Monday, July 9, 2012

Quitting church sucks. But what happens when the Church quits you?


A few months ago, I read Rachel Held Evans' super popular post, "15 Reasons I Left Church". I could relate. And so could many, many others. What struck me, even more than the actual piece, were the countless comments full of hurt, sadness and sometimes even hostility and disdain towards the Church. They had been marginalized or manipulated, swindled and were scarred. As I read comment after comment, I went from feeling a sense of solidarity to downright shame. Yes, I had been hurt by other Christians, too.

But... I'm also a believer.

I am a follower of Christ.

I am part of the Body.

I sat feeling hurt because those commenters are my Brothers and Sisters. They're in pain. If the Church is guilty, I am, too. Yes, I've been wronged. But I'm also guilty of wronging others.

A couple of days ago, a sweet lady named Sonia I know from my former church updated her status on Facebook. She wrote:

"I have a question: If a person leaves a Church, does that mean all the beautiful friendships made,all the memories made as servants of Christ also have to end? Is that love, Gods love is eternal. We are His Light. I have not left my church, I have not been in awhile due to my disabling health condition, Father God knows my heart, no man can judge it. I will always love and pray for my Church. Has anyone been unfortunate enough to go through this?..."

So far, she has received over thirty comments, and yup, most everyone had. Most everyone had wound up going to a new church after their hurtful incident(s). I know I did. But what happens when they don't?

After service one Sunday this past Spring, I stopped by Starbucks (as usual) for a skim White Chocolate Mocha (my tried and true). I wound up standing in a slow-moving line behind Yolanda, who I also met at my former church. After getting my drink, I stopped her as she headed out and asked her how she was doing. After the pleasantries, she shared how she too had left the large nondenominational church to which we both belonged for years. I was shocked. She had been quite active in a few ministries, including onstage as part of the Praise & Worship team. She told me with a resigned sadness how she wound up leaving. I asked her which church she was attending now.

"Now? Ha, I don't go anywhere. And I don't want to. I read my Bible and pray, and God knows...". Her voice cracked. There were tears in her eyes. She seemed taken aback by her own visible display of emotion, and quickly turned and left, half-muttering goodbye to me.

Another lone ranger Christian.

After Rachel shared her story, a number of bloggers (and folks in her very own combox) took offense at her post. They wrote, if she left, or quit or whatever, the problem is HER:

"Rachel typifies a generational character flaw that is a regrettable trait of our adolescent/young adult culture here in America...  these narcissistic, preening, self-adulating princesses are constantly looking for someone to fluff their pillow and cater to their every whim.  I dunno, Rachel, if we were to brew just the right Starbucks blend for you with the right blend of caffeine, soy milk and raw sugar and served it to you in the PEW(!!!!!), maybe, just maybe, would you even begin to think about approaching contentment? ..."
That piece of ugliness was one of the first I read in the comments section. I just can't help but disagree. And feel like this person is missing the point. You know what, yes, Rachel is the problem. She even wrote that part of what drove her out was her own "selfishness and pride". But it's also all of our fault.

That writer, Rachel, Yolanda, Sonia and me.

Because we are all connected.

Giant nondenominational churches and lone rangers.

We are the Body. Disjointed and discombobulated and with frayed nerves, yes.

Connected, nevertheless.

So, here's my challenge. I wrote it on Facebook last night and got a few likes, so here it is for those of you in the blogosphere:

Here's a challenge to my Brothers & Sisters in Christ: sometime this week, pick up the phone and call someone you use to fellowship with. You know, that nice lady who belonged to your small group, but moved away, or the guy who stopped attending morning services a few months ago.

Go ahead, do it. Don't cheat by sending a text, a DM or a poke. Nope, actually call. Do it.

I don't believe God likes such estrangements in His family...

Let me know if you do it. :-)


Alan said...

You couldn't be more on the money Alisha. I feel for Yolanda. I can honestly say I have had a Love/Hate relationship with church the past couple of years. Love God, hate the actions of his people.

I think we forget that the kingdom is not located in one particular church or in one particular style of church. And for many people the notion that someone could leave their current church for another causes them to blame the parishioner, but quite possibly it is the parish instead.

With so many similar stories of people being hurt in the same way as Rachel and Yolanda people need to see that something is very wrong. I can't blame Yolanda for wanting nothing to do with Church, and I'm glad whatever she has gone through hasn't pulled her away from her faith entirely because from the sounds of whatever she went through it was very painful.

I am going to try to take up your challenge and call someone I haven't spoken with in awhile. I'll let you know how it goes.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Alan, I really feel for Yolanda, too. I got angry, but then, mostly sad. I wasn't the cause of her leaving, but I wanted to somehow correct the problem. But I knew I couldn't.

I've been dealing with my own feelings of hurt, too. I feel resentment towards those who taught me false doctrine, who judged and condemned me. But then, I have been wondering about who I've hurt over the years. I know there's a number of times I stopped short of reaching out because I was caught up in my own little world.

What do you think the Church should do about this? There's definitely a problem. What's the solution?

Alisha De Freitas said...

I'm posting this comment (Part 1) for Aja, since Blogger got whack and wouldn't let it through:

"Hi Alisha!

This post really made me think. Thanks for that :)

I have never left my church or really had any experience bad enough there to make me want to leave but when I was reading your piece, a lot of scripture came to mind.

Mainly what came to me is that the church is made up of broken, hurting, imperfect, needy people. If we didn't, at some point, confess that we needed Jesus, we wouldn't be Christians in the first place (and, yes, I am just going with the understanding that you are talking about Christians who believe this).

Maybe people are making the mistake of confusing the church for Jesus. Jesus is the one who asks us to give Him our burdens, Jesus is the one who said He will be with us til the ends of the earth. I believe there is even a proverb that tells us not to trust man but to trust in the Lord.

Yes, the church is our community, it is our haven for fellowship and like hearted worship, but Jesus is our Rock, He is our strong tower and our fortress. Men will always let us down, but Jesus cannot be unfaithful.

This all leads me to believe that problems come when we push too much into the church and not enough into Jesus, into seeing as He sees and being made into His image.

We cannot forget that Jesus LOVES the church. We are His beloved bride! When we degrade and scoff at the church we degrade and scoff at ourselves and at the ones whom Jesus gave His life for. When you wrote in the first paragraph about all the feelings that came up when people were describing their church experiences, what came to my mind was what Jesus felt when He was being nailed to the cross. We put Him there. That is the ultimate picture of the ultimate depth of depravity that we are capable of, that is the picture of the human condition and why we need Jesus in the first place and how GRACIOUS He is, that despite these truths of who we are as a people, He came to earth for us, lived amongst us, was persecuted and killed for us, and prays for us beside the Father even as I write this.

Some scripture that came to mind after reading this was from 1 John...

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11 ESV)

We cant forget the enemy has come to steal, kill and destroy us, that his greatest joy would be to alienate us from the ones whom we have been called to serve amongst and love. Don't forget that those whom we sit in church with will be, most likely, those we will be ruling and reigning in heaven for ALL ETERNITY with... We're talking MILLIONS of years here, people!

So, it behooves us to look at things with God's glasses on. As Paul wrote in Philippians, think about what is lovely, good, virtuous and praisworthy and meditate on THOSE things. Act out of love in the spirit of Truth toward your brothers and sisters. If someone sins against you, go to them in the manner that Christ calls us to in Matthew 18 and get things into the Light! Don't give the enemy the chance to furrow into your heart and alienate you from your eternal family. Go after your friend, Yolanda, the next time you see her, invite her to dinner, invite her to your church, encourage her!"

Alisha De Freitas said...

I'm posting this comment (Part 2) for Aja, since Blogger got whack and wouldn't let it through:

"I'm not saying that any of these things are easy or that I have done them or would find them easy to do in that situation, but we have been given an instruction manual full of truth and love on how we are called to live and defeat darkness with clean hearts, let's use it! Let's turn on satan and the lies he uses to set us against our brethren and not turn against our brethren themselves. let's be honest about who we are, our true nature, what we know about ourselves and not be surprised when we see it in others. Let's call on Jesus to intercede in our relationships and trust His desire to delight in us and give us the desires of our heart in His perfect timing.

In closing, I just wanted to leave this scripture. It's funny how Pollyanna this all sounds, but that is the mindset of the World talking. Our God is not Pollyanna! He is ruling and reigning in heaven with eyes like a flame of fire, feet like fine brass, a voice as the sound of many waters and a tongue that is a sharp two edged sword. We have to take on the mind of Christ in ALL things, put on our spiritual armor and remember that we are a body in a war and cannot be healthy without all of our myriad parts. Hope this blesses you and I will try to remember to pray for Rachel.


Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life... (Philippians 2:14-16 NKJV)"

Alisha De Freitas said...

Now, here's my response, lol.

Hey Aja, thanks for the well-thought out and passionate comment.

So you say, if I see Yolanda again, stop her and invite her to my church. Okay. But I seriously doubt she'd say yes. In fact, what shifted her mood was talking about church, so much that she teared up. :-(

And let's say she did come. Will that bring healing and closure regarding her last experience belonging to a church? I've joined a new church, but I'm still feeling burned from some experiences at that church, too.

It seems like many people go from church to church to church, carrying around baggage with them. They've been hurt, then they hurt others...

What do you think the Church should do about this? Specifically? What can we as individuals do? Many times, both parties in a dispute feel they are being Christ-like.

Thank you for your comment. I really think we do need to look to the Lord before we act or speak out. I believe the majority of problems could be resolved quickly if we did that.

Jesus-in-the-city said...

Pondering.... :)

Alisha De Freitas said...

Can't wait to read your response! Btw, I called Sonia today. But I got her voicemail... :-/

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