I Left Church to Follow Jesus

I Left Church to Follow Jesus
(Disclaimer: In my previous post, I shared about surviving decades of spiritual abuse in a variety of churches and denominations. This is my story, and my story is quite common. So many have been deeply wounded by religious institutions and I speak up to help distinguish between the abusive behaviors of man and the loving heart of Father God. If you want to read more of my story, I go in to more details here.)
A year ago, I made a life-changing decision.
I left church to follow Jesus.
I left religion to pursue relationship.
I left spiritual narcissism to find freedom.
I left patriarchy to rest in my Father’s arms.
I left misogyny to find my value as a woman.
I left exhaustion to experience rest.
I left confusion to bask in clarity.
I left chaos to breathe in peace.
I left darkness to walk in joy.
Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
I have been blessed by some precious “two or more” gatherings in the past year that have been intimate, powerful and anointed.
I am intentional about meeting face to face with others who love God and who have the fruit of the Spirit evident in their lives.
We meet, we talk, we discuss scriptures, we eat, we share a cup of tea, we pray, we laugh, we cry.
These gatherings remind me of Acts 2:42-45. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were brought together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”
 If you have experienced abuse, ridicule, shame, blame, or judgement from a religious institution, I am so sorry.
I assure you, that’s not God.
If you are a Christian woman rebuilding your life after abuse, join our community here, where I have organized hundreds of resources to help you on your healing journey.
I left church to follow Jesus.
I know this statement will make some people extremely uncomfortable.
But church represents trauma, pain, abuse, misogyny, and patriarchy to me.
At this point in my journey, this is what I must do to heal.

I Survived Spiritual Abuse

I Survived Spiritual Abuse
(Disclaimer: I love Jesus with all my heart. I know He loves me; I know He is good, and I know He has been with me every single day of my life. I can distinguish between Him and His Word and the acts of those who use Him and His Word to control and destroy others. I left a religious system that is broken and destructive to follow a Savior who is loving and redeeming. I gather weekly with others who love Him and who encourage me and hold me accountable. I am not forsaking the gathering, and I desire to be a part of community that lives out Acts 2:42-45. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were brought together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”)
I am here to share parts of my story. While I am not ready to bear all, I am sharing the reasons why I no longer attend traditional church. I have many layers of trauma associated with religious institutions and I am healing. It is unwise to continue to return to the place where trauma occurred. If someone were involved in a shooting, we would not insist that they continue participating in shootings. My trauma wounds came not from firearms but from leaders who weaponized God and His Word to abuse me and who turned blind eyes to other abuses being committed against me. Apart from two short-lived seasons of life, all my church experiences have been toxic and filled with spiritual abuse. I just did not know spiritual abuse was a thing until about ten years ago. It took me several more years to shake off the chains and walk away.
I once believed that I was called to be a bridge back to a specific religious institution. I watched so many wounded souls get chewed up and spit out by the church, and they abandoned their faith altogether. Finally, my eyes were opened, and I realized I am called to be a bridge back to Jesus, not to a toxic institution. I have spoken with hundreds of dear people who love Jesus and genuinely want to grow in their faith, but who have no desire whatsoever to darken the doorstep of a church. I get that. I really do.
Spiritual Abuse
I attended church several times a week for forty-five years. I grew up in a conservative, evangelical community that was very legalistic. Pretty much everything would send you straight to hell. Or so I was taught. Sadly, I adopted a lot of those teachings and regurgitated most of what I heard from pulpits and platforms. I was taught not to question leaders or authority, and march to the drumbeat set for me. I was indoctrinated in a plethora of denominations…Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Mennonite, Baptist, and non-denominational. These churches may be under different denominations, but the experiences I had at each one shared a common denominator…spiritual abuse.
Simply put, spiritual abuse occurs when a spiritual leader uses his/her position to manipulate, control, blackmail, or abuse another. Some examples of spiritual abuse that I witnessed were twisting and misinterpreting scriptures, manipulating people to give finances, using congregant’s skills, services, or expertise without compensation (while leaders collected a hefty salary), forcing victims to stay with abusers, allowing abusers and adulterers to serve in leadership positions, encouraging members to open up about generational curses and personal sins and later using that information against them, and allowing convicted sex offenders to be in the church without informing the congregation of the danger. There are many ways that spiritual abuse is manifested, and I have heard stories that turn my stomach and break my heart.
Narcissism is rampant in churches. Narcissistic qualities may include possessing an exaggerated sense of self-importance or sense of entitlement, needing admiration, exaggerating and lying to puff up self, taking over conversations and discussions, manipulating, having a public persona and a private persona, lacking true empathy, willing to take advantage of others, and using gaslighting and projection to control others. This list is not exhaustive, and it may take years for a licensed therapist to diagnose narcissism, but it is important to discuss these realities so that others can be spared further abuse.
There are certain professions that attract narcissists because they are given power and control over others. When I did a search on the top choices, clergy was the first one mentioned. This does not mean that every person who is in a clergy role is a narcissist, but it is quite easy for someone to use their position of to harm others.
At most churches I attended, there were leaders who used their positions of power in destructive ways. They stood behind pulpits each week and most congregants accepted what they said as if God Himself was speaking the words. Very few church members would research God’s Word or look at the context or original language of passages. A humble leader encourages his congregation to study the Bible and to question anything he says if it is not in line with God’s character and written word.
Patriarchy and Misogyny
 In my experience, many churches were led by men and women were not honored or respected as equals. Many sermons about marriage shamed and blamed wives, while excusing abusive behaviors in husbands. The concept of submission was misrepresented and was a pass for men to mistreat their wives. Patriarchy and misogyny were rampant. And, since I was a woman, I was put in my place time and time again. I was often ignored by leaders in public, they would even look at the floor when they passed by me.
There was a hierarchy, a chain of command. The “in crowd.” And, trust me, I was never in that club. I was told I could not “process down,” which meant if I was going through something difficult, I was to take it to those who were “above me” and not share with my own small group, which was “below me.” WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK???? Once, I offered to pray for a pastor’s wife. Her father was sick, and I knew she was genuinely concerned. I was told, “I cannot process down.” At another church, I beheld the stomach-churring reality of “celebrity pastors.” Again, WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK???
In the Kingdom of God, there is Jesus at the top…then, the rest of us. That is it. It is really that simple. There is no other need for a ladder within the Kingdom. Jesus sits on the throne and His follower bow at His feet. We should never bow at the feet of another human being.
Victim Shaming 
 When the realities of what was going on in my home were brought to leadership’s attention, I was punished for my abuser’s sins. I was removed from leadership opportunities while my abuser was not. I was told that if did X, Y, Z, my abuser would change, placing the full weight of someone else’s sin squarely on my shoulders. There is so much more to this story. What went on at home was vile and grievous. But, being blamed for that abuse by the leaders I looked up to as spiritual fathers and big brothers crushed my heart even more. I can now share about my marriage without tearing up, but when I begin to speak about the way my leaders treated me, I weep every time.
Wolves are Welcome
More recently, I poured my heart out to a pastor, sharing about the years of abuse I had endured at home and church, thinking I had finally found a safe shelter. I asked what his church’s stance was on abuse. He said, “The abuser and the abused are welcome here.” I did not understand at that moment, but I would soon learn, that statement is not Biblical. Not in the least. God’s word has much to say about abuse and abusers. Jesus stood up for the abused and He stood up against the abusers (wolves). Sadly, most churches do not follow His lead in this way. If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, I caution you against going to a church for help. I, along with countless others, have been retraumatized by the church. Most pastors and lay leaders are not trained to recognize domestic violence or trauma and do not have the skills to help. I advise you to reach out to a licensed therapist who is trauma-informed and domestic violence-informed (research the Power and Control Wheel to understand the many ways abuse is manifested).
At each church, I did my best to love God and love others. I showed up to love and be loved. I showed up to serve and use the gifts that God had placed within me. I was eager and willing, and my heart was for anyone else who felt abused, set aside, unworthy, not good enough. When I saw injustice, I spoke up against it. I was told not to pick up the offenses of others. When I was concerned about why a leader left in the dark of night, I was told I could not ask questions. When I saw a physical need and presented a solution to meet it, I was told that that person needed to suffer so she could “find Jesus.” When I got out of my seat on a Sunday morning to pray with a friend who was sitting alone, I was told “People need to come to the alter, we should not go to them.”  
So, a year ago, I left church to follow Jesus.
And, I have never felt closer to Him than I do now.
I have spent the last year getting to know Him more intimately, digging deeper into passages within the Bible that were once used against me and learning so much about the context and heart of God. I have gained some incredible connections with survivors, advocates, counselors, and leaders who are domestic violence-informed and trauma-informed. I left the scene of the accident so that I could begin to heal. I am not saying I will never attend traditional church again (I have learned to never say never say never). My heart and my home welcome those who are weary, broken, and bleeding.
If you are a Christian woman rebuilding after abuse, please 
join us here, at Held and Healed. Or, if you are a woman who loves others and wants to learn how to help and not hurt, this is a great place to begin. I share the resources that have helped me on my healing journey. We are building community and seeing the transformation of truth setting women free.