Why I Left The Church (Part 3 of 3)


In 2010, I left the church. Church had been a major part of my life and my family history for 46 years. I have shared with you in the past two weeks of this series, my experiences of growing up in the church. I do not write about my experience for anyone’s sympathy or for you to pray for me.  I do it to share my journey and how I was able to maintain my relationship with God in spite of these experiences.

There were a lot of things that made life in the church very frustrating for me. I grew in fear of the church and the belt.  It was a very strict and judgmental life.  Someone once condemned me to hell when I slipped and told that I had seen “The Empire Strikes Back” at the movie theater. If you read the “Advice to Members” last week you will know that going to a movie theater was on the list of don’ts. Yet the person who said I was going to Hell had a cable subscription to HBO.  It didn’t end well when I called them out on it.

What I have recounted to you in this series were all contributing factors that led to my point of decision to leave the church. So what was that one thing that caused me to leave the church?

This one thing is something that wore me down over a number of years. It wasn’t just one single event or one moment.  It was a building of frustration. It was the frustration of attending church every Sunday and leaving feeling worse than I did when I came. This cycle repeated every Sunday for many years. The sermons did nothing and the worship changed nothing. It was the most frustrating experience of my life. It was the definition of insanity which is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  Maybe it was just me but I have a feeling a lot of people have experienced this frustration or are currently facing it.

I spent years hearing loud preaching and services where the “Spirit” moved but once the service was over it changed nothing. I hated my life. I told God many times that this wasn’t the life I was meant to live. I fought it and I tried to push my way through, still believing in all the hype. It took a toll on me.

During this time, I went through a divorce and found myself at decision point in my life.  I won’t deny the fact that I was broken and needed to be fixed. One day I went to watch the movie “Robin Hood” at the theater. It was the with Russell Crowe as Robin Hood.  There was a line in that movie nudged me into the course my life would take. Robin Hood’s father said to Robin Hood “Are you ready to be who you are?”


I was ready. I made the decision that I was not going back to the church.  The funny thing was that I had expected it would be a struggle and people from the church would do everything possible to reach out to me and pull me back. They did not. It was totally not what I expected and leaving the church was easier than I had ever imagined it would be.  Since I left the church, I can honestly tell you that I am better than I was.  I have a feeling that my frustration probably showed and perhaps it was best that I left.

Of course, when you sort through the pieces of your life and the experiences of the church, you have to sift it and find the things that were good.  Too many people have left churches like I did and went to the other extreme and rebelled against everything to do with the church and God.  For me, I realized that my relationship with God wasn’t the relationship with the church.  No, it wasn’t a perfect experience but if you read about the people in the Bible, they weren’t all perfect either.  They all had their own dysfunctions to overcome.  When I looked back at the past, I was thankful that at least I had a basic foundation of a having a relationship with God even if the church wasn’t the best experience.  One thing I still think about is that there is nothing I can do to change what happened.  There’s no sense to blame anyone for it.  I had to make my own way now.

I always remembered that, although my father was strict, I never remembering him lying or being anything but having integrity in what he did.  Yes, it was always about the church and what the church said growing up but now I had to make my own way.  I had to unlearn some things that were wrong about the church.  I did that but I have tried to do that with the same integrity.  I found myself as living my life as a believer – not a Catholic, Baptist or Pentecostal.

There are two things that helped me more than anything else in this pivotal change in my life.  One was that I remarried a wonderful woman who has become the true definition of what God meant when He created a helpmeet for man.  She has made me become a better version of the me I always wanted to be.  I can not stress how important it is to be with the right person.  It makes a huge difference.

I guess you can read between the lines here and see that I divorced and remarried.  As I told you last week, the church was debating the issue of divorce and remarriage as I left.  I can’t speak for this whole debate or for everyone that has ever divorced and remarried but I can tell you that it was a new world for me.  I was given a second chance to be a better husband and that is something I don’t take lightly.   Regardless of what people may think, you can’t really judge it until you’ve gone through it.  It has been a change for the better.

AbbeyChurchInteriorThe second thing that helped me was a spiritual retreat I took at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  The monastery is under the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) which is more commonly known as “Trappists” monks.  It is currently the full-time home to approximately 48 monks.  I spent a few days with the monks at the monastery and learned a lot about myself and God.  After a lifetime being around loud preaching and Holy Ghost tongue speaking, I had an amazing experience in the quiet and reverence of God.  I will tell you that I’m not Catholic and I know nothing about all the rituals they went through at the monastery but I can most definitely tell you that I have no doubt about feeling the presence of God there.  It was like nothing I had ever felt before.   There were no revival meetings and there wasn’t any tongue speaking or shouting going on.  It was quiet.  It was simple.  I was able to search the depths of my soul.  It takes great discipline to sit in complete silence.  In today’s world of social media and constant noise, it can be a little unsettling to simply sit quietly.  Try sitting quietly for 10 minutes and see how difficult it is.  It can be quite a challenge.

During my time at the monastery, I wrote down some things that I will share with you.  The very first thing was that “The Lord will work out His plans for my life.”  (Psalm 138:8).

One night as I spent a time of silence and searched my soul about my experience with the church and trying to make sense of it all, I took my pen and wrote these words:

“I wasn’t in the weirdness, I was with you.  Loving you and guiding you for your life ahead.  While the man-made ordinances were peculiar, you did learn of me in spite of that.  Your heart became fond of me.  Your desire to server me was above all other things.  That’s where I was.  I never let you down.  Your dependence upon those other things let you down.  Some were true but many were not.  The main things came to the surface.”

Since leaving the church I have visited other churches.  I don’t have a phobia against churches but I refuse to be in bondage to fear of a man-made church.  I have also spent many times alone in churches that are open during my lunch hour.  My “church” is just times I have alone walking nature trails or spending time in a quiet place.  I think church has become too much “stuff”.  It has become a spiritual pep rally or a bunch of activities.  It is no longer simple and just about a person’s relationship with God.  Throughout my life I have seen people who have no clue about maintaining balance in life.  They will get “saved” and then they are extreme Christians and totally gung-ho about it.  Some call them “too heavenly minded and no earthly good”.  I don’t know about that but there can be extremes in anything.  I have also seen people that will only get serious about church when their relative is in jail and they need help from the church.  I guess you could say that I needed a break from all that.

I won’t say that I will never go to church or be a part of another church ever again, I just know that – for now – I am better off without it.  Things are less cluttered and more clearer than they have ever been.

If you are attending church I would certainly not discourage you or tell you to stop.  That’s your choice to make.  I would never criticize anyone for going to church.  That’s not what this series has been about.  This is about people like me who have been disenchanted with the church and those struggling with living a life of frustration.  God more real to me now than He ever was before.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I have kept with me during this journey.  He prayed:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”


Why I Left The Church (Part 1 of 3)

left_churchFor the first 46 years of my life, church was my life.  I rarely missed a Sunday.  For most of my early years it was a Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night routine for me.  Church attendance, in my mind, was equal to having a relationship with God.  I never remember a time when I rebelled against going to church.  It was ingrained into my being.  There was no other option – at least for my first 18 years.  Then when I left home it had been instilled so much in me that I was afraid to miss.

Let me just tell you in the beginning of this series that I do not miss the church.  I’m sure that to my friends who are still in the church that my admission will shock them.  It is not meant to be a slam or criticism to them or people who still go to church.  Each person is different and this is my story.  It isn’t meant to be a blanket judgment for all only the reality for me to share with you.


My father was “called to preach” when I was just learning to walk.  He asked for God a sign and he apparently got one when God worked through my mother to call him into the ministry.   You see, my mother had grown up as a preacher’s kid herself.  She told the story many times that she had no desire whatsoever to marry a preacher yet that’s exactly what happened.  My father was appointed to his first church in Valdosta, Georgia in 1967.  For the next 15 years he would be my pastor.  From Valdosta to Moultrie to Temple to Homeland to Axson to Villa Rica and then Savannah was the journey I took with them.  I saw the good, the bad and the very ugly about the church.  I am not happy with a lot of things I experienced and witnessed growing up in the church.  Many people naturally assumed that I would follow my father and my grandfather into the ministry of being a pastor.  I did not and, although I tested the waters, it was never meant to be for me.

When you grow up as a preacher’s kid, there are expectations placed upon you that can be overwhelming.  Everyone watches what you say and do.  When you don’t meet those expectations there are people more than willing to let you know how you have disappointed them.  The expectations are the hardest part of my life in the church.  Your life is in meeting those expectations and not disappointing people.  It doesn’t matter if they disappoint you or not.  I spent a majority of my life working to please others.  That’s how I was raised and that’s how my brain was wired for all those years.

I will get into the church in Part 2 of this series.  I will say that it was a cult in spite of those who would object to such a description of the church.  I will lay it out for you next week.   Since I left the church I had to unlearn many of the erroneous things I was thought.  I really had to spend a lot of time sorting through it all and figure out what was true and what was not true about God.

Growing up in the church was not about the fear of God but more of the fear of disappointing everyone which was the same of disappointing God.  There was a culture of unhealthy fear being in the church.

When I left home for the United States Air Force, many people told me that I would give into the temptations to alcohol and other sinful things that was assumed that people in the military do.  Contrary to those assumptions, I never had any of those desires.  I wasn’t raised with it so it wasn’t something I desired to do.  Was I perfect?  Heck no.  I had my issues but I was too afraid to disappoint my parents or people in the church.  I was expected to keep the teachings and everything about the church.

I tried my best to make it work.  I tried to “drink the Koolaid” as they say.  You know, one thing that I absolutely could never understand was the whole thing about speaking in tongues.  Yeah, I know the look most of you have right now.  If you are in the church and knew me you’re probably shocked.  Those of you not in the church probably have a different look.  Let me tell you that I never got it.  I never could grasp it.  Others around me did and spoke in tongues frequently.  I don’t know.  I won’t say it’s fake but I sure saw a lot of misuse in that function of the spirit.  People would use that “gift” to manipulate things in the church.  I just missed it somehow.  It’s not that I didn’t try.  I tried many times to speak in tongues and read books, listened to tapes and sermons on the subject but it just simply never clicked for me.  Honestly, I still don’t get it.

Most of my life in the church I tried to fit in.  I never did.  I taught Sunday School, Bible Study, worked in Youth Camps, worked with Youth in the church and tried to preach but never felt my fit.  The only place I have ever felt my fit in the church was in writing and the church didn’t even birth that in me.  Working as a sports writer at a newspaper got me on that path.   The last job I really had was as the media minster which was where I worked the computer and audio for church services.  I didn’t even fill like that was my fit either.  In fact,  one year I worked in a men’s retreat with the media and one guy comes up to me and fusses me out about not having a tape ready for purchase yet later that night he was standing up in front of the congregation crying and talking about reaching out to people.  Really?   Yeah, that was much of my impression of the church.  Hypocrisy everywhere.  Of course, where else should hypocrites be?  Of course the biggest hypocrite was me.  In fact, I penned this writing during my last year with the church:

Welcome to Hypocrite City, Population: Me.
I am the chiefest of all hypocrites.
None can do it better than me.
I am a pro at the “church game”.
Just answer “fine” to all questions.
No one cares otherwise.
Don’t believe me? Try another answer.
They don’t know how to respond
Or they try a religious cliché
“Keep looking up”
“I’m praying for you”
etc, etc. etc.
Nothing of substance – just words.
Words are empty without actions.
That’s why it’s best to answer: “fine”
No one wants to hear me whine.
The church is a joke
Christ isn’t laughing
I have proof of what I say
No calls or emails sent my way
No encouragement or even one of those clichés
Just nothing
Tomorrow is Sunday, and then will I exist to them
Well, until next Sunday that is.
As long as I play my role and do my deeds
I don’t want to hear it
I want to feel it
I don’t feel it.

Maybe saying the church has too many hypocrites is the reason you think I left the church.  No, not necessarily.  It was just something I came to expect in the church.  I had my fill of people who would be totally ugly and later speak in tongues in the Holy Ghost.  Yeah, that still makes me sick to my stomach.  Growing up with my father being a preacher whenever we would move to another church the first church member to tell us about all the problems with the church would be the very one that would cause the most problems.  If expectations were on me then I had expectations to be suspicious of the motives of others which is one thing I have had to work on a lot since leaving the church.

Yes, there are a lot of negative things from my experience with the church but that wasn’t the overriding thing that caused me to leave the church.  Since leaving the church, I had to pick the good parts from the bad.  I left the church but I did not leave my relationship with God.  The honest truth is that my relationship with God is better now than it was in all those years in the church.

I left the church but I did not leave my relationship with God.


I know preachers will quote that scripture about not forsaking the assembling yourself with others. (Hebrews 10:25)  I know it well.  The reason they will say that is because the church is their lives and, well, they need people and their finances so they will be able to continue in the ministry.  I’m not saying they are in it for the money because I know some good people who are in it and they are working jobs to support themselves and pastoring their churches.  They are not all about the money but it is their livelihood so of course they want to encourage people to come to church.

Let me say that for many people it is important to attend church and be involved in church.  I won’t tell you that I will never attend or be a part of another church.  I don’t know that for sure and I would never say never.  I just know that at this time in my life I am doing better without it after all the years of expectations and hypocrisy.  I would never discourage anyone from attending church.  I have to be careful not to be critical of people who do.  I often catch myself in a mid-eye roll when someone says they belong to a church.

So is it easy to keep up a relationship with God without church.  No it isn’t easy at all.  It’s honestly a lot of work and there is a lot of self-discipline involved.  When I was in the church, I really only had to be “on” a few hours a week.  Two hours on Sunday and maybe an hour for Bible Study.  I have discovered that without church I have to work to keep my relationship in the right place.  For me, it works to listen to at least one Podcast, listen or read the Bible at least every other day and constantly praying as well as spending time being quiet before God.  Nothing super spiritual or anything but doing what works for me.

I eventually came to a crossroads in my life and chose another path of which I am on now.  I made a choice to live the life that I could live.  It does not involve the church.

NEXT WEEK:  The Church I Left


“That’s Between You And The Lord”

I’ve heard this statement and even said it to others before.  What does it mean?

Most of the time it means that either we don’t agree or we don’t know all the facts about why someone has done something but we choose not to pass judgment.  

There is a lot of truth in this statement because someone else’s relationship with God isn’t something we can truly judge if we don’t know all the facts.   Too many times we are quick to judge and condemn others.  We will judge on outward appearances or assumptions but we don’t see what’s inside the person or the hurts they have endured.  

The Bible says to work out your own Salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  This means we all should take our relationship with God seriously. We all have our own battles and weaknesses to contend with.  We all make our own choices and decisions in life.  There are twists and turns that are different for everyone.  Obviously none of us are perfect and we do make mistakes but we serve a God that isn’t waiting for us to do something wrong so he can hit us on the head.  He will guide us with His wisdom if we let Him.  

Yes, I have been guilty of judging people without knowing all of the details and have been totally wrong.  I think we have all made this mistake.  

There are things that only God knows about us.  He’s very good at keeping our secrets and dealing with us in the ways that work best.  I’m not saying God makes allowances for sin but He is a God that knows us better than anyone else.  

People are quick to make assumptions of others until the same situation hits them.  Funny isn’t it?   I have know some Christians who were strictly against divorce until it happened to their son.  Oops.  He made a mistake or error in judgment then it’s swept under the rug.  Well, I’m sorry to break this news to you but we are all human.  We make decisions.  We make right and wrong decisions.  Life happens to use all.  

God knows us.  If we have a relationship with Him we have the best relationship we could have with anyone.  So, yes, whoever we are is definitely between us and God.  Not everyone will understand your journey.     There is a quote that says “Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on.”

Sometimes we find ourselves living frustrated lives and we aren’t living the life God had intended us to live.  The courage to make some difficult changes won’t be understood by others.  People who have the courage to change are people who can trust an unknown path to an all-knowing God.  

Proverbs 3:6 urges us to acknowledge God in all our ways and He will direct our paths.     To acknowledge God is to spend time with him.  Sitting on a pew at church is not acknowledging God.  You have to be a little more engaged than that.  It is a daily experience that involves you and God.   Yes, it is between you and God but there has to be a relationship between you and God. 

It’s not up to us to judge people.  We are supposed to love people even if we don’t understand or agree with what we see.  

Do You Know Church Or Do You Know God?

I heard a preacher make this statement on a podcast this week:  “Some people know church but they don’t know God.”
You would think there isn’t a difference or that this is interchangeable.  It is not.

There are many people who are more comfortable doing church and all the ministries or activities that go along with it than their own relationship with God.  

I can tell you that I have done the church thing.  Most of the time I did it pretty well.  I have held several ministry positions in the church.  I would often think that doing the job of the church was the same as doing it for God.  Sometimes it is but there are times when I got so busy FOR God that I slacked on my relationship WITH God.  

It wasn’t anything  intentional but it was something that was definitely defective in my life at the time.  Some people treat church like a business where they assume they will climb the career ladder in ministry.  God doesn’t operate that way.   Of course, I have known people that have climbed the ministry ladder by “drinking the Koolaid” and achieving man’s approval.  

People would always assume that I was going to be a preacher because my father and my grandfather were preachers before me.  I never assumed that and I never desired it.  Being a preacher involves more than preaching a sermon.  I knew that by seeing what my father went through.   I’m just not the kind of person to play the  politics.  It’s not a good career move when you question things or call people out.  Yes, there was never a future for me as a preacher.  

I tried to “drink the Koolaid” by doing what people expected me to do.  I held ministry positions but it just never felt like the right fit for me.  I was miserable trying to meet people’s expectations.  You fall into the false sense of security that works was scoring points in God’s permanent record. 

I learned that you can DO all the things and look like you have it all together on the outside yet have nothing on the inside.  People say that church isn’t a building but they sure put a lot of emphasis on what they do in that building.  

I was once good at playing church.  I would dare say I could have won an academy award for that role.  Too many years I spent working to please others yet only feeling miserable when I pulled out of the parking lot.  In fact, I felt worse when I left church than when I arrived.  No one knew.  All that people cared about if you were there at church doing your job.  

There is more to God than that.  

It wasn’t until I spent a week at a Cistercian monastery that I really found myself with God.  There was no preaching, yelling or ministry to do.  There was silence and times of reverence to God during the scheduled times at the monastery.  I didn’t know a lot that was going on as far as the Catholic rituals but I did appreciate the strict reverence to God and the importance of silent prayer.  

We don’t like silence.  Silence scares us.  When we are silent before God we have to face the truth about ourselves.  That’s when God can truly speak to us and deal with the deep things within us.  It’s not some wonky meditation thing.  It’s a time when we totally unplug from the world and truly spend time with God.  

I found that in my time at the monastery.  While I don’t think I could ever be a monk, I understand a whole lot more about my relationship with God than all the church I had ever attended before that week.  It was definitely a huge spiritual change in my life.  

Am I saying that church is not important?   Absolutely not.  The point I am making here is that God is more than church.  I just have seen how easy it is to fall into the church work trap.  Being busy for God but not spending time with God.  

The one thing that helps in breaking out of that church work mentality is when you serve others instead of staying within the church.  When you help others you are truly serving God.  I have known of churches that don’t even meet in a building but they go into the community doing what is needed to serve others, not just preaching to people but meeting their needs.   That is church and when you help others you are representing God to others.  You are also helping yourself.  

Ministry titles and years in the church are never more important than our relationship with God.