Eight years ago, my wife and I with much prayer relocated to Georgia. We were members of our local church for nearly 25 years at that point, the thought of leaving was scary and painful. Although we left in good standing, it was very challenging for both of us. I know that I am not alone in this journey of having to leave a church and experiencing all of the emotions associated with such a change in life.
There are many reasons why people leave a church, doctrinal disagreements, change in leadership, personal unresolved conflicts, or desire for a different worship experience. No matter what the reason is, leaving a church can be painful. The church provides for its congregants deeply significant spiritual, emotional, and relational connections to fellow members of the church. When these connections are disrupted and broken, they can leave a person feeling exposed to raw emotions of pain and hurt.
In this blog, we will explore why leaving a church can hurt so bad and how we can heal from such painful experiences, and look forward to a hopeful future of connection with a local church.
In the English Bible, the word "church" is ekklesia. This word is derived from the Greek words kaleo (to call) with the prefix ek (out). In English, the church is not derived from the Greek word ekklesia but rather from the Greek word kuriakon, which means "dedicated to the Lord." It means "the called-out ones." The word “church” does not imply individualism but rather a community of “called out ones.”
Why people join the church:
Spiritual Connections: Worship and Fellowship, Acts 2:42 emphasizes the importance of believers coming together for worship, fellowship, and breaking of bread.
Spiritual Growth: Ephesians 4:16 highlights the role of the church in building up and maturing believers in their faith.
Emotional Connections: Support and Encouragement, Galatians 6:2 encourages believers to bear one another's burdens, fostering emotional support.
Joy and Unity: Philippians 2:2 speaks about being of the same mind, having the same love, and being in full accord.
Relational Connections: Community and Love, John 13:34-35 emphasizes the importance of love among believers as a sign of discipleship.
Service and Accountability: Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages believers to stimulate one another to love and do good deeds, not forsaking the assembling of themselves.
WHY LEAVING IS SO HURTFUL
Leaving a church can be a painful experience for several reasons, and the intensity of the pain can vary based on individual circumstances. Here are some common reasons why leaving a church can be emotionally challenging:
Serving together: The Church often serves as a tight-knit community where individuals build strong relationships. As members serve together in various ministries, a bond is developed over time. Leaving means potentially losing those connections, which can be emotionally distressing.
Sense of Belonging: Churches provide a sense of belonging and identity for many individuals. We join a particular church because we with a particular church a sense of belonging to something significant, and we are wanted or needed by that church. Leaving may lead to feelings of isolation and a loss of a supportive social structure.
Spiritual Disconnection: For believers, the church is not just a social institution but also a spiritual home. Leaving may result in a sense of spiritual disconnection and the loss of a place for worship, guidance, and growth.
Grief over Change: Leaving a church often signifies a major change in one's life. The grief experienced is similar to other forms of loss, as individuals may mourn the familiar and the relationships they had within the church.
Emotional Investment: People invest time, energy, and emotions in their church community. Leaving can feel like parting with a significant aspect of one's life and personal history.
Conflict and Hurt Feelings: If the departure is accompanied by conflict or hurt feelings, the emotional impact can be even more pronounced. Unresolved issues or disagreements can contribute to a sense of betrayal or pain.
Identity Shift: The church often plays a role in shaping personal identity. Leaving may lead to a reevaluation of one's beliefs, values, and identity, which can be a challenging process.
Uncertainty about the Future: Leaving a church often brings uncertainty about the future, including where to find a new community, how to continue spiritual practices, and what the next steps in one's faith journey will be.
Loss of Routine and Rituals: Churches often provide a structure for routine and rituals. Leaving means adjusting to a new way of life without the familiar rituals and practices.
Moving forward after leaving a church:
Having a plan for moving forward after leaving a church is essential for healing. When you don’t have a plan to direct you, you might become trapped in a long period of disconnection. Here are some recommended steps for moving forward:
Reflect: Understand the reasons behind your decision and reflect on your spiritual journey.
Seek Guidance: Seek guidance from mentors, friends, or spiritual leaders outside the previous church.
Find a New Community: Look for a new church or spiritual community that aligns with your beliefs and values.
Stay Connected: Maintain connections with friends from the previous church if possible.
Pray for Healing: Pray for emotional and spiritual healing during this transition.
Remember that everyone's journey is unique, and seeking support from others can be crucial during such times. It's essential to approach the situation with empathy and understanding, both for yourself and others involved. Understanding why leaving a church can be hurtful can help individuals navigate the emotional challenges associated with the process. Seeking support, whether from friends, family, or a Christian Counselor, can be crucial in the healing process.
Steven Baldwin is currently on staff as an Associate Minister of the Apostolic Faith Church in Chicago, Illinois, where he has been a member for over 28 years. He also has a passion for serving in the church under the direction of his pastor as a preaching, teaching minister, Coordinator of Small Group Ministry, Pastoral Care Coordinator, Ministerial Alliance Core Team, and Pastoral Counselor on behalf of the Senior Pastor in marital, pre-marital, grief-loss, and spiritual direction. Steven has earned his Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary. He believes that theological training at McCormick will help enable him the biblical knowledge and further his development in church leadership skills. Steven is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Psychological Studies with a concentration in Trauma Counseling at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA. He has a desire to integrate his theological training with his psychological training to function in a therapeutic gospel.