Ron Edmondson wrote a post entitled 7 Disappointing Reasons People Leave the Church.  His list was as follows:
1) Burn Out
2) Injury
3) Distractions
4) Life Change
5) Mistakes
6) Power struggle
7) Lack of Connection

In his description of each “reason,” the insinuation was that the blame lay squarely with the person/people who did the leaving. And I’m sure that there are those who fit into his tidy summarization.  I’m not one of them.

I rarely speak for others. I speak about my own experiences, knowing that there’s a good chance that someone else out there can relate and be encouraged knowing that they are not alone.

So, here are my “Disappointing Reasons Why I Left the Church.”

1) I was told to go.I’m not saying that I would have stayed, but I probably would have done what I had been doing for upwards of fifteen years and tried to bring my story to a God-honoring conclusion. I would have continued to try to talk to the senior pastor and perhaps other leadership and continued to trust that God was going to work everything together for good. Instead, I was told that I and my family were to leave the church. With an absolute refusal by the pastors to speak with me or my husband.

2) Lies.  Fifteen years of lies that I won’t reiterate here – you can read them in my story – but that culminated with the senior pastor’s brother, also a pastor in the church, standing in front of a room full of people and blatantly lying to all of them.  About me.  And I was standing no more than six feet from him.  Lie after lie and when my husband told him he needed to apologize to me, his response was to tell us that we were to leave the church.  Period.

3) Lack of Respect.  This was most notably played out over the years as the senior pastor allowed others under his leadership (including his wife) and on his staff to denigrate me, ostracize me, persecute me, lie to me and about me, withhold the truth from me, and (literally) to yell at me. The pastor ignored my pleas for help, for an explanation, for answers, for an opportunity to seek a God-honoring conclusion to years of abusive treatment – forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration.  What kind of pastor ignores people’s appeal for help and allows them to be abused if they have any kind of respect or compassion?

4) Shunning.  Once we were told to leave, we were shunned.  One “friend” met with me for lunch shortly after we were tossed out of the church, but expressed fear at being found out and having to explain why she was meeting with me.  Another friend who had set up a breakfast date with me didn’t show up and didn’t respond to my texts asking if she was coming.  Others I have run into on the street or in the coffee shop, etc., turn away.

5) Lack of integrity.  This blatantly occurred right before we were told to leave in the form of gossip when the pastor’s brother talked to others who were not at all involved before even attempting to meet with me or my husband.  But even before that, for years I listened to sermon after sermon in which the pastor and other leaders proclaimed our need to be honest with one another, kind toward one another, forgiving toward one another, long-suffering toward one another, loving toward one another, helping one another, etc. Yet when I was told I could not attend, serve, or participate for over a decade, I was refused a reason. I was lied to about what the pastor knew or didn’t know. I was not given opportunity to face my accusers, nor was I even told that I was under any kind of church discipline so there was no plan for reconciliation. When I asked what I would need to do, I was told simply that they “would be watching” me and I “might be invited” to participate at some point in the future if I proved myself worthy.

6) Nepotism and partisanship. The senior pastor, his wife, and his brother were all employed by the church.  But more problematic than this was that the brother boasted that he was the “leper” and the senior pastor was the “shepherd.”  Before the brother, there were other “lepers.”  According to the brother, the “leper” was to be the bad guy – deliver bad news, deal with negative situations, and be the person that bore the brunt of any negativity.  The senior pastor was only to be seen as a caring, compassionate, shepherd who tended the flock with loving kindness.  This led to the biggest “lie” of all – that the judgment and ostracism and persecution that was dealt to me was at the behest of the senior pastor.  It was his lepers who delivered the messages and he refused to respond to my requests for help because he was not only in total support, but the instigator of it all.

7) Lack of transparency. This began when the leadership orchestrated a change in the organizational structure.  No longer was the church governed by a plurality of elders and deacons, but by a small group of insiders – the senior pastor, his brother, and the business manager.   Those who serve as elders and deacons have no involvement in the major decisions of the church.  People are now hired and fired without explanation.  Job descriptions and positions change without notification to the elders, deacons, or congregation.  No one knows what is going on at the most critical levels except this tiny inner circle.

Financial transparency was also eliminated. Staff salaries became secret.  Itemized financial statements were discontinued. Recently, they justified increasing their weekly offering need by several thousand dollars because the top leadership salaries were being brought into line with other churches of similar size.  But there was absolutely no indication of what churches they were using for comparison or where they were located or the salaries being paid at those churches.

And while we did not leave the church when those changes took place, looking back, we now realize that we were like the proverbial frog in the kettle.  As the changes took place, little by little, we allowed them.

As to the ostracism and judgment that led to spiritual abuse: we stayed because we believed that God works everything together for good and that if we just tried hard enough, kept asking for a biblical and God-honoring process, we would one day reach a God-honoring conclusion.

But God was not being honored by the leadership.  Not in the lies. Not in the lack of respect.  Not in the shunning.  Not in the lack of integrity. Not in the nepotism and partisanship.  Not in the lack of transparency.  And not in our being told we were no longer welcome there.

Bottom line.  We only had one reason to leave.

God was not being honored.

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Comments
  1. Dave says:

    It is interesting, when I read articles written by or for pastors or other church leaders which deal with people leaving church or experiencing problems in church, they almost always exclusively focus on the types of issues mentioned here. Meaning, the types of issues that contribute to a church-hopping mentality, or disagreements between attenders, or disagreements over leadership style or direction, or disagreements over the style of worship, etc. Those issues are certainly commonplace, and they do lead to a lot of “leaving church” reasons that fall into the categories Edmondson lists.

    But rarely do these articles discuss church hurt (and never do they discuss spiritual abuse situations). I believe that is for two reasons: (1) in churches that have more relatively healthy dynamics, while church hurt does still happen it just doesn’t typically rise to the level or frequency where it gets noticed and gets addressed as a “major issue” like the other ones Edmondson lists; (2) in churches where there are clearly unhealthy dynamics and church hurt occurs with more regularity, the leadership is virtually always in such denial (who, me???) and has such a blind spot to it (what are you even talking about????) that the blame for any problems is instead assigned to the people experiencing the hurt.

    As in your case, I too didn’t fit into those 7 reasons. I had church hurt that should have been very easily fixable, but the leadership was less interested in mending relationships than in protecting the image of a church that has no problems, and so instead I was made to feel that I must be the problem. If I say I am hurt and there is a problem, then I must be a difficult, contentious, unforgiving person. I am saying there is a problem which points out a need for resolution and reconciliation, when instead I should just shut up and move on! And thus an easily fixable hurt instead grew into your favorite definition of spiritual abuse: “The individual is left bearing a weight of guilt, judgment or condemnation, and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian.”

    • Ellen says:

      I like that you pointed out that your church hurt was easily fixable. Mine was, as well. All it would have taken was an apology – right from the outset. This was the conversation my husband wanted to have with the senior pastor’s brother at our last church (have you read parts 3 and 4 of my story yet?). He told him in an email that the first thing (and really the only thing) that needed to happen was for there to be a full and deep apology to me. If that had taken place at any time through the years, that would have been the God-honoring conclusion that should have taken place. Thank you for sharing insight.

  2. Dave says:

    Yes, I’ve read the full story and I am saddened by the hurt that was inflicted upon you. From everything you describe, an apology (and more) had been in order for a very long time. I know that it will not happen if left to human hearts, but I pray that God’s spirit would move and convict and lift the blinders, and someday prompt those words that would help you to heal.

    In my particular case, I didn’t even need an apology . . . my situation could have been largely fixed in 10 seconds, and much healing would have taken place with a simple statement of understanding and empathy, a simple acknowledgement of the fact that I was hurt. “I can understand how that must have made you feel” would have done wonders. “That wasn’t the intent, that communication could have been handled better” would have been a big help. But even that was too much, even that would have been giving too much legitimacy to the hurt that was done and be seen as an admission that not everything was done perfectly properly, even that was seen as giving up too much ground once the walls of defensiveness had been raised, and as a result I was left feeling that my hurt was my problem, and it grew into pain and self-doubt and depression.

  3. Dear Sister,

    Our stories are all too common in what passes as Biblical Christianity today in the American Evangelical Church. There are stories from Washington State to New York, From the Pentecostal side to the Reformed side. It all stems from masking “Man Doctrine” and calling it “God’s Doctrine”.
    Without going into eschatology, for we all probably will debate that till the second coming. The Bible warns us about failing leadership and false religion from within the church; Fourteen times by Yeshua in the Gospels and 18 times in the Epistles. Pride and arrogance rule the day for church leadership in many a church today. They rule with suspicion of the sheep. They are more concerned with attaining recognition from man than honoring the Savior. And the sheep become idolaters.

    We can all add to that list.

    1) Protecting criminal and violent acts by “want to be leaders” and silencing the victims. Then enabling the criminals for character assassination and extortion. Can we say Moral Turpitude.
    2) Leaks from the board of trustees to outside the walls of the church. I call this institutional slander. Secret Tribunals.
    3) Twisting of Scripture. This is more prevalent on my side of the evangelical church – Charismatic.
    4) And if they can’t abide by the Bible… you get it… maybe the sheep won’t read the By Laws… oh no … who let him read the By Laws.
    5) No Accountability of leadership. No way to address the sins of leadership.
    6) Leadership stalking me at work. Something they continued from the criminals.
    7) Blocking me from going to church, no charges or implementation of Matthew 18:15-17. Technically I am a member in good standing. No one has the moral courage to approach me.

    I guess I have seen a lot of the same things Ellen did. My shunning was in the form of a Gag order. I was a cripple, unable to ask help me or my family, my job was in jeopardy, couldn’t even ask for public prayer. You would walk in the sanctuary with 800 people there and feel loneliness I never felt before.

    I study cults like the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. I never really understood what dis-fellowship feels like until my experience. In that way it gave my study some purpose. And for that understanding I am grateful. Not for the evil, but for the understanding.

    Narcissist Pastors who show no remorse and willingness to repent to the sheep (every last one) who he damaged should not preach again. The sheep, blood bought sisters and brothers who were hurt by those that were so-calledly put in charge of shepherding them. They breached a sacred trust. Before Restoration can start, repentance, confession and restitution has to precede that.

    I have respect for a Jim Bakker (PTL Park and Jessica Hahn Scandal Fame) who turned from his sins and went through the long process and is now preaching a solid message then I will for the “pastors” that won’t be held accountable and not willing to go through a long process of restoration after repentance. Jim Bakker may have a small congregation, but he now has a heart for God and His saints. He is now a servant leader. He now has the fear of the Lord and remember who loved him first. And that is good.

    Let me leave you with two other thoughts.

    1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not LOVE with word or with tongue, but in DEED and TRUTH.

    “LOVE is a supreme ethic. TRUTH is a supreme point of judgment. And if you lose either of them; you lose God.” – Ravi Zacharias

    Again, I am rambling. Bless you dear saint for what you do.

    Humbly in Christ’s love,

    Frank
    Sheep and recovering Pentecostal

  4. a prodigal daughter returns says:

    The miracle, is that people still hang on to Christ despite sometimes stunning abuse by his so called followers. My family donated our house to the church, the one we owned, moved into a rental, after uprooting ourselves to help plant a church in our growing Charismatic denomination. When my now, ex-husband, began to ask question about some questionable doctrines that gave far more authority to pastors then scriptures ever warranted he was warned that “satan was talking to him”

    We kept our doctrinal opinions to ourselves but the heat was on, we were being slandered, taken apart and under scrutiny. We decided to leave quietly, but rather than let us depart in peace with our questions kept to ourselves the pastor called an emergency session of the entire church to discuss the “our last name here” problem. He sent a tape of the session to our new address. He told the congregation we were tares planted by satan because they were confused why people who were such servants to the church suddenly disappeared with no explanation.

    He went on about how demonic we were, the pastor my husbands best friend then concluded by saying “and I counseled them about their marriage problems, we will discuss that now” at which point he stopped recording to continue to tar and feather us using information my husband told him in strictest confidence as a counselor. Of course since the tape was turned off we could only imagine.

    My now ex, wasn’t done trying to serve the church, a few years later he left his first decent job to get on staff at a mega-church. As the accountant he found irregularities that were disturbing, The wealthy pastor hired family members at exorbitant pay, gave kickbacks to friends on things like church flowers. He had Lincolns, Mercedes, fur coats, his wife got breast augmentation to better wear her designer clothes along with a nose job. And my husband took a large cut in pay to accept the job, assuming everyone was making sacrifices to support the ministry.

    It came to a head the Sunday that staff had a potluck. My cupboard was empty I had to charge the food to bring a dish. We were actually physically going hungry when the “awards” part of the potluck happened. My ex that worked overtime at his own expense, organized their systems, volunteered in other capacities was told by his boss he should be awarded employee of the year for his dedicated service. What happened was the Pastors wife was given a 500 day of beauty at a upscale spa, the associate pastors wife given a similar one. Gifts and awards were given to the pastor, and an hour was spent singing the praises of declaring the greatness of the pastoral staff.

    I’d given anything for a little grocery money. Not long after that the pastor went down in a ball of flames for a major scandal. We were homeless, penniless and my 3 young children saw two shattered depressed parents. I read a blog today where someone said “for the sake of a pastors children be nice about the pastors fall” What pastor destroying his congregants ever thought about the impact on their children? Our former mega-church pastor’s children all went to college from wealthy benefactors who still believed in the “man of God” My own worked 2-3 jobs, gave blood, went without food, wore falling apart clothes, to get their educations No one thought of the congregants children when ripping off the flock and to this day my children have paid dearly.

    The greatest loss wasn’t to me but to my children. None of them will darken the door of the church, they are agnostic at best, and are fractured spiritually. My ex husband left the faith completely. The ripples are massive. For our part, I recognize there was something spiritually not well in us to agree to this sort of church. I’ve hung on to Christ, but there are moments that I wonder if Christ has anything to do with church at all.

    • Ellen says:

      Thank you so much for sharing such a heart-wrenching experience. I understand your feelings toward the church. So many of us who have been deeply wounded carry the same questions in our hearts and cannot begin to entertain thoughts of even visiting a church for fear that we will be victimized again – that we will not encounter Jesus. And while the “well-meaning” is anxious to tell us that no one is perfect, that there are “better” churches out there, that is very difficult to believe because for many of us, this has not been a one-time, one-place experience. We have been victimized over and over – with no acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrators, the leadership, or even those whom we counted friends, that we were truly victimized at all.

      Thankfully, God is not exclusively found in churches. In fact, I believe that the best place to find God is in those in whom He dwells – and that’s inside of me. And you. And all of those who truly believe. And outside of a building with walls, it’s a lot easier to experience the God who never leaves nor forsakes us, who loves us unconditionally, who offers grace and compassion.

      It is unfortunate that we have not experienced that inside the walls of a building. I hope you find Him inside the walls of your heart and inside the words of my blog. Thank you for reading and writing.

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