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In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

For the ones (1)

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

 

Related:

In which you’re a pioneer

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind

Lean Into It

Hope is a radical act of faith

 

 

church, faith, fearless, journey
  • Felicity White

    Through all that this week has brought us in evangelical circles, this fidelity to Jesus first is where my heart has felt most sure. Thanks, Sarah.

  • Camille

    Beautiful.

  • Christina Quist

    It’s time to leave the labels. You said it so beautifully, Sarah. “Not all who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkein

  • Sara Rooney

    Oh wow. I think this may be true for those of us leaving Catholicism too.

    • Sue Bidstrup

      I was thinking the same thing as I read this!

    • lisa

      Same here. This is what I did “leaving Rome”

    • Juliet Birkbeck

      I agree. I left and wandered in the wilderness and then met wandering evangelicals! They helped me find my way and now I can draw on the riches of catholic liturgy, spirituality and social teaching but I am first and foremost a follower of Jesus alongside millions of others regardless of denomination.

    • A

      I left the Catholic church and found a closer relationship with Jesus in the Lutheran church

    • R

      Add Mormonism to the list, too. Such a lonely, painful, secret path. But worth it in the end, I hope. Thank you for this.

  • The Sooz

    You are super duper.

  • http://carlygelsinger.com/ Carly Gelsinger

    What a perfectly timed piece, Sarah, for those of us this week who feel we need to leave evangelicalism to save our relationship with God. Thank you for the blessing to wander and find our people.

  • http://twitter.com/howbeautiful Charlotte

    Just yesterday I thought about how in 7th grade, I got rid of all my secular music in an attempt to be holy; I was fresh from the mountain top fervor of a youth retreat. It didn’t make me any holier, I just ended up losing some great music that influenced me. I lamented on Twitter yesterday “Oh, to be young and evangelical”. I still consider myself evangelical even though I get disillusioned sometimes (like this week) and I start to point out the holes in my 90s evangelical upbringing. In all honesty even though I want to stay, I don’t fault others for wanting to leave and I wish them well. I hope one day labels will no longer be a thing and we can just be people who love Jesus together.

    • Jenifer

      Yes! Bible camp! Trowing out records/tapes! I did that too!

    • Eileen

      I just finished reading memoir “When We Were on Fire” which is helping me untangle the cliches of my 90’s evangelical upbringing- the throwing away CDs, the endless collection of Christian slogan tshirts and the crates full of prayer journals. Perhaps you would find some light, grace and humour in her memoir also :)

      • http://twitter.com/howbeautiful Charlotte

        I’ve been meaning to read that! As soon as I heard about that book and what it’s about I said “This book is about me.”

      • Sheri

        Excellent book. Changed my life.

  • Sarah Fusaro

    Love this! Not leaving evangelical church but I am leaving much of what influence my background. As life has eroded much of my defenses and pretenses, I’ve been driven deeper into His embrace and have learned that God’s so much bigger than what I was led to believe.

    Funny how we get so afraid of blaspheming, we focus one tiny aspect of God and try to stuff Him in a box. I’ve done it. And boy do I love that I serve a God who surprises and is constant, who created creativity.

    And I’m a Whovian too. ;)

  • Jerry Dodson

    What is evangelicalism?

    • Truth Seeker

      Either a protestant denomination or the group that focuses on biblical exegesis as the foundation of belief depending on your definition.

      Changing denominations can be tough, especially if you bind a denomination into what it was never supposed to be–an idol. Not all people do this, however, and to attack it as such (as some have) is rather naive at best.
      Changing from evangelicalism as having the biblical foundation is also known as heresy. I am evangelical and attend an evangelical missionary church. I also consider myself catholic and orthodox by the true definitions and not the contrived divisions to describe certain theological and ecclesial distinctions.

      • Stone Cold

        As if anyone gave a shit.

  • Elizabeth

    Beautifully, wisely and compassionately said. Thank you, Sarah.

  • http://www.hollilong.com/ Holli Carey Long

    This is lovely and freeing. I never felt that I found a home in the Evangelical church, which also meant I never found a home in Christianity. For me, Christianity equaled Evangelicalism. (And I think that for so many it still does.) I know labels are not always helpful, but how do we wanderers start to separate the two…Evangelicalism from Christianity…so the wanders, and we are many, can find a home and community? For now, I’m taking refuge under the “progressive” tent. It feels inviting and with such a lovely view of Jesus.

    • Patrice Wassmann

      Please, oh please, do not equate Christianity with Evangelicalism!! There are SO many more of us out there in the other tents!

      • Truth Seeker

        Just make sure that you don’t stop being an orthodox evangelical member of the catholic church (by the original definitions, not the ecclesial distinctions).
        We do still need to be, no matter what tribe we belong to, right believing Bible based active members of the universal Church.

  • Aydan_Selby

    This is fantastic. Thank you.

  • Susan Dunlap

    breakthrough, breakout, break the molds. Just let Jesus be the mold and Holy Spirit the air we breathe.

  • Joann Hartman Eyster

    I have been struggling, wandering, fighting for about two years and this week it all came to a head. This article came at just the right time. Thank you!

  • Patrice Wassmann

    What a beautiful, well-written post. Full of truth and grace.

  • Pamela Patterson Lake

    Thank you. I definitely needed to read this post.

  • Jane Halton

    I love this and know that it will serve many well, especially at this time in history. I would love to hear what people think about leaving vs staying to be the change. We have wrestled with this question for years, especially in light of LGBTQ inclusion. Any thoughts?

    • michelle

      Great question.

  • http://www.innerwoven.me/ Robert Rife

    As a Jesus follower, a perpetually curious wanderer, narcissistic self-promoter, beloved sinner, (and fellow Western Canadian, now living in Washington State), I applaud your generous and welcoming words to others like us for whom evangelicalism no longer speaks our love language. Love does.

  • Brenda-Lee

    okay, wow. really. wow. Thank you for putting heart to words and words to screen. You have written what I have been trying to articulate all week except the big lump in my throat kept catching…thanks Sarah.

  • Dan Sloan

    I left evangelicalism (or rather fundamentalism) for the Episcopal Church years ago. Being set free from having to prove the Bible right, putting doctrine and ideology before people and being obsessed over who is in and who is out were the greatest gifts I received. I can love my atheist, gay, Jewish and pagan neighbours unconditionally instead of being suspicious of their motives or believing they are destined for hell. I figure that even if my friends don’t believe in God, God believes in them. “Love” really means love instead of a conditional acceptance based on whether the other person conforms. And I no longer regard Christian salvation as a business contract between the
    believer and God whereby as long as the believer thought and did the
    right things God would have to save them from damnation. There is life beyond fundamentalism.

    • Truth Seeker

      It is true. You are no longer an evangelical (Bible believing). You are not orthodox (right believing) either. I am not sure if you are catholic (actively part of the universal Church) but that is difficult to see based on a single post. You have most definitely left fundamentalism, since you don’t seem to believe in any of the fundamentals of faith.

      Ironic that you claim to be part of the Episcopal tribe yet deny what they hold most foundational… Oops, I just used ‘foundational’… My bad… Perhaps you should check out the fundamentals by reading the Creeds (which the Episcopal tribe holds as a foundation)…. oops, there I do again.

    • chelsea

      Dan, this is such a great summation. My journey is also leading me out of fundamentalism and evangelicalism (as you define it above)…. into where i don’t know yet, but i am happy to be on the journey, finally.

    • jimfromcanada

      Great comment Dan. Really speaks to the situation many are in.

    • Sheila

      Oh man…what a fantastic comment! That is so where I’m living today. Thank you and great article! I didn’t know life beyond fundamentalism existed.

    • CeCe

      Wow, Dan, I have read and reread your comment, as has my husband. You wrote what we think, but haven’t been able to describe as concisely. Please move to Wisconsin and be our friend. :)

  • Sara Warfield

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.
    -T.S. Eliot

    Beautifully said. Thank you for expressing so well the journey I have been on for so long.

    • jj1954

      Ditto exactly. Love the Eliot quotation.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    I would rather walk the wilderness road with my Jesus and seek a great adventure than pull the blanket over my head and shrivel inwards in defense and fear. Sometimes, the wilderness is the greatest blessing we can imagine.

  • amy

    Nice work! As an unconventional missionary living in Uruguay (a land populated by 90% of the most loving and open minded atheists) this really helps me see that the way I approach sharing the love of God isn’t so bad after all. If anyone would like to pray for my husband and I over here, we would really appreciate it. You can read more of why we came and how to pray for the people of this country more specifically here: http://simplyseekingtruth.com/my-journey-to-uruguay/

    Peace and blessings,
    Amy

  • IfMeadowsSpeak

    For the love, yes!

  • Abbye

    Thank you. So much.

  • Jacquie Mirsky

    Thank you, Sarah from one in the wilderness.
    You write so beautifully.

  • Steve

    Wonderful. I left evangelical christianity more than 30 years ago, it wasn’t hard at all. It left me high and dry intellectually and spiritually. I’m now a contemplative progressive Christian, though I’m often critical of the progressive movement.

  • http://livingthelifefantastic.com/ Karla Archer

    Thank you. So much – thank you…
    I absolutely needed to read this, as I have been shaken to my core this week and have felt lost and wandering. To read this, and even your use of the very word I’d been using to describe my feelings, was a much needed reminder that God is right there in the wilderness with me.

  • mary kathryn

    sarah, i shared your post and then came back to it and re-read the end-parts…this was so my journey about a decade ago…exactly as you described. and i originally missed the part about returning to the same place…because that’s my story now, too. such a tension on the pendulum. not wanting to forget the tenderness and grace of jesus on my journey…and not clinging to the traditions and tenets of evangelicalism because of the hype…but bringing what i know now into this same, familiar place with me. my struggle now is not falling back into the charismania of it all…the language, the judgment…i’m embracing the struggle now, though. i let out a big breath when i read that part, that you’ve returned to the place from whence you came. i appreciate that very much, and that i’m not the only one. thanks. mk

  • Clariece Tally

    Certainly a thought provoking article. I never felt at home in our old evangelical church. I missed the familiar liturgical feel of the old ways – and did not like the heavily commercialized form of corporate worship that many evangelical churches have (not to mention I completely disagree with dispensationalism). I found a wonderful home in the Anglican Church. Wonderful liturgy with correct theology. We are not stuffy or staid. There are so many disenfranchised Catholics out there that would love coming home to the Anglican Church.

    • Lisa

      Some disenfranchised Catholics are coming home to the Lutheran Church

      • Clariece Tally

        I think many are coming home to traditional worship because they see the flaws of the evangelical movement. My husband was raised Lutheran. One of the reasons we chose the Anglican church is a few years back the Missouri Synod said women can no longer be chalice bearers.

  • Kim Murden

    I think you wrote this just for me. With thanks …

  • Liz

    Thank you for saying it out loud. I wish someone had told me this 12 years ago when I was a confused college kid. I had no idea anyone else was unsure like me. It was a very lonely journey. The internet is a complex thing, but I hope an upside of our online lives is that your voice and several others can welcome the lost, confused, weary folks and let them know they aren’t alone.

  • Hazel Burt

    Beautifully put, thank you Sarah – I will be sharing this!

  • danbrennan

    Awesome post, Sarah. There is definitely a time and place for this and for some, this week was a breaking point. Great perspective for shifting through confusing attachment when one is disoriented, fearful, and anxious.

  • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Benjamin Moberg

    Joining you, Sarah. I’m so ready for the wilderness.

  • Greg Dill

    I did choose to shed the label “evangelical” from my identity this week. I will likely no longer intentionally seek out and pursue future associations and relationships with evangelicals. However, I have decided to stay with the small network of evangelicals that I have already developed and established relationships with. All of this is not a rash reaction to last week’s fiasco. It’s been building up for about five years now, and it just came to a head last week. I look forward to the wilderness experience that I have already been dipping my toes in for about a year. Now, I am fully immersed. And, I am looking forward to what land of milk and honey God may lead me to. Thank you for your wonderful words of encouragement.

    • Michelle

      I feel the same Greg. I’ve been going through some evangelical turmoil for the last 5 years and this week’s events have cemented my break from the “evangelical culture.” Blessings to you in the wilderness.

      • CeCe

        “Evangelical turmoil” perfectly describes the last decade of my life! Part of me feels extremely at home in that world (the music, the language, being “part of” something), yet I am disturbed by so much of it (the exclusivity, the politics, the black and white approach to complex issues). Plus, my husband and I don’t want to raise our children with an I’m-in-you’re-out mentality. We’ve found a new home in the Lutheran church and have embraced grace and liturgy all over again! Yes, God bless you as well!

  • http://theinspiredstory.com/ Rachel Haltiwanger

    What a beautifully accepting and freeing piece. I love this: “I’m not afraid for you: you are held. You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.” Thank you for giving us space for leaving to be okay.

  • Chadley

    This comes off more as condescension than care.

  • http://littledidsheknow.net/ Cara Strickland

    This sounds a lot like my story too, Sarah, starting in high school. So thankful for the way you always point to a third way. xx

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

    Thank you, Sarah. You have been like a spiritual big sister to me and I needed this loving, wise advice more than you can know.

  • Melinda V Inman

    Beautiful words, Sarah!

  • jan

    Thank you for this. I only wish I had had a beautiful gentle voice like yours in my life about 3 1/2 years ago, when my husband and I were asked to leave a church because of their conviction that our “alternative lifestyle” (me working, him staying at home raising our kiddos) violated God’s divinely-ordained gender roles. That started a wandering time that I believe has brought both of us into a much stronger place with each other and with God.

    • Michelle

      I’m speechless. Your experience sounds so crazy that it’s hard to believe. I’m sorry that you experienced that but I am heartened to read that your time in the wilderness brought you both to a deeper place with God.
      blessings.

    • Marc

      Unbelievable…just unloving and unbelievable :(

  • mpoole

    Oh good grief! The evangelical church is not a bad thing! I am 33 years old and I happen to love the way things are. You came off as very condescending and judgemental in this article and as trying to persuade everyone to think the way you believe is the right way.

    • Sara

      It sounds like maybe then this wasn’t written for you. I’m happy for you, that you feel at home in the evangelical church. But I’m one of the exiles. And Sarah’s words were enormously comforting to me.

    • Sheila

      Please don’t assume that you know what others have gone through in the evangelical faith. Better to lean in and be intentional with what others are saying they have experienced, than quickly dismiss and judge the life of another, because that hasn’t been your experience. That’s like telling a fellow cancer patient to quit whining about the effects of chemo, just because you happen to sail through it with no problems. That’s part of the problem with the evangelical faith. An overall unwillingness to walk in the shoes of another and see a different point of view.

      • Sheri

        excellent comment & analogy.

    • Medulla

      I don’t feel the love in your statement.

  • Glenn Brown

    A really fantastic post. thank you for this.

  • Jim Caldwell

    Thanks Sarah. Thoughts to sit with quietly and smile in one’s belovedness. Earlier today, in response to my friend Kurt Willem’s post about “Evangelical Rejects,” I had a thought: Many of us are really Evangelical (f)re(e)jects. Grace and peace.

  • http://carolesmithturner.com/ CaroleTurner

    This is so good. We left our church last August and all of my blog post concerning that separation are titled with “Tales from the Wander…” because as Tolkien says, all who wander are not lost :-)

  • phys_prof

    “eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking”

    I don’t think I have ever met anyone who really eschewed labels – people who supposedly try end up making a label for themselves as those people who supposedly eschew labels. And they also have their boundary markers – there are plenty of progressive (a label, incidentally) churches out there who would never, in a million years, think about hiring or endorsing a pastor or writer who spoke against homosexuality, or who had a traditional view of Hell. You have your “gatekeepers” as truly as anyone else, you’re just defending different territory.

  • Sara

    Thank you.

  • janetb1

    I am tired…..I just want Jesus. Blogs, opinions, and religion make me weary.

  • phys_prof

    Perhaps the other thing I should say is that – “boundary markers” are actually quite Biblical. There are numerous passages in the New Testament that talk about not associating with certain people, or putting people outside the church – this is the whole topic of church discipline. And what is the point of church discipline? The saving of souls – it’s an act of love to say “what you are thinking, or what you are doing, is not OK. We have told you it is not OK, and you persist in it, so we are removing you from our Fellowship, that you may know the seriousness of your error and repent.” To say “believe and act as you please” is not an act of love, certainly not if it proceeds from one person claiming the name of Christian to another. Boundaries are essential.

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    Thanks for this post Sarah, great wisdom and encouragement here. I’m from the UK and we’ve never really had the ‘religious right’ or ‘evangelicalism’ as it is in the US. I’m lucky to be in a church where we’re in the place many people need to come to, the place you are talking about. Where it’s safe to be who you are, whatever your background, sexuality, history. There are more and more churches in the UK like this.

    Our problem here is more traditional churches – Church of England, even Catholic churches – divided over similar issues – women bishops, gay marriage in church (though gay marriage itself became legal today).

    But many of who are dissolusioned with those churches, those Christians, are moving forward and free. Even some churches within those old denominations are moving forward.

    All this said, I see what’s happening in the US and have relationships with many US Christians, and hear what’s going on there a lot. And it really breaks my heart, and makes me angry. Evangelicalism doesn’t quite have the same meaning over here as it does there, but nevertheless it’s become a limited word, a label. We’re moving on and Jesus is far bigger than that or any label. The church and the faith is moving far beyond that. And you describe how so beautifully.

    This is a much needed, beautiful post, and much needed. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Debi Whelan

    Beautifully written!

  • Nancy Le

    you’re such a beautiful writer

  • http://dramaticelegance.blogspot.com/ rachel lee

    this post is what I needed. I’ve been leaning into the gap for a long time now, preparing entirely to let go of this thing of evangelicalism and clinging only to Jesus. and it’s so scary. but this, this is a song that I’m familiar with. this is a song I’m okay with singing, a little bit louder now.

  • http://thehomespunlife.com/ Sisterlisa

    What timing. I have been saying this exact thing on my personal FB wall and here you are..saying the same thing.

  • Amara

    So lovely and tender. Thank you.

  • Mallory Pickering

    Thank you so much.

  • http://www.prestonyancey.com/ Preston Yancey

    Amen.

  • Jodi

    Thank you. This, this was what I needed to be reminded of today.

  • Valerie

    This was so stinkin good!! Amen Sarah and thank you!

  • Jacob Brandenburg

    I find inspiration in these words, but yet fear of the unknown stops me from setting out into any kind of wilderness. It looks nice and neat on paper, but to do it in reality seems so chaotic. To start out of the familiar, no matter how uncomfortable I am with it, seems the worse option. Yet, I don’t like where I am, but each time I read words such as these I am starting to get the picture and the strength to at least look beyond the neatness of the world I know and to be able to see the wilderness to find a God that is not limited by the rigid teachings of my youth.

    Any suggestion on how to start, or where to find some courage would be nice, but not expected…..

    • Sheri

      Jacob – You will know when you are ready. I have been on this journey away from evangelicalism for a couple years. I’ve had a couple “last straws” over the last year & then last week with with the whole World Vision thing, it was time. Time for my husband also. We basically drew the line in the sand & said, “this type of behavior towards others is wrong. Jesus wouldn’t do it”. I so appreciate this blog post by Sarah. It’s so hopeful. Each person needs to be in the place they are comfortable & it’s ok to be in the wilderness of not knowing what you think. My only thing in these last few years during some horrific entanglements with evangelicals – in the name of “God”, is that I’ve had to separate God from what the evangelical church is doing. I have sided with God. That’s the only thing I can tell people. God’s not like who these people say he is & cling to that. That’s all I got. I guess I am a wanderer.

  • http://www.inahazelnutshell.blogspot.com/ Laura Werezak

    Sarah, you mentioned you were finding it hard writing your new book and blogging. I can’t vouch for the invisible writing, but, sister, you are knocking it out of the park on the blog these days! Thank you for this!

  • Amanda

    What exactly would put someone in the category of an evangelical? I guess I didn’t realize it was an actual “thing”… I’ve always thought of it as a group of people or person believing the gospel of Christ. I’ve always been in non-denominational churches, is this why I’m confused? Help — haha.

  • Ro

    It’s important, however, to leave well….a theology of church leaving is in order, if you will.

  • Russell Fellows

    I am curious. I found this to be a terrific article, and very encouraging, but what does leaving evangelicalism look like? Does it mean leaving all mainstream denominations, going to Eastern Orthodox or Catholic or starting home churches, or what does it mean? I don’t ask to antagonize, I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but I’m genuinely curious. I myself am disillusioned with much in what I see, but feel I should stay to try and teach how to go beyond what tradition has always taught us to find what the truth actually tells us. Not that I know all or any of the ways that means, but…well, now I’m rambling. Just curious and would love to discuss what this means in the day to day. Thanks.

    • cee

      Leaving evangelism is asking yourself about that “truth,” for starters. And to never stop asking.

  • Dawn Wright

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes!

  • Nina Dykstra

    I needed to hear this today…thank you

  • Pingback: On remaining evangelical, even when I’m not sure what it means | broken cameras & gustav klimt()

  • Bonnie Gay Jennings

    Good morning. First, thank you for your article. I have searched for similar words for many years to express my feelings for leaving “The Church.” I will try to keep this short and in doing so will probably not explain all my feelings. These are the top reasons.

    I gave my heart to “The Lord” in 1973. Though, I believed in God at age nine, at 21, I surrendered my self to god on a charismatic alter, later. I went to church all the time. Brow beating and using Christian terminology to “convict” others, became the mission of those who are “saved.” Shamefully, I became good at it. Over the years i found myself getting judgmental and down right mean. Before i knew it, I was being accused by a traditional church of being “a witch.”

    I stayed in the church for 30+ years. By the end of the 1990’s, I pretty much left the church and kept my knowledge of Jesus in my heart. In the past 16 years, I’ve severed my allegiance to any church, practicing now a spiritual path where Jesus Christ remains my center. I have studied The Gnostic Gospels and other material like these.

    It has taken 14 years to stop the threats and feelings of doom and gloom if I don’t worship like Christians are suppose to do. When I hear TV ministers talk their messages are filled with emotional manipulation. I was very good at that too.

    I will not go on, though I have more to write about, I want the best for everyone’s walk in Christ.
    Thank you for a writing this article. It meant so much to me as I see by reading, many are like me. I’m not alone.

    Thank you and God’s best.

    B

  • David Antonini

    Coming from overseas, where I would have called myself evangelical by mere dint of believing and coming from churches who believed we should tell others about Jesus, I am confused by the term’s use here. Apparently it means something else?

  • http://www.authenticexperience.org/ nikkiana

    As I was reading this I thought to myself, “Sigh… I wish someone had said this to me ten years ago when I decided to leave the church.”

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  • http://www.jaimehowsare.com Jaime Howsare

    Every time I read something you’ve written, I feel like I have a second Momma who’s sitting me down with a cup of tea and giving me advice. I’ve been worn out and tired of the pressure that comes from living in a tiny evangelical bubble, and I’ve been scared to admit that I want to walk away–not from my Jesus, my Daddy–but from all the rules and requirements and shoulds and should nots. I even chose to attend the University of Florida next year over Wheaton College because of this desire to walk away and catch my breath. There have been times I’ve felt incredibly guilty for making that decision. But I need a break, and I want to meet people who think the way I do. And after reading this, I felt like I was being sent off into the great unknown without all of the fear I’m so used to. I felt like I was being given the freedom to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading me. so thank you. <3

  • lotte01

    Thank you so much!

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  • carl

    I saw this on a friend’s FB wall and read it. I’m not leaving just a version this faith. I am leaving ALL OF IT. Maybe there is a god, but after all of these years, all of these thoughts, and all of these people, I just don’t see how it matters. I’m not angry. I’m no more “broken” (what a crappy word) than anyone else. It’s just time to care about other things more deeply. I can’t see that this “faith” has lived up to its promise. I wish you well, wanderers.

  • Doug Gentry

    Many have made comments regarding negative events in the evangelical world this week. After flying halfway around the world for our daughter’s wedding, I feel disconnected from current events. Can someone please enlighten me? Thanks.

    • Jackalope

      The big issue that people are reacting to is that World Vision (the international Christian organization that does things like sponsoring children) announced that they would hire those in a same-sex marriage because after much time and prayer they had come to believe that it was a matter that was up to local churches…. only to announce 2 days later after a great deal of pressure from their sponsors that they were taking it back.

  • Maria Mangiarelli Rippo

    It’s always, always scary to leave, to purposely go out into the wilderness, alone, but in my experience, the act of doing so opens doors so beautiful, that never could have been opened, had I stayed. So good to not be alone anymore!

  • http://www.bethmorey.com/ Beth

    Yes. Thank you.

  • Donna

    Great post–I’ve felt that same sense of disenchantment and frustration with evangelicalism over the last few years. Psalm 84:5 in the NIV translation has expressed this well for me: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”

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  • Lorraine

    Beautiful.

  • Terri Trewin

    Perfect

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  • Monica

    You got me right where I am! Whew!

  • Andrea

    Thank you very much!!!!!

  • Tarrin McDonald

    Thank you so much. I read this while sitting at work and started crying. I needed someone to say that it’s ok to walk away into something new. Thank you for writing this.

  • Jen

    deep encouragement speaking directly to my heart…remember after the wilderness is deliverance…grateful for that reminder in the midst of what seems isolating, but is really freeing…thank you.

  • Brenna

    I just want to blubber like a baby every time you write the phrase “You are loved and you are free,” because it is so powerful and true. Thank you, Sarah.

  • Mark

    It’s a good article. I too am a Western Canadian and came into the evangelical church in the 1970’s as part of the Born Again movement. And things just keep getting harder for me. BUT I really don’t know where to go. My spouse is a pastor, and she is able to somehow endure the opposition she gets and just work at doing ministry for people who need her. I just can’t seem to do it. This is way hard.

  • Scott

    A Christian “walkabout” is a 1st world luxury for those who think that Jesus and the church is about them. We are too busy redefining God in our own image to bring about any real or needed reformation. Shortsighted, myopic, selfish. The body of Christ needs you now, not some future enlightened you. It needs you in all your doubting and faults, all your critiquing and challenges, all your questions and fears. Don’t romanticize the wilderness, it is deadly, and many get ensnared, to their peril and the church’s loss. It’s not about us….

    • TL

      Ah metaphors–confronted by cliches. You’re right. It’s not about us. And this thing called Evangelicalism? It’s not the body of Christ either. I call it Ichabod, and walking away from “it” is not the same as walking away from the body of Christ. In fact, it may be the fastest way to find the body of Christ that needs us so desperately. Walking away from “it” and walking towards “us” and “Him.”

      • Heather

        I’m genuinely relieved to see those outside of orthodoxy finally let go of calling themselves evangelicals or even trying to redefine it.

        I find that just as with any other discipline of study (math, science, etc) that language is beneficial. Not perfect, but helpful. Being veiled, subversive, and pithy in theology isn’t. I agree there are definitions that gain a bad rap from imperfect Christians but they are just that. Imperfect. Sinners make up the body of Christ…sinners just like me.

        One last thing I’d like to share, I think some Christians and secularist both are confusing the word evangelical with fundamentalist. Evangelical is used to encompass the acknowledgment of a redemptive, life changing gospel. Then there some other voices are clearly not confused. Some people who endorse your new book, Sarah. They are very deliberate in their rejection of orthodoxy but glean their audience from evangelicals.

    • Jackalope

      The problem that I’ve found is that many evangelical churches have no place for me. I have been a Christian essentially all of my life. I am also a woman who is neither a wife nor a mother, and so by many evangelical standards I am useless and wasting my life. The areas in which I am gifted they don’t want my gifts because I’m a woman. The areas in which they are willing to use my help, I am not gifted. There are other non-evangelical churches that want me as I am, not as the tiny little box they try to squeeze me into would make me out to be.

  • L. K. Peters

    I’ve left evangelicalism/fundamentalism years ago and have been in the wilderness for what seems like eons. It seems that my current views of Jesus are still so attached to that evangelicalism, though, that I struggle to imagine Life Beyond the Wilderness as including Him… I might be simply tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water here, but this is where I’m at. Anything that provides a formula sends me howling in the opposite direction.

  • pastordt

    AMEN. And thanks.

  • Russ Slater

    Curiously I had written a similar post several days earlier and was pleased to discover your own article which was posted as an example of that discussion. I have posted it to the link below and should you wish it removed simply let me know and it will be done. Thanks. – Russ – Link: http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2014/03/should-church-creeds-and-cconfessions.html

  • Brittany Taylor

    Reading this is like tenderly rubbing a soothing salve on raw wounds. I keep reading it over and over. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth Keith

    Hugely helpful. No condemnation, none of this violent anti eschatology I found at first from the South African group. It scared me, that I had left my ‘family, for something far worse. This us when He started to teach me about what to hear, who to trust, when to listen. Thank you for this.

  • Amy Hunt

    I’m tempted not to comment here, Sarah, because there are so many comments for you to read. I’m tempted to be quiet and save you the trouble of reading. But, God leads me and so I must obey for so many reasons. I just want to say thank you. I stepped away last year and didn’t know why or what I was doing, and in that year I found such peace. I haven’t arrived, of course, but this place where I’m at is so much richer. So much of what you said resonated with me; specifically: “God is out here in the wilderness, too.” And, “Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.” And . . . just all of it. Your gentleness is so important, for His grace to be seen. Amen, sister.

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  • http://www.womeninyouthministry.com/ Gina Abbas

    Thanks Sarah. Your post gave me courage to post about my own exodus from a staff position at a large SBC “mega church” which is hard to do when paychecks/dental insurance are involved! I lost friends, was unfriended on Facebook by coworkers, and basically shunned. Someone who works there got in trouble for having dinner with me. I didn’t leave Jesus, I left evangelical fundamentalism.

  • Chip M. Anderson

    Although agreeing with much of the insight, I would also include that one shouldn’t leave a religious institution out of fear as well.

    Turning away from the institutionalized evangelicalism means turning to what? The turning seems more related to how millennials are perceiving Christianity should be, not because theological reflection has happened. Don’t get me wrong, I am in agreement with so much of the criticism of the modern, mostly suburban, white American evangelical and its building-centered church experience and institutional leadership. I am more curious, however, as to what is next in the slow march of church history; what is the movement toward? Is the millennial angst only a moment in time and will eventually, in short time, be gone as aging and families happened? The millennial writers reflecting on the page and blog regarding how this generation is working through its issues with establishment and bordered traditions (this is not new, people) seem to want a McDonalized (instant) movement, a megashift, a new -ism to happen. Modernity took a long time; westward expansion took centuries; encultured American evangelical faith and its institutions took time; western Protestantism has evolved through centuries. Cliche is not enough–just followers of Jesus will eventually gather, form traditional boundaries, and institutionalize–only for their children and grandchildren to “leave.” The question will be what will it look like? Since the face of Christianity is not white–but chinese, russian, and South American, perhaps we should recognize that even this turn away from evangelicalism is a uniquely American phenomena. One thing I am sure of, no lasting megashift in Christianity will be formed apart from deeper, more significance exegesis and theological reflection–all we have not is cultural, time-bound critique of a culturally bound form of Christianity we call modern, American evangelicalism.

  • Todd Valade

    Thank you for this post. I got here thanks to Rachel Held Evans and her post here – http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/what-now-world-vision
    I have read Phyllis Tickle and I agree we are in the throes of change. I won’t be joining my evangelical family at this time, perhaps never again. Still wandering but still following Jesus. If that makes sense.

  • Lance Johnson

    “Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.”

    What if you find that God’s probably not actually there at all? I mean, if you’re really going to “lean into your questions and your doubts” then you have to consider all possibilities.

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  • Sheri

    Thank you for these words of hope. I feel like I want to frame them on my wall or mirror or dashboard of my car to read over & over again. They are such words of freedom. I have to ponder them more. There is such depth to what they mean. The “grieving”: part, the “wandering” part, “New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.” – I can’t even begin to tell you what this means to me. These words resonate. Thank you Sarah. Now I have to go out in the world crying, but I appreciate what you’ve said more than I can attempt to express in words.

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  • Melinda Cadwallader

    Has God been talking to you about me? Gosh, I sure do love you. Claiming this season of pioneering. Your words are meat in the wilderness. xoxoxo

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  • Kay

    You & Rachel Held Evans expressed where I have been for the past 2 years – a refugee in the wilderness but the Lord goes with me. I don’t think I can return to my evangelical (fundamentalist) church where I taught Sunday school for decades. It became something other than I received at the beginning in my walk with Christ & nothing had quenched my spirit more than what I was hearing. Love the folks, miss them dearly, but had to move on for the reasons stated by Rachel. I appreciate your gifts & ways that you two have tried to build bridges despite the differences. prayers for your perseverance with Christ.

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  • Jessica

    This is beautiful – “Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new
    birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the
    release. Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness.”

    It’s right where I am right now, though not over evangelicalism. This kind of statement is so true to any period of growth/struggle that we experience…I’d love a whole post/series of posts on how to care tenderly for the fledgling sprouts of new life within.

  • Stephanie Gray

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to this post and re-read your words. Sometimes it feels so lonely out there on a limb and your words continually bring me so much comfort reminding me that I’m not alone in this. I get around these old friends from the “mother church” and I leave feeling so judged and analyzed and looked down on because I’m so different from the “type”. It’s usually after those encounters that I come home and I pull up this post and allow myself to be reminded that I’m not the only one. That means the world to me right now. Thank you.

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  • ladylyn

    I’ve had this open for…um… a couple of weeks now. I keep coming back to it. God has used your words as soothing balm to my soul. Thank you.

  • Rose

    What beautiful writing you have. I’m blessed by your words and love that seems to come forth from the computer screen! Thank you, Sarah. :)

  • Brett Huebner

    1 Corinthians 1: Shall we cast off divisions such as ‘evangelicalism’ and ‘catholicism’ and the like, and embrace a Person, who is Christ? And who is Christ? Matthew 25: Any of the least of these…

  • Megan Elise

    wow. just wow. Thank you. I cannot express how powerfully these words have spoken to me. I know this is from God, the Holy Spirit. <3

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