I’m here beside you.

I’m here beside you: as we watch a steady stream of our children and our friends and our mentors walk out the doors of our buildings, the remains of their goodbye still in our ears. Their reasons for leaving church are complex. Sometimes you understand, other times it’s confusing. And it’s hard not to take it personally. When you love something, when you’ve given your life to something, it’s hard to watch someone else walk away. I get it. It’s hard to be the one left behind.

A few days ago, I wrote to the ones leaving. I believe every word of it still – I lived it.

And today I have something to say to the ones who stay: you are doing good and holy work. Thank you for staying.

I may have left The Evangelical Machine, the cultural/political movement of evangelicalism, but who are we kidding? I’m a child of the renewal movement, I teach Sunday school, we lead a home group, we love our pastors, I sit near the front and sing my heart out. I reclaimed my place here, my roots are deep.

I came home to you.

Thank you for ministering within imperfect structures. Thank you for laying down your life to teach Sunday school and chaperone youth lock-ins, for carpooling the seniors and vacuuming the vestry. Thank you for stocking the church library and making phone calls, for doing the mundane daily work that creates a community. Thank you for meeting with college girls for coffee. Thank you for showing up when we get married and when we have our babies and when we are sick and when we are grieving. When we die, thank you for holding our families close.

Thank you for staying put in slow-to-change structures and movements. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for taking a long and a high view of time, for waiting it out. You have the thankless job of elder boards and deacon elections, church constitutions and consensus building within community. This is not the work for the faint of heart.

Thank you for the all the work you do – seen and unseen.

Thank you for your commitment and your discipline, for the ways that you put others before yourself. Thank you for doing the work of the ministry, unthanked, often misunderstood, the convenient scapegoat at times.

You aren’t better than the ones who go, but you aren’t foolish or blind or unconcerned or uneducated or unthinking. I know this. You have weighed your choices, more than anyone will know. You chose this, you choose this, and you will keep choosing this.

I know some of us are meant to go, some are meant to stay, and most of us do a bit of both in our lifetimes.

(I want to tell everybody to relax. After all, it’s all going to work out in the end. Let people live their lives. Tend to your own knitting. And won’t we all find that we’ve seen through a glass darkly?)

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. But he lives and moves and has his being among the evangelicals, too. 

I hope you wrestle now. I hope we all wrestle. I hope we look deep into our hearts and sift through our theology, our methodology, our praxis, our ecclesiology, all of it. I hope we get angry and we say true things. I hope we push back against celebrity and consumerism, I hope we live into our birthright as a prophetic outpost for the Kingdom. I hope we get our toes stepped on and we forgive. I hope we become open-hearted and open-armed. I hope we are known as the ones who love.

Be strong and courageous.

I hope we change. I hope we grow. Let this be a time of reckoning perhaps, a time of soul-searching. I hope we push against the darkness and let the light in and breathe into the kingdom come. I hope we become a refuge for the weary and the pilgrim, for the child and the aged, for the strong-too-long and may we all live like we are loved.

I pray we all become a bit more inclined to listen, to pray, to wait.

I went for a walk in the wilderness for many years, and I still love it out there. I still like the fresh wind in my hair. I go for a walk every now and again, I hear God clearly in the wild spaces. I’ve always liked a little room to breathe. But I came home. I always come home.

I love you, Church. I love you in all the places I find you – cathedrals and living rooms, monasteries and megachurches, school gymnasiums and warehouses.

I have loved you and I will always love you. You’ve been the steady constant of my life, my witness and my guide. I see you and I think you’re beautiful for your very mess and imperfections and frustrations. Family, yes, we are.

We are loved and we are free.

Related:

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

In which I think community is worth intention, or why I still “go to church”

In which I am still hopeful

In which you gather at the homemade altar

 

 

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism
In which I'm looking for subversive hope
thank you for sharing...
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  • Jane Halton

    I’m thankful for this side of the story Sarah.

  • “You aren’t better than the ones who go, but you aren’t foolish or blind or unconcerned or uneducated or unthinking. I know this. You have weighed your choices, more than anyone will know. You chose this, you choose this, and you will keep choosing this.

    I know some of us are meant to go, some are meant to stay, and most of us do a bit of both in our lifetimes.”

    Thank you. This is where I fit.

    • Jen

      Me too. So grateful for you Sarah.

    • B

      Me as well. This part resonated deeply.

    • Leanne

      This is me too. Thank you.

    • SortaCrunchy

      me too, me too, me too

    • Taija Young

      I’m with all of you… this is where I fit as well. Thank you, Sarah, for honoring the mostly-unseen process of weighing and choosing to stay, for recognizing it as a choice made not just once but continuously as we “minister within imperfect structures,” hoping and believing all the while that we as the Church WILL change and grow – that we WILL love more, question more, push against the grain more. We are heartbroken over the ways we fall short – but still we choose to stay, believing we need each other even in our imperfections if we are to “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” who “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16) Let us be the ones who build the Body up in love!

    • Exactly. It’s a choice just as much as leaving is a choice.

  • Emily

    Beautiful. And I needed to read this: “Thank you for staying put in slow-to-change structures and movements. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for taking a long and a high view of time, for waiting it out.” There have been times these past few years where it has felt painfully s-l-o-w and I’ve wanted to walk away and start anew somewhere else, but yet I hear Him say “stay”. Appreciate your perspective here so much.

  • pastordt

    this is where I fit, too. and I thank you for acknowledging all of us – those who leave and those who stay.

  • Joshua Hitch

    Thank you for this. Weirdly, not for me. I’m pretty much one of those who is leaving. Thank you for this for my mom, my brother, my father, my grandmother. Too often those walking out the door with me want to turn back and paint with a broad brush those who stayed. I love too many of the people who have stayed to do that. I can’t help but keep one foot in the door, one crack open. For them, should they ever choose to come with me, or for me, if I ever decide that they’re more important than my reasons for leaving. So for them, I thank you. Because I want someone to see how much they loved me, and the world, and why I can’t talk about my conflicts with the movement without hedging because of them.

    • This. Both sides have too many committed disciples for me to choose a side. May we all be on the winning side – with Jesus!

    • Julie Spangler

      This is so well said, Joshua. I too am leaving, and virtually every family member and dozens of friends are staying. This piece helps me to understand better why they do. I love them. I don’t live their beliefs, but I don’t want to hate them.

  • Julie

    Beautiful and remarkable! I am relatively new to your blog but already feel at home among your words. Thank you for sharing them.

  • Gillian Marchenko

    Thank you so much for this post, Sarah. I am wrestling with a lot of things and I suspect, will continue to do so. Without wrestling, how can we grow? But lately, I’ve mostly felt bad about where I fit. Evangelical isn’t always a four letter word. Anyway, thanks again. I’m learning so much from you.

  • Carrie

    THANK YOU for this. As someone who wants to leave ALL THE TIME but knows she is called to stay, thank you.

  • lndwhr

    Sarah, thank you. I have become one who has left (recently), but for years I was one that stayed. I often talk to others who “bash” that which they have left and tell them that instead, I feel compelled to pray for what I have left. We cannot “bash” what has “grown” us… where God has met us, used us, challenged us and loved us. We must be thankful that he has used everything for good, and everything for His purpose. Thank you for writing this…you have eloquently spoken the unspoken words of my heart.

  • Thank you.

    As a reluctant pastor’s wife, this is where I live. I see so much that makes me want to leave. Yet even in the mess, I can still see the remnants of what makes me want to stay. Life is in this tension for me.

    The fact that I don’t have the luxury of leaving has forced me to push through some really hard things…to find Jesus in the midst of the turmoil…sometimes even in the very people I want to leave behind…

    I’ve found Jesus in that tension.

    Thank you for being a voice for those that aren’t leaving.

    • Michelle Kime

      I too am a pastor’s wife – often times reluctant. I too have had to push through some really hard things — and to fight for more of Jesus in church and less of tradition for tradition sake. It is hard, and quite lonely many times. But, I have found Jesus in that tension as well. Looking for things to rejoice in. Finding Jesus care for our family and my heart in these difficult, often misunderstood/thankless times, has been beautiful.

  • I am really grateful you wrote this side. I’ve left before but now I’m staying. In your words, I’m “ministering within imperfect structures.” I’m waiting-it-out, I’m working on patience, I’m firmly believing that worlds can change with just one person living a Spirit filled life.

  • Thank you for this. My husband is Catholic and loves our evangelical church. He didn’t understand my processing in returning to the church model of my childhood. It has flaws, but it is where our family belongs.

  • Caiobhe

    I had a few months away from church and I missed it. In its imperfection and static form it is still Christ’s body and we are to love it. Even when we can’t stay in it. This needed to be written.

  • Beautiful.

  • Thank you for writing this. It’s beautiful.

  • Michelle

    You have written so much truth for people in both spaces. Thank you for that. While I am off in the wilderness I’ve often felt these feelings of compassion for my friends who have stayed behind. I know it’s hard to be the one left behind and you have written so beautifully about that here. Thank you for these posts.

  • Mmm, i was not raised evangelical but staying with Christianity as a whole has been a journey not unlike this one. Especially as a queer feminist. Thank you for your love for all walks, Sarah!

  • Beautiful, friend. Both posts you wrote. Beautiful and needed.

  • Michelle Kime

    Thank you! As one who is staying and who is fighting for change in a slow difficult time..and trying to rejoice in the small changes and trying to push for more of Jesus and less of tradition for tradition sake, etc… and who often feels misunderstood as I stay – this was a beautiful post. So thankful for your grace and humility as you see and show both sides of so many stories – there is such a tension sometimes and I so appreciate how you pull and push on that tension with such grace and love. You are appreciated. 🙂

  • Joann Hartman Eyster

    Your beautiful words have left my heart full. While I am still in the wandering, I know that God will guide my wandering to a home.

  • Rachael T Mickel

    “(I want to tell everybody to relax. After all, it’s all going to work out in the end. Let people live their lives. Tend to your own knitting. And won’t we all find that we’ve seen through a glass darkly?)”

    I cried. Literally cried.

  • Vanessa

    But this. THIS.

    Let’s say you are a little insecure, maybe just about life in general. Say your heart is in it, and you want to Stand Firm, but you fall down a lot, and it makes you Charlie-Brown-wishy-washy even though you’re just trying really hard all of the time. Say you’re me, and you get scared a lot,
    and also tired.

    But someone made me soup this week, someone said a prayer. I really think I’ve just been needing to sit down a while. Thank you all for a place at the table.

  • Julie

    Love this & thank you for your words!

    After leaving the church for 6+ years, I rejoined only a few months ago mainly because I started reading the bible and fell in love with Jesus. As this world vision stuff swirled, I was reminded of why I hadn’t wanted to be a part of Christianity, and all the things I felt were wrong with it. Through all the reminders though, I still felt called to my new church. I have seen more of Christ’s kingdom in action then I have at most other churches, and it’s beautiful. I think that is partly which I am encouraged to stay, even though I believe they would fall into the ‘evangelical’ bucket. In my small group, there are times when someone will say a key christian phrase or idea, and I get the feeling of “I can’t do this” but feel like Christ is saying for me to be gentle and patient, and to not judge others if they think differently. I think at this time it is so important to cling to Christ’s words, and his idea of what the Kingdom looks like and to live it out.

    I’ve been reading through the NT, and Jesus’ voice is so loud and clear, awakening my soul to a different way of living. Through it all, I see his love, grace, and hope. I want to stay with the church to help those who have felt like I did once, or do now. I believe there is a lot wrong about what ‘church’ people say and do, but yet, I feel the pull to show the love of Christ to those who don’t deserve it, even if they’re in my own church or small group. I may be one person, but I hope that those around me see a new kind of Christian that is known for what I’m for vs. against.

    Two verses that have been feeding me the past few days:

    Hosea put it well:
    I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
    I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.
    In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!”
    they’re calling you “God’s living children.” — Romans 9:25-26

    & all of Matthew 23 (which is quite long to share 🙂 )

    Keep sharing your stories, they’re such great inspiration!

  • Rick Wilson

    Please just go, we don’t want you here anymore. You’re not fighting the good fight, you are heretics causing division. Please just go.

    • Kevin Thomas

      Where is the love?

  • Sarah, Since I joined the blogging world I have often felt like those that remain behind are highly criticized for being non-thinkers. Obviously we are missing something… I am thankful God has shown you both sides. May we love one another. Blessing you as tears run down my face.

  • I don’t know where I fit right now. But I might fit here. So thank you. 😉

  • I’m taking this one for me today, Sarah. Thank you for your wide blessing and far-seeing eyes.

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  • Refreshing, Sarah. Thank you.

  • Jonathan

    What a wonderful love letter! Inspired by this, and reminded of so many people I know who just get on with the hard work of being church and being family to one another.

  • Michelle Ortega

    Thank you. <3

  • ildylo

    Thank you Sarah!

  • Casey

    “You aren’t better than the ones who go, but you aren’t foolish or blind or unconcerned or uneducated or unthinking. I know this. You have weighed your choices, more than anyone will know. You chose this, you choose this, and you will keep choosing this.”

    I needed this. I needed to read this, even though I think my heart knew it all along. Beautiful & encouraging words.

  • Cayla

    So encouraging. Thank you Sarah. You’re right, it is difficult to be the ones who stay, but it is all so rich and worth it. Thank you for these words of encouragement to press onward!

  • Yes, thanks you for this, Sarah. I love the church, too. My husband and I are working hard to bring Jesus sized healing to a generation that has been hurt so deeply by the church. And most definitely, “This is not the work for the faint of heart.”

  • Thank you for both sides, Sarah – one of the reasons why I love your writing!

  • Jess Cusick

    The way that you uncover Jesus and speak about Him is healing. So grateful for you, and so thankful that you share!

  • Alissa Maxwell

    I just about couldn’t catch my breath. This is why we NEED church, why my family felt a bit afloat when we were between congregations. Where we are now is not perfect, but it’s where we are being nourished and hopefully doing our part to nourish the hearts of others. I wish I could gather those that feel afloat and just say, “Come. Let’s make soup and search for Jesus together.”

  • theblahblahblahger

    Thank you for this! I can’t leave this heart home (yet) without fighting to reclaim the name from the ones who use it to hurt others or manifest a political or social agenda…

  • Michael Brian Woywood

    I have felt the call to stay – and it’s one of the hardest calls to answer for me. It can be such a struggle, but I know that something beautiful will come out of all this struggle.

  • Ed Anderson

    Stay?… and, for what?

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  • Tracey

    Thank you. I know that I’m not supposed to leave yet. God has me there for the others that aren’t supposed to leave. Realizing that I can be ME while in church and not worry about others, but worry about what I am doing personally has freed me tremendously. Why limit myself? It’s home base though and it’s not time to leave – but I’m starting to see others leave and it grieves me but we’re building a network for something greater that is coming.

  • Susan

    Love this! Beautifully said!

  • Tom Crowe

    How easlily we convince ourselfes we are doing the right thing, when our in-actions causes so much damage to so many. We cvince ourselves that staying we can change things! Very sad to see people propping-up such a evil inhuman institution. May God love and protect you, and those who will suffer from your in-action!

  • Tom Crowe

    How easlily we convince ourselfes we are doing the right thing, when our in-actions causes so much damage to so many. We convince ourselves that staying we can change things! Very sad to see people propping-up such evil inhuman institutions. May God love and protect you, and those who will suffer from your in-action!

  • Linda Andres

    I understand this, Sarah. I too find the need to be in some type of faith fellowship even though there is so much confusion in choices being made. All I could do is find the place that best spoke a message of inclusion and faith. I know me, though, to, Sarah. I know that I am a woman who was taught traditional women’s roles but never fit into them. I know I am a person who will fail to always speak of act in love. I know my humanity but I also know that I long to be more than a person in a pew so need to find those places that allow women, even divorced women to be a part of life within the church. Thank you for sharing love and understanding. Even Jesus knew that when he would seek out the worship spaces in new towns.

  • Thank you for this, Sarah. The other day I was contemplating my denomination’s response to the World Vision thing and it made me very sad. I wondered if I should go and I said to myself “Where would I go? This is my family, this is where my heart is, this is where God has placed me and wants me to be.” Staying is hard, but I know leaving is hard too. My hope is that as I continue to do the work God has called me to do, the rusty wheels of change in institutions like the one I’m in will start turning, be it ever so slowly.

  • Kelly

    “I want to tell everybody to relax. After all, it’s all going to work out in the end. Let people live their lives. Tend to your own knitting. And won’t we all find that we’ve seen through a glass darkly?” Oh, my. How this speaks truth. Thank you, Sarah.
    This is what keeps me going. Struggling with whether to stay or go has become such a huge part of my life. But for now I stay, because I have prayed about it so much, and what I hear from God in His amazing, soul-stirring whisper, is ,”Stay, my child, and be a part of healing the brokenness.”

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  • Audrey Smith Ateca

    This is beautiful. As a mom of 5 (2 of whom have left the nest and another leaving this fall), I ‘ve always encouraged them to make their faith their own . And when that led one to leave, I gently reminded him that no matter what there were people in our imperfect church who loved him. I think this post is just beautiful. I left too at a time and there are times now when I think of leaving, but then I feel called to stay and make a difference . As my campus minister said in college, j “You are called to go or you are called to stay, but everyone is called. Don’t just think you can sit around” He was referring to the call of missions and ministry, but it can apply here as well I think.

  • DanielleKonrad

    I needed to hear this today, Sarah. Thank you.

  • Thank you, Sarah. Thank you for being a bridge-builder. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.’

  • Beautiful.
    Your words feel like home this morning.

  • Tommy Rosenblad

    I really needed your encouraging words today. Thank you.

  • Thank you for this, Sarah. I’ve circled in and out of denominations, but I am here in the Church, as a paid minister. The Church is broken, but beautiful, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It has impacted my life in so many amazing ways, and I dream of how it can do that for others again someday, maybe even now.

  • I loved both of these Sarah. Thank You x

  • Abigail Maxwell

    In my Father’s house are many rooms.

  • fiona lynne

    Thank you for this. And the last post. Both are so important. I wrote from this aspect recently, on Staying in the Discomfort. Sometimes it is the brave and beautiful thing to do. x

  • Martha Willie Carrell

    thank you for noticing those if us who have stayed behind please know it is my love of God and God’s love for me that keeps me in the church now. to those who have left, my journey is not your journey. i cannot begin to know how God works in your life, but know we are always happy to have you join us in worship and work anytime. and share your stories. we all have them and love to hear stories of God’s love and grace. 🙂

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  • “I know some of us are meant to go, some are meant to stay, and most of us do a bit of both in our lifetimes.”

    I resonate so much with this line, dear Sarah. It’s been my story too, going into the wilderness and coming back time and again. I’m struck by how often this pattern is repeated in the Bible. I love walking in ancient patterns over and over again.

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  • And may those of us who are shepherds be the kind that always and unconditionally pursue sheep. That’s what the Good Shepherd does. And that’s what good shepherds do. Thanks for continuing to seek. May each of us continue to seek others as well.

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  • And…this. I just left a comment on the post this follows, so hopefully you see that comment first (if you haven’t, this may not make as much sense).

    In our moving away from evangelicalism, it’s not the Church we are leaving, or the Faith. It’s…the flaws, the petty arguments, the arbitrary doctrine and theology, the “this is how it’s always been; ignore all the evidence to the contrary” and “God never changes, the Bible never changes – except for slavery and stuff like that.”

    It’s the unending need to be RIGHT. The twisting of “be prepared to give reason for the faith that is in you.” It’s the well-meaning hypocrisy and the irrational need to have the last word rather than to LISTEN and HEAR thoughts that didn’t come from Sunday School. It’s the need to recruit rather than love.

    I hear God best in the wild places, too. And I think it’s okay to need to take a step away from convention to hear Him better for a while. I’m not walking away from my faith or the Church. I’m taking a moment in the wilderness; and I’ll be back, because I love the Church too much to abandon her completely.