Sunday, May 07, 2006

Another Church-Leaver

Sundays always leave me pondering about the church at large and our place in the church in particular. Interestingly, I consider myself a church-leaver, even though we attend a church.

Today I was inspired by Brother Maynard's post, Memory Lane and the Ongoing Life of a Church-Leaver, to also assess what has transpired for us in the last couple of years.

Regarding leaving

When we were faced with the inevitability of leaving our former church, I remember wailing to my husband, "I don't want to be unchurched!"

We started by taking 6 full months away from church. At that point, we weren't even ready to sit in someone's back row. The divorce from our former church felt to us like a large ripple in a fairly small pond.

Regarding church communities

The first church we visited after six months was a new church that was attempting to get started in town. The fliers looked promising, however we knew after one visit that we wouldn't be going back.

Because we live in a smaller town and more rural area, we were fairly familiar with the other churches in our area. We ruled out all of the other charismatic churches in our area for various reasons. The large community church remained as the most likely place for us to attend.

And this is where we still are.

Regarding connecting and community

It seems like it shouldn't be that hard to find some local friends to share this journey with, but it's not happening. My husband's most helpful advice today was that I was just going to have to find them. So I don't know, maybe an ad in the newspaper, or I could just target likely suspects on the street, or maybe a bunch of you could move here. Or I suppose I could trust God to bring us into relationship with the right people at the right time.

Regarding our family

We are doing great. We are really tight as a family unit, and we're all disgustingly happy, even the dog is happy. One of the issues involved in our leaving the former church was the "apostle" pressuring us to prioritize ministry ahead of our family. Personally, we felt that the next few years of our children's lives were too important for us to neglect.

The kids enjoy the church we are involved in now. They can relate to the teaching, and we believe it is a spiritually and socially healthier atmosphere for them.

We have always believed that the spiritual foundation and development of our children is our responsibility. I don't think that this transition has been difficult for them. While my husband and I attempt to be positive about where we are at this time, I sometimes wonder if our underlying unsettledness will affect them.

Summing it up

The last two years have given me a complete change in perspective concerning church. I no longer fear being "unchurched." I have learned that it is more important for me to understand being the church. Personally, I think it would be great for everyone to step away from religious organizations long enough to learn to express their spirituality without dependence on religious institutions.

I wish I could write a conclusive-sounding summary, but the end of this story is still being written.

15 comments:

Cindy said...

Grace- thanks for this. Just as good as Brother Maynard's! :-)

I'm having the same trouble finding people to connect with locally, though we're very involved with our current church. (I wonder if I could get fired for writing this?) :-/

There's something else- something more complete- lurking out there somewhere. I've heard suggestions on how to find it, but nothing has sounded like the voice of God to me yet. I'm still SO thankful to have an e-church (of which you're a part) to connect with. Who'd have guessed 10 years ago that we'd be having church online?

Jennifer said...

Grace-
It is nice to know of people who are going through and coming out well at the end or the beginning however you look at it. I have officially been out of church for 6 months now. I never would have thought in all my life I would be here. I am so glad I did. The problem I face now is the people who are in my life who believe I am making bad choices and going to hell because I don't go to church. I am learning to stand up to those people and show them the truth. Thanks to your blog and the links I have gotten good information to use against their arguements. Thanks for the great post. You are the first thing I check every day when I get to work. God bless you in your journey.

David Cho said...

Thank you for writing about your journey of being unchurched. I think the better term is being "unestablished." Most of the arguments against what you are saying seem to come from people who have vested interests (financial, ego, power) from the status quo and establishments. They are profoundly weak.

Maybe you can move to the westcoast.

Pam Hogeweide said...

or the pacific northwest, move here! :-)

bless ya grace. yes, it completely goes against the grain of a lot of us to be out of church or out of ministry. i am so glad God yanked me when he did, yet over a year later i still wrestle with self-doubt and bewilderment. i was soooo
good at ministry and being churchy. i thrived in it. yet at the same time i felt suffocated and insulated, caged in a subculture of religiosity. now i'm out of the christianized lifestyle, but my mindset is still being shaken. at times i don't even know how to define it.

so here we are, in this virtual, digital community of wilderness wayfarers trying to find our way back to Jesus.

that's all i want.

David Cho said...

Pam,

Right on. I confused the Body of Christ with the sub-culture and fundamentalist establishment (in my case anyway). Anything that did not jive with the party line was "of the world," but it took me nearly two decades to realize that the fundamentalist establishment was just as worldly as the world, and in some ways, even more worldly.

Cindy said...

David- so wise-- and at such a tender young age! ;-)

Pam Hogeweide said...

christianized worldliness, now that's a pandora's box to open up!

Bruce said...

Interesting thoughts from everyone, especially Grace. My wife and I are slowly heading towards the road of the "unchurched," or as David calls it, "the unestablished." Look forward to more from your journey.

B~

Lily said...

Bless you for sharing, Grace. You always encourage me because there are so many simmilarities in our journey.

I am still struggling with being "unaffiliated" - it's a very strange place to be. It goes against every fiber of my spiritual being, and yet when I check in with God, I still get the same response - "wait". It seems so weird, but God is not a God of logic. That's so hard to get our human minds around.

I could not envision making this through without my cyberchurch community. I appreciate you all!

Trish said...

I don't think a Christian church-goer is going to hell or anything, but it must take a pretty major rationalization to foraske the assembling of yourself as the manner of some is. I'm not being cheeky here; my church is far from perfect but the frustrations, the folly, the flesh, all of it have been part of my sanctification.

Pam Hogeweide said...

well, um, Trish, this is not a group who is forsaking assembling together. It just looks different for some of us right now than being in a conventional, traditional Sunday-meeting group that has a building and an established ministry. If you read through the archives of Grace's blog or check in on the countless number of other bloggers out there who have stepped back from conventional church you might have a different interpretation. Please do not misunderstand that this is about leaving a church over a disagreement or a petty annoyance.

For many of us, pulling away from the form of institutionalized Christianity has been the way God has gotten our attention to Pause... reassess our understanding of what the church is meant to be and how church-centered our lives have become rather than Christ-centered.

For some of us, it has required a kind of detox period from being immersed in church culture - and yes, church has it's own subculture with it's code of expected behaviors and belief, it's own language and customs, and not necessarily reflecting the culture of the kingdom of God, which is, I think, a culture of extreme grace and radical love. For some of us, church taught us how to behave like Stepford-Wife type disciples instead of passionate lovers of Jesus.

Many of us have discovered that we bought into beliefism, instead of the kingdom of Jesus.

Please Trish, be slow to judge around here. Nearly everyone I've had contact with on this blog is a seasoned vet of the faith and devoted to knowing Christ.

(if it will make you feel any better my family has actually reconnected to church and now attends TWO churches. There's a story to that for another time, and probably another blog.:-) )

Bruce said...

Well said Pam.

B~

grace said...

Cindy,
Don't you hate it when your lips end up on a different line than your eyes and nose? :)

The only explanation I have for this time of waiting is that there are things I am supposed to learn while I'm here.

I've learned I don't like waiting.

jennifer,
I hear what you are saying about defending your choices. I also experienced a lot of self-doubt when we first left. Two websites that were really helpful for me in coming to peace with leaving were lifestreams and watchman.net.
Blessings to you too.

David,
I prefer the term "dismembered."
You are right in that many who push the idea of membership have positions and organizations to maintain.

Pam,
I struggle with the idea of being exactly where God wants me to be for now, yet frustrated with the lack of everything that made me look like a mature, successful christian - relationships, ministry, position, etc.

David (again),
I think leaving the culture that I was so enmeshed in is part of my journey in walking closer with God, not necessarily that He wants me out of the church, but that He wants all of my reliance to be in Him.

Bruce,
I will pray for you and your wife as you continue following God, however he leads. It's not an easy journey either way.

lily,
So true. That's exactly how I feel. I try to remind myself that when I don't understand, I need to just trust.

trish,
I agree with you that there are many wonderful church-goers and many wonderful churches.

Pam has explained really well the journey away from church that some of us have found ourselves in.

It is because of love for the church that we care whether we are being a true expression of the body of Christ in our assembling.

The Christ-followers I have known fellowship regularly with others although not necessarily always in traditional forms. Again, one of the most valuable things I have learned is a wider understanding and participation in the body of Christ, beyond simply one group.

The type of transforming community you have described is exactly what the church should be, and it is what many of us are attempting to find - not perfect, just others to share the journey with.

Blessings to you.

John said...

grace, thank you for writing.

"dismembered"...I like it!

Trailady said...

Just out of curiousity- what church did you leave?? I think I can guess. Sounds like you have struggled under the yoke of legalism and mind control...