Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Between Churches: Why I Left, Part Two

I left my church for, I admit, relatively petty reasons. I was irritated; I was burned out; I was out of sync with the culture of my church. It hadn’t always been that way, of course. My wife and I had come six years earlier, having left a far-off megachurch as an act of discipleship, a decision made when the megapastors began talking about a local witness, being salt and light in the places we live. The place we lived, we determined, was too far from the church we belonged to for us to be meaningfully engaged in both. So we found a comparatively small church within walking distance of our home, a fifty-year-old fellowship in our community, with an apparent respect for the arts and a clear commitment to the spiritual gifts of women, both of which were impressive to us. They had a new pastor with a commitment to evangelism and a connection to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which, full disclosure, is my employer. While they were, like so many churches in our suburban setting, lily white, they had a nice mix of ages, which was a welcome change from our demographically organized now-former church. We had a good feeling that we had hit the motherlode, and a few weeks of comparison shopping at other churches merely confirmed our suspicions. We liked the place so much, we spent our Valentine’s Day there; they hosted a dance featuring a jazz band populated almost entirely by church members, and while we didn’t dance (not my thing), we spent most of the evening talking to the pastor and his wife. I can, I almost certainly thought to myself, work with this.

And work with it we did. Within a few weeks we were taking membership classes. A few weeks more and we were participating in their small groups program. Not long after that we were leading a group; not long after that my wife was running the program. I got involved in an adult education course that soon morphed into an Easter play; not long after that I was acting in and then writing scripts for sketches during Sunday morning worship. Before too long I was describing myself, to friends and family and even in the bio for my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville, as an “actor.” My wife participated in and then led the annual summer short-term mission to Appalachia; I participated in and helped lead the confirmation program and adolescent Sunday school. I became an elder; my wife became an employee.

Less than a year after that, my wife quit her job at the church. Fifteen months after that, my term as an elder ended, and we quit the church.

Six years of our lives, suddenly done. It didn’t end in scandal; I guest-preached four weeks before our last service. My wife quit her job despite the pastor’s effort to keep her and the church’s repeated declarations that they wanted her to stay. We didn’t unfriend anybody on Facebook, and to my knowledge, nobody at the church unfriended us. It wasn’t shocking or blistering or anything other than, I suppose, disappointing.

We were disappointed, and our disappointment gradually became disillusionment, and it gradually became clear to us that our future lay elsewhere.

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The second in an ongoing series. Keep coming back to read about what we learn about God, the church and ourselves when we leave one faith community in search of another. Feel free to weigh in, too; when it comes to hope and disillusionment, everyone (and no one) is an expert.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In many ways, it's the blessing and the curse of the modern American church. We have the ability to shop or a better way to put it is "choose".

This in many ways can be a strength. We can find a place that suits us and helps us grow in way that we like and is comfortable.

The weakness is that we can give up on becoming a catalyst of change too quickly. Getting out is easier.
Decades ago families stayed with their churches. Fortunately or unfortunately for good or bad for fear of making the family look bad.

This is where having global view of church is helpful. Though we may fall short in some ways, we can have an impact remembering we are part of the "church-body".