For All Who Have Walked Out of Church

For All Who Have Walked Out of Church June 8, 2022

This is for all who have walked out of the church. Some of you left for good reasons and others–not so much. Some of you should stay, and others should stay gone. Here’s what I mean…

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

 

Some left because you were hurt. Christians mistreated you. Leaders abused you. People who claimed to follow Jesus neglected you in your time of need. They offered advice instead of giving you the help you needed. Instead of a listening ear, they handed out trite phrases that only made them feel better. You left because it hurt too much to stay.

Others left because you were judged. You were struggling, and instead of demonstrating compassion, church members wagged their heads, shook their fingers, and painted you with a scarlet letter–you pick which letter it was. You needed understanding from those you always considered to be teachers, examples, and role models–but what you got was condemnation. So, you shook the dust from your feet as you left.

Maybe you walked out because others were judged. You watched as people you love were expelled from the church, shunned, ridiculed, and scapegoated. You stood up for them, but your voice was drowned out by those who would rather exclude people for their perceived faults, than welcome people who just need to be loved. You’ve seen the church boycott, leverage their power, and deny basic human rights to people and groups they deem to be less-than, and you couldn’t take it anymore.

You may have faded out, rather than walked out. If you never felt like you were truly welcome, like your voice was never heard, like there just wasn’t a place at the table for you. You might have tried, really tried, to stick with it at church. But in the end, you knew you weren’t really wanted. It may have been your age, or your gender, or something you can’t quite put your finger on, that kept you from making strong connections. You just never could find your place, and nobody would help you do so. You didn’t go away angry–you just didn’t see much reason to come back one day.

Your departure might be due to intellectual honesty. It’s hard for you to swallow what they’re serving at church–and I don’t mean the casseroles. Maybe the cognitive dissonance is too much when the theology doesn’t keep up with every other kind of “ology” you’ve come to respect. You can no longer check your brain at the door, so you walked out that door and took your brain with you.

Politics may have played a part in your decision to leave. When Christians wed religion to politics, it makes for an awfully bad marriage. If your church leaders have a political agenda, it turns you off. If fellow church members expect you to vote like them, it might make you feel unwelcome. If you’ve noticed a disconnect between what people say they believe morally, and how they vote politically, you might decide to give up on the church.

If you’ve noticed hypocrisy at the polls, you might have seen it in the public sector as well. Your Christian boss cheated at business. The evangelist lost his ministry due to moral failure. Believers shout, “My body my choice” where it intersects their own lives while denying others choice over their own bodies. You’ve seen the disconnect between what people say and what they do, and you’ve decided you don’t want any part of it.

You could have left because of your changing spirituality. You aren’t your grandfather, and you don’t have to inherit his religion. Perhaps you’ve become a pacifist, or at least you believe that God is nonviolent. Or maybe you can’t believe in a good God who would send people to hell. Miracles. angels, demons, and the afterlife might be sticking points for you. Or you might not read the Bible quite as literally as your Sunday school teacher. If you’ve found the church to be an unsafe place to ask spiritual questions, you might have walked out.

You might be gone because you’ve found something better. Maybe your church offers nothing to help you raise your kids, but you’ve found a great parenting group that provides community, connection, and resources. Or your church refuses to put in a handicap elevator or wheelchair ramp, but there’s one at the senior center where all your friends are. If your church has turned inward, it may have made itself irrelevant to meet your needs–so you simply went somewhere else.

Of course, you might have left because you didn’t get your way. Not everybody leaves because they’re hurt, judged, doubtful, or questioning. Maybe you left angry because you once had power in the organization and now, you’re losing your influence. Or you might have walked out of a sermon because the pastor said something that offended you, or that challenged you too much. If things are changing too fast at church, that could make you feel uncomfortable, so you decided to leave.

Whatever the reason you’ve left the church, I’m writing this for you. Honestly, I don’t blame you. Not all churches are worth returning to. Sometimes you’ve been hurt too much to return to the same group of people. Some people you can forgive, but you just can’t trust anymore. Often, it’s better to stay away from places where you’ve been judged, abused, hurt, or neglected. You might decide to remain apart from the church because you can’t un-see what you’ve seen, or you can’t un-learn what you’ve learned. You feel you’re past the point of no return. To you, I want you to know that I see you. I know you. I hear you. I hope you won’t let anyone guilt you or pressure you into going back. For some, the only way to heal is to remove yourself entirely. Don’t feel guilty for that. But do find someone you can talk to, who can help you to heal.

Maybe you’ve been away long enough that you’ve had time to recover from the damage the church has done to you. You’ve gotten good counsel, figured out what you believe and don’t believe, and found a group of believers who are radically different from the ones you left behind. It might not be an organized “church” at all, but a group of spiritual friends who you can do life with, who nurture each other in Christlike love. Or it might be a steeple from another denomination, one whose beliefs align more with your own. If you needed to leave a church for the good of your soul, I hope you’ll find a different group of people to covenant with. People you can trust.

If, however, you left the church angry because you couldn’t get your way, it’s better not to return. If it was over church politics, or because you couldn’t bully the pastor into preaching their sermons your way, or because you decided to take your toys and go home, then I advise you not to return–at least, not for a while. You need to figure out what church is all about, and whether you might be the reason so many others have abandoned church altogether. Take time to consider whether church is better off without you. This might sound harsh–but if you brought that kind of toxicity into the family of God, then don’t come back until you can bring some healing with you. Church is a tough enough place for seekers of peace, without having to deal with people like you who like to make trouble. And please, don’t just take your unrest to another congregation, and poison that one too. Go ahead and leave the church–and stay gone for a while. Don’t worry–the church will be just fine without you. And you won’t lose your salvation for being away. But you just might keep someone else from losing their religion, with you out of the picture. I don’t say this to be mean, but because I love the church too much to see you mess it up. When you’ve healed, and you can play nice, come back, and join the party.

The thing is you don’t need to be in church in order to love Jesus. Sometimes, the church is the best place to love other people. But Jesus didn’t call us to be Christians so we could just love the folks in our parish. If you find yourself outside the church during this season of life, maybe it’s because the world needs your love more than the people inside the sanctuary. Remember, Jesus said, “Wherever two or more are gathered together in my name, I am there with them.”  So, wherever you share God’s love with others, that’s church. Maybe it’s time we focused more on taking church with us, rather than just going to church, anyway.

 


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