Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Follow-Up Question: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

A few days ago I posted a blog with some thoughts and feelings about what it's like to leave the church, and the response has been most interesting.  It's already moved up to the "favourites" category in terms of blog traffic, (way faster than normal) but most of the response has been through private emails and conversations. This is also unusual - I usually get comments in the comments section (funny enough) or not at all.

So, if you are in a church and someone has left - I want you to know this.  People are hurting. They are still hurting years later.  People are also afraid to talk about their pain, and their experience, which I am sure contributes to the pain, anger and hurt still haunting them years later. There has got to be a better way.  It's totally understandable that some people will only belong to a certain church body for a season.  But the fear and the pain surrounding leaving is just, I don't know, wrong. There has GOT to be a better way!

My questions to the leavers and stayers is this:  What can churches do differently? What can those who move on do differently?  How can we release people to pursue a new church home without them feeling judged? What would have made a difference to you in your story? Is there a better way? 

I'm not asking for things like "Well the church I was at should have kept following the Bible, or had more/less/louder/softer worship or programs"  My sense, at least from the responses I've received is that those differences are not what cause the pain. Or maybe I'm off my nut a mile and a half and just haven't heard from enough of you!

I'm not asking who do we assign blame to - but let's get these "leaving skeletons" out of the closet. Skeletons have a way of following us and affecting future healthy relationships negatively. I'm wondering how and if we can better navigate the problem of pain being associated with church leaving. So if you have experience or ideas around this idea - please sound off!

I promise no names of people and churches will be used in the follow up post, but maybe we can get a conversation going?  Be brave! Share the post, even if its shared via email and not through other public venues.  Write an anonymous comment.  Send me a private email: karinaloewen (at) gmail (dot) com.

You are not alone.  It doesn't have to hurt this much.


  1. We needed he elders to hold the pastor accountable so healing could happen. We stayed a year after everything happened and made every effort towards forgiveness and restoration but trust was lost in the leadership when we were brushed under the carpet. We wanted restoration to see God move but we were rejected for rocking the boat. It's still painful to know that healing could have happened and didn't. I think what I am trying to say is that openness and confession is painful but restoration and forgiveness is beautiful. It's the beauty in the ashes...its what we longed for. It reflected horribly on the church as it was a small community and many people who were asking questions and openly searching turned away. We felt responsible for this which added to the pain. This, of course, is not the case in all churches by any stretch, it just was our story and it makes me very sad the shrapnel that hit a lot of people.
    Of course we are dealing with people and people are broken so mistakes are made. Forgiveness fills our lungs when we are suffocating in pain.

    1. This: "Forgiveness fills out lungs when we are suffocating in pain" is so beautiful and so true.

      Thank you for sharing. What do you think holding the pastor accountable would have looked like?

      I'm sorry you were hurt, and I hope you will find/have found a new church to belong to where openness and honestly run as a two way street.

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  3. We needed an open discussion. We needed to see contrition (it involved sexual advances and misappropriation of finances) and we needed to be able to offer forgiveness. Friendships were killed because we were unwilling to hang him out. We wanted a private discussion and we wanted the elders to back us up with consequences for unrepentance. We were patronized, removed and rejected. We didn't have the opportunity to come back into communion in friendship or in the church family. We thought we followed Matthew 18 but it counted for nothing. We wish the story would have been glorifying to God, that there was confession, forgiveness and restoration. It would have been honoring to God. This is what would have been the beauty in the ashes.

  4. We had this discussion last night at dinner with 4 people who are serving here from the Abby area....the bottom line seemed to be that Bible School and seminaries never offer a course on "listening"....it is all about how can I preach better....many pastors forget that their congregants are human beings with joys, hurts, thoughts and real lives....pastors find it hard to accept criticism, they are also human but maybe we put them in a category all of their own. Here in Guatemala, the churches are no different. But most of the people listen they may not comment on anything that you say but they listen. Having an MA or PHD does not make you a good listener. Philip took classes at a college in the Abby area on Evangelism...they never once went onto the street and ministered to people...it was all head knowledge. Thanks for sharing...blessings for a great day.

  5. I don't think hurt in the church can be lumped together and dealt with in one way. Every situation is unique, personalities are different, hoped-for outcomes are varied. I don't think there's one answer. I can't even make a suggestion in general because I think each situation has to be handled uniquely, but perhaps with some sort of baseline.

    And especially when you look at the difference between being hurt BY the church and hurting because you wish things were different. I am trying to understand the latter and what comes to mind is something like these: having congregants longing for more freedom in worship and having leadership keep a tight rein on how things happen; or wanting to get the church involved in outreach and having no support from leadership. Or some sort of groundswell that isn't supported by leadership. Kingdom advancement that is being hindered by leadership in some way. Is that what you mean?

  6. Kelly - Hey! I agree that each situation is unique. However, I think there are some baseline skills that both leavers and those left behind could use/grow in to make things better.

    As to your last paragraph - truly there are some days that I am not sure there is a difference in the type of hurt, and other days I think it makes a difference. Having oppresive leadership is never a healthy thing, but having a personal passion that the leadership of the church isn't accomodating doesn't neccisarily equal oppressive/abusive leaders, right? I don't believe it is up to one church to do everything- in fact, I think some churches "kill" themselves trying to be all things to all people. Sometimes those difference (one church is passionate and involved in single moms ministry while your heart beats to make a difference in the homeless community, for an off-the-top-of-my-head example) means that you need to find a church whose passions line up with your own. In both situations there can be sadness/hurt, but not neccesarily "fault". Or maybe I'm imagining things, and hurt is just hurt and needs to be addressed better than it traditionally has been within the church.


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