It is claimed that divorce and moving home are one of the most stressful experiences faced by modern man. For Christians there is another; making the decision to leave a church fellowship. It could be described as a merging of divorce and moving home, there are so many similarities. It is also a bereavement. There are many reasons why such drastic action is taken, perhaps a breakdown in fellowship, disappointment in relationships, unrealised (even unrealistic) expectations, or as a result of gradual change. Whatever the reason the result is that things are not what they used to be. A crisis point has been reached and a decision must unfortunately be made. The decision to leave a church is not an easy one. Every effort has to be made to talk a problem through, pray with the leadership, and face all the heart searching that has to be done. In these circumstances it is necessary to leave oneself open for the Holy Spirit to search our hearts for reasons and motives and underneath it all the continual question arises ‘Am I doing the right thing?’. There is also the rest of the Christian family to consider, they will not all understand. Full explanations are hindered by personal and confidential matters which cannot be disclosed. In the final analysis it is a personal decision confirmed by the rule of a peaceful mind. Books giving wise and loving advice to those who leave their church are not easy to find in the local Christian Bookstore. This in spite of the fact that churches continually review their membership details as people slip from members to distant friends and then disappear entirely from view. I suppose that if such books were in evidence they would be a discouragement to all who pass by. We do not wash our dirty linen in public. This begs the question ‘Do we know how to wash it in private?’ Personal experience leads me to conclude that the answer may well be ‘No’. When I left my local church after 13 years of involvement in all levels, I received no direct criticism. Just the comment ‘I am sorry that you have decided to leave’. But that is worse than no comment at all because the final analysis of such a statement leaves one to conclude that the person was sorry, but not sorry enough to find out why or to do anything to prevent a similar situation arising for someone else. There were some implied criticisms of disloyalty and harm to the fellowship but such innuendoes could only be met in a spirit of self-defence which seemed out of kilter with the Christian ethos of dying to self. Perhaps the ‘silent majority’ in these situations believe that by being passive they are playing their part in damage control. They take the moral high ground by ‘supporting the leadership’. When something is obviously amiss surely support of the leadership should be expressed by discussing problems with them and advising them of how things are at the grass roots level. Leaders may be ill informed or too busy with administration and teaching concerns to realise that ‘all is not well in the state of Denmark’. Of course there are also those who are genuinely concerned when someone leaves a fellowship and they may be badly bruised too if they attempt to speak up or come to the defence of a brother or sister whom they love. For them there is the loss of fellowship they have shared over the years and the risk of being misunderstood too. When the painful process of leaving a fellowship is concluded there arises the task of finding a new spiritual home. It does not have to be a stressful experience. I believe strongly that if the leaving is of the Lord, then the moving on is in His hands too. He knows that we need another home quickly, one in which we can feel accepted and be lovingly restored. I was welcomed into such a fellowship within two weeks, it was the first and only church I visited and has been ‘home’ to me ever since. But let us make no mistake about the cost of leaving, especially after a prolonged period of distress. We carry scars and restoration is needed. Only a new and loving fellowship can help to renew the confidence to trust again, encourage us to be vulnerable and open-hearted once more and get us back on track to bring the message of hope to a lost world. The Lord sees His people disunited by traditions, prejudices, and conditioning but he breaks traditions, challenges prejudice and re-conditions us. As Head of His Church the Lord moves His people around. He knows better than we do where we are needed and will be most useful. Perhaps we should not feel hurt or guilty or even surprised if it happens to us. If it does we should avoid looking back, except to remember past blessings. Straining forward may take a great deal of effort at times but it is the only way to move on.
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