Sunday, March 26, 2006

To Leave or Not to Leave.....

that is the question.

When I hear people wrestling with that question, I am concerned for them. I remember the turmoil of making our decision to leave our former church, and I remember the emotional storm that followed our decision.

Are people ever allowed to leave with a blessing? Can they be given respect and support in facing a difficult decision? What would it be like if relationships were affirmed during times of transition?

I know that many people face accusations if they decide to leave-accusations that they are abandoning their relationships, accusations that they lack commitment, and accusations that they are out of God's will. They will also likely experience separation and rejection.

Sometimes people are threatened that they are spiritually in danger because of leaving the flock. The banana that leaves the bunch gets peeled. The ember apart from the other coals soon dies out. They are told that they are an open target for the enemy.

I recently read that emerging people who have left their churches should have stayed in order to help bring reform. Personally, I think that when bringing reform is an option, people often do stay.
Many times though, the people who desire something more or different from their church don't have the voice or influence to bring change. Being in that position of unmet expectations can be damaging relationally on both ends.

I think this is an important point in deciding whether to stay or leave. Can you stay without burdening others with your expectations? Can you keep your own heart free of judgment and criticism? Has it become damaging to your emotional and spiritual health?

George Barna is already taking a lot of flack about his book and being accused of encouraging people to leave their churches. But what if he is simply reporting a phenomenon that is already underway?

Many of the people who have left traditional churches are following Christ. Their intent is not to abandon the church, but to allow the Lord to develop their expression of church in a way that is authentic for them.

Perhaps we could quit referring to people as having left the church. Most have not left the church. They have not removed themselves from the body of Christ.

Also, we could give people credit for listening to God and obeying Him to the best of their ability. Some people may be mistaken in their decision. Some may be immature or wrongly motivated. I dare say though that leaving is exactly what God wants in some situations.

I know I'm probably preaching to the choir. Jesus is building His church. It is in our buildings and denominations. It is also beyond our denominations and beyond our walls. We can trust Him to determine how and where the members fit.

14 comments:

Melanie said...

Excellent post! What I truly believe about this is that we have to go where we can further God's Kingdom. Quite frankly, and sadly enough, there are congregations out there that just plain aren't interested in doing that. There are congregations open to change and others that are not.

I believe we should rejoice anytime someone is following where God is leading them - whether it's across town or across the country or across the ocean - and quit taking people leaving so personally. The only time we should ever question someone leaving - is when they leave the church all together. That is what saddens God's heart - and we don't want to be guilty of causing someone to leave all together.

Where I go to church is a little "out there" to some who are used to the more traditional ways of doing things. So, our elders and leadership are quick to point that out to visitors to let them know that we aren't traditional; and if that is what they need in their lives right now, then they would be happier somewhere else. But we invite everyone to stay and have their faith stretched a bit - just see how it fits.

RonMcK said...

We left our church with a blessing. When we had joined this church, twenty years earlier, I had told one of the elders that my vision was for housechurch, but that we would be with them until God opened up the way for it to happen.

We had forgotten that I had said this. We were surpised on the day that we left, when he reminded of what I had said.

The elders all prayed and prophesied over us. We left feeling really blessed by them. They were excited about what God was doing in our lives. We are still friends.

grace said...

Melanie,
I believe we should rejoice anytime someone is following where God is leading them

I love this response. Maybe, as the body, we can start responding this way. It would be so awesome if the church would rejoice in acknowledge the kingdom beyond their own congregation.

I think I visited your blog this weekend - inspire? My boys loved the prison break cartoon.

Ron,
I was truly encouraged reading about your experience. That is my dream of what the kingdom should be like. Sadly, I've seen too many stories that weren't like yours. Thanks for sharing with us how it can and should be.

Lily said...

I agree with your sentiment "are people ever allowed to leave with a blessing?" Not in my experience, so it was good to hear from someone who DID have that eperience.

What's interesting to me...I had an encounter with a "church" friend yesterday (from the church I left). She still meets in small group with most of our other "church friends" whom disassociated from us and whom we NEVER hear from. People who did not, could not understand our leaving.

So, this friend was telling me how much everyone misses us and they would love us to come back to small group.

Here's my problem with that: are they incapable of calling and asking me out for coffee if they miss me so much? What this says to me is that if I were to return to the church I left, I would regain many of my lost relationships. But as long as I'm out, I'm not worth the effort...fallen away, backslidden etc.

As much as I miss them, are those relationships something I really want if I am only viewed as relationsihp-worthy if I attend their church?

It's a difficult facet of leaving...one I am struggling with.

Pam Hogeweide said...

lilly, you are describing a church based relationship as opposed to a love based relationship. that sucks. i'm sorry that this has been your experience.

for my husband and i leaving our church was smooth and non-eventful. i sent a nice goodbye email to our leaders, letting them know "we felt led" to move on. Whenever I've bumped into people they've been cool. the only thing that has been kinda hurtful is that i distinctly feel that my worth was measured by my gifting and how much i moved in that gifting. when i stopped moving and producing i felt that my value went down. how much of this is my skewed perception versus reality is difficult for me to tell. But I can tell you this: I am determined to love people for who they are and not for what they do or their talent and gifting or whatever...I think the book of james says a thing or two about this, calling it impartiality. It is pride that puts value on people. Humility just loves them, right where they are. This is the beauty of Jesus, and I want to become more like he is. He inspires me.

grace said...

Lily,
I'm afraid your comment hits really close to home for me. The loss of friendships still grieves me.

An important aspect of friendship is shared experiences. I take responsibility for the fact that I changed that aspect of my friendships.

It would have been my desire for the friendships to continue outside of "the club," but I've had to accept the choice that some of my former friends made.

I do have to bite my tongue when people greet me with empty words about missing me. It still hurts sometimes.

Pam,
As you describe impartiality, I have had to confront my own lapses, ways in which I've dismissed or overlooked others.

yeshua'smags said...

The thing is, when a lot of people leave a church at the same time, and they were all heavily involved, and no one wonders why...or when they find out that those people were hurt by the pastor, and his wife, and all the others that were laying in wait to jump on the haters bandwagon, and they are indifferent...that's when there is an ugly cancer growing in that church and somebody better start asking more questions.
http://thetraitorrace.blogspot.com
I'd love to hear what you think.

grace said...

maggie,
Political systems in a church,both the actual government and the underlying systems of power, are often self-protecting and self-supporting.

All any of us can do is to live according to what it in our own heart, leaving God to deal with issues of corruption and injustice in other situations.

You might find the spiritual abuse articles in my sidebar helpful.

Believe me, I've walked through the anger and bitterness involved with spiritual abuse.

Also, you might find the forums at the spiritual abuse site helpful. I found it to be a safe place to vent during the healing process.

Here is the address:
http://www.christianrecovery.com/vb/index.php?

Thanks for stopping by. It's nice to meet you.

Garth said...

Yes, I am one of those on the outside too! In some I feel that an ever increasing diversity of church expression is a natural and healthy indicator of increasesed cultural diversity in the secular world.

We can't survive with a one stamp fits all mentality, so traditional church people should rejoice. But I think some of the problem is that the structured church seems more concerned with building its own local kingdom rather than seeing the Kingdom of God expand. It frets and is challenged when people leave. It also has the mindset that structured attractional models are the only way. As if we are now living in a time in history when we got it right. In fact most of my leaving centres around the idea that modern church has been reduced to an event, and is not church per say but more a weekly conference with monologue. So I see church not as something we do but something we are.

So if people leave, they are leaving the only valid expression of church. But as I have heard before, people are often leaving not because they are losing their faith, but in order to keep it.

Anonymous said...

Scott, By googling something that I don't even remember now, i stumbled into one of your previous posts about what it's like to be a minister and why you were taking a break for now. I don't know anything about you, but I feel I know you so well, and you know what I've thought and felt for years. I probably have had a few more years than you have thus far serving churches as a minister -- 5 of them by last count. When clergy in my tribe leave serving local churches entirely, it's like they drop off the face of the earth, and the tribe officials seem to treat them like traitors -- how dare you leave after all we've done for you. They take it pretty personal or just write the person off as not being able to cut it. It's getting harder and harder to stay in the institutional church -- or to feel I want to invite people to become part of it. I want to follow Jesus and invite others to do so. Having seen how the church treats (or ignores) new people and how my family and I have been treated, it's hard to feel good about asking people to join the club. And I know I can't change others -- I have no power to do so. I'm not sure any more that I can even teach others and let them choose to change if they want to. Thanks for being willing to lay it on the line, what it's like being a minister. Blessings to you as you leave this congregation to follow your Lord into unknown territory -- but with Him.

grace said...

garth,
Thanks for chiming in. It's nice to meet you. It sounds like we are on the same page as far as having a broader picture of the people of God beyond the institution. I really do pray that we will be able to bless what God is doing in whatever structure it happens to be in.

anonymous,
I honestly would never have believed how church people could treat one another if I hadn't experienced it myself. So sad.

I will copy your comments to Scott over to his blog.

PJ said...

I am a little late on this, but I wanted to comment. Oh this hits home for me in every part of my life. I have gone to church since I was born. My whole life revolved around church and doing stuff for church. I was an associate pastor at a church for several years. I was guilty of some of what many of the people who commented. Not letting people go with a blessing, shutting them off to relationship. Our Senior Pastor's taught if you left the church you were out of the will of God and basically going to hell. It is a very sad and disturbing church. 5 months ago after a two year struggle I left the church along with another pastor. We were on the opposite side of the coin now. I have gone to the people I hurt to ask for forgiveness as I see what damage this can do to people and their relationship with God. I haven't been to church this whole time. I read George Barna's book and think it should be read by all, but you're right Grace they don't understand why he wrote what he did. I miss the relationships of the people. I don't know who said it in the comment area, but they were correct in saying it was not a real relationship. This is hard to think about. I want to believe that it was real all the time. I apologize for going on so long. Keep up the great blog.

grace said...

PJ,
I just came across your comment in my email. I can certainly relate to what you said. We were also in a system that didn't allow people to leave with a blessing. Now it is hard to imagine we ever went along with it. However, knowing we did gives me understanding for the people who still operate in those beliefs.
I miss the relationships I had also. As far as whether they were real, I know that my investment in the relationship was real. That isn't invalidated by other peoples' choices to turn their backs on the relationship. Do I wish that they were lasting? Sure, but since their response is out of my control, I am left to accept the breaking of relationships.
Thanks for stopping by. Nice to meet you.

Garth said...

Hmmm... well I was told to leave (about 8 years ago). Divorce sometimes does that. Those who stand up the front aren't always allowed the same grace as those who sit in the seats. Oh well... It certainly made for an interesting journey and different growth curve on the outside!