some dangers in leaving the church

I found it very interesting when Thomas Merton, the famous Benedictine monk, applied to become a hermit and it was met with resistance for years. Merton felt the Abbot was resisting Merton’s request for personal reasons. That battle is quite a read!

The resistance to Merton’s request wasn’t without merit. Even Merton knew the dangers of living out one’s spirituality in isolation. That’s what I’m up against. I no longer am a part of a local church community. Neither are many of you! In a way, we are like Merton who are living as kind of hermits out in the world, many of us in isolation from other Christians and church communities.

Here are some dangers I’ve noticed in my own hermitage:

  1. loneliness: Sometimes it is so severe that it can lead to depression, especially if your loneliness becomes chronic. It is important to make new friends, especially friends who recognize their spiritual side and aren’t afraid to talk about it. They make interesting company and can become good friends.
  2. error: I’m not a heresy hunter. But I am heresy hunted. There is some theology out there that is wrong and harmless. But there is also some theology out there that is wrong and harmful… harmful to the self and others. Without accountability some theology can run off the tracks for the unprepared.
  3. craziness: I’ve met some hermits in the past… religious and non-religious ones. Some of them I met had a slight scent of crazy about them. Their minds were unhooked. Isolation can do that to you if you aren’t mature enough to handle it.
  4. depression: Being around others was a source of joy for me. They helped me through difficult times and raised my spirits. Now I have to self-soothe. That’s a skill few people learn. But it’s not impossible. I’m learning. Slowly.
  5. gratitude: When I went to church, worshiping, praising and expressing gratitude was a habit. When you are removed from the community, you alone are responsible to nourish your attitude of gratitude. There are no schedules for you to follow, no group to pull you into it. You have to initiate your gratitude yourself.
  6. learning: I’ve known some people who’ve left the church and never opened their bibles again, never read another book on spirituality, never even thought again of spiritual matters. I’m not sure it was always healthy. Even worse, some stopped reading altogether. Stopped learning. It’s almost like they decided in their hearts, “If that’s not true, then nothing’s true. So why bother?
  7. reactionary: I don’t think anyone who’s left the church hasn’t reacted to some extent. I did. But I want to guard myself against what I’ve seen some do: reject everything about all of it. Baby with the bathwater kind of stuff. I always hope one day people might see some of the value of their religious history, that is if there was any value to it.
  8. rebound: Some people feel like they have to belong to some kind of organized religious group. They feel safer. Or they feel this new group offers what they’ve always been looking for. They leave the church and quickly join another group like Buddhist or Yoga or something. I sometimes wonder if it’s better to wait for a while before jumping into something else. It’s okay to go Buddhist or whatever, but I don’t want to do it on the rebound. We know how long those relationships last.
  9. morality: I’ve been away from the church for 2 years. I must admit to you that this last year has been the most disturbing for me. I’ve gone through enormous ordeal by fire. The shifting in my mind and heart has been continental in scope. I struggled with some serious issues. Very serious. It almost cost me my sanity, Lisa and my family. I’m just coming out the other side now. I have a counselor I talk to on a regular basis that I’m thankful for. She’s helped me through it. But I have to warn you: without a trusted group of friends around you who aren’t afraid to call you on your stuff, you will have to find your own path. Be prepared to slip and fall, sometimes in significant ways.
  10. ________________: This one is blank. What would you put in here?

You might be thinking it is far more dangerous in the church than out. That’s true for many! Every church is different. Each of our reasons for leaving is different. I’m just sharing what some of the dangers are for me. Yours could be totally different. Probably are! Bottom line: there can be dangers and we need to be aware of them.

Just a friendly warning. Enjoy your new spiritual life as a hermit!


16 Replies to “some dangers in leaving the church”

  1. My theory behind the upsurge in atheism in the West runs along these lines:

    Centuries ago you didn’t question or leave your religion because you feared torture and death.

    Decades ago you didn’t question or leave your religion because you feared losing all your friends and family.

    These days we have a great deal of social support on the internet, and can confess doubt anonymously and find like-minded people. We can build community. And once in a while, when we’re brave, we may even find that our family thinks as we do, or at least support us with our differences.

  2. I understand your feelings about leaving the church. I left over ten years ago. I was terribly confused and angry in the beginning. However, after ten years, I found comfortable ways of living with other believers and having diliberate fellowship with my closest brethren. You are right. You must have some diliberate communion with others who will love, correct and stay with you though all trials. I have that in small groups not associated with a particular church.

    I can tell you, you will probably settle your soul and heart if you can find an organic communion with others that is free and nurturing.

    Blessings David. I appreciate your art and heart. It is a beakon of light in the evangelical darkness for me. It affirms my journey and keeps my sails full of hope that God is present in this storm. Thank you for your honesty.

  3. thank you tom. i agree with you. just a note though: i know many people who have left the “small house-group” style of church too. they aren’t immuned to the same problems. but you know that. that’s why you said “if you can find…” It’s a big “if” for people. Thanks again.

  4. I would put “bitterness” as # 10.

    I left church with the intention of never going back. Had it not been for a room mate and my wife’s encouragement I would not have returned. I was without a church home for nearly seven years.

    When I returned to church we happened upon a one that I came to love. I’ve found them to be honest and very accepting of anyone. They don’t shy away from what they believe but they refuse to let that get in the way of loving people. I realize I am very fortunate to have found this church. They are rare.

    One of the first Sundays we were there a pastor I was unfamiliar with spoke. He said something, something so insignificant that I need not mention it here. Still it struck me. After the service I totally balled him out. Cursing and angry, my voice raised as high as it would go. It wasn’t until my wife pointed it out to me that I became aware of the children near by.

    I had become so bitter towards what I left behind that I was eager to fight them, eager to oppose them. I was ready to do to them what had been done to me. I was bitter.

    I later called that pastor. I sat with him and apologized for my behavior. We discussed our differences. He showed me great respect, genuine love, and complete forgiveness. In this moment I realized I want to live for what I love and not live fighting what I oppose. His grace was God like. It was good.


  5. If not bitterness (a good call) I’d go for superiority as #10. Thank you god that I am not like those sheeple over there. Mind you, I haven’t left the church (yet!) so it’s hard to say. I might have to bookmark this post, though.

  6. David, I can relate to so much of this, loneliness and depression especially as an extrovert it’s very hard to walk in isolation.
    I do hope one day there will be a time I can gather regularly with believers again…who knows?

  7. I didn’t walk away from the church. I was sent away. I tried to reconcile for years, accepted my husband’s direction in returning to his previous faith group, and still went back later. But it was obvious that my battles with my bishop had left visible scars, apparently disfiguring, because it was very hard for others to even look at me. I am now in a start-up mission, with a leadership role, and things are quickly forming. People are feeling called into this fellowship. I am no longer hideously scarred, but made beautiful in love.

  8. Its been over 11 years for me away from the traditional institutional church. I was pretty angry and confrontational at first, but I’ve been told that I’ve mellowed out a lot since. I still fellowship fairly regularly with other believers, but like most things, that too has its valleys. In some areas my theology has changed or become deleted; in other areas it has gotten stronger.

    Like Joe, will I ever return? I doubt it, and yet if I were really convinced that God wanted me to go back, I would. However, in that case, I am sure that He would put the same calling in my wife’s heart. As of now, that has not happened.

    Thanks for a great post. Blessings.

  9. You know I’ve been thinking, and I don’t think #5 on gratitude is so bad. I think we need to be able to express and feel some things on our own, independent of a group. It’s so easy to get sucked into group think and feeling what the group is feeling that we can lose our own sense of self. Thus, when the group is sad, we’re sad; when they’re happy, we’re happy, etc. But what if there are times that we should truly be feeling remorse, regret, joy, hope, but we’re so plugged into our group that we just feed off of each other? In life, we won’t always have the benefit of a larger group be it church, family, work, friends, etc. I need to know how to go to God for myself and be grateful or whatever emotion it is I need to feel. I’m reminded of a gospel song in which part of the lyrics say,

    “I woke up this morning
    Feeling kind of down
    I called on my best friend
    She could not be found
    But I called on Jesus
    My life He can hold…”

  10. Hmmmm. I will have to go with what flashed in my mind from the first thoughts: Bitterness/*anger* (at God too), danger, “loneliness,” gained social anxieties, unwarranted guilt, and deep self examination/awareness minus the worlds, and others, demands, doctrines, political correctness, corruption, social engineering, and expectations. The need to adjust or acclimate, tolerate, to a world of judgements, hate and those many expectations.

    After my own Damascus Road type of experience I found I was very alone in the world after thinking my life would be so grand after that event and would find many that would accept me and love me, and would understand what had happened in my life. Also the understanding about the dramatic changes it brought about in me in every aspect of my being and beliefs. Wrong. Instead of thinking what a beautiful world this would be now, or what I was thinking Christianity was about and what they were always claiming seemingly… I went to thinking “oh God what curse have you laid on me now that you made me a total believer in you.” Like jumping out of the skillet into the fire.

    I have started doing a bit more volunteer work locally helping other hurting and poor people. Of course I have been a hermit for about ten years having contact with people sparingly. Majority of my family gone and many friends and X-wife passed on. Years back I stopped attending all organized religious services and churches. After my experience I had to first read up on the bible and Christianity and then went out and tried many denominations and beliefs. I also had to learn to keep my new found unshakeable belief in God and how that happened to myself. Anyone I talked to about such a personal and profound event met with, seemingly, jealousy, judgement, hate, ridicule, and demands to bend my testimony to each particular ones doctrines or beliefs. Or, to even being told to totally dismiss the event and forget what God had done in my life, and the miracle I had been blessed with. Which after several years led me to wanting to join a monastery for which I was turned down time and again. Not wealthy enough and not healthy enough I suppose – to put it bluntly. So I took it all on my own and have gone through all the trials and tribulations.

    So after dealing with health issues on top of my spiritual issues I had to simply drop out of the social norm and isolate the best I could to heal in many ways over many issues. More-so just to get away from all the negativity and questions or demands/expectations. Especially since I was not supposed to question things and people but to merely accept many things without thinking or researching on my own. Or with the demands that I see and believe as all those others did and do. The demands to follow the herd and assimilate. Sorry, couldn’t. To thine own self be true. If I had to become totally alone to get comfortable in my own skin and to seek some peace and serenity .. so be it.

    After about ten years starting last year I have gone back out.. a little. I found that things have not changed. I do some volunteer work once a week though. I have noticed how sensitive I have become in social environments and the damage done from being isolated and a hermit for so long. Just going out to doctors visits and the store. And at times visiting my last long time friend who is dying from cancer. Other than that and seeing a grandson here and there much of my time is still, and for the better, alone.

    Friend finding? Not so easy in today’s world for a single guy. Especially if you are not wealthy, may have some health problems, and may take some unpopular stands for my own beliefs. That also includes politics as well as religion. There lies the dangerous part of the experience/life and still trying to have a voice and to be heard instead of playing sheep and silently allow corruption and evil to dominate. There are many out there who would want to destroy us for merely not bowing to them and their social conditioning. For not being mainstream and supporting their causes. Taking any kind of stand alone today can be really dangerous and harmful in many ways.

    In closing I would have to mention gratitude and how true it is about having to hear about others trials and hardships. Nice to know we are not totally alone trudging through this world. To get me to see I am more comfortable dealing with my own issues and would hate to have to deal with what others may endure. Much I have already dealt with on some level and can identify with many over many issues. However the internet does not replace the physical aspects of communication and vibes, although many seem to think it does.

    For years I proved that one man can be, and is at times… an island. Different from being isolated or estranged from close family or a wife and kids. Where we are forced to have some kind of contact. Many times especially in illness to deep despair, the majority of people have no words or know what to do or say to comfort others in troubled times and would rather turn away not understanding their own loss or inadequacy or feeble attempts or lacking to learn from. Doesn’t really bother me to know if I died I probably won’t be found in the house or yard for possibly years or several months. I worry more about future generations and their upcoming troubles and indoctrinated blindness. I know where my spirit will be and that is the one and only comfort.

  11. Thomas thanks for your story.I left the church with a lot of disgust.I found my self in a church that became abusive.Leaving for awhile turned into a real blessing for me.I left the church but Jesus never left me.I had a walk in the wilderness that turned in to a real adventure.Yes I found a small church that just has a real love for the truth.The fellowship simply agape.I will pray for you on this matter….Here is something that I now practice,when I hear the words hardcore..radical..and KJV only…run fast an faster because trouble is on the way !

  12. Man, I love all these stories, for different reasons. For those who finally found a good church home my heart was warmed. For the others I loved their stories because it was a warning to me. One mistake people make in the church is that when they are, “right” in their own minds about an issue, then rules of decency abdicate and what is left is something quite hideous. If any of you have ever seen the movie, “The Mist” think about the religious lady in the movie. Her ugliness is what some see a churches. One of my sayings as a pastor, and this is a VanPastorMan original as far as I know is, “One of the most dangerous positions to be in, is to be right”. It’s then you find out where your heart really is.

  13. Odd you’d mention that movie Pastorman. I just seen that movie two nights ago and it caused me to flash back to several events in my life.

    One was in public school days and dealing with multiple bullies and cliques that were rather cruel and could be labeled as terrorist, real terrorist. And many of them being protected by their parents being teachers, police, attorneys or other wealthy people in local cliques. The ‘mob rule’ and insanity of seeing others join in to fit in was incomprehensible.

    The military: I was focused on for being new at a duty station while gossip was being spread around by corrupt military police and others that a new person from my state was coming and that they were a under-cover informant to reveal the black marketing of un-taxed cigarettes, moonshine and military goods to the East coast (mobs). I was again targeted kidnapped, tortured, about killed until a unlikely group of men forced them to set me free. No talking or proving myself to them either. The more I tried to talk it seemed to fuel their madness and intentions. They were oblivious to reason or what they could do to research me more and using common sense.

    Back to my town and officials. For having my own political ideas and beliefs. Simply, for being a conservative in a strong corrupt far left town filled with nothing but far left wing public servants and officials. Include special interest groups too like PETA or animal rights or eco extremist. Again it was attack by activist and mob rule intent to silence any challengers or opposition.

    Then to my difficult Christian walk so its called. Totally different from what I experienced or thought it would be. I’ve only been a solid believer for around 21 years now. A previous atheist. Being a newbie I studied and attended the many denominations and beliefs trying to find my way in this new life and realization. Not an easy task for someone totally clueless to Christianity, so-called.

    I have been asked to leave churches quickly several times for various reasons. E.g., being a single male, people that knew me as an atheist didn’t want me there, for not signing pledges to give certain amounts to the church, not being a full member for countless reasons, I guess. Even for being the youngest one in the church and bringing up new ideas for the church like opening a food co-op or food bank. They felt I wanted to change their traditions with new things.

    I encountered screaming women like the one on that movie too. Especially after my answering their question about how I came to believe and about my Damascus Road miracle and experience and total life change. Some became furious calling me the devil to the anti-Christ and yelling ‘that stuff doesn’t happen today,’ and etc. And of course in study groups too where I was out spoken in my questions and clarifications needed. Or that I may not support and believe exactly as they all did which I guess is absolutely mandatory.

    I even got the threats and once a group of church women and pastor was walking around my property doing a exorcism to cleanse me of my false Christ spirit and legions of demons. Demanding to continue to come to their church they must come inside and clean my house and burn anything they didn’t find worthy, and any books that was not of their faith and beliefs. Pretty wild stuff.. this life. I guess I was supposed to endure it all for a learning experience I guess. It worked. Too well maybe. I’m short on trusting others today, anyone.

    The sad part is that if other have never seen this kind of action from others they don’t and cannot believe it. Some don’t want to see it or see and hear what they want to hear and quick to dismiss what has happened in others life. Many think that all others have the same life experiences, lifestyles, chances they have. Many are sheltered or blinded by the cult like mentality or social conditioning they may never see some truth or what happens in the bigger world around them. And that we most of what we hear on the news or in church is heavily censored and meant to sway public or cult-like opinions.

    As long as God knows I don’t really care anymore and not afraid to speak-up and stand for what I believe in even though there are many enemies out there that have a no-holds-barred approach in trying to silence all others over many issues and topics. We either stand for something or fall for everything and lose ourselves. Majority rule to mob rule does not make things or attitudes right.. just.

    God help and bless those who have had to trudge through life with these issues and that sort of people with blind knee jerk reactions that have been indoctrinated in them from birth maybe.

  14. I relate with some of your dangers, I use to experience some of them when I first ‘left the church’… But I will say, years later… now that I have learned to center the majority of my relationships around Christ, that this builds lasting relationships and it is fulfilling for all in so many ways… I am learning to ‘live in community’ with some close believers and feel as though I am experiencing Love like I have never experienced it before. I no longer experience that list of ‘dangers’ and our home is the happiest it’s ever been.

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