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Hating hiatuses

Woke to a "we're taking a hiatus from church" email in my inbox. Hate that. Feels a bit like a gut punch every time.

Not that I have any real concern for our church's overall health—we're growing, not shrinking, and more people are connected to Community Groups and the like than ever before. And it's not my role to shepherd the congregation; God has called others to that duty. It's hard to articulate well what bothers me when people "take a break." Some of it is simply the feeling of being left and/or not being enough (which varies, of course, based on how close to someone I am); some of it is because I believe "breaks" from fellowship miss the mark of what we're called to. And as I've said before, seeing someone leave in order to be part of another congregation isn't nearly so troubling as the amorphous walk-aways—at least you're still acting as if you're part of the Body, even if I'll miss you.

One of the ways being part of the Church is hard for me is that I don't want to care whether you stay or go. "Do what you do." But I do care, and I hate that others can make me feel like crap by breaking fellowship. I should probably be thankful instead—not that people leave or "go on hiatus," but that I still care if they do.

I'm just tired of having sadness be such a regular part of my experience with others in the Church. I have trouble even trusting relationships anymore, because part of me sees others and says, "No matter how good of a game you may be talking right now, I don't know if or when you're going to flake out on me. And if that happens, you won't even give it or me a second thought."


yes. yes. me too.
thank you for this today, friend. it encouraged me.
I'm glad—what an upside-down Kingdom we live in, where one's discouragement can be transformed into another's encouragement.
It's simple, not easy. :/
Indeed. Thanks for your yokefellowship.
Oh, I've hardly done any pulling at all in this particular field. The senior clergy I know are the ones who are scarred all over by those who split without good cause... all the more so by those who go on to become rivals and slanderers.
“Then said Jesus, Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Just a bit of advice:

1. Some people just need a swift kick in the butt when it comes to their attitude and behavior. Don’t break fellowship until you have confronted…and offered a structured plan for restoration. Forgiveness and restoration are two separate things. Forgiveness is immediate…but the trust that comes with restoration takes time…many years…much submission…and incredible oversight.

2. As harsh as this sounds…if the time comes to break fellowship…make the break clean. Leave no bridge in place for the person to return. There will be other churches, pastors or leaders that God will use in their life…but your time is done. Forgiveness is a Biblical mandate…but it does not mean that the person needs to be allowed back into the fellowship to cause problems again. If restoration and submission is refused…make the break quick…clean…and complete.

3. If you don’t want to be attacked…don’t lead. However, when the attacks become too much to bear…and breaking fellowship becomes a necessity…don’t let it become baggage for you. Not every case is the same…don’t judge someone today over something someone else did in the past. Yes, you will hurt. Yes, you will have moments of regret. Yes, you will not feel total resolve in the matter. However, move on…know that tomorrow is a new day…and follow God without fear or reservation.

I can count on one hand the times I have broken fellowship with someone. It is never an easy thing to do and it always causes you to take a hard look at your own life. However, the reality of leadership is that breaking fellowship has to happen on occasion. There will be those that get mad…get offended…wear their heart on their sleeve…look for the negatives in life…or just can’t face the fact they are to blame for their misfortune. Instead of handling things in a Scripturally mature manner or moving on…they stay and make problems. Negative correspondence, a constant barrage of verbal attacks, a desire to cause division, endless
unproductive “meetings”, public displays of anger and other things that can just completely drain your energy. It can come in the form of church members, others pastors, friends, family or staff members. Whatever the case it will cause sleepless nights, great frustration, abuse of your calling and many wasted hours that could have been better spent actually making a difference for cause of Christ. Go the “extra mile”…but don’t hesitate to break fellowship when the distraction from evangelistic ministry becomes too great.

Thanks—in the cases I'm thinking of, I don't see my stance toward fellowship changing or becoming closed. It's just tough when others walk away.
I know what you mean, we're all in the same boat, honey!
Church is hard. And no matter how often the teaching is put out there that it's about serving and not being served, there are people who just don't get it.
Always true—God knows we are sheep and need shepherding (myself very much included).
I have trouble even trusting relationships anymore, because part of me sees others and says, "No matter how good of a game you may be talking right now, I don't know if or when you're going to flake out on me. And if that happens, you won't even give it or me a second thought."

I think the beautiful thing is that even though we may feel this way, we still have the ability to enter into relationships because we know that Christ defines us, not relationships. How many times how we flaked out on him without a second thought? And yet he still loves us, which gives us the power to love others and show grace to them. The church really is a beautiful thing.
That's an excellent and necessary perspective.
In my experience "we're taking a hiatus from church" equals "I'm mad at/have fallen away from God but don't want to talk about it" or "I'm mad at something about church but don't have the guts to talk about it like an adult"

Our church is shrinking and may shut its doors by the end of the year, pray for us.
Can do. I definitely hear those alternate statements in play (rightly or wrongly).
I know what you mean about sadness being a regulat part of your church experience. I think that goes with it, not that you don't know that, but it's part of it because relationship is risk and for all the good there is opportunity for an equal amount of pain. Again, not that you didn't already know that but it's definitely a large part of living purposefully, I think.
I'm not in any kind of church leadership but when people take hiatuses (hiati?) I truly feel glad for them because they're figuring stuff out for themselves and that's part of their path. Even though we can't say if what they're doing is dumb we need to realize if it hurts us somehow and where that stems from. BLAH BLAH BLAH am I being obnoxious?
You aren't being obnoxious, but I'm probably going to be because A) we know each other well enough that I believe you can hear me (even if we don't agree), and 2) it's my journal.

Obviously (I think), I'm not glad when people do this. Since I'm aware of no pressure to join our church, when people make that commitment, I want to respect that as something greater than "this is where I happen to be right now on my path" (no vows required for that—it's just true, all the time, right?). It's not a lack of respect for others to take them at their word, I hope. It'd be arrogant, cynical, and disrespectful of them for me not to, I think—I'd basically be saying, "I know better than you, so even though you're taking vows, I don't believe you."

If our relationship with the church isn't a relationship, I wouldn't have any issues beyond my own valid feelings. But if it is, then I think I'll always have trouble being glad when someone walks away from that relationship, regardless of their path. And since it's a committed relationship entered freely, I'm even less likely to find gladness in the choice to break (or "take a break from") that commitment. Doesn't mean I can't accept it or accept that some good can happen through it, but there's no gladness in it for me.

(Ironically, I've seen the relationship with the church community treated with the greatest disregard by those who also criticize it for not being relational enough. Go figure.)

Grace and gladness aren't the same for me, I guess. When looking at relationships, maybe it's wisest for me to look at how God relates to us first. We fail and fall, no doubt. And I'm glad of God's grace to us in that, but that doesn't equate with rejoicing in our decisions to walk away from Him. I'm not glad, and He's not glad. He's glad to receive me back, by His grace, but my walking away brings Him no joy—the father of the prodigal doesn't party when his son leaves, but wastes no time celebrating his return.

Even though I wouldn't have chosen the circumstances, I am so thankful barlow_girl and I were married in the presence of our church community. I want them to support us in keeping the vows we can't keep without Jesus and the ones we need His grace to forgive and restore when we break them—I don't want their support in breaking or ignoring them. If I were ever to want to "take a break" from our marriage, I hope no one would be glad that I'm figuring things out for myself. I hope they'd be troubled that I was treating Amy and our relationship so badly, and I hope their love would be directed toward restoration while not denying me grace in my struggle. Church membership isn't marriage, of course, but I don't see a difference in the underlying principles here.

It's a tough tension, but that's why I can't relieve it by being glad—for me, being glad would require me to treat people's relationships and past commitments with contempt based on their current circumstances and choices. And I suppose if they aren't real relationships, then everyone is off the hook, but I have hope that they are real, and I'll need to just quit all of it if I lose that.
Those are good thoughts. I definitely don't want you to relieve the tension by just being glad. Working in the church has got to be so tough. I'm reading a book by Marva Dawn right now on sabbath and she speaks to ministry workers a lot in it. (Sense of the Call is the title, it's from the library and I found a slip in it that said "Hewi., Jay" so maybe Jay Thomas read it also?)
That bit about the slip is especially awesome—I'm sure it was him!
I emailed to ask him if it was him. I did my first 'real' sabbath yesterday at the book's behest. It's really an emotional thing for me to read about since I didn't grow up with much emphasis on it. I think it could be huge for the Drurys. :)
I've been thinking a lot about this entry. Probably because it makes me uncomfortable, given I've essentially broken up with God because I haven't gotten my way and WANT my own way and am allowing my own expectations to disappoint me.

The thing is, don't let people like me discourage you, Lee. In the end, we can use that in a manipulative way. I may be down on Church, but I really want to believe. I don't want to be miserable. I want to feel like I belong or at least, that I could, that I can walk in and reconcile what I don't trust and what disappoints me. Because in the end, this is about us, not about you. Not about the communities you build, the songs you ask us to worship, the theology and teaching built up around this idea and Person of "God". You provide the choice that those of us who do walk away need, and more often than not it's our own lack of maturity and commitment that compel us away. We like to call it a purification, and perhaps it is.

I do my fair share of Church bashing. And part of me thinks I and others are entitled, because I EXPECT a lot. And that's because I believe in Christians, I believe in the Good, I believe in them. So I get absolutely pissed when they disappoint me. But what I do with that? That's all on me.

I'm sorry for the ways that we've made you feel lesser, or defensive. I hope in the end, most of us will make our way through and realize that we were all loving the same thing at the same time.
Definitely all part of the journey. I'm going to think in writing a bit, but I honestly believe you already get everything below, so it's more fleshing out my own thoughts than any sort of counter—I know you don't mean "don't be affected" when you say "don't be discouraged."

I think we're all very tricky in what we want and what we really want from others (not to mention God, who is very much an Other), and that naturally shows up in the Church. On the one hand, I have friends who with all sincerity don't want me to be hurt or negatively affected by their choices. On the other (well, I'm probably going to end up with more than two hands here, or maybe a sub-hand or two): A) if they're my friends, how could I not be affected by their departures, and 2) how could any of us really want communities and relationships where we wouldn't be? So while sincere, they also do want me to be affected. Imagine breaking up with someone and having them respond with some version of, "Oh, OK." Bizarre and grotesque.

Ironically, it's often those friends who are most critical of the Church not being relational enough who treat the rest of the Church so unrelationally. And those of us left behind are kind of double-screwed, because if we aren't affected, we give evidence to that critique, but if we are affected, we hurt even while being left behind for the (now disproven) reason that we don't care enough.

So if the Church is who I hope and believe her to be, I'll always be affected by what others do in relation to her (hopefully, proportionate to where they are in my life rather than a constant skin-inside-out sensitivity to everything and everyone)—that's also how they're relating to me. Thankfully, my hope isn't in the Church herself, but in the God who redeemed her and made her beautiful, and in Christ who takes her as His bride. And I very much believe and respect that it's in relation to Him that everyone needs to calibrate their own relationships with the Church—not in relation to me. Everyone needs to do what they need to do, but I'm always going to be in that relationship and affected by it (and not just because my congregation provides my paycheck). Sometimes it'd be easier not to be, but that's not what I'm called to.