Based on the post “Do You Need to Go Home?” I invite you to tell your stories of leaving your home church. In this guest post my younger friend Kathleen Smith Manning describes the process that lead her away from the church-home of her youth.
I left home at twenty-three. Not from my parents’ home, from which I’d moved away at eighteen, but from my church, which had been an anchor since fifteen years of age. Eight formative years, including the last two years of high school in the church school. There was lots of history, familiar faces, personal turf. It was, for the most part, a comfortable place.
The decision wasn’t easy, and took over a year to make. It was predicated by several events and the realization that there were other great, God-fearing churches out there. A good number of people had left, and some were chatting it up with those of us who stayed, trying to influence us that it was time to go. Not wanting to deal in innuendo or gossip, I (and many others) made attempts to avoid them.
More credible allegations of spiritual control and manipulation ran rampant, but I’d been spared much of the abuse by sound-minded parents and a profoundly influential mentor couple. My question was more forward thinking: Where was I going? If God would show me the way to move ahead within this congregation, I was willing to do that. Lots of prayer later, it seemed right to have conversations with people with whom I had anchoring relationships. Some of them knew why; some did not. There was both grace and heartache in that dialogue. And ultimately, there were more reasons to go than stay.
And so I left and started the search for a new home. Unexpectedly, there arose an uneasiness that revolved around my own spiritual walk. Some people who’d parted ways with our congregation had fallen apart. A nagging fear moved in: Was my love for Jesus simply rooted in my church culture, or did I really have some spiritual depth? Never, never did I want to be a floating, rootless Christian, unbonded from community. After a somewhat awkward search, my landing place was a large denominational church where I had some acquaintances. It was a setting for new relationships, healing, and deep affirmation.
Years later, as a pastor’s wife in a loving smaller church in the Midwest, I have perspective from the other side of the coin. Yes, people get offended, sometimes at things that are frankly ridiculous or simply misunderstood, and leave, taking their open wounds with them. Failing to work it out can be sinful, and often is. But there are others that need to leave in order to deal with life as God leads them. At a reception when our church in Texas was sending us out, an older retired pastor told us “When people leave, don’t take it personally.” We try not to.
Stay home if you can. Work it out if you are at all able. But if you are so inclined, get into a conversation with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to show you your place where you are. And if He leads you to do so – no, only if He leads you to do so – leave home.
Thanks, Kathleen! Do you have a story about leaving your home church? I'd love to hear it. It doesn't have to be posted on the blog--I'd just love to hear your story. Drop me a note at Ray dot Hollenbach @ gmail dot com.