I wish I had a dramatic tale to tell you. A story of a complete turnaround that caused me to leave a church or organisation (or even more exciting to be asked to leave). I wish I had left because I had a reversal in ideas and ideologies that left me directly at odds with those of the churches and organisations I was a part of. I wish I had left, clearly and significantly articulating my positions and ideas. But that is not really how my story works. I don’t take complete U-turns and reverse my position. I meander, I take long involved wanders, I stroll (perhaps in circles at times), and perhaps I sit on the fence too much.
Actually its a bit hard to make U-turns when you sit in the middle of the road so much. I didn’t grow up particularly wealthy or particularly poor, I’m not tall or short, I wasn’t ‘popular’ at school, but I wasn’t bullied, and had friends to hang out with. I didn’t have a significant conversion experience, rather I grew in faith and understanding (more like Timothy than Paul) I didn’t grow up in a particularly conservative (that I noticed) church environment, or a particularly progressive one either. Meandering down the middle of the road doesn’t give me stories of great turnarounds and God intervening in miraculous ways to change my life and my beliefs.
As Christians we often come close to idolising the great turnaround story, we love Saul on the road to Damascus and Peter and Cornelius, where God intervenes to effect a great turnaround in belief. They do make good stories they have drama and suspense, and perhaps we think they have the power to persuade. However the result of the idolisation of these type of stories is that I struggle to see the value and power in my meandering journey.
We need to take care that our obsession with the dramatic doesn’t lead us to overlook the ordinary.
We need to be able to value our ordinary stories of growth and change because it is in the ordinary, the gradual, the slow burn, the unfolding of new ideas, that we need to be able to see and experience God at work. These meandering stories make up so much more of our life than the one moment on the road stories. God is unquestionably at work revealing himself in the ordinary meandering that leads to the gradual revelation of new ideas and ways of seeing. I believe that God is at work in my thinking and listening, in the slow forming of new ideas, the development of new theories and thoughts and God reveals a little more of the future day by day.
My experience of leaving churches or organisations haven’t been dramatic difficult decisions. Rather they have been a a gradual meandering away, a drift in thought and connection that leads me off. I first meandered away from church when I was still in my teens. This first move away was precipitated by my parents deciding to leave the church we attended. My decision to leave was primarily dictated by the fact that I had never established good relational connections there, basically I had no friends that went there and had never felt like I fitted in the youth group.
I stopped attending church but was determined to keep my faith and so I drifted around interdenominational groups and events for a while. Perhaps that helped me to become less dependant on the local church to nurture and grow my faith. Perhaps that gave me an exposure to a wider variety of views than if I had stayed in one local church. On the other hand perhaps it gave me less exposure as I was more able to pick and choose who I connected with and what I attended. But my struggle to find relational and intellectual connection and environments that would nurture my faith, had begun.
As a young adult it was a bit easier, I moved city frequently and moved churches each time I shifted, without much reflection or angst.
Since then what I have found the most difficult about leaving organisations and churches is clearly identifying, understanding and expressing my dissatisfaction and reasons for leaving. The desire for understanding usually results in me staying too long as I try to process everything that I am thinking, feeling and that God is revealing. But because I meander and ideas and thoughts take time to develop and grow and because I tend to be intuitive in these situations rather than rational it can be hard to pin down the sources of my dissatisfaction. I often don’t have one big issue or idea that I disagree with leadership on, it often just feels like I have grown away in many little ways. This leads me to a point where I am unable to articulate my reasons for disagreement and that is the biggest sign that staying will be more unhealthy for me than leaving, and so off I walk.
All this drifting does have effects however. I find that this time faced with a new local faith community my expectations are so much lower than they were before. If I have lower expectations perhaps I will be less disappointed when they don’t live up to my hopes and dreams for the future of church. I find myself asking is the wandering stopping me being rooted?
Each time I become part of something new I hold back just a little more of myself, I am slower to engage and to fully connect. I have become protective, perhaps over protective.
I keep wandering around faith communities, in a search for one I can call home. One which can see my critical reflection, creative futuristic focus as a gift to be nurtured rather than a threat and a challenge. A community that can help me nurture and develop that gift and help me to articulate and present what I see. I continue to search for a faith community that attempts to understand the changing world and is committed to changing itself in the face of that different future. That is the home that I am wandering towards.
I would love to hear your stories of leaving, what has caused you to leave a faith community and what has caused you to stay?