Last week I announced my intention to resign from the ministry in the Christian Reformed denomination. That also means I’ll need to leave Grace Christian Reformed Church, in Cobourg, where I am the pastor.
I resigned because I’ve drifted away from the teachings of the Christian Reformed Church. I never intended to. I was hoping to finish well in about ten years. But over time, small gnawing doubts about my denomination’s official teachings grew—sometimes slowly, sometimes with surprising swiftness. The kinds of issues I changed my mind about are contentious in many denominations: gay marriage, evolution, the inspiration and authority of scripture, and so on. I don’t really want to get into all that stuff right now. I won’t be able to say much about any of these issues that is helpful in five hundred words or less.
The decision to resign is painful for me. I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church, was loved and nurtured into faith, and even today it feels like the home I will always be welcomed back to, even if I’m now something of a prodigal son. The Christian Reformed Church is the skeleton around which I’ve built my life. Leaving it is going to feel like an out of body experience.
The decision to resign is especially painful because I love my congregation. They have been kind and gracious to me for the entire time I’ve been their pastor. While I can’t say I’ve never heard a harsh word, I heard such things from no more than one or two people. Grace members visit their sick, bring meals to the shut-in, volunteer around the community, and try hard to imitate Christ’s love. Most people at Grace laugh easily. They’ve kept an eye on my wife and I, to make sure we were doing okay. They’re easy going, willing to try on change, willing to invest in their church, and generous to a fault for all kinds of causes, religious or not.
The irony here is that if I was not the pastor of this church, if I was just another member, sitting in the pews from Sunday to Sunday, I’d probably never leave. I’d be able to keep my intellectual doubts to myself. Non-leaders have much greater latitude to have differing sentiments. But as a leader, my deepest convictions are supposed to find expression in my preaching. I’m supposed to define the benchmarks. I can’t do that anymore. And if I I tried to do so, I would end up rocking the boat badly. That wouldn’t be good or fair to the congregation. I wasn’t hired to be a loose canon.
But there is a second, perhaps deeper, irony, here. Remember, my pain at leaving Grace Church is in direct proportion to what a wonderful experience it has been to be a member of that church. So what the pain of leaving leads me to think about are all those people out there in my little town who do not know the joys of belonging to a church community. Many people who profess, for example, to be spiritual but not religious, are missing out on the concrete mutual love and support that a church offers, and don’t realize it. They are lonelier than they need to be.
My suggestion? Give church a try. Instead of the pain of leaving, you may well discover the joys of belonging.