As anyone who has followed this blog will know, I have struggled with my spirituality. Well, actually, that is not quite accurate. I have strong hope and faith in my spiritual journey. My struggle lies in the expression of this faith.
I grew up regularly attending church. This was once my path. And, until a few years ago, I never dreamed that church would be anything other than central to my faith. It was the light house that illuminated my way. But circumstances conspired to lead me away from my comfort within church walls. I will not delve into the whys and wherefores that led to this. Suffice it to say, everyone who leaves church after being a regular attender has their own unique reasons. This is not a decision that faithful folk take lightly. This is the main point of today’s writing. Each of us has our own personal reasons for our choice, whether we stay within a church community, or choose a path outside of those walls.
Today, I want to offer encouragement for those of us who have chosen a path outside of the traditional church system.
When I first left, I noticed that outside of church I heard and read very little criticism of those who choose regular church attendance. On the other hand, though, wow did I ever hear and read a multitude of negative commentaries about those of us who choose another path. Just google the subject, and you will see what I mean! And I am going on the record right now to say that this negativity is hurtful, sometimes bordering on rude, and absolutely never helpful. Let’s face it – nobody has ever been convinced to return anywhere as a result of being criticized.
What follows are some observations I have made, along with the perspective I have developed as a result of my own experience outside of church these past 5 years. I hope this will serve to be encouraging to anyone who has found themselves on a similar journey.
I had barely begun my out-of-church walk, when I encountered statements that implied that leaving church means the same thing as leaving God. This is absolutely not true! In my own case, I am closer to Jesus than ever before. I am freed up from dealing with all the aspects of church that led to my departure. Resultantly, I am now able to focus all my energy on the Beautiful Creator!
I have also met with proclamations that exclude. Some say those who leave church are no longer a part of the “Bride of Christ”. My reply to this? The “Bride of Christ” is not found in a building, denomination or community that gathers together on the regular. The authentic “Bride of Christ” refers to the assembly of True Believers – none of whom can be accurately identified by any mortal man or woman. It is Jesus alone who determines this. My authority in saying this? Matthew 25:31-46
Some church proponents will tell us that only by belonging to a church can we effectively carry out our Ministry as appointed by God. I contend this to be false. There are many secular organizations that minister to the needs of the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the prisoner, and the unclothed – school breakfast programs, food banks, big brothers/big sisters, transitional programs and community managed coat programs, to name a few. And as a bonus, these programs have no hidden agenda, i.e. they aren’t handing out prayer cards or cute Christian tracts. In sum, caring for others is the result of the Fruits of the Spirit, which are available to everyone who desires them. They are not a gift reserved solely for regular church attenders. Church is not even mentioned within them. They are evident in anyone with a heart for God. Read Galatians 5: 22-23 for a lovely description.
And, finally, there are those who will try to convince us that without regular exposure to church, our faith in God and our walk with Him will dry up and die. They profess that church is the only possible venue to:
- feed your spirit
- grow in your faith
- be rebuked when you have stumbled off course
In my opinion, this view is not only erroneous, it is also unnecessarily disheartening.
Here’s the truth: Nobody knows the state of somebody else’s faith. Nobody, that is, but the individual and God. In my own experience outside of church, I have had plenty of opportunities to nurture and feed my spirit and to grow in my love for God. As well, when I am off track, God has blessed me with a wonderful community of family and friends who will set me straight in no time! The magical thing is, they love me. They truly love me. So it is very easy and natural for them to speak the truth to me in love. Exactly how God said it is supposed to happen.
Look. I am not against the church. Nor am I against church people. Hey, I spent years in church myself, and that is where I originally grew in my faith. I am grateful! Plus, you know what? I cannot authoritatively say that I will never return to church again. Perhaps I will. But if this happens, it will be in God’s time. Meanwhile, here I am. And here is anyone else who has chosen a similar path. We continue to carry a heart for God. We just express it in a different way. And we still belong to Him. So please be gentle with us.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)