When Is It Time to Leave Your Church?

by Joshua Tilghman on July 11, 2013

ChurchIn-empty1If you are content with your church experience, there’s no need to read this post. But if you have ever felt like you would rather be somewhere else during your church service, please read on.

I talk with a lot of people who go to church but aren’t getting any fulfillment there anymore. Most of the time it’s because they are seeing contradictions or holes within the doctrines of their faith. Others may just be tired of teaching another Sunday school class or babysitting in the nursery. There are many different reasons, but in the end it all points to the same general feeling: they’re discontent with their lives, and their current church experience will never bring long-term fulfillment.

The sad thing is that most of these people just can’t bring themselves to make the decision to leave. They stay in the same situation week in and week out, trying to convince themselves they are doing God a favor by staying faithful. They know they’re unhappy but they’re afraid to leave because they think God will be disappointed. If this is your situation, I want you to consider another possibility. What if you’re disappointing God by staying?

A Trap of Your Own Ego

I know from personal experience that many Christians have been brainwashed to think God wants them to be in a specific church family to fulfill a specific calling. Many pastors are guilty of doing this to their congregation members, but do you really think God wants to you continue doing something when you feel discontentment?

Consider someone that strongly believes God is in charge of what they’re supposed to be doing and where they are supposed to end up. How did they get this idea in the first place? Most likely someone else, whether it be a pastor or a parent, told them this. Possibly they got it directly from the Bible. At the time it may have sounded good because that person may not have known what they wanted. And sometimes it’s much easier to do nothing and believe God is in control when you’re not really sure what you want, but in the end it’s all a big ego trip.

What’s the real motivation for someone who thinks they’re pleasing God anyway? Their motivation is coming from the wrong place. A person that feels good simply because they are doing what they think God wants them to do is a selfish motivation in the first place. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but think about it; who is getting the benefit by feeling they are pleasing God? They are! It’s a trap of the ego and it’s no different than someone who doesn’t want to go to church because they don’t want to do what everyone else is telling them God expects them to.

A Different View of God

If you think you can please God, you’re sorely mistaken. The scripture even states our best is as filthy rags to him. The entire premise is wrong in the first place. God doesn’t need to be pleased. God isn’t an individual with ego-centric desires. He doesn’t get fulfillment just because you are or aren’t doing something. If God got fulfillment because you stay in a church, would he really be that much different than you and I? Of course not.

Consider that God is living and experiencing through you each and every day. He wants contentment as much as you do. He also wants the adventure and spontaneity. Why do you think the universe is so big in the first place? Why do you think there are so many different scenarios that can play out? You have free will to make the universe an interesting and exciting place! A place where you also experience contentment. There’s no set time or place that God demands from you. Some pastors teach this selfish attitude because they claim God should be in charge, but I believe you are being selfish towards God by denying the greatest gift you could have ever received: your ability to find peace and contentment.

The truth is that God is most satisfied when you are content with yourself and your life, because then you can truly be an inspiration to others. God is a family. And when you’re naturally joyful and content, others will be inspired to do the same. You have heard the saying that you can’t love anybody else if you don’t love yourself. Well it’s also true that you can’t truly inspire anyone else, including yourself, unless you are happy with all of your life, even the how and where of your worship.

What About the Scriptures Pastors Frequently Use to Guilt Congregation Members?

One of the all-time favorite scriptures used to refute what I have stated above is Hebrews 10:25. I’ll quote 10:24 as well to help us put it in context.

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and unto good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some…”

Many pastors will use the above scripture to prove God wants you to be in a church. But as always, many hotshots are taking this scripture completely out of context. First of all the epistles were written to specific churches to address specific problems. This scripture wasn’t meant to be a universal truth. We many never know the situation this person was addressing. I have written other articles stating that the author of this epistle was gnostic; the gnostic community certainly didn’t have church services like we have today!

I once had a pastor use this scripture to set the foundation for his argument. Next he used Psalms 92:13:

“Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.”

This certainly wasn’t the case for me. In fact staying at the church I was once in was putting extreme pressure on my marriage. The above scripture doesn’t have anything to do with being in a church or a building. It has to do with living Torah (not a legalistic law), but a way of life free of the ego. You cannot truly enter the true house of God until you learn to crucify the ego.

So once you can accept these truths, you need to make plans on how to make an exit.

Be Respectful

First and foremost you need to do it gracefully. Respect your pastor’s position, but just let him know the truth. You just aren’t getting fulfilled anymore. He or she might try and tell you that everyone goes through these spells but you just need to stick it out and be faithful. Don’t let this trap you. If you’re not content, you’re not content. There’s no argument, and you’ll know in your heart whether this is true or not.

After explaining the truth to your pastor, you will probably instantly feel better. But then comes the hard part. What do you do next? Do you jump right into the next church down the street and try it out?

I definitely wouldn’t recommend this. Once you leave your current church, it’s best to lay low and consider the reason why you were unhappy in the first place. If you just jump into the next church down the street you will be in the same predicament as before; after the newness wears off you’ll experience discontentment all over again.

To truly understand what I mean you may need to ask yourself if you started church to find God. If this was your motivation in the first place then you’ve already lost the game. God is within you. Jesus makes this crystal clear in Luke 21:17:

“…behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

You and God are constantly having a symbiotic relationship whether you are going to church or not. Going within yourself is where the true house of God and temple is anyway. If you want to learn more about why this is so, read here.

Blessings!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

linda July 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Hello Joshua,

I wrote you a note when I first started reading your blog, but have been pretty quiet ever since. And I don’t have a whole lot to say today except that I agree with you although I am quite “invested” in going to church but am not ready to leave.

It seems to me that there is so much that is wrong about the church, but occasionally I see something really wonderful happen. Occasionally I even find someone I feel I can be real with… 😉

Church to me is sort of like any “club” I might join or maybe like “Cheers”. It’s where I go to be with people I relate to. I’ve moved around a lot and don’t have a lot of close friends where I’ve settled. I’ve also been “in church” for a million-billion years. Church is easier for me than joining a civic club or something like that. It’s “my culture”…

I left a church once and it was very painful. I would do it again because I found the pastor to be very controlling and seemingly more interested in having power than being a part of the congregation and loving them.

I guess I just want to encourage you to keep telling people the truth about churches. There are so many who are trapped by guilt and fear. They’ve never learned that God doesn’t work that way. I’d rather see those people un-churched in a New York minute than being miserable…

Blessings to you… and, again, thanks!

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Joshua Tilghman July 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Linda,

I still go back to church every once in a while to see old friends. And I still believe we can hear a message that contains nuggets of wisdom. I am willing to bet that if we look hard enough, we could find some really good churches where both the congregation and the leaders are willing to look outside the box when dissecting the Bible as well.

But I hope people who are feeling out of place in the churches they visit understand that there can be better options. Good to hear from you again!

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anny July 14, 2013 at 3:42 am

Hi Joshua,

I am certain that there are still very good churches, even if their leaders are not into discovering new truths about the Bible. There are other ways to be a real christian as well, such as being the embodiment of Love towards your fellow men, both in the immediate surroundings as on the other side of the world. I know of christians who have even come to enlightenment in that way! Of course their insight becomes much greater during that process of growth as well but not because of study.

The Scond World War has been a great teacher in that respect, at least here in Europe, where people who cared for their fellow men in need, persecuted Jews among others, were really pushed to and beyond their limits. My own grandmother became a very wise and openminded woman because of it and was never judmental anymore afterwards. And I do know of a Roman Catholic priest who gave up his own life in one of the concentrationcamps in order to save someone else’s. He kept singing God’s praises until he was dead (he was left to starve in a dark bunker together with other people who he encouraged until the end and when that bunker was finally opened, there was a light around his head!). And he was an ‘ordinary’ priest!

So you see, there are more ways and we should never feel superior because we do what we do. I for one consider that priest far superior to me.

On an every day level, we do occasionally go to a church as almost all of our relatives are still members, also our eldest son and his family. So we do go for weddings and funerals and baptisms, and of course when our granddaughters are involved in a children’s service. Lately they have become acquainted with the phenomenon of baptism of grown ups and now they are baptizing themselves over and over again in their swimming pool!

Our next batch of grandchildren – two, expected to be born within the next seven months – will not be doing that however, as their mothers are both Vietnamese Buddhists.

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Joshua Tilghman July 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Anny,

Well said. I totally agree. What I mean about finding good churches is one without traditional doctrine.

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anny July 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

Hello Joshua,

What a coincidence. I was tending to my correspondence this morning and then I just stumbled on my letters to our pastor seven, eight years ago when we were about ready to leave our church and I read them again. I very respectfully explained why it was impossible for us to remain members any longer but never received a reply to any of them, neither from the church nor from the pastor. Since then he has never spoken to us either, even though we had a lot of discussions with him beforehand, while we were still members and tried to explain why we felt the way we felt.

We finally left in 2006 but a friend of ours, who thinks exactly the same we do, somehow could not yet officially leave the church though she never went there anymore, but even though she had remained a member she lost all contact with the pastor after she had explained to him how she felt. And this pastor really is a very sympathetic man who does not try to make anyone feel guilty about anything but it seems to be incredibly hard to face this way of thinking when you are not ready to do so yourself.

I am glad that you finally have time to write more blogposts again, only, it coincides with my being very busy at the moment, so even though I superficially glanced at the new ones I will need some time to get more deeply into them. I do appreciate it though that you are going more deeply into Revelations as that has really always been a mystery to me and I have not often read it. I imagine I am not the only one. So keep up the good work!

Love,

anny

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linda July 12, 2013 at 11:32 am

Anny,

When I left the church I used to attend, the pastor quit talking to me as well. In fact, when I wrote to “transfer my membership by letter”, I understand that he tore the letter up, threw it in the waste can and said he couldn’t believe I thought he’d do that…

I found that upsetting and sad, since it was spiritual growth on my part that made me want to be somewhere else. Somewhere that love was more important than petty-doctrines.

After some years away, I have very little contact from anyone at that church. If I wasn’t “in”, I wasn’t in. Sadly to say, this is what religion often does to people. Instead of bringing us together, it separates.

I think Joshua hit the nail on the head when he said that guilt and fear causes many people to behave the way they do. How unfortunate! Our spirituality should bring us freedom and peace, don’t you think?

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anny July 13, 2013 at 6:17 am

Hi Linda,

Yes, I agree spirituality should bring freedom and peace and I also agree with Joshua that it is guilt and fear that causes many people to behave the way they do. In our kind of church I think it is mostly fear though, and maybe a feeling of helplessness. The guilt factor does not really play a large roll there, if at all. At least, that is how I experienced it.

I do not think this is limited to religion and spirituality either. Whenever people are confronted with something they feel they cannot deal with but which, if true, literally knocks their basis away from under them, then the consequence is mostly that they either turn ugly or silent and pretend it did not happen or does not exist. They do not have an answer and are not willing or unable to consider the matter, whatever it is, because it poses a threat.

Imagine a pastor who is willing to consider that everything he or she is teaching is not correct, how long would they still have a job? I can even understand that. It is already very difficult to leave a church as a member when you have always felt at home there (although that is probably different for churches which use the guilt factor a lot) but when you are a pastor your job is also at risk, so yes, I can understand that you might not be willing to go that far unless it really comes from your own heart. And I also understand that it must be very uncomfortable then to meet people who seemingly pose a threat, so you try to avoid them.

It is so easy to become judge and jury at the same time but fortunately I have recognized that over the years too. Everyone will wake up in his or her own good time and until then I just greet people who have difficulties with my way of thinking when I meet them without trying to engage in conversation and pass on. I no longer have any negative feelings about them.

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Joshua Tilghman July 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Anny,

So glad to see you commenting again – you always leave us something great to ponder!

I think the situation you explain above about the church is typical. I remember my attitude towards people who didn’t believe the way I did before I finally realized my entire belief system was flawed – if I couldn’t convince them of my viewpoint, I would write them off as lost! Terrible, right? Hopefully your former pastor has been through some experiences that might have changed his viewpoint since then. 🙂

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anny July 14, 2013 at 3:10 am

Hi Joshua,

Well, at least our pastor has retired now, so his job will not be at stake any longer and he will have more time on his hands, so he is free to explore these things if he wants to. And you have to be ready for that, which is a phrase he himself used during our conversations! So it is not as negative as all that, just human. I think everyone will start considering these things when the time is ripe for them and it is no use whatever to try to convince them beforehand. No one could have convinced me when I was younger, not even a pastor if he had wanted to. And then it all happened very suddenly when the penny dropped (do you know that British expression?).

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Joshua Tilghman July 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Don’t know the expression, but I understand what you are saying! And you are right, you can’t convince somebody of anything. When a person begins to truly question then the heart is getting ripe. Every good answer begins with a good question, but we have to get to the point where we admit we don’t know.

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anny July 21, 2013 at 12:57 am

You are right. I got to the point where I stood with empty hands but with complete trust. It felt very good.

Laurie July 14, 2013 at 8:03 am

Our Spiritual Journey should bring us Freedom and Peace but to get to that point we have to face our own Ego and the Collective Ego of Others. We have to take up the Cross and Die.

For a lot of us, this point comes when we are faced with leaving our old Churches.

Where there is pain, there is a lot of Growth, if we choose to grow. I like the expression that “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. A lot of us choose suffering (which is long term) because we are fearful of the Pain which is short term. That is the reason that we stayed in churches longer then we should have. But, then again…it’s all part of the Journey and learning process, isn’t it?

Coming out the other side of leaving a church (it happened many years ago) I don’t have any anger or hurt anymore. I see things a lot differently. I was supposed to be there when I was there and I left when I was supposed to. I also don’t have any bad feelings anymore. I realize that the pastor and other people in the Church were on their own Journey’s as well. 🙂

It was a huge part of learning about the EGO. It didn’t happen over night, either.

I can look back now and say that I am grateful for it all. 🙂

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Joshua Tilghman July 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Laurie,

Loved this comment. This was my experience when I left my church. It was a life-changer. But it took me some time to finally admit it was time to go. Looking back, I couldn’t have arrived where I am now if I hadn’t been there first.

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Robert July 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm

The older concept of a spiritual assembly of believers is becoming less attractive to younger generations. Not sure where it is going. Congregating seems to offer some stability and confidence plus opportunities for learning new ideas from others. In person community involvement is beneficial. Expect new types of congregations to appear first on the fringe.

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linda July 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Robert,

I believe that when a “rule” or “law” is made from a statement such as “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”, the message from the statement can be easily lost. I really believe that it’s the “rule” that younger generations are questioning, not the need for community.

Western living puts such an emphasis on independence, individualism, autonomy, etc. that the oneness of all living beings is overshadowed. So we look to new ways to connect, yet still often find that the new ways often disintegrate into ego-motivated behavior.

I have no answers… but such is a life of faith. We must embrace both conviction and not knowing…

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Laurie July 22, 2013 at 9:25 am

I think we have gotten attached to a Literal “Assembly” and a building. Funny, you never read about church buildings in the New testament. I don’t recall Paul taking about building, a physical building? Nor do I remember him taking up “offerings” for such.

Yet, we allow a Ego based institution to take this scripture and twist it for the personal edification of The Leader’s ego and the Collective Ego of “Said” organization.

Again, it’s identifying with the Temporal and not the Eternal.

This is how the scripture is twisted on people.

Assembling of People. Hmm…isn’t that what we (who are reading and posting) are doing right now? It’s also not stuck in time. We are not reading at exactly the same time nor responding at exactly the same time…Yet…. 🙂 We are assembling together.

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linda July 22, 2013 at 11:11 am

Laurie,

I love the idea of an assembly that is not stuck in time. It reminds me of a verse (I think from Hebrews) that talks about a cloud of witnesses who urge us on…

Yet, I still thinks “buildings” can have their purposes. But, yes, they can be and many times are “misused”.

The New Testament was a period in time that (for us) is in the “not now”. Jesus went to the temple, as was his habit. And many churches met in homes. In Israel, the “earliest church” was a sect of Judaism and therefore, would still consider the temple as a holy place. Then, as Jesus had directed them, Paul and the other apostles moved outward, ultimately to areas where there would have been no Jewish places of worship. (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.)

I’m not trying to debate on the side of “churches”… It’s just that I feel we must be careful not to make general exclusions regarding how to worship or what worship “should” look like. And I certainly do not think it is wise to try to recreate another time in history…

Just thinking out loud here. Like I have mentioned before, I pretty invested in “the church” and don’t see myself ever leaving — at least not physically.

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Robert July 22, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Yes, intercommunicating on a web blog is a form of assembyling and something new to our culture within the last two decades. It is probably very important to people like some of us who have made the exodus from the conventional churches and might otherwise be stuck on our own without a way to mix ideas. In ages past, esoteric believers were often intiated and guided by a mentor. We are bypassing that by acessing sources material on the web and books you can access easily.

The physical building we call a church is indeed overemphasized. On the other hand, in times past it did seem like a logical venue for assemblying on a regular basis. Physical structure beings stability but also inertia (hard to change course when the need arrises). But it is a thing that people do, and it benefits those who need to be in that type of environment for whatever time they need to be. It also allows children to be trained in a program until they can make more of thier own decisions and judgements.

I believe the traditional churches are not going to make it if they do not change to accomodate a shift in conscieesness. They will just fade as their members age and numbers dwindle. We internet esoterics are at the cutting edge of sprituality in our age, and we are paviong a road that many will follow.

One more thing that I have considered at times… am I staying away from face-to-face church because I have issues being social and interdependent with live people?

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Joshua Tilghman July 24, 2013 at 8:15 am

Robert,

I think you’ve pretty much summed up exactly what is happening. These changes were destined to come sooner or later. As to your question, only you can truly answer that question, but I also know that you stay away from face-to-face church because you are a deep thinker and are not satisfied with shallow doctrine. I have sensed this from your questions and discussions. Blessings.

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Laurie July 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

Are you invested or are you attached? Why would you feel that my post was directed towards you?

I’m not asking you to leave your church. What is a Church, btw? It isn’t a building or a place. It’s people.

My post was mainly for people who are in a church and can’t leave (even though they Know they aren’t supposed to be there–deep down) by people twisting that scripture on them. I came out of such a “Church”.

If you are where you are supposed to be. You’ll know it and have a peace about it. If not? Maybe there is a conflict for a reason.

Going to a church because you are invested? I have to ask, what are you “invested” in?

That sounds like an “Obligation” and slavery.

Why not stay, because you are FREE to stay and enjoy the People you fellowship with?

That would be the reason to “Stay”.

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linda July 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I’m sorry, Laurie. I did not feel your post was directed at me. I was simply trying to join the discussion. I am not a fan of the institutional church. But I am invested, I assure you. And I am very aware that many people (even those sitting in the pews every week) are not invested in the institution.

Being invested may sound like being attached to you. Maybe it was your attachment to the church that made it difficult for you to leave. Whatever our reasons for staying or leaving, it is very difficult to label for someone else whether their actions are “right” or “wrong”.

I would be the first to encourage someone who thought they should leave a church to do so. “Church” — whether it be a building or a certain group of humans — is no replacement for our SPIRITUAL journey.

It seems rather ironic to me that you appear to assume I am simply attending “a” church because I enjoy fellowship with my friends. I have fewer friends in the church I now attend than I have ever had in any church I’ve ever attended.

No. I don’t think it’s an attachment. I think it’s more like 60 years of experience in the church. I think it’s about feeling “called” to be there to help people who are trying to navigate their way. It’s about being a truth-teller. I feel that it is “my custom”, as it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue.

I won’t bother to comment on the words obligation or slavery other than to say you have misjudged me.

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Laurie July 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm

The Terms Obligation and slavery come from a Wayne Dyer Quote “”If you are living out of a sense of obligation you are slave”. Obligation is completely different from having a “Calling”. Obligation IS bondage. A “Calling” is not. Obligation is totally about the Ego and what other people think. “A Calling” is not about the Ego at all. It’s “KNOWING” where you are supposed to be and finding the Joy in that.

In your Post, you never said you felt “Called” to be at your Church. You said you had too much invested.

I think you and I do have different terms. When I use “Fellowship” it doesn’t mean socializing to me, although socializing sure can be a part of it. To Fellowship is inter action with. That has many levels to it. The Term Fellowship was never meant as an insult nor a Dig. I am sorry if my words effected you that way. That wasn’t my intentions at all. I don’t consider doing things with friends “Fellowshipping”. So, I think we do have different terms.

That’s why I said a person should have the “Freedom” to stay at a church and fellowship there (which is more then just socializing) just as a person should have the Freedom to leave.

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LC November 3, 2013 at 10:45 am

I am sitting here on a beautiful Sunday morning, sending a comment on a site I never thought I’d need just 3 years ago. I attended the same Christian church for 20 years, and was faithful to be there every Sunday morning with few exceptions. I often could not wait to get there until the last 2 years when I started sensing a change in the atmosphere. There was a strong opposition to the joy I personally was experiencing in worship. (The attack was not only against me, but several others who had the same annointing to worship enthusiastically) The problem is, the attacks came from the pastor and others in ministry. Our church did not have any kind of regulation against dance or raising hands or clapping or any of the kinds of worship and praise the bible talks about.(Psalm 150, for example) Everything was done in order. When I started sensing that others in the congregation were offended and influencing the pastor to put a stop to any kind of joy in the church, I prayed about whether I should stay there or go. A year ago, He told me to leave and “wipe the dust off my feet”, and move on. It was so hard as this was the only church “family” I’d known for all those years. But I could not risk becoming as gloomy as some of them were. I knew their skeptism would get on my if I stayed. A few months ago, I started attending another christian church in town, and all seemed well until about 2 months ago. The pastor looked straight at me during a crowded Sunday morning service and pointed me out and falsely accused me right there in the church. I was shocked to say the least. I made an appointment to see him but he would not find time to meet with me. He said to send an e-mail. In his reply he denied it ever happened and that I “misunderstood”. Believe me, this was not imagined. I think he thought I would never question him on it, and knew he’d have to come up with an explanation. I decided to forgive the incident and went back a couple weeks later. He actually did the same thing again. I decided not to approach him this time. I just won’t go back unless God tells me to. My number one gift is discernment, confirmed by many godly people. I think the first pastor talked with him and told him something untrue to try to get me to return to the church. He has been known to be offended when people leave the church and not talk with them afterwards. I love both pastors and have respect for those in leadership, but sometimes they make it hard. It’s worse when pastors defend other pastors without even knowing the true details of the situation. It can be the fault of the one in the congregation, but sometimes it’s something the leadership is repeatedly doing.

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Joshua Tilghman November 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm

LC,

I have seen similar scenarios played out in the church many times before. The fact that you can say you still “love” both pastors can be attributed to a greater spiritual maturity. Often times, congregation members who have gone through similar scenarios go out and trash everyone they feel was against them and you can literally feel the personal bias. Ultimately it is the ego in such pastors that limits them to the greater picture. But we must be careful. There is still much growth to accomplish in ourselves, and your situation is an opportunity to continue to grow. It is clear that your current level of development is forcing you to see the limitation in the environment you were in. It’s a good thing, not a negative thing, that you are leaving. As with all of us, your soul is on a journey, and it’s development will only be compromised if you stayed in the churches you were in. It’s time to spread your wings and continue. I stated we must be careful earlier because we will always meet such limitations in our environment, but this is also God’s way of forcing us to continue to development. Many times our environment reveals the limitations in our selves that we are still overcoming, but now have the opportunity to ultimately move past.

Blessings, LC.

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linda November 3, 2013 at 5:06 pm

LC,

Spiritual growth can seem very “scary” for whomever is seeing with the “ego”… I support you in your decision to leave this church and am praying you will remain true to your journey.

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