When I was about 12 years of age; the Church I went to was out my grandmother’s backdoor, through a parking lot, and across a small field. Needless to say; it was a hop, skip, and a jump away from home. Church for me was cool, and convenient. There were many Sundays where I was sent home a little early to turn the stove off, that’s if we hadn’t had plans on dining out after service. It was there in that church where I was introduced to Jesus. Great aunts, uncles, older cousins, and neighborhood friends also attended service there, and my aunts sang in the choir. More importantly, friends and cousins my age also attended service there too. So, I didn’t mind attending church there either. That was until that one Sunday my grandmother told me we would no longer attend service there. She told me that the Lord had sent her to a new church where she would worship. Imagine how my world came crashing down. I went from a hop, skip, and a jump, to an hour and a half car ride to a new Church that barley had steps adjacent the foyer of the church’s sanctuary. Needless to say, I hated going there, but that move forever changed my relationship with God.
Here I am now a 30-something year old adult who has arrived at a similar situation. Although my grandmother never fully told me why we left our Church, I can imagine it’s the same reason why I left mine. What started out as what I thought was me becoming irritable and antsy during service, spiraled into me dissecting my feelings. After dissecting, the feeling I was left with a lack of spiritual growth as my issue. I felt as though I wasn’t growing in my word, and my relationship with Jesus was at a standstill. For me the sermons and messages were beginning to sound repetitive. Not in the literal sense as being recited verbatim, but the overall theme remained the same. I consulted with some friends and members of the congregation about how I felt about the sermons, and to my delight, some felt the same. Sadly, they lacked the ability to do anything about it. Then there were the ones that said, “that’s the only church I know, that’s home.” Well I saw that as an issue. Until I realized, I too was struggling with the same inability. The inability of not thinking outside of anything you’re not familiar with; which is shaping for a complacent and stagnant life. Many leave home to grow, because home has a way of hindering lives.
I understood that I reached a place of religion. My attendance was great. I tithed and gave an offering. But I was only going to Church because that’s what you do on Sundays. How many of us can admit that we only go because that’s what was ingrained in us? Or that we have something cute to wear? Or there’s a guest speaker and we need to show our face? Or it’s a holiday, so we attend as a family? Or we know that service is followed by brunch? Or it’s easier to attend, than hear whoever’s mouth about why you weren’t in service? Perhaps it’s first Sunday and you need to partake in communion. Or its third Sunday and your favorite singer is leading worship? Regardless, none of that has anything to do with our relationship with God, and for most, that’s become our problem. For many of us it’s become religion and not relationship. Our bible says: enter his courts with praise. But I was no longer going to Church with joy in my heart. I was going to Church, because it was Sunday, and that’s what we do on Sundays.
In most cases; the reason why people leave their Church normally stems from some kind of incident that occurred, which is known by the popular term church hurt. Now the Church does hurt people, but I’m not hurt. I was merely experiencing some sort of spiritual blocking that’s preventing me from fully tapping in and experiencing what’s next. I’m confident believing a lot of people experience similar situations where they spiritually hit a wall or plateau. But most won’t do anything about it. So, instead of taking proper action, they stop attending Church altogether. It’s not just a spiritual thing that causes them to leave. Some simply become worn out from the ministry in which they serve. Stuck between a hard and perplexed place causes an abrupt exit. An abrupt exit can also be experienced when we plateau at a job or in a relationship. When that happens you either switch departments, or leave the job. And in a relationship, you break up and go your separate ways.
I remember devising a plan to assist me before making a hasty departure. I entertained taking a sabbatical, but that wasn’t for me. Join a ministry up my alley, but after many attempts it didn’t go over well. In the end of exploring those options, my objective ultimately became to seek alternative options. I made the conscience decision that I would not just stop going and leave people wondering, rather exhaust all options. Sadly, in the end, that’s exactly what happened. I stopped going altogether. I felt as though I put up a good fight, but somehow it wasn’t being reciprocated through any of my actions. I was in conflict because I feared that if I stray away I would compromise my relationship with my God.
The ground my Church stands on is holy, but I was left hollow. The word is rooted in God, but I wasn’t feeling as connected anymore. I was in the search of a spiritual reset. I could no longer ignore the feeling I was harboring. It was time I take some action, because my relationship with God was at stake. I begin to look at my surroundings, and take inventory of the people surrounding me, also the people I follow on social media etc. That’s when I realized that the majority of the pastors I had taking a liking to, and were following on social media were close in age. So, I visited a Church where there was a pastor my age. That only left me comparing that Church to my Church. So, I took it as that wasn’t the answer to my prayers. In the midst of feeling a way about my Church. I moved 40 minutes (with traffic) opposite direction from my Church. Making it easier for me not to attend. However, it did remind me that we’re living in a digital world and sermons are at our fingertips. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Logging on with the Lord.
It has now been 16 months since I stopped going to Church regularly. I’ve only attended on Easter, from what I can remember. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss fellowshipping with others. But I had to come to grips with the difference in the Church building verses the church, and religion versus relationship. My decision to leave stemmed from unhappiness, and fear of compromising my relationship with my God. I remind myself that lack of progression causes recession, and that we’re striving to become the best versions of ourselves. And if I’m willing to continue to let God use me, then I have to remain on the path of growing spiritually. Isn’t that partially what attending Church is about? We come together to help, encourage, and strengthen one another in our walks, as we worship and serve God. My quest to stay was about me fighting to save the fire and love that burns on the inside of me. I wanted my flames to keep burning so that I’ll still be on fire for God. Then somewhere along the way my fire began to burn out. But in the end, I had to remember that he lives in me. I know his name and he knows mine.
Hey…maybe all of this is just a season in my life, and one day I’ll return. I don’t hate the Church. However, my absence has allowed me to take a deeper look into some of the things that transpires in Churches. It’s allowed me to veer away from traditional Church and religion, yet focus on my relationship. My absence has granted me the opportunity of seeing why so many nonbelievers keep a distance from Church, and Church folk. A friend of mine once said, “the world misunderstands the Christian life, because of the Church. The Church needs to heal first and repair its own image. We achieve nothing real by joining a Church, falling in love with a pastor, joining a choir and serving on an usher board”- Alex Hayes.
There’s times when I sit and wonder was my moving all part of God’s plan? Was it His way of removing me from the environment where I was unhappy? Was it His way of helping me get to where I am? When you go from living 5 minutes away, to 40 minutes, it easily alters your decision of attending. There were far too many mornings where I’d talked myself into not going. Then turn around and talk myself back into going. I can honestly say that I’ve been enjoying my last year and a half. What’s even stranger is that I hadn’t realized how long it’s been until I got a text from a friend that read, “hey friend, I miss you. Haven’t seen you in forever.” The simplicity of that text message warmed my heart. No mentioning of Church, nor asking why I haven’t been present. Just a genuine concern. That text only led me to wonder why hadn’t anyone else from my congregation reached out to me?
My mission was to save my relationship with my Lord so I wouldn’t become hatful, bitter, or jaded. I wondered if that’s why my grandmother decided it was time to switch Churches? She only told me that God sent her elsewhere. And that this is where He wanted her to be. I received ultimate peace with my decision last February when I said my final goodbye to my grandmother. There I sat in the Church where I first met God. Where I learned religion. Where I got saved. Then I remembered what I encountered when we left that Church. I learned how to be of service for God. I attended Sunday School with clarity of why I was there. I learned how to surrender and worship. I heard tongues being spoken for the first time. There in that new Church I developed my relationship with God. In that new Church, I understood that Christianity was a relationship with Christ. It was in my childhood Church; at my grandmother’s funeral that I knew just how important my relationship with Christ was. In the pew where I sat, I understood the importance of leaving home to grow. That day I knew that my decision to leave my Church would forever change my relationship with God, the same way it changed when I was 12 years of age and left that Church!