This is my disillusionment with church.
I know my story isn’t unique. It isn’t special, and it doesn’t give me a free pass to walk away from the bride of Christ. I just want to share my heart with you.
Anyone that knew me even semi-well during my middle school years will probably remember an event that was significant to me. I won’t divulge details. I respect the other people involved too much, and it is not fair to recount things here that are hurtful. I will only say that this event involved a person of significant stance in my local church and that what transpired between this person and my family is what eventually led my parents to separate.
That in and of itself was a terrible pain that I dealt with for many years. However, God never left me, and I never stopped believing in him. I was old enough to know by then that people aren’t perfect, not even parents or those in ministry, and that I shouldn’t interpret people’s failures as God’s injustice and hatred for me.
Though my own family never quite found their way back to church, God led me to a new one through an invitation of my best friend and her mom. I started going to TWOC in Louisville on a regular basis. I was 17. I loved it. The message of hope and prosperity resonated with me. I had been in such a desolate place spiritually and socially that TWOC was exactly what I needed to reconnect my spirit with God. I connected and tried to make friends by showing up whenever the doors were open and even getting a part-time gig in the coffee shop there. I loved it, but when my family moved to Alabama from Kentucky, I had to leave it behind.
Once in Birmingham (actually Alabaster), I attended church sporadically. I knew not one soul in the entire city, and it was such a lonely year of my life. I held down several different jobs, and I would quit every job after a couple of months after I got bored. I was dreaming of moving to Nashville. I visited Nashville as often as I could afford to, and I thought if I moved there that Nashvillians would understand me and get me. They were musicians and in the heart of the Bible belt so I thought I might find that sense of belonging there that I was missing everywhere else. I never did end up going.
Fast forward to meeting BJ. The month we got engaged, he was hired as a community pastor in a town far, far up north near Chicago. We moved there in ’07. We fell in love with the people. Our souls felt like they were finally at home. We met people who loved God and wanted to serve homeless people and the destitute and who would lay down their lives or bank accounts for complete strangers if they needed it. We made some of the best friends there we would ever have.
Leaving was hard. Again, I will not go into details, but the actual circumstances that led up to us leaving a year later were not initially voluntary. We felt a lot of betrayal, confusion, pain, and so many other feelings I hate remembering. It was a huge loss for us spiritually. Also, it was a huge loss for BJ vocationally because, as he explained it to me, he finds so much identity in his work. So having to leave a job that was so much more than just a job to him was like losing a piece of himself. (And, if you’re wondering, we came back to Alabama, and we eventually knew that leaving Illinois was the best thing for us. I still regret how it happened, but I don’t regret that it happened. And I have made peace with it all. But it undeniably left scars.)
Back in Alabama, we started attending church sporadically. We lived in Talladega, and neither BJ nor I knew anyone here that wasn’t related to us by blood or marriage, so we did not have any friends. We found a nice church whose message and purpose we connected with, and we joined. But we never really dug in. We were as involved as any season in our lives would allow us to be. After all, BJ has been working a full-time job and attending school full-time since 2009 up until now. And I have been a full-time student since then, too.
However, our involvement in church was never really a commitment, it was more of a convenience. We’d show up when we could and didn’t when we couldn’t. It was like we were afraid of long-term commitment. We were gun-shy. And every time we would start to get a little more involved, it felt like satan would attack us with another circumstance in life that would just knock us spiritually on our asses again. So we started getting lazy.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, BJ applied for ministry positions. He had a few interviews and was most recently offered a position this past spring. But we didn’t take it. I’d say 75% of the reasons for us not going were legitimate reasons (it wouldn’t work out financially, too far away from family, etc), but a good portion of it, I think, was that we are just sick and damn tired of being burned.
Being employed in the church and seeing the underbelly of how everything works is definitely where part of my disillusionment comes from. Seeing how ministers of God manage the hiring process is especially nauseating. “Hey, can you take a day off work from the job that pays your bills and drive ten hours round-trip to interview, and oh yeah, we’ll send you a check for your gas (except we really won’t)”. That was actually a common experience. “We’ll keep you updated on the hiring process. Expect an email within the week.” Then: nothing. This was also common. In fact, the churches that responded when they said they would were a small minority. It’s pretty sad when you are excited to open a rejection letter because at least it means they followed through with their word and updated you when they said they would.
Or “Hey, we want you to work for us, but we’re going to pay you so little that you won’t be able to afford health insurance for your family, your kids will be eligible for Medicaid, and we can help you sign up for food stamps? Also, you’ll probably have to get a part-time job but we will work you so many hours here that you won’t have time for another job.”
Best. Job. Offer. Ever.
Then being employed by a church..it’s all great until fire comes down on you. The worst thing about parting ways with a church is that you can apologize and then leave but still never know what you did wrong.
Another part of my disillusionment obviously comes from what happened to my family as a kid. It’s not the event itself, but the reaction of Christians to the event. People who claimed to love God did not show forgiveness and mercy. It was hurtful.
Also, my struggle with depression plays a part, I’m sure. I tend to view the negative in everything before the positive, and I have little tolerance for perceived bullshit. (I call myself a realist, but BJ says I’m a pessimist. He’s probably right.) Being an introvert also doesn’t help because I hate small talk.
I don’t care that you went to the beach this weekend. “What is the defining event in your past that separated your adolescence form your adulthood? When did you wake up and realize things would never be the same? How did you feel when your mom walked out? Did you ever get to tell her? Did she ever apologize?” These are all things that I want to talk about, but I’m so impatient with “did you catch anything fishing this weekend?”
And when you don’t show up for a while, people ask where you’ve been. No one buys “All my assignments are due on the weekends,” but it’s true. It’s nearly impossible for us to be involved as anything other than spectators with our work loads right now.
Lastly, there is the bad doctrine. (Tithe at least 10% or you don’t love Jesus. Go to Ghana or you don’t love Jesus. That kind of thing. But this is another post entirely.)
I’m not saying these are legitimate reasons for telling the church to go screw itself and that we will do this God thing alone. They’re not. This post is just my answer to the question I get ever so often: “Why haven’t you been to church?”
Truly, I’m tired.
I’ve got papers to write.
My husband works his ass off and then comes home to write more papers.
I try to make sure we have clean clothes to wear and that dinner is homemade more nights than it’s not.
I need to see a surgeon, dentist, dermatologist, and therapist right now, but I don’t have time for that either.
God is a priority, but right now, loving his church just isn’t.
I don’t want sympathy from my fellow Christians. I just ask for some understanding. Not judgment. And perhaps, if you are involved with hiring and firing at your church, some empathy for your ministry candidates and employees. We love Jesus, but we’d like to be able to feed our kids. Those should not be mutually exclusive.
Bring on the Jesus jukes.