For those of us who have left organized religion, I am finding a lot of us go through similar steps in the process.
There are months, or in our case, years of dissatisfaction and questioning. My wife and I knew for a long time something was not right within the church but kept thinking it was just us or the church we were attending. We would try different churches and find our feelings were the same.
Once we got to the point that we considered leaving church was very much a possibility, the next step was to really question ourselves. Thoughts like are we really Christians, are we backsliding, are we losing our religion? We began to feel something was wrong with us and wondered what others were going to think.
Next was the decision to stop attending something we felt was way off base from what true Church should be. There were feelings to keep this to ourselves, do not tell anyone, just stop attending and keep quiet. In our case that was easy. We had been a part of a large fellowship for several few years but never got involved in other activities. We went to the Sunday morning service but did not attend small groups or any other activity. This made it much easier not having to explain our actions to anyone else because no one ever missed us. To those of you who have made this decision and were very much involved in all the activities, even pastors or leaders in the church, we applaud you for making such a decision.
Next came the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. We wanted to look at the organized church almost as an enemy. We would point out where they were wrong and why they were wrong. We wanted to associate only with those who felt the same as we did and did not want to associate with those still in the religious game. Obviously this is not the way to feel or treat people.
Acceptance of all People
The next step was realizing God loves all people not just those who attend a religious service every time the doors are open. God actually loves those outside the walls of the organized church no matter what line of thought, doctrine, religion or lifestyle they choose. Jesus came to love people and show each of us the love of God. We came to realize that we are called to love and accept everyone no matter what their beliefs just as God loves us. We no longer cared what people thought of our decision, we just wanted to love and accept each of them whether they are in church, outside the walls, or even if they are not believers at all. So many times while in religion we felt we were to love those who were believers, especially those in our own church. We now realize that God’s love is for everyone, not just Christians. We are to love and accept others just as they are, looking past the labels others put on them and seeing them as human beings.
We are sure this is not a complete list of steps, but it is as far as we are for now. We are thankful for the years we had in the church as we learned a lot and made a lot of friends. We are equally thankful for the decision we made to leave the church and focus more on the Church (ecclesia). That Church is made up of people who are saved by grace, following Christ, equally functioning parts of the body, and who touch others day by day with the love of God.
We are all on different paths in life, but we know that God is with us and leading us each step of the way. We continue to keep the faith, keep our eyes on Jesus, love others and be the Church each and every day.