Leaving Church: An Encouragement To Those in the Wilderness (or looking to be)

leaving church building

Credit: Greg Westfall via imcreator.com

I’d like to offer some encouragement to folks who have left church, or who are thinking about leaving church.

It goes like this:   You are not crazy!   And you are not alone!

Whether you are in the wilderness, or you are growing more uncomfortable and restless attending church, know that there are tons of other folks out there feeling the same way.

I know.  I escaped.  😉

10 Things I’ve Learned About Leaving Church

1. What I mean by church is the traditional, institutional form of church in the western world.  Typically, this is a pastor in the front giving teachings, sermons, etc to a passive audience (congregation).  This is the most prevalent association our culture has with the word church, because there are church buildings everywhere using this format.  There is often a focus on the physical building as being the church (as in, “let’s go to church”).  The sad fact is that this is not a representation of a New Testament church.

2. There are tons of other people who have left church in search of something that seems closer to what the New Testament envisions.  However, these folks are often driven to re-invent church (myself included at one point in time).  In reality, the church does not need to be invented or re-invented.  It needs to be watered because she is a living organism.  The true church cannot be manufactured; rather it is something (or more accurately Someone) to be discovered.

3. Those who try to re-invent church often have not looked very deeply at Christian history and they often end up reproducing something similar to what they left behind (and they often become the center of it).

4. There has always been a remnant who seek only to know Jesus Christ deeply.  Look for those that want to know Christ in a deeper way and hold on to them for dear life.  Seriously.  When I talk about knowing Christ, I mean wanting to know Him intimately and personally, just as you would know your closest friend or your spouse.  The Apostle Paul considered everything garbage compared to knowing Christ intimately (Phil 3:8).  You will have found a very special thing if you can come together just to know Him and each other better.  Beautiful things typically grow from these relationships.  You may come from very different backgrounds, but if you can lay that aside you will find fertile ground.

5. If you do leave the church, most people will not follow you.  Many of them will think you are crazy and “witness” to you as though you are a pagan.  It’s part of the path.  Don’t let it discourage you.

6. You may experience bitterness and pain and anger.  This is normal.  But it’s also normal to heal from this over time.  Don’t get stuck in the bitterness.  Take time to grieve, but then move on.

7. Don’t rush to have “meetings”.  Don’t push to have something formal.  Part of moving into the wildness of freedom in Christ is letting go of religious tradition for tradition’s sake.  I believe God is concerned about us knowing Him rather than our church attendance record.  So take a break.  Enjoy your family.  Grow together with friends.  Focus on serving others.  And in all of this, trust Jesus to fit the puzzle pieces together.  I’ve learned that He is not in a hurry, and we don’t need to be either.  Let meetings come in the right season after you have grown together in relationship with other believers.

8. Don’t throw out the Baby with the bathwater.  I know it’s cliche.  But seriously, hang tightly onto Jesus.  He is your life preserver.  Unfortunately, many people who walk away from church because they haven’t found Jesus there end up walking away from Jesus, too.  Don’t lose your faith in God because some people are behaving badly.

9. Just meeting in a living room instead of a formal church building will not solve your church woes.  There are many dangerous so-called believers inside and outside of the institutionalized church.  Look for those that are learning to express the life and nature of Christ.  (Hint: These won’t be folks that are trying to build a kingdom around themselves.  They will always point to Christ.)

10. Growing deeper in Christ means growing deeper in freedom.  Let the chains of religion fall off.  After all, it was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1).  (The freedom I’m talking about is described here.)

smell of freedom

Credit: gagilas via imcreator.com

Brothers and sisters, the real church is a woman, and She is stunning to behold!

“She” is a people who are enraptured with Her Groomsman, our Lord Jesus.

“She” is a people who reflect Him throughout the earth.

And you are not crazy for wanting to find Her…

Follow the Life!

Recommended Reading

A Church Building Every Half Mile by Jon Zens

Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna

Revolution by George Barna

Torch of the Testimony by John W. Kennedy

The Untold Story of the New Testament by Frank Viola

58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through the One Anothers by Jon Zens

The Priesthood of All Believers by Milt Rodriguez

The Gathering, a novel by Milt and Mary Rodriguez

*****

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15 thoughts on “Leaving Church: An Encouragement To Those in the Wilderness (or looking to be)

  1. You are so right..I have a lady freind who has left the institutional church and is suffering from loneliness..she lives in New York City and I live in Tulsa,Ok. So all I know to do for her is to talk to our father on her behalf..luckily here in Tulsa I have found a small group that gathers without a pastor and all the religious stuff..there is no way I would want to go back to doing church the old way.

    • Loneliness is often an issue, but I think we should be open to building relationships in all forms. God can move in them all. But I agree, it is lonely when you can’t find folks of spiritual depth to share with. Thanks for reading!

  2. Well put, Mark, and spot on! Most believers I know outside the institutional church have experienced pretty much everything on your list, and they’ve also discovered just how beautiful the Bride of Christ is.

    • Very true! But I still meet many folks who are completely disenfranchised with “church” and just have no idea that there are believers meeting in alternative ways. They tend to think the choice is religion or to be shunned.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Though I have been shunned, I know there are people gathering together to know Christ more without religion. But I don’t know any in my area. Seems like I have a regular mental battle between trusting Daddy to connect me (since He’s the One Who brought me out of the institution!), and wondering how much longer it will be. But I never ever want to go back to the institution – no matter how long it takes to be joined with others of like mind.

  3. Very insightful post. Im a new reader here, and have enjoyed the posts so far. I’m in agreement, though my personal experience is backwards in an odd way. I met Christ in an organic church six years ago. I never attended an institutional church, up until recently.

    After struggling relationally in the organic community for quite a while, God made it clear that He wanted me to leave. He showed me just how unhealthy this particular group was once I was outside and could see clearly. In the months since I left, Jesus has shown me what was lacking before, and has shared His dream with me of the kind of community He’s after. I’m so grateful for my six years with that group though. My time there was a priceless gift, despite the hurts.

    I have been attending a traditional church since I left the other group, and it’s really difficult for me. I lost all of my close friends when I left the organic church, and I don’t have any family. I figured traditional “church” would be better than being all alone, but I’m so worn out by it. I’ve met some great people, but the relationships are purely surface-level. I’m terribly lonely. I have yet to meet anyone who wants to know Christ in a deeper way. I don’t really fit in because I don’t speak Christianese, and I have a habit of actually functioning in small group Bible study. I think no one really knows what to make of me. It’s just plain hard.

    The more Jesus shows me of what He desires for His Bride, and of what could be, the more I ache to be a part of that. But I trust Him in what He’s doing, and all the ways He’s sifting and teaching me in all this time alone with Him. He must have something in mind. I look to the future with hope and longing, and wait to see where He leads.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Amanda. I’m praying that you will be able to connect with someone in your area that will go beyond the surface and want to know you and Christ in a deep way.

      Leaving a close-knit group for any reason is hard. I’m sad to hear of the negative side of your experience.

      Personally, I think it is most important that we follow Jesus in whatever way He leads, not to be bound to any model of church. Even though we may have an ideal church in mind, He may lead us in other directions for a season.

      • Hey Mark, I’m so glad you re-tweeted this post! Exactly five months ago I commented on this, and it’s wild to see what the Lord has grown and changed since then. I still may not be a part of a true local expression of Christ like I dream of, but He has provided so much. There is hope and community for those seeking something more and deeper. It might not look like people sitting in a living room, but it’s Life-giving and exciting.

        It isn’t what I expected, but I’ve been connected with many sisters and brothers across the country, and even across the world, who I’m enjoying sharing Christ with, and on a regular basis. Phone calls, texts, emails, blog comments, etc. He IS expressing Himself. His body stretches far beyon the local gathering. It’s like pit stops for food and water throughout the journey in the wilderness.

        I would encourage anyone seeking community and the deeper things of Christ to take the risk and reach out. If you have questions even, email someone whose blog you enjoy. Start a blog yourself. Get connected. You never know what sort of tapestry the Lord will weave out of your networking!

        Thanks again, Mark! Blessings, brother!
        Amanda Iosa recently posted…Things Aren’t As Bad As They SeemMy Profile

  4. Anyone reading my blog knows I share Amanda’s pain, & her hope in Christ. After 40 yrs of feast & famine, joy & despair, but always the abiding love of Jesus Christ drawing us together as a family, we press on. The day will come when our collective expectations are reduced to trusting in Him only, but especially hoping in Him in one another. When we truly believe Gods verdict on us, which is that in us there dwells no good thing, & reciprocally, in Him is Life, we will move past this current impass.

    • Thank you so much for this. Yes, even in this dry time, I’m finding Christ so much closer and larger than ever before. The blessing of being stripped down to Him alone in my experience right now is worth all the pain. It seems He does very deep work during times like these. He is truly inexhaustible and faithful beyond words. I agree with Mark, this is a season, and I want it to be full of Christ getting what He desires, even if my expectations aren’t met. May He ever gain more ground in us all. It’s deeply encouraging just seeing that there are so many others who truly seek Him in reality and simplicity. I “see” Him expressed in all of you, and it brings hope and joy.

  5. I left a year ago. At first, I tried to find a new and better church. That didn’t work. So then I tried to force things by thinking I had to be doing something for God. I follow and read many blogs and it has been those online communities that have really encouraged me to just be. God naturally puts serving opportunities in our lives and organically, fellowship happens. After a year of no friends or fellowship, I spent my thanksgiving at a friends house and I just laughed and laughed. It was so healing for me. We are getting together once a month to just fellowship. I don’t know if any organic church plants in my area but God is bringing me to the people that I need and need me. It’s freeing and liberating to be done with the church buildings and dranaxand superficiality and get down to the real thing.

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