It took us a long time (years) to leave the institutional church after we clearly felt God calling us in that direction. Today I’m going to explain a bit why.
First though, I just want to say thank you to all the overwhelming emails and comments of support. There are so many cries of, “Thank you! It’s not just me!” going out. The positive affirmation I’ve received has far outweighed the negative.
So what took us so long to leave? If we were miserable and unedified inside of the institution and we clearly felt God heralding us in a different direction, why did we drag our feet? Why didn’t we sprint toward that new, freeing goal?
Well, remember those people I’ve been surrounded by in church who seem to love Jesus but not understand how to follow him? The ones that greatly affected my faith in God? The truth is, I love those people. I like them a lot and I want to help them and teach them how to die to themselves and follow God.
Honestly, we haven’t had any great and terrible thing happen to us by members of a congregation (though we have had great disappointments and frustrations with pastors/leadership). They’ve been nice to us. Granted, they haven’t gotten to know us in an intimate way – ever. They’ve hardly ever invited us to their home or accepted invitations to our home. And there are a few passive aggressive folks thrown in who smile to our face but who we know bicker behind backs.
But even so, it’s hard to abandon someone who smiles and asks you how it’s going week upon week. Even superficial relationships are sometimes difficult to walk away from. And, also … I want people to like me. More than that, I want them to understand me. I want them to completely get our reasons for not feeling like traditional church is right for us (and many others).
And we knew that (particularly where we live deep in the bible belt) people would not understand our leaving the church. The approval of others can be a powerful prison.
It’s just so so hard to leave a group of people who’ve been perfectly cordial to you, knowing that they will disapprove of, and not understand your decision. It’s even harder for those who have grown up in one church (or been there a great many years) and for those who’s family also attends the same gathering.
There’s a second reason we stalled so long. We feel strongly called to work in South Asia. And being supported and sent by large institutions and organizations seemed like the easiest way. We couldn’t figure out a way to pursue God’s calling on our life outside of traditional means – maybe we didn’t have the faith to step out and just trust that God can send us where he wants us. We still don’t know how that desire will be fulfilled.
So we stayed much longer than we should have. Afraid of not fulfilling our calling, afraid of what people would say, afraid of what people would think, afraid of people’s disapproval, afraid of being deemed rebels or bad attitudes, or unfit for ministry.
But in the end, staying didn’t do us any favors. I think people tended to give us those labels from within the institution anyway (even if not to our face).
So it finally reached a point where God made it clear that we could not serve him from within the church. Every avenue we tried kept closing to us – almost as if God kept slamming windows just so we’d admit there was a big fat door right in front of us that we were resisting walking through…
So finally, we gave in.
I’m participating in Joy in this Journy’s Life: Unmasked today.
Photo by Anna Sedysheva via Dreamstime.