In the previous posts, I’ve largely dealt with the fallout associated with my departure from institutional Christianity, particularly in suffering at the hands of institutional churches and leaders who for one reason or another felt threatened by that decision. Today, I’m going to begin turning the focus less toward what was behind me, and more toward where I found myself, and my new spiritual surroundings, if you will.
One of the reasons why it took me so long to finally admit that I no longer had anything in common with the current church structures was that for many years I nursed the belief that the church could be reformed from within, rather than overhauled from without. I know a lot of people who still feel this way, and I respect them. But when I finally came to the painful realization that I wasn’t going to be able to overcome the church politics, and that the institutional leaders I was trying to be friends with were never going to accept me, I had a decision to make. I had to choose between violating my conscience (i.e., selling out) and walking away.
I chose to walk away–to fully embrace the fact that I was now an outsider. Once I came to that conclusion, I made a conscious decision to begin exploring what my faith might look like outside those parameters. I started reading books (devouring them, more like) written by people outside my spiritual circle. I started this blog to process my own thoughts. I began looking to see if anyone else was practicing faith and mission without being directly connected to the institutions. Without abandoning my faith, I began exploring what life could be like outside those walls. And here’s what I discovered:
A lot of people felt the exact same way that I did.
It turns out there is a whole segment of the church that I would call “disenfranchised”–believers who are honest Christ-followers but who, like me, are disillusioned with the church as it had been presented to them, and who feel they do not fit within that system. Some were still trying to find their way within institutional churches, and some (like me) had simply walked away. I had no idea how many people would describe themselves this way–I didn’t even know they existed, and couldn’t see them because I had been so fixated on trying to remain in good standing with the institution. Once I finally let go of that illusion, I was surprised to find how much activity was going on outside the walls, and how many people were searching for a more authentic spirituality outside the walls.
Now, granted, the number of these believers is far less than the numbers of Christians who adhere to a more traditional church structure. But they are out there. And thanks to the Internet, of all things, I was able to converse with a lot of these people, to share ideas and war stories, and even process pain. These folks effectively became my new community, and while most of them were not in range where we could get together physically, just knowing I was not alone in what I’d seen and heard came as a great comfort to me.
From this unlikely camaraderie with other disenfranchised believers, a bigger picture began to emerge–and with it, hope. I now had something else to look at besides the ashes of the past. If others were seeing what I was seeing and had made similar choices to what I had made, I could see the possibilities of new communities of faith one day forming–the seeds of what could be a major transformation in the Body of Christ as to how we see ourselves, and how we function in the earth. I could see past my own sense of exile and abandonment, and see the possibility that God was actually doing something with all of us that was bigger than anything we could have imagined.
In short–finding a sense of community outside the walls gave me a sense of purpose in what I’d gone through. It placed something in front of me to shoot for, instead of just mourning the losses of the past. It got me asking the all-important question: “What if…?”
I’m not going to say it isn’t lonely “out here”, because it certainly is. Besides my own family, I still can’t really say that I have a lot of people in my circle who fully understand our journey or our decision to remain outside the walls of structured church. It’s difficult to explain to believers that even being disenfranchised, I am not “anti-community” or “anti-church.” I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about a lot of things during those few times when I’m in a circle of believers.
But I do know I’m not the only one. I know there are others out there who see it. I’ve had a lot of meaningful conversations with them. And that has contributed to my path toward healing because it helped turned my face more toward the future, and less toward the past.
More to come…