Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Ryan

Leaving a church

Recommended Posts

I would like to pseudo-resurrect a thread here.

....

I've heard some people argue that membership in a church is like marriage, that it is intended to be an indissoluble link that binds people together for a lifetime. And maybe that's the way it's supposed to work. I certainly appreciate the call to faithfulness, in rejoicing in and savoring the good times and toughing it out through the bad times, and I realize that that idea can apply just as much to involvement in a church as it does to marriage. But I don't believe that membership in a church is equivalent to marriage, and I do believe that there is a time to leave a church behind. I don't think such a decision should be taken lightly, but sometimes it needs to be taken. When? When you're withering away spiritually. When you have no support relationally. When your most cherished beliefs are contradicted by and opposed by the beliefs of your local body and/or your denomination. When you consistently feel more depressed and defeated after going to church than you would have if you had slept in, stayed home, and enjoyed a late brunch over Bloody Marys. Any of the above reasons will do, particularly if they continue for a long period of time.

...

Andy has described what is close to me and my wife's situation. We are attending a church where we've been members for 5 years. I'm about 9 months away from ending a 3-year term as a deacon...but things are not going well. My wife is not growing, I feel like I'm stagnating. Neither of us have friends there, nor do our kids. Acquantinces sure, but not friends. We feel that the church is spending money irresponsibly and communicating poorly with it's members. We both feel that the church is turning into a homeschool ghetto and we aren't planning on homeschooling. (Please note, I have nothing against homeschooling!) I know my wife feels depressed after going to church. We've both probably felt this way for the last year or so.

So why don't I want to go?

Help me, what are good reasons to leave a church? Can it be done delicately and gracefully?

Thanks,

Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Help me, what are good reasons to leave a church? Can it be done delicately and gracefully?
Ryan...

The best reason to leave a church is because you do not agree with the core doctrinal beliefs of that church, or of that denomination. Or, to put it in more blunt, anti-21st century terms, you do not believe that the core doctrinal beliefs of that particular church or denomination are true.

Everything else is built upon this.

The corollary is that you may have to actually ask deep questions of theological significance, and search to find (thru the listing of 33,000+ Christian churches) that hold beliefs that you agree with, or join the church which you can accept as having the fullness of truth, even as you struggle with some of its teachings.

As to your second question, yes, you can transition out of a church :delicately and gracefully". Absolutely. They will even throw a farewell party for you.

But for this to happen, you would have to move away.

Barring that, then, sadly, no. But the opinions of others don't matter in comparison to the opinions within your own household.

Peace,

Nick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Help me, what are good reasons to leave a church? Can it be done delicately and gracefully?
Ryan...

The best reason to leave a church is because you do not agree with the core doctrinal beliefs of that church, or of that denomination. Or, to put it in more blunt, anti-21st century terms, you do not believe that the core doctrinal beliefs of that particular church or denomination are true.

Everything else is built upon this.

The corollary is that you may have to actually ask deep questions of theological significance, and search to find (thru the listing of 33,000+ Christian churches) that hold beliefs that you agree with, or join the church which you can accept as having the fullness of truth, even as you struggle with some of its teachings.

That's one way to view it, of course. As a 21st century guy, I guess I'd also add that individuals change and churches change, particularly when there is a change of leadership/pastor, or when a denomination heads in a new direction. The church you joined five years ago may not be the church that you are a part of today. And you and your wife are not the same people you were five years ago, and you may hold a different understanding of truth, or prioritize differently what you consider to be the most important components of a "good church."

All of that is to say that, although such a decision should never be taken lightly, you may want to find a different church. Obviously I can't and don't want to tell you what you should do. I have no idea. But I do think there are valid reasons for searching for a new church beyond doctrinal differences. The American church has rightly been criticized for its consumerist mentality, for individuals and families switching churches like brands of toothpaste. That's one extreme. But the other is doggedly hanging in there when you're miserable, and miserableness is rarely only a factor of doctrinal differences. I've left a couple churches, but in neither case have I left over doctrinal differences. I agreed with the core doctrines of both churches. I left one church because of Reaganite prophecies (O My People, vote for Reagan). I left another because I got tired of being the token "liberal" in a sea of folks who were scandalized by my music listening preferences. I was tired of being weird. I thought they were weird. Loveable, but weird. And I didn't want to be there anymore.

These are cultural, not doctrinal, issues. And they were certainly important to me, important enough that although I took my commitment to these folks seriously, I decided to leave as gracefully as I could.

Yes, I believe it's possible to leave a church gracefully. But it's difficult, and yes, sometimes making a geographical move covers a multitude of other issues. For what it's worth, I've tried both approaches. The geographical move didn't address the core issues, but it made life easier in many ways. And the non-geographical move was more difficult, but ultimately better, I think. I told the truth. I essentially said, "I love you, and I think you're weird. But I love you. Really." And I did. There were people who didn't understand, and who will never understand. And I'm sorry for that. But I did what I thought was best for me and my family. I didn't badmouth them, and they didn't badmouth me, but we went our separate ways. And it was good.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As to if it can be done delicately and gracefully, of course it can. Don't just disappear when your Deacon term is up. Talk to the pastor or someone else about why your leaving so that they know why. Try to be as clear and specific as possible. If they are graceful, they will bless you for your journey.

As to reasons to leave. First of all, I don't want you to take what I say next as judgmental or condemnation. What struck me when you said why you were wanting to leave is how much of it was about what you weren't getting. Yes, we should expect growth and care in the church we are in. However, I think it reflects our consumer mentality that we do church for what it gives us. We invest our time (etc) into this church and we expect a return on our investment. I would urge to to think about what it is you want and expect church to be. Is it a place to make and have friends? Is it the place for spiritual nurture? Is it the place where you find outlet for your gifts and ministry? Is it a collection of individuals competing for the spiritual food (or the budget to provide that spiritual food - or the choices of what kind of spiritual food will be served when)? Is it a community build around faith and mission? Like I said, I'm not trying to be judgmental, but I think that unless you consider these issues you'll just end up repeating your experience from church to church.

Personally, I feel strongly that what I get out of my experience at a church is subservient to what I can do because of my relationship to a church. The difference I think between a vital church and a dying church is the attitude of the people - churches with people looking for ministry to do are vital. Churches that are looking to be ministered to are dying.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Andy has described what is close to me and my wife's situation. We are attending a church where we've been members for 5 years. I'm about 9 months away from ending a 3-year term as a deacon...but things are not going well. My wife is not growing, I feel like I'm stagnating. Neither of us have friends there, nor do our kids. Acquantinces sure, but not friends. We feel that the church is spending money irresponsibly and communicating poorly with it's members. We both feel that the church is turning into a homeschool ghetto and we aren't planning on homeschooling. (Please note, I have nothing against homeschooling!) I know my wife feels depressed after going to church. We've both probably felt this way for the last year or so.

I have many questions, not that I have a right to the answers. Questions are raised as I read this and I don't necessarily expect you to answer me. However, answering them for yourself and with your family might just present an obvious course of action. Or not. Or at least present a context in which to respond to the problem(s) that are being struggled against. One thing that I would assert, by my own POV and biases is that one should take the deacon term seriously. One should serve out such a term and in the most industrious manner possible under the circumstances. To the questions:

  • How did it come to this on the friend/acquaintance equation? Have you ever had friends here?
  • What led you to accept the post of deacon?
  • As a deacon, have you been able to make your feelings known about the spending issue? If not, why not?
  • What is the nature of the irresponsibility? Has it to do with differing notions among bretheren of good will as to just what is important to the ministry (at my church, we are in a a bit of a financial crisis, among other things, there is a subtle division among parishioners over our music budget which is a huge chunk of our budget. There are two plausible sides to our conundrum. Just an example of what I'm getting at)?
  • Or are we replacing five year old hymnals with fresh ones, buzzing from one worship model to the next with all bells and whistles left by the wayside with each change; or during an economic downturn considering a "fresh look" for the sanctuary, stage and pulpit area that totally changes the appearance, not just a fresh coat of paint? Things like that? Or maybe staff salaries might be getting a little steep relative to the income to the church and econ status of the church?
  • What do you mean by "homeschool ghetto"? Do you feel left out because you don't homeschool? No one talks about anything else? Is this a perception thing, a petunia in the onion patch issue such as Andy suggested?
  • The spiritual dryness: Is the pastor phoning it in on the sermons? Are you folks really out of step with the spiritual consciousness of the church? Is there a lethargy in the spiritual life of the church? Are there opportunities for ministry and/or participation other than the Deacon Board for you and the family?
  • What went wrong, or was wrong from the beginning?
  • You are a leader in the church, is there nothing you can do to spark an awakening in the congregation, or are you folks the only ones rotting on the vine? Seriously.
Just to keep the converation going for all of us, you may want to answer some of those, but that isn't as important as figuring out how things have gotten to this point and how to avoid similar mistakes down the road if you do leave.
Help me, what are good reasons to leave a church? Can it be done delicately and gracefully?

The cynic in me wonders why the delicate and graceful are an issue in a community where you feel so little commitment to fellow congregants. If you don't really hang out with anyone outside of worship and committee meetings... if you don't really fellowship with anyone at the church, will anyone miss you if you just stop attending when your term is up?

On the other hand, is there more of a connection than meets the eye, uh, heart? If so, can it be saved?

EDIT: Darrel and I started at approximately the same time, but he finished first. I'd take his more inwardlooking questions to heart. He's a pastor, I'm just a guy who takes his turn on church boards at his parish. We are both poking similar things from different angles.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A clarifying question. Will you identify your faith tradition so we have a clear understanding of the office of deacon. I'm assuming it's not an Episcopalian or UMC deacon which would be the equivalent in my tradition of a licensed (but not ordained) minister. I think the Baptist deacon is closer to what in my tradition would be called an elder (which term in the other two traditions I mentioned would refer to ordained clergy). Deacon in my tradition is a somewhat minor (but vital) office within the church. Is this confusing? That's why I ask.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A clarifying question. Will you identify your faith tradition so we have a clear understanding of the office of deacon. I'm assuming it's not an Episcopalian or UMC deacon which would be the equivalent in my tradition of a licensed (but not ordained) minister. I think the Baptist deacon is closer to what in my tradition would be called an elder (which term in the other two traditions I mentioned would refer to ordained clergy). Deacon in my tradition is a somewhat minor (but vital) office within the church. Is this confusing? That's why I ask.

Presbyterian.

Thank you all for your good thoughts. I'll try to respond when I have some time.

Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You say you have no friends there. If you have no friends, just disappear.

It's just that easy.

And it will free you up to get to a place where you feel you can contribute and grow (yes, most likely in that order).

But don't buy that stuff about doctrinal beliefs 'cuz I can pretty much poke a hole in any Christian's doctrinal beliefs. And I'm really a simple minded individual (well known fact in these parts) :)

Sorry Nick, I just don't agree. I think we can still be friends.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The best reason to leave a church is because you do not agree with the core doctrinal beliefs of that church, or of that denomination. Or, to put it in more blunt, anti-21st century terms, you do not believe that the core doctrinal beliefs of that particular church or denomination are true.

...

Peace,

Nick

I have no issues doctrinally; in fact doctrine was part of what led me to the church in the first place. My wife is less enamored with the doctrine, but not unhappy with it. For her, I think she would say that fellowship and community come first.

Ryan

Edited by Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But don't buy that stuff about doctrinal beliefs 'cuz I can pretty much poke a hole in any Christian's doctrinal beliefs. And I'm really a simple minded individual (well known fact in these parts) :)

Sorry Nick, I just don't agree. I think we can still be friends.

I knew when I wrote what I did that I might very well be in the minority here.

But that said, I believe that (1) absolute truth does exist, and (2) part of our journey to worshipping God (with our whole heart, soul, **mind**, and strength) means that we learn to discover the fullness of truth--even between seemingly small doctrinal disputes--and act upon it. God is Mystery, and beyond our full understanding, but that shouldn't stop us from taking theology seriously.

And if you can poke holes in every denominations' doctrines, where do you stop? Does that not mean that a belief in God is accepting cognitive dissonance in your own life? Wouldn't Richard Dawkins be so proud!!

Instead, whereever there is a hole that can be poked, do your best to find a way to patch that hole, or disregard that denomination entirely. And with 33,000+ denominations in existance (circa 2001), it shouldn't be too hard to find that church that encapsulates the fullest of your belief systems.

Deep apologies if this is a hijacked thread. If people wish to continue, we should start a new one.

ETA:

I have no issues doctrinally; in fact doctrine was part of what led me to the church in the first place. My wife is less enamored with the doctrine, but not unhappy with it. For her, I think she I would say fellowship and community come first.
In this case, the deeper questions reside in how that particular church has strayed from the doctrines of your faith, even if it means failing to be Christlike in some manner (not that we are perfectly Christlike under all circumstances). There may be hope yet.

I'll pray.

Nick

Edited by Nick Alexander

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Is it a place to make and have friends? Is it the place for spiritual nurture? Is it the place where you find outlet for your gifts and ministry? Is it a collection of individuals competing for the spiritual food (or the budget to provide that spiritual food - or the choices of what kind of spiritual food will be served when)? Is it a community build around faith and mission? Like I said, I'm not trying to be judgmental, but I think that unless you consider these issues you'll just end up repeating your experience from church to church.

Darrel,

I'm not taking anything you said as being judgemental. I was really hoping you would respond to this post when I initially wrote it.

I think church is place for some of what you mentioned (and probably a few others)

Is it a place to make and have friends? - yes; I'm not sure this is happening where we are

Is it the place for spiritual nurture? - yes; I'm not sure this is happening where we are

Is it the place where you find outlet for your gifts and ministry? - yes; I think we are trying here but have also been rebuffed in some ways.

Is it a community build around faith and mission? -yes; although the mission has changed recently - now primarily focused on a specific geographical region that we are not a part of.

I'm probably being vague with some of these responses, sorry.

Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I knew when I wrote what I did that I might very well be in the minority here.

But that said, I believe that (1) absolute truth does exist, and (2) part of our journey to worshipping God (with our whole heart, soul, **mind**, and strength) means that we learn to discover the fullness of truth--even between seemingly small doctrinal disputes--and act upon it. God is Mystery, and beyond our full understanding, but that shouldn't stop us from taking theology seriously.

And if you can poke holes in every denominations' doctrines, where do you stop? Does that not mean that a belief in God is accepting cognitive dissonance in your own life? Wouldn't Richard Dawkins be so proud!!

Instead, whereever there is a hole that can be poked, do your best to find a way to patch that hole, or disregard that denomination entirely. And with 33,000+ denominations in existance (circa 2001), it shouldn't be too hard to find that church that encapsulates the fullest of your belief systems.

And Ryan wrote:

I have no issues doctrinally; in fact doctrine was part of what led me to the church in the first place. My wife is less enamored with the doctrine, but not unhappy with it. For her, I think she would say that fellowship and community come first.

I think the discussion is at cross-purposes here. Nick, you are focused on doctrine, on the mind component that you emphasized in your post above. Ryan, it seems to me, is focused on the heart/soul components, which appear to be sapping his strength, regardless of his assent to the basic doctrines of his church.

It's a package deal, and the weight that one assigns to those components will largely determine the kind of church that one will be willing to join. Ideally, all four are present in a Christian's relationship with a church. In the real world, most people settle for two or three, and accept a liability in one or two of those components with which they are willing to live.

Ryan's concerns are relational. And those are valid concerns. I became convinced about fifteen years ago, after reading various catechisms, Jaroslav Pelikan's 5-volume The History of Christian Doctrine, and parsing the various debates about homoiousios vs. homoousios, that the Eastern Orthodox Church offered the fullest expression of Christian doctrine. So I jumped right in, and encountered various enclaves of Slovenians, Egyptians and Lebanese, Greeks, and Russians. I was an outsider, and I would always be an outsider. And my decision was a simple one. I weighed mind and heart and soul and strength, and said "mind, you're going to have to take a back seat here, because heart and soul and strength will wither." I see no reason why Ryan couldn't make a similar decision.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ryan, I'm in agreement with a number of points raised across several posts here, including your own, but think I can only add, ore repeat, one thing: You should bring your concerns to the church leadership (that would be the session, in my denomination; I don't know who represents the leadership where you are). I'm sure that might create worry out of fear that the leaders would do anything to get you to stay, but a healthy church recognizes, I think, that the members of the body sometimes move around. I don't know that concrete reasons are a requirement, but that's preferable; otherwise, it's hard for the leaders to know how they might address your specific concerns.

Bottom line: You need to let your church leaders know of your situation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

  • How did it come to this on the friend/acquaintance equation? Have you ever had friends here?
  • What led you to accept the post of deacon?
  • As a deacon, have you been able to make your feelings known about the spending issue? If not, why not?
  • What is the nature of the irresponsibility? Has it to do with differing notions among bretheren of good will as to just what is important to the ministry (at my church, we are in a a bit of a financial crisis, among other things, there is a subtle division among parishioners over our music budget which is a huge chunk of our budget. There are two plausible sides to our conundrum. Just an example of what I'm getting at)?
  • Or are we replacing five year old hymnals with fresh ones, buzzing from one worship model to the next with all bells and whistles left by the wayside with each change; or during an economic downturn considering a "fresh look" for the sanctuary, stage and pulpit area that totally changes the appearance, not just a fresh coat of paint? Things like that? Or maybe staff salaries might be getting a little steep relative to the income to the church and econ status of the church?
  • What do you mean by "homeschool ghetto"? Do you feel left out because you don't homeschool? No one talks about anything else? Is this a perception thing, a petunia in the onion patch issue such as Andy suggested?
  • The spiritual dryness: Is the pastor phoning it in on the sermons? Are you folks really out of step with the spiritual consciousness of the church? Is there a lethargy in the spiritual life of the church? Are there opportunities for ministry and/or participation other than the Deacon Board for you and the family?
  • What went wrong, or was wrong from the beginning?
  • You are a leader in the church, is there nothing you can do to spark an awakening in the congregation, or are you folks the only ones rotting on the vine? Seriously.
Just to keep the converation going for all of us, you may want to answer some of those, but that isn't as important as figuring out how things have gotten to this point and how to avoid similar mistakes down the road if you do leave.

The cynic in me wonders why the delicate and graceful are an issue in a community where you feel so little commitment to fellow congregants. If you don't really hang out with anyone outside of worship and committee meetings... if you don't really fellowship with anyone at the church, will anyone miss you if you just stop attending when your term is up?

On the other hand, is there more of a connection than meets the eye, uh, heart? If so, can it be saved?

...

Rich, thanks for the questions.

On friends: We did have a few friends. One moved away, the others I guess have drifted away; that could be another longer post.

On being a deacon: I accepted because I thought I had something to offer to the church. I thought it would be a time for me to grow, I thought I would get to know some of the other men in the church.

On the money: I would call it irresponsible in that the session has increased the budget and the expected giving when the past several years we've not ever achieved budget. We are also raising money for a building we can't afford to build, in fact we are using the building fund money to cover normal expenses, building maintenance and a newly hired pastor.

On homeschool: Most families homeschool their kids. Another family we know was told by another family in the church that they were sorry they couldn't be friends because they weren't homeschooling. Just a general feeling that not homeschooling is frowned upon, although that is not the official position of the church.

On spiritual dryness: I think has much to do with feeling like our concerns have been ignored by the pastor and elders, which has affected our ability to listen, to be taught. Some of it may be due to my own depression.

I don't believe we are the only ones rotting on the vine. Others have left the church, we know at least one other couple that is unhappy.

I do wonder why I care about leaving gracefully. Is it because there are some people I think care about me? Is it because I don't want to look like a church shopper? I'm not sure.

Ryan

I'll pray.

Nick

Thank you. I need it.

Ryan, I'm in agreement with a number of points raised across several posts here, including your own, but think I can only add, ore repeat, one thing: You should bring your concerns to the church leadership (that would be the session, in my denomination; I don't know who represents the leadership where you are). I'm sure that might create worry out of fear that the leaders would do anything to get you to stay, but a healthy church recognizes, I think, that the members of the body sometimes move around. I don't know that concrete reasons are a requirement, but that's preferable; otherwise, it's hard for the leaders to know how they might address your specific concerns.

Bottom line: You need to let your church leaders know of your situation.

We have discussed some of our financial concerns with the session previously, but that didn't seem to go anywhere.

Meeting with them again will eventually happen - I think. But I need to think through some more of this first, and convince my wife that is the right thing to do. She's ready to go now.

Ryan

Edited by Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, I'm sorry I haven't contributed to this thread; I've been reading, but haven't had time to respond.

I think the discussion is at cross-purposes here. Nick, you are focused on doctrine, on the mind component that you emphasized in your post above. Ryan, it seems to me, is focused on the heart/soul components, which appear to be sapping his strength, regardless of his assent to the basic doctrines of his church.

It's a package deal, and the weight that one assigns to those components will largely determine the kind of church that one will be willing to join. Ideally, all four are present in a Christian's relationship with a church. In the real world, most people settle for two or three, and accept a liability in one or two of those components with which they are willing to live.

What Andy said -- up to this point, at least.

The question is not in the abstract. Sometimes on employee sat surveys you encounter a question like "If you were to leave this company, what would your reasons be?" This is not really the sort of question we're considering here: "Why do people leave churches?" Insuperable doctrinal reasons certainly can be a reason to leave a church, but they aren't the only reasons, and they aren't what Ryan is struggling with.

I have left two churches where I felt a significant sense of belonging, once when I moved and once when I moved on, and the time when I moved I would have been moving on anyway, but moving definitely made that an easier transition.

I've also walked away from a number of other churches, both Protestant and Catholic, where I did not feel any particular sense of belonging -- churches where we had no real friends and did not feel any pastoral connection. I don't see this kind of church-leaving as particularly significant: A church membership can be an enduring union that is momentous to break, but it doesn't have to be, and it doesn't sound to me as if Ryan should feel particularly bound to the community he's been attending.

I became convinced about fifteen years ago, after reading various catechisms, Jaroslav Pelikan's 5-volume The History of Christian Doctrine, and parsing the various debates about homoiousios vs. homoousios, that the Eastern Orthodox Church offered the fullest expression of Christian doctrine. So I jumped right in, and encountered various enclaves of Slovenians, Egyptians and Lebanese, Greeks, and Russians. I was an outsider, and I would always be an outsider. And my decision was a simple one. I weighed mind and heart and soul and strength, and said "mind, you're going to have to take a back seat here, because heart and soul and strength will wither." I see no reason why Ryan couldn't make a similar decision.

Um. Gosh. See, that I could not do.

To me, it is a matter of faithfulness. Suz and I met with not dissimilar issues becoming Catholic, and had no assurance that we would ever find a church home as involving as the Presbyterian church where we were married. On moving to Philadelphia we were fortunate to find some solid Catholic community, but no parish were we felt truly at home.

And then we moved again, and entered into a long slog of wandering in the wilderness where we really had no one and nothing, and considered ourselves comparatively lucky to be able to find some ugly church with lame music where the Mass and the preaching were at least endurable. This went on for years, and it broke my heart, especially as I saw my kids getting older, and I prayed and prayed and prayed for deliverance. During this time we were involved in a number of more or less tolerable churches, more or less sequentially, and I never felt that leaving any of them was a morally problematic decision.

I can't promise anyone that if they stick it out long enough, they will wind up where I am now, in a wonderful parish community that I am blessed to be a part of, surrounded by a solid and diverse community of like-minded believers (with a significant homeschooling ghetto, though we're hardly taking over the church), beautiful worship, a majestic building, orthodox pastoral leadership, opportunities for involvement, etc. I only know that I did the only thing I felt I could do, that I am grateful the blessings I enjoy.

But God does not owe me a place to thrive and flourish, and I do owe him faithfulness. If I believed that Orthodoxy were the fullest expression of Christian doctrine (and praxis and ecclesiology) -- and I do believe it's darn close :) -- then I would suffer with ethnic outsider status and whatever else I might endure, unless and until I found some Orthodox community with a high convert factor, like Peter's church. :)

In any case, none of that has anything to do with Ryan's issues, and FWIW it sounds to me like Ryan ought to be looking to make a graceful exit. Ryan, we'll be praying for you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow this thread has grown really fast and I am on third shift these days and MUST GET TO SLEEP so I will read later but I just wanted to say that I believe in absolute truth as well.

Will I always know what it is? No.

Do I have a shot at getting a good deal of it, as a Christian and in my faith and in the way I choose to live? Yeah, I think so.

Good night everyone

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Um. Gosh. See, that I could not do.

To me, it is a matter of faithfulness. Suz and I met with not dissimilar issues becoming Catholic, and had no assurance that we would ever find a church home as involving as the Presbyterian church where we were married. On moving to Philadelphia we were fortunate to find some solid Catholic community, but no parish were we felt truly at home.

And then we moved again, and entered into a long slog of wandering in the wilderness where we really had no one and nothing, and considered ourselves comparatively lucky to be able to find some ugly church with lame music where the Mass and the preaching were at least endurable. This went on for years, and it broke my heart, especially as I saw my kids getting older, and I prayed and prayed and prayed for deliverance. During this time we were involved in a number of more or less tolerable churches, more or less sequentially, and I never felt that leaving any of them was a morally problematic decision.

I can't promise anyone that if they stick it out long enough, they will wind up where I am now, in a wonderful parish community that I am blessed to be a part of, surrounded by a solid and diverse community of like-minded believers (with a significant homeschooling ghetto, though we're hardly taking over the church), beautiful worship, a majestic building, orthodox pastoral leadership, opportunities for involvement, etc. I only know that I did the only thing I felt I could do, that I am grateful the blessings I enjoy.

But God does not owe me a place to thrive and flourish, and I do owe him faithfulness. If I believed that Orthodoxy were the fullest expression of Christian doctrine (and praxis and ecclesiology) -- and I do believe it's darn close :) -- then I would suffer with ethnic outsider status and whatever else I might endure, unless and until I found some Orthodox community with a high convert factor, like Peter's church. :)

In any case, none of that has anything to do with Ryan's issues, and FWIW it sounds to me like Ryan ought to be looking to make a graceful exit. Ryan, we'll be praying for you.

Likewise, Ryan.

Steve, as I know you know, "faithfulness" is a big category. I don't know if I would frame the discussion of the best church in terms of "a place where I can thrive and flourish" so much as the confluence of right beliefs, right practices, and right models. The latter is a huge issue; what does it matter if a church believes the right things and desires to do the right things if they aren't set up to equip and enable people to do those things? A lack of any or all of those three things is sufficient reason to leave a church, in my opinion.

There's also the pesky issue of non-negotiable doctrines vs. doctrines where faithful Christians can and do disagree. Is homoiousios/homoousios one of them? The Church split up over that doctrine in 1054, so I'm sure that both "sides," if you will, would affirm that it is. Me? I suppose it would be good to know, one way or the other, whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father, but I figure that, in either case, Dude proceeds[1], thereby equipping the Church to be more like Christ, and the whole thing now strikes me as something like straining out a gnat and swallowing a dove, or something like that.

I appreciate your journey, and I appreciate your commitment to hang in there in often less-than-ideal circumstances. I also assume that this is true of most Christians, because the Church, being the Church, is full of screwed-up sinners. I don't mean that flippantly. One could be in the most doctrinally pure church full of committed, active Christians who are empowered to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and it would still be disappointing many days because the saints will screw it up through their own cluelessness and the baggage that they drag into the proceedings. I have been burned by clueless people. I have been one of those clueless people. I'm still enormously thankful for the Church.

[1] Today's Hip Version (THV)

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, homoousios/homoiousios ("one substance" or "like substance") was resolved at Nicaea, and was not an issue in the Great Schism. You're thinking of filoque ("and the Son").

Also FWIW, the real issue with filioque isn't so much "non-negotiable doctrines" as canonical practice. It isn't so much that we disagree on the actual theology of the Trinity, as over the Western practice of saying "filioque" in the Creed (since that's not the formula originally agreed upon).

Is that worth splitting a Church over? Not by my lights -- and in fact it wasn't the issue that split the Church. Ultimately, it was over the primacy that the Church split. That is an issue worth splitting over, but it was shamefully handled, and it is a scandal and a tragedy that the very reality that should be the icon and source of Christian unity has become a major stumbling-block to unity -- not just because of the essential scandal of the truth, but because of the scandal of human pride, arrogance and perfidy.

We are hampered in this discussion by the ambiguity between church in the sense of a local community (e.g., St. Mark's Church) and C/church in the sense of an ecclesial communion (e.g., the PCUSA or the Catholic Church). I agree with you that "soft" issues of the non-doctrinal sort under discussion are sufficient reason to leave St. Mark's Church (whether St. Mark's Church is Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant). I feel very strongly that they are not sufficient reason to leave the Eastern Orthodox Church, or the Catholic Church. I understand that you feel differently, and I respect your sincerity, though I think you are wrong.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On the money: I would call it irresponsible in that the session has increased the budget and the expected giving when the past several years we've not ever achieved budget. We are also raising money for a building we can't afford to build, in fact we are using the building fund money to cover normal expenses, building maintenance and a newly hired pastor.

Eesh. Does not sound good and if what you say is true, I'm in your court on something like this. We are in somewhat similar straights, but are desperately attempting to be realistic in forecasting and are bothered by Dioceses' attitude not unlike your session. I could see your point here.

On homeschool: Most families homeschool their kids. Another family we know was told by another family in the church that they were sorry they couldn't be friends because they weren't homeschooling. Just a general feeling that not homeschooling is frowned upon, although that is not the official position of the church.

Yeah, I think I've felt the same thing on other issues at a church I finally left. It's hearsay, but the unstated attitudes can mightily arouse suspicion. Doesn't sound good.

spiritual dryness: I think has much to do with feeling like our concerns have been ignored by the pastor and elders, which has affected our ability to listen, to be taught. Some of it may be due to my own depression.

I don't believe we are the only ones rotting on the vine. Others have left the church, we know at least one other couple that is unhappy.

I've felt that way too and probably stayed too long at that particular church. If what you say is true, you sketch out a compelling picture.

I do wonder why I care about leaving gracefully. Is it because there are some people I think care about me? Is it because I don't want to look like a church shopper? I'm not sure.

We have discussed some of our financial concerns with the session previously, but that didn't seem to go anywhere.

Meeting with them again will eventually happen - I think. But I need to think through some more of this first, and convince my wife that is the right thing to do. She's ready to go now.

First, leaving a church does not make one a church shopper. However, there is a part of me that feels that we in the U.S. are in a unique time with unique opportunities. One can pick from an almost infinite variety of churches, worship styles, and denominations today. Used wisely, prayerfully, and thoughtfully, one can take advantage of this special opportunity.

Second, if you must go and your wife is almost out the door, could she not occasionally scout churches for the family? If something looked good, you might sneak away some Sunday to check it out. This might give you something more than a dark and vasty deep out there when you actually decide to cut ties. There might be a conception of good alternatives out there.

In the meantime, it would be wise to make your case against proposed budgets as much as possible right now. Heh, right now is probably about the point in the year when all of that comes up again. Dare I suggest that you break out of the no-homeschooling gulag to see if there might be allies on the financial point. Who knows, you might find fellowship where others failed. Or at least start to crumble the objectionable clannishness/clicqueishness that plagues your church. Nothing is more destructive of an otherwise excellent community than clicques. There is no call for it at all in the Body of Christ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you study the lives of the Saints you see that they stay until they are kicked out or killed. They are always obedient but they are also as subversive as they can be within the existing structures. It almost appears that the Church is the Saint's worst enemy in many instances. They are often forbidden to teach or forbidden to say mass or sent into exile or imprisoned or even killed. Don't necessarily expect the Church to be your friend if you want to be a saint. Do expect it to be a vehicle for your purification and sanctification.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
With respect, Jim, I think Ryan is addressing some very specific situations that likely need to be resolved by those who are in the church he and his wife attend.

(nod) I don't think that Jim is necessarily directly addressing Ryan's situation. (Not sure a lot of saints have endured heroic persecution for their loyalty to a particular church community.) Andy's comments about turning away from Orthodoxy did raise larger issues, though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you study the lives of the Saints you see that they stay until they are kicked out or killed. They are always obedient but they are also as subversive as they can be within the existing structures. It almost appears that the Church is the Saint's worst enemy in many instances. They are often forbidden to teach or forbidden to say mass or sent into exile or imprisoned or even killed. Don't necessarily expect the Church to be your friend if you want to be a saint. Do expect it to be a vehicle for your purification and sanctification.

Jim, I like what you say here. SDG is right that saints probably aren't saints for being kicked out of St. Stickinthemud so much as being exiled by the Archbishop of even Rome. OTOH, getting kicked out for an honorable cause presented honorably is a whole other matter. The cynic in me is rising again to wonder if finances and clicques aren't just such issues. Being a little loud on the financial issue without screeching will force the financial issue (hopefully). Being earnest to elders and pastor about being shunned for sending your children off to school every day is DEFINITELY called for. Downside: you will be a burr in the saddle on two issues that will convict if anyone is listening sincerely. Upsides: you just might become an instrument of the Holy Spirit in resolving these wounds or everyone will harden their hearts and ask you to leave. Either way, you could be on the cusp of fellowship that will refresh and sustain you all. It could happen.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you study the lives of the Saints you see that they stay until they are kicked out or killed. They are always obedient but they are also as subversive as they can be within the existing structures. It almost appears that the Church is the Saint's worst enemy in many instances. They are often forbidden to teach or forbidden to say mass or sent into exile or imprisoned or even killed. Don't necessarily expect the Church to be your friend if you want to be a saint. Do expect it to be a vehicle for your purification and sanctification.

This is true to an extent, but there's a key differentiation that has to be made here. The difference is between the calling to the catholic church (intentionally small "c"), and the local community. You're right in that it'd be hard to justify leaving the universal body of Christ; but the process of trying to fit into a local church, at least as far as I see it, makes use of an entirely different rationale, and rightly so in my mind. As far as the church goes, we're all universally called to be part of it; I think, however, that an argument can be made that we're individually called to work within that paradigm in different and unique ways, that are ultimately led by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It's not always wise (or even possible) to stay and get bludgeoned by other church members, I think. (Any more than it's wise for a woman to be counseled to stay with an abusive husband.)

And because we are sinful, error-prone humans, a lot of problems will never be resolved (in this lifetime, on this planet), I think.

Ditto what Ellen says in the above quote. This is a little off topic of her thought, but bear with me, I'll try to get somewhere.

There is no doubt in my mind that the most consistent and definite element of any church is that at some point there will be conflict, from budget problems to just about anything conceivable; it's completely and totally unavoidable. However, I see in my own experience that if the community is strong, and people love and care for each other, they'll work through it, and hopefully come out the other side stronger and more mature for it. If we're living in the right spirit, we ought to be able to bear quite a bit, if we really love and care for the people who are putting us through those things.

If, on the other hand, you have no sense of community, no dedication to others in the church on a personal and relational level, then in some ways it could be just delaying the inevitable. When an argument comes up, and each side values their position more than the person on the other side, how can a "community" survive that? Authentic relationships are the only real antidote for when substantial conflict or disagreement comes into play, apart from clear divine intervention. Relationships form the glue that holds the whole thing together. Without relational community, doctrine can become pretty hollow, and stewardship can become an empty and potentially dangerous duty. A lack of strong community and love among people can be a symptom of a far worse sickness in the whole body. Faithfulness in the church has to be held in a balance of loyalty between relationships and stewardship to the calling in our lives and the church.

I don't mean to downplay the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit's voice in discerning such decisions; sometimes I think God asks us to simply dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness (I've got to believe this or else vast portions of my life don't make sense at all). If we know in an undeniable way that God has called us to a particular community, it doesn't matter how we feel or whether or not we have strong relationships at the time. However, more often than not, it seems to me people don't really know if they're supposed to be somewhere, and they feel guilty for a lack of growth, discipleship and community.

In this thread, it seems that there is a strong bent towards other elements of calling and doctrine, without less of an acknowledgement of other important aspects, including community. ALL of the above are vital elements in deciphering church life and community; I just felt that it needed to be reaffirmed that relationships and community are completely valid elements in deciding upon a church body. God calls us to certain general things as Christians, and living in personal, relational community is, at least in my own experience, a meaningful and legitimate calling (in context).

So this kind of rabbit trailed. Hope I'm not reiterating too much. You get this far in a thread, and a TON of stuff has already been said. Even if I did, it's worth reiterating, methinks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There is no doubt in my mind that the most consistent and definite element of any church is that at some point there will be conflict, from budget problems to just about anything conceivable; it's completely and totally unavoidable. However, I see in my own experience that if the community is strong, and people love and care for each other, they'll work through it, and hopefully come out the other side stronger and more mature for it. If we're living in the right spirit, we ought to be able to bear quite a bit, if we really love and care for the people who are putting us through those things.

There is community at the church, but I do not think we are a part of it any longer. I have a hard time envisioning that community being strong again, but I do not think it is impossible. On the other hand, how long should we flounder in hope?

Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Based on a number of posts here, it seems that I ought to approach session, "the leadership" in some way with our concerns. Disappearing may be the easiest method but may not be the best.

I have considered engaging some of the families that have recently left, or that I know are considering leaving, but am not sure if that is a good idea or not.

Thank you to everyone. I've been a long-time lurker here and although I know this place is not perfect, it has often been of great encouragement to me, this thread being no exception.

Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...