Out with the Old…. (in which I make the decision to leave my church family of the past 10 years)
The situation was grim. I’d spent months… years of agonising over decisions made at church, of despairing over what I saw as negative attitudes, adherence to traditions that obscured the love of God. I was happy to continue being the sort of Christian I knew God wanted me to, but I felt it was becoming difficult to make an active contribution while my philosophy seemed at odds with those in control in my church. What to do? I was sure that God would give me the grace and strength to be a positive influence regardless of others’ attitudes, yet something inside was nagging me.
Surely there was More. More to a Christian fellowship, more to the impact the church could have in the community, more to our personal responsibility to connect and be involved. I thought about what Jesus said – “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) Was my current Christian walk the one Jesus promised me? Was I using my skills to my best ability? I thought not.
Meanwhile I pondered these things and prayed for the right options to became apparent. I thought and wondered as I did the washing in my dilapidated twin-tub machine - the one with a broken lid, slow spinner and various other bits falling apart.
“We need to get a new washing machine,” Bruce commented.
“I don’t need a new one – this works fine,” I protested.
“What about the missing lid? And the spinner not working properly?” he pointed out.
“You can still wash though.”
Bruce was unconvinced. Why persist with something that was clearly falling to pieces, when we had the opportunity to get a new machine that worked? However, I was stuck with the mentality that when things were tough, the noble thing to do was to soldier on – whether that was with a decrepit household appliance, a worn-out pair of shoes or a failing work situation.
We attended a church of another denomination for a change. We felt refreshed and it was good to get away from the struggles of our old church. I even spoke to the pastor of the other church and explained my reason for attending. He cautioned me against running away from problems, however, he was happy to provide a place where we could rest and be revived so that we could be more effective upon return to ‘our’ church.
I started crying. “I don’t want to go back. I’ve had enough,” I wailed. I explained how this wasn’t a whim, an impulsive reaction to some incident. The issues had been going on for so long I was weary from struggling with them. I just wanted to serve God and worship without the drama of church politics.
The pastor reassessed me. “Well, stay. Come and see how you feel. Just enjoy being part of our fellowship. Let Jesus love you.”
And with that welcome, we came. We started attending the new church each week, and experience a vibrancy we hadn’t felt for a long time. Our friends from the old church were shocked. They felt a sense of betrayal and confusion. They tried to give me biblical reasons why I should stay. I gave biblical reasons why I should go. I reassured my friends that we would remain friends regardless of our mutual church attendance.
During this time, both Bruce and I became convicted to make a definite commitment to the new church. We were excited about the way God was leading us both to grow closer through our walk of faith and our willingness to take the risk of doing something new.
As I continued mulling these decisions over in my head, I looked at my old washing machine. By now, the brake on the spinner had failed, and I had to manually slow down the rotating drum without getting my arm ripped off. I used a scrubbing brush held against the top lip of the spinner as a brake that gradually decelerated the momentum. I thought about other ladies who had fully-functioning washing machines, and how that must make a mundane chore quicker and less frustrating. My perspective changed. Maybe I could get a new machine – surely that wouldn’t be too extravagant?
I thought about the analogy of my old washing machine and my dissatisfaction with my old church. Why settle for something that ‘just works’ when there could be more? I knew that God could continue to bless and uphold me in my old church situation, painful that might be, but God was holding out the offer of something better, where I could be more happy and more productive. It was exciting to see what the future held.
Meanwhile, I’d heard the sad news that a friend from church had been diagnosed with cancer, which was already in its very late stages. She was hospitalised and only had weeks to go. I made an effort to contact her and somehow send positive thoughts to her and her family while she would still be able to appreciate it.
Only a week later, I found out that she had died, and her funeral was scheduled several days later at our old church. I thought about the family and prayed that they would be comforted. At the same time, I thought about attending the funeral and seeing the congregation again. Would it be strange? Would I feel ‘homesick’ or regret my decision to leave the church?
We got dressed up and prepared for the funeral. Our plans were to head off on a shopping trip after that finished. We arrived at the church and curiously, found a seat amongst the pews in the same familiar space we’d usually sat. I smiled and greeted the people I hadn’t seen for months. It was a special service, with testimonies of the impact and wonderful achievements of this lovely lady. We were glad to have witnessed the celebration of her life.
Afterwards, we chatted with some friends. We commented on changes we saw around the premises. I felt no yearnings to be back. While I loved my friends, I realised I could continue my relationship with them without the confines of the church environment I needed to leave. This awareness affirmed my recent actions and future direction. As the hearse left for the cemetery, this finality hit me.
We said our goodbyes and hopped back in our car.
I looked at Bruce. “Come on, let’s get that washing machine.”
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter scones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.