When a Church Breaks Up with You

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 9.02.24 PMBy Jovan Barrington

Jovan is the Senior Minister at the Littleton Church of Christ in Denver, CO.

I got dumped. I tried to think of other ways to begin this article but I feel too much like Taylor Swift. Breakups are good material for writing articles and writing songs.

I received a call from a friend recently sharing some interesting bits from a conversation he recently had with someone whom I have not met. In part of the conversation it was shared that this person was puzzled as to why I was not still at the congregation that I served for 13 years.

I have been doing my best to avoid these phone calls and conversations. They stir up in me feelings of entitlement like, “thats what I’m saying, they were so wrong,” and “I deserve to be there.” It validates those feelings of resentment and bitterness.

For a while, I was somewhat of a stalker. I would look at my old church’s web page, read their bulletins and listen to who was preaching. I would occasionally call someone to say hello and get the inside information on what was going on with my former ministry. That was until I shared this with a close friend during a video call. He told me to “hold on” and I took a break from what I was saying long enough for him to retrieve a pair of scissors from his desk drawer.

Do you know what these are?

Yes, those are scissors.

Do you know what they are for?

Cutting things?

Why are you looking at their web page, listening to their sermons and meddling with phone calls.

Cut the cord.

After the conversation I went and found a pair of scissors from the office resource room and held it in my hands. He was right. Why did it matter so much to me that I get some kind of validation that I was good enough. Either overtly of subversively hoping for a “we never should have let you go” or “things sure are hard without you.”

But even if I received the kind of validation I was looking for it was met with my cynicism and sarcasm. Still I wanted to be close.

Have you ever been hurt so bad that the only thing that seems to bring you solace is returning to the person or people who hurt you? You may need a friend or someone to say “cut the cord.” Only then can you realize that this practice of seeking validation or peace from those who rejected you is unhealthy and doesn’t deliver the solace you seek.

I recently learned about differentiation. Particularly, how I respond emotionally to conflict. I learned something that helped me to understand my ability to cope with the anxiety present in all human interactions. When faced with conflict, even when I am hurt by the interaction, I really want to remain connected to the person or persons involved. Its called fusion.

One of the elders at the church where I was “let go” shared that he did not want what happened to change our relationship. My reply was that our relationship would never be the same again. In actuality, my mouth was saying one thing but heart desired another. Despite my pain I still wanted closeness. Yet when I reached out to connect it was never really satisfying. Instead it was saddening. I got the exact opposite result that I desired.

Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation.

I used to think that to forgive someone meant that you had to be reconciled. It would baffle me that many people I knew did not maintain close relationships with their mother or father. Some had not spoken to them in years. There was a lot of painful history there. I had loving and engaging parents. They were always there for me. Their love was unconditional and they did not bring harm to me physically or emotionally. Maybe that is why forgiveness without reconciliation was hard for me to understand. I did not have a bad breakup with my parents. I had not experienced something so tragic.

Maybe you are holding on to something – a relationship where you were rejected. You are living in agony in your attempts to become reconciled. What if you took a break from that idealistic pursuit and instead pursued forgiveness with no strings attached? What that means is you forgive with the goal of freeing yourself.

Hey I know that any and arguably all relationships deliver unavoidable pain. When you choose to love you may be rejected. I am not saying that you should never attempt to be reconciled because you may suffer discomfort. I am simply advocating forgiveness first. Reconciliation is a close second. Your relationship may never mend but you can choose to have Jesus heal your broken heart by choosing to forgive.

Create space. Let go.

I will never be able to remove myself from the emotional pain that can come from making myself vulnerable to someone else -or the emotional anxiety from serving as a minister of the Word in a local church. However, I can choose how I will attach or detach to certain people and situations.

I am hopeful that you will choose forgiveness first and reconciliation second.  Choose to give yourself enough space for healing, free from bitterness and contempt.

Grace and peace!

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.