nothing comes of it—in my opinion, these are all huge blaring signals that something’s amiss and you ought to re-evaluate.
5. Allegations of Sexual Misconduct
I hate to say this, but the truth is that the discourse around rape culture, which has brought about significant gains in the rest of society, is systematically ignored by most of the church in both North America and other parts of the world. (Also, so is the discourse around Feminism, but more on that in another post.) This inevitably leads to some serious blurred lines when it comes to what’s okay and what’s not and a whole lot of he said she said. When a female member of your church (very hesitantly) comes forward (to the appropriate leaders) about an incident involving the pastor, and their best response to her is “don’t be divisive”, this is a problem. When I heard of this, I personally went to leadership. After extensive discussion, the “bottom line”, according to them, was whether I could “forgive” the pastor and continue under his leadership, or not. I am ashamed to say that I swallowed it and stayed on for another six months after the fact. I will also add here that I’m not out to crucify anybody—I work with male sex offenders and professionals being investigated by their governing body for a living. And I genuinely feel for them and am fully aware of our humanness. Lastly, after I did leave the church, I was told, based on 1 Timothy 5:19, to not entertain accusations against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. I have never wanted to take the Bible and hurl it against the wall more than I did in that moment. I’ll let you stew on that.
6. You Have “Stayed and Prayed” Long Enough
Prior to all the issues I mentioned above coming to light, there were other smaller issues that I “stayed and prayed” about for almost five years—including ones around not fitting in, not agreeing with the way an issue was handled, weird prayer sessions, not being heard, being deeply hurt by people, discrimination, and yes, even race related problems, etc. I did not leave based on these issues alone, but they did factor into my final decision. But the truth is, after staying and praying for so long, I was feeling incredibly disillusioned to the point where I didn’t want to bring anyone to church because they would not feel welcome. This is not a conjecture, this is actually what happened, more than once. If your church cares more about looking the hipster part than actually caring for people, this is no environment for healing and growth.
7. If Your “Church” is Actually a Cult
There. I said it. Inhale. Exhale. I don’t want to say much more on that, except that if excessive hierarchy, nepotism, lying, lack of transparency, ostracising people who leave, fear based leadership, public shaming, and an environment where independent thought is frowned upon, are the modus operandi, it is a clear indication that something is terribly wrong. Maybe I will say more on this in another post—if I can ever bring myself to revisit this issue again.
If you’re thinking to yourself how screwed up all this is…well, you’re right. It was a shit show. I cringe when I think about how deceived I was.
It’s crazy that when I started attending this “church”, it was a last ditch effort at trying to be part of a “church” and doing that whole thing. And actually, I did it really well. But this experience has left a bad taste in my mouth for everything we think of as “church” in North America. Don’t get me wrong because I still love building relationships, and having fellowship, and breaking bread together, and living in community. But the whole lights, camera, coffee-bar, smoke machine, superficial bull shit—that I can do without.
I will say, however, that I did find some of my absolute best friends through church. They are culture shifters and brilliant critical thinkers, and I am honoured to do life with them, as we move forward into the adventure of whatever the future holds.
And for those concerned, I am still a follower of Christ. But I am holding out for something real, organic, and reflective of the Jesus I see in the Bible, in terms of community and fellowship. For the moment, I have everything I need and more.
Grace and peace.