Breaking Up With Your Church

Forgive the corny Oldies reference here. I grew up listening to this sort of music as a kid, and I could not help but think of the opening line when processing this–albeit–serious topic of leaving a church. Breaking up is truly a hard thing to do.

This past week Mrs. DM and I decided we needed to break up with our church. It was hard. But we decided we could not stay at a church where senior leadership declined to hear our perspective and made money more important than relationship. It was time to go.

We grieve the losses.

But I am confident we will do just fine. God has another door for us to walk through even as this one closes. Yet the loss–i.e. losses–still sting.

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” -Jesus in Matthew 10:14, KJV

All this made me consider this often overlooked loss for faithful spouse. The loss of their church. Or to put it more accurately, the losses connected to loosing one’s church community. They are always more than one loss.

The betrayals of a church community or church leadership can lead to lasting pain and spiritual wounds as they are coming from people professing to act in God’s Name. It is hard to separate the flesh of humans from their roles or even profession. I know I struggled with this mightily escaping my adultery survival and divorce ordeal.

Sometimes breaking up with your church (or denomination) is the best thing to do.

1) The danger in recognizing this truth is to swing to the other extreme.

It is to become cynical. The assumption that all churches are spiritually abusive or un-supportive is a real temptation.* Been there. Satan would love you to assume this, and he wins if you do.

Do not loose hope.

Christ’s body is not perfect. Some places have more hang ups than others. The church where you currently attend may not be the right place for you. But do not despair.

God has not abandoned the true Church–i.e. the Church invisible.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the Christian and church family I found in Minnesota during and following my divorce. They helped me tremendously in my healing process. These people were more than friends. They were and are forever family.

May you find such a supportive church and community yourself.

2) Another error–akin to tolerating unrepentant adultery in one’s marriage–is to stay in a church or denomination that is not acting Christlike towards you (and your family).

We stay for all sorts of reasons much longer than we ought.

A) Perhaps, you are tied financially to this place? It is one more cost that is hard to swallow in the long list of adultery/divorce injustices faithful spouse face.

My career was tied to a denomination as a minister. I stayed longer than probably was best for me, because I had hoped not to have to start anew in another denomination. I can tell you looking back now from my current denomination that I am very happy for making the switch and even still have some warm feelings for certain churches/individuals in my former denomination. It does not have to be an acrimonious break up.

B) Another reason we may stay longer in an unhealthy church situation is the community. We care about the people and/or the ministry we are doing there. It is hard to give up those regular relationships and let go of the good ministry we were doing. It compounds an already huge pile of grief to accept these losses and leave.

C) Finally, we may struggle to let go of being right and wanting to fix the situation. We want vindication, and we want to make sure what we experienced does not happen again to someone else. Swallowing the bitter pills of injustice and powerlessness is hard to do.  They are big pills.

But sometimes we need to swallow them. It is not our job to fix the world or other people. The church wants to celebrate and embrace the adulterous couple? Then let them. Move on. Leave. God sees it and is not celebrating. This is not a healthy or Christlike community for you.

We are not God. The church is ultimately His.

He sees the injustice we have experienced, which I assure you makes God angry and sad along with us.

Breaking up may be hard, but sometimes it is the right thing to do!

As you consider breaking up with your church or denomination, I would encourage you first to consider if the leadership is willing to listen and learn from you. Are they humble like our Lord? Do they exhibit the courage to face your pain and deal with the evil that is adultery? Are these the sort of godly people who are capable of sitting in the ashes along with you?

Ultimately, the decision is yours. But I would encourage you to find a church community where it is okay to hurt and where leadership listens plus is the sort of leaders you can respect.

Good churches and leaders do exist even if it may not seem that way to you today.

God has not forsaken His Church.


*This temptation is akin to the temptation to assume all people of the opposite sex are like your cheater. They are not. Good men and women of character do exist. You just happened to have married one with bad character.


8 thoughts on “Breaking Up With Your Church”

  1. We broke up with our church and denomination in part because how they treated another couple struggling with their marriage. Some have asked why we did not stay to be “change agents” instead of leaving. Easy- they were not interested in hearing us. I actually got an email from the pastor asking for a meeting in his office, but I responded that I wanted it in a public place. (There was a reputation for verbal abuse) All I heard back was crickets.

    1. Yeah, a non-response to such a reasonable request is an answer in itself. As a good seminary friend of mine told me–more or less–you can’t teach them if they aren’t listening. The only change happening in those situations is from lesser to greater frustration in the person trying to be the “change agent” as they continue to be ignored by the pastors.

  2. This is timely! It’s not that I want to break up with my church because I love the ministers and the people and they have all rallied to my side of the divorce issue. My problem is that my STBX has brought his “fiancée” to live with him and I’m sure he will start bringing her to our church. He is an elder and has sung in the choir for years and although over the years I have asked him to join me in the pew while the kids were in Sunday School, he very rarely joined me because the choir “needs me”. I’m pretty sure he won’t abandon her … at least in her first week in a new home (she’s from out of state), but the feeling that she might be sitting where I sat surrounded by my “peeps” is what bothers me. There are two other services I could be attending, but sometimes I just want the comfort of the high service. People have said I’ll find another church, but I don’t want another church… this is my home! I thought about coming into service late or arriving early to mark my territory, but it pains me to know that it’s just another thing that needs to be considered in my new life.

    1. Susan- I was in a very similar situation. My church was very supportive of me and my kids and they told my stbx that he could not remain in the elders until he worked to put his family back together. They also told him that he could be at church as long as he was nowhere near his affair partner (also a church member). He respected their requests, stepped down from elders group, stayed away from the AP at church. However, I found it was still extremely uncomfortable for me for him to be at church. I asked him to go find another church. At first he wouldn’t do it- I think just to antagonize me. Then I told him I deserved peace and not to be emotionally abused so I told him if he didn’t stay completely away from me, including at church that I would get a restraining order. I don’t know that I could have got a restraining order but the threat worked and he hasn’t returned since. Maybe you could try something like that. I’m so sorry you are going through this. You deserve to keep your church home. Keep fighting for it.

  3. It is a comfort to know others “get it.” I haven’t been to church for months. My sbxh’s adulteries and other sexual sins actually occurred years ago, but they are again like brand new to me, as I was mislead by him, lied to for many years as to the severity of his actions. When we recently separated, he asked me to “not tell the church, ” Adding this isolation to my grief! I know it would have been better if they knew about the separation , and all about the circumstances. I just didn’t have the strength to educate the elders there, or that church family, on the realities of adultery etc. and reconciliation with a cheater, a.k.a. a proven liar! This article is very helpful to me as I may just look for a new church altogether, depending on the responses I get when I do have the strength to meet with the elders. It may be a good idea to meet them in public. At the least I will have a supportive friend or two, go with me to that meeting.

  4. I don’t have plans to break up with my church but now I know when I can and can’t go to them. I’m not sure how much difference I’ve made but at least my immediate counselor conceded to some of my points regarding adultery and forgiveness. The rest of the counseling department seem to preach unconditional forgiveness, which I think is not biblical. After all His Word says to forgive others as He forgives us through Christ and God forgives us when we repent. Unconditional forgiveness does not facilitate reconciliation and reconciliation is the heart of God.

    1. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
      You can forgive someone unconditionally and still need to be apart from them for health and safety.

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