Sometimes, the loving thing to do is to take some space.
Church is often touted to be the cure to many diseases, but sometimes it can actually become the poison. An unfortunate fact, but a realistic one.
We have many dreams for what church could be or should be, but sometimes it just isn’t any of those things. We have high hopes that it will be a place of safety and refuge; a place where we’re accepted and loved, and find our batteries being recharged.
And sometimes, those hopes for a church are dashed against the rocks. Sometimes, instead of being an institution designed to give life, it becomes one that takes life. Instead of a place of healing, all too often church can become a place of deep, deep wounding.
This morning I’m remembering there’s a difference between the “Church” and “a church”. The former obviously applies to Christian expression at large– including all believers everywhere– while the later refers to individual, local, congregations.
I’m a major fan of the Church, but right now I’m not a major fan of church, with a small “c”.
Over the course of this last year, we poured everything we had into the small c type of church. We had hopes of finding deep and authentic community, hopes that we’d find a group of people who all agreed that living out the teachings of Jesus was the best way to live, and hoped that we’d find life… but in the end, didn’t. Certainly, we met a few other co-conspirators for the Kingdom Jesus came to build, and they became and will remain great friends. But wading through the power addictions and idol worship in order to find these few gems, came at a high emotional price for us- and for the other Kingdom builders.
This past Sunday was our last service. Today, I hand the keys of the building over to a passionate friend who I pray, will build something culturally subversive using our old building and the remaining resources.
The experience took a lot out of Tracy and I, and we’re going to need a season to recover. For me, it seems that the wounds caused by church seem to cut deeper than any other type of wounds. Perhaps not because the cut actually goes down deeper, but because church is supposed to be a refuge where you can escape cycles of wounding.
Unfortunately, it’s not, nor will it ever be- especially in churches where Jesus is worshiped but not followed. Sometimes, we’re healthy enough to move on and try again. And other times, we’re so tired and wounded we realize rolling the dice another time could have disastrous consequences. People walk away from church every week, never to return, because they rolled the dice too many times, and in too close succession to each other. Eventually, there are too many different wounds from too many different places, and instead of living and growing in authentic community with other co-conspirators, they simply become de-churched.
I love the Church (big C) too much to let myself ever completely become de-churched, which is why I think we need to be honest and tell people: sometimes the loving thing to do is to separate and take some space.
My family and I will be taking a season where we will be separating and taking some space from church, and this is actually a healthy choice. If we were to roll the dice again and jump right back into a new church, a negative experience would likely be the last time we walk through church doors, ever. Taking space and giving yourself time to heal from a negative church experience is the good and wise decision to make.
Think for a moment in terms of romantic, dating relationships: when one experiences the end of a relationship, do we advise them to jump right back into a new one? Or, do we encourage them to spend some time healing while being single? I hope we’re encouraging them to follow the later advice– and I think this is the same advice we should give people when a church relationship becomes toxic.
Sometimes, the loving thing to do is to take some space.
Even the most conservative missionaries have long known this. Most foreign missionaries are actually required to take periodic seasons of “furlough” which is time away from their ministry context. For example, after serving 5 years in country, their sending agency may actually require them to take a full year off and spend it back in their home country. Time apart, it seems, can actually be the healthy choice in many situations.
Pastors do this too, something we call a “Sabbatical”.
So, if Pastors and Missionaries take a season away from church in order to get refreshed, why shouldn’t a wounded church-goer take a season of peace, rest, and healing?
Too often instead of giving people sound advice that will lead to healing, church gets treated more like an abusive relationship. People are told, “you can’t leave”, or “if you leave, you’ll be sinning and God won’t bless you” and all sorts of other flat out lies designed to control and intimidate.
But the truth is, in some circumstances, not going to church might actually be the most healthy choice for our relationship with God and something that can save our relationship with the Church at large.
Right now, I love the Church too much to go to a church. I don’t have the emotional energy to survive another painful church experience– another one in quick succession would undoubtedly mark my last attempt at making this relationship work, and I don’t ever want to get to the point of completely giving up.
Yes, sometimes the loving thing to do is to take some space.
Because right now, I love the Church too much to go to a church.
If you’re in a similar situation, please know, that sometimes taking space might be the good, wise and healthy thing to do– and I’ll be here to journey this season with you.