Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Leaving Church

Yesterday I linked to Donald Miller's article on leaving church.

Today, Pete Wilson is also talking about leaving church.

It's not an easy topic, and, as a pastor's kid, I've seen it from several angles.

I've seen the acrimonious church split from the inside.

I've seen the people come who are enthused, and then leave a few years later, because they've decided that something just won't do, and it's never their fault either.

It's never easy to watch someone you've cared about leave.  Especially as a pastor's kid in a small church when they're leaving because they're angry at something your dad did or didn't do.  How do you navigate your friendship with that person vs. their anger at someone dear to you?

And it's weird to negotiate those relationships later on, too.  I ran into someone recently who had been a youth leader when I was a young teenager.  She'd lived with our family for a time, as well.  My dad had conducted their wedding, and my brother was their ring-bearer.  And then, she and her husband left, angry at dad, over what I'm not even sure.  My dad worked to shield my brothers and I from some of that drama.  I've run into her from time to time over the years, and she's always been overly friendly.  An almost fake, over-compensating sort of friendly. (Or at least that's my perception of it.)  It's a weird thing - to negotiate this relationship that I consider quite damaged, and non-existent, while she's busy ignoring the history and the turmoil that she caused.  I saw her again just last weekend, and it was the same.  So odd.

I've left a church or two.

I've left the church that my dad pastors.  Twice. 

And I left a church that was home during a period of dramatic change and healing in my life.

I left dad's church the first time because I needed space - I was in the midst of a serious depression, and I needed to figure out this God thing without the incredible, watchful pressure that exists on a pastor's kid in a rather small congregation.  It's not easy to be watched, held up as "the example" when you're not even sure you believe anymore.  I needed to make that "do I actually believe this, or is it just because my parents told me so" journey.

I left the second time because, after returning for what was supposed to be a short stay, I'd stayed too long.  The move that was supposed to make it a short stay didn't materialize, and the smaller reasons I'd left in the first place - lack of peers, some theological disagreements, and the ongoing pastor's kid expectations, really hadn't changed.  It was also a season where I'd been deeply wounded by church and some close christian friends, and I needed a season of healing, away from prying eyes.

I left the church that had been home in between those stays at dad's church with many tears. I loved that place and the people there, but I felt cornered and unheard.  My concerns seemed to be dismissed.  I prayed and stayed, offering my voice wherever possible, but there came a time when God made it clear that it was time, now, to move on.  I left hoping that I could maintain some relationships that meant a lot there.  A few lasted, most did not.

It's not an easy topic, but I've appreciated the words of both Donald Miller and Pete Wilson on the topic these last couple days, and the various thoughts they've both stirred within me.


Rachel said...

I really enjoyed your post. I too am a pastor's kid (even left my dad's church! lol) I could relate to sooooo many things you talked about. I used to have a blog too and I always appreciated knowing "someone out there" was listening. Just wanted to tell you, they are ;) I'm 35 in in Massachusetts.

bondChristian said...

Yep, same here. I'm visiting from Pete's blog and the comments + link you left there.

I'm really interested in how this plays out, especially since I've not had to go through leaving a church (I'm still at my dad's). I've gone through the "Do I just believe this because my parents told me to" journey, and it's always an encouragement to hear from others with the same experiences. Pastor's kids tend to isolate since, particularly in small churches, we might think we're the only ones going through these issues.

Anyway, thanks for sharing.

-Marshall Jones Jr.

Lisa said...

Welcome to both of you! And thanks for your comments.

I think sometimes it depends on personality, too. My brother's are both still very happily involved at my dad's church (to be fair, though, they have a huge peer group there, now, while I had none simply due to age). One brother is even on part-time staff as the worship pastor. But for me, I just couldn't negotiate the my journey with Jesus under the scrutiny of people who'd been watching my whole life, and reporting any failings to my parents. Plus, as I journeyed with Jesus, I discovered some theological differences from the church I grew up in (basically, I tend to be a bit more charismatic and less conservative on certain things).