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As we saw in the previous article, “Is It Time to Move On? Making the Decision,” deciding whether or not to change church affiliation is no easy task. In a typical situation, changing churches comes with adjustments to new friendships, new leadership, new music, and a new route to church. In a situation where someone is going from a Holiness church to a non-Holiness church, the change may also include everything from depression and an identity crisis, to being officially labeled “backslidden rebel” or even being shunned by Holiness friends and family.
If you have honest disagreements with Holiness churches on what Scripture does/does not say, this puts you in an awkward and difficult situation. Should you hide your beliefs and continue on in the Holiness Movement as if you believe their doctrine? Should you share your beliefs only to be disqualified from ministry and potentially endure personalized attacks from the pulpit? Or is it time to start seeking a healthy, Bible-based church outside of your Holiness circles? The last option may be intimidating, but for some of us, it’s the best option. We were created to serve the Lord as a unified body of believers, requiring authentic relationships and deep friendships. Both are impossible if you’re trying to hide who you really are and what you really believe. You cannot be truly loved without being truly known.
If your Holiness church does not fit the biblical definition of a healthy church, and/or you not are being spiritually nourished at your Holiness church and are unable to thrive, no name on the door should make you feel obligated to stay. Sadly, Holiness churches can be so difficult to transition out of that it’s common to become overwhelmed with discouragement, fear, and loneliness. Some have given up and left the faith altogether. Thanks be to God, many others have gone on to serve the Lord with their whole hearts, and have blossomed in healthy, biblically-based churches! A few of their testimonies can be found here. You also can come out of this confusing season with an amazing testimony, and we want to everything we can to come along side and help you transition well. Below is a few words of advice and encouragement as you prepare to “step out of the boat.” If there is any way we can encourage, support, or help you personally, please feel free to contact us.
Seek Unity and Friendships with Those From Your Former Church
Whether or not we feel we need to change denominations or churches, it’s still incredibly important to advocate for unity in the Body of Christ. If you decide to leave your church groups, do your best to keep relationships strong with those who stay. Be very careful to help them understand that you are not rejecting them personally and you mean no disrespect towards their beliefs. Stay in touch, stay kind, stay considerate, stay friends! Emphasize the areas where you agree, and be very sparing about discussing issues they’re not comfortable with. Give grace and give the benefit of the doubt. Remember that they are your brother and sister in the Lord, and treat them with honor. This will glorify God, strengthen His Body, and protect you from bitterness. Remember, you need your brothers and sisters in Christ, Holiness or not. If you have any true, trustworthy friends from your past church, do your best to preserve those friendships. Their love and support will be very valuable as you navigate the difficult waters of finding and establishing yourself into a new congregation and a new pattern of serving Christ. Real friends are hard to come by, so if you have some, treasure them—don’t be so foolish as to throw them out just because you’re transitioning churches.
As much as seeking unity and friendship should be your default option, there are times when you’ll need to part ways with particular individuals—at least for a season. If anyone is abusing you in any way—emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, manipulation, severe shaming, serious psychological strain, etc.—it’s time for some distance. Nervous breakdowns are real, and going through a significant life change is hard enough as it is. You can’t afford for an inconsiderate, or even malicious person, to send you over the edge. Be as polite about creating distance as possible, and do your best to make sure there’s enough communication beforehand to avoid significant misunderstandings. Let the distancing be in proportion to the abuse. For example, if it’s the two hour lectures that have really bothered you, than don’t refuse to say “hi” when you see the person in Walmart, just kindly turn down the offers to spend two hours with them. If you have a close enough relationship (family member, long time friend, etc.) don’t be afraid to be open and honest about why you’re spending less time with them. For example, “I’m sorry I’m not visiting as much this summer, but the last time I spent the afternoon with you, you scolded me about my makeup in a way that made me feel very disrespected and unheard. Until we’re able to better communicate, I’m trying to avoid anymore negative interactions for the sake of our relationship.” If at all possible, look for opportunities down the road for genuine reconciliation (not back to an emotionally draining relationship, but creation of an authentic, healthy relationship). If you ever get to the point where you would not even accept a sincere apology from the person in question, check your heart, there may be bitterness.
Once you decide to transition churches or inform church leaders of your beliefs, don’t be surprised if you’re targeted with overly spiritualized warnings. Such warnings are supposedly “special revelations” about you that may come in the form of someone’s “interpretation” of a dream, a “message in tongues,” a “word of prophecy,” or a “gut feeling” about you. I’ve seen this happen again and again. The messages are often dark and foreboding, mystical and confusing. Whether they feature a bizarre analogy or an out-of-context Scripture, the underlying theme of these messages is “Beware!” They’re meant to scare you and upset your emotions—don’t let them. Ponder them, process them, pray about them, and hold them up to Scripture, but ultimately, forget them. Let the Word of God be your light; God is not the author of confusion. The person(s) giving these “messages” may have your best interest at heart and they may think their words are legitimately divine, but at the end of the day it’s often their own, worried subconscious speaking. Whether intended or not, foreboding, confusing messages are a manipulative scare tactic and they are most commonly used in cults. These are yet another sign of an unhealthy church and should only solidify your decision to leave.
If you don’t decide to leave your church group, please, still do your best to keep relationships with those who do leave. Realize that they’re in a difficult transition and they need your love and encouragement. If you feel like they’re not your concern, or even not your friend, just because they don’t go to your church, then you should ask yourself whether or not your identity is in your church or in Christ. If you are first and foremost a Christian they’re still part of the same Body you are, no matter where they receive their Sunday morning teaching. Don’t take them leaving your congregation as personal rejection. Give their beliefs as much respect as what you want them to give you. Again, stay in touch, stay kind, stay considerate and stay friends. Emphasize your similarities, extend compassion, treat them with honor. So long as they walk with Christ, treat them like the brother or sister that they are. If (God forbid) they ever leave Christ, treat them like Jesus Himself treated sinners, with genuine and unconditional love.
Know What You Believe
Too many people see church as a place to be told what they believe. If this was you, and you’re now leaving your church because you weren’t being taught accurately, then please realize you’re in a vulnerable position. There are a cacophony of competing worldviews, and they’d all love to win you over. If you were never taught how to think or why you believe what you believe, navigating all the conflicting perspectives and evaluating them in light of the Word is going to be hard work. Get ready for it.
If everything you believed about Christianity was based on the preaching of only a handful of authorities, and you’ve now lost confidence in those authorities, it will be very tempting to throw out everything they said just because they said it. It’s natural to wonder, “If they misled me on trivial things like women’s pants, is it possible they misled me about important things like whether Jesus was a real person?” It is possible, and that’s why you need to start studying for yourself. In the meantime, it’s a terrible idea to throw out essential Christian doctrines just because certain people who lost your confidence happen to believe those doctrines. They also probably look both ways before they cross the street—I don’t think you’d want to throw that practice out just because you don’t like some people who do it.
The only way to avoid getting swept up in false teaching is to be firmly grounded in what you believe. One helpful exercise would be to look up a Christian statement of faith and think your way through it. Also look up historic creeds such as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. What do you know you believe? What do you have your doubts about? From here, you can create a personal statement of faith. You can also make a “To-Study Further” list. For example, you may be sure God exists, so write that down on your Statement of Faith, you may be sure the Bible is His Word, but not sure why, so write that down on both the Statement and the study list. You may be going back and forth on whether or not God is one person or a three persons in one, so add that to the study list. Once you’ve compiled your study list, don’t let your doubts simmer in the background. Take your faith seriously and carve out time to find answers. You need to know what you believe, and you’re at-risk to false teaching and lies until you do.
Create Personal Safeguards
Just like it’s important to hammer out your own beliefs if you’re coming from a church that told you what to believe, it’s also important to hammer out your own safeguards if you’re coming from a church that drew your every boundary. For example, the circles that I grew up in had very strict expectations about how men and women should interact. One common rule was that an unmarried man and woman must never be alone in a room together. Occasionally, if one of us ladies really needed to grab something from the kitchen, sanctuary, Sunday School room, or wherever else there happen to be a man hanging out, we would eventually get impatient and just go grab our stuff. If we did so, then we felt guilty afterwards (at least I did), as if we sinned by breaking an expectation. And, of course, no matter how pure our intentions, the worst case scenario would always cross our minds when we stepped inside (just because of how big a deal had been made about it). It almost felt like there was an expectation for two people alone together to sin—as if we wouldn’t be able to help ourselves. To be fair, I can’t say with certainty how far others went with this pre-determined safeguard, I’m just recalling how it translated to me growing up.
Coming from that background, imagine how odd it felt to me when I began to date my now-husband. We started talking just five months after I stopped attending a Holiness church and moved out alone to Colorado. There wasn’t even a soul we could ask to be our chaperone—not unless I was going to fly in a sibling from Alabama. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have an extra list of rules to go by. I didn’t have anyone watching over my shoulder. I only had the Bible to read and God to see me. It was time to take responsibility, apply scripture practically, and set my own boundaries. And that’s exactly what Cole and I did. We both had our personal standards, and we sat down and compiled them into a document which we called our “Pure Pact.” Were we ever in a room without another adult? Yes, our personal safeguards varied on that point from how I grew up. But even though our boundaries were a bit different, they were still founded on Scripture and we still respected them. We made it through our relationship without any regrets—we never even kissed until our wedding.
I say all that to encourage you to take similar steps, and not only by setting safeguards in your dating. Personal boundaries are healthy and much needed in regards to your appearance, modesty, friendships, entertainment, finances, alcohol, word choices, time management, and just about every other area of life. Don’t count on yourself to always use discretion in the heat of the moment, if there’s a moral decision that you know may come up in the future, do yourself a favor and go ahead and decide what’s right. There may come a time when you reevaluate and adjust your boundaries, but you should always know what they are ahead of time and be extremely cautious about changing them in the moment.
Find a Healthy Church and Community
“No man is an island.” You need other believers. You need them for encouragement, support, edification, accountability, cooperate worship, discipleship, effective outreach, and so much more. Living the Christian life alone and expecting to thrive is like trying to manufacture cars without any coworkers. If you’ve come to believe that your congregation is not healthy, you may have a good reason to leave that church, but there’s no good reason to leave the Church. Be intentional about finding a strong Christian community that will be ready to receive, support, and encourage you as soon as you’re no longer attending your current church. This is especially important if you believe you may face rejection and loss of relationships. If at all possible, do your best to start building those friendships and connecting with other local churches before announcing that you’re leaving. It’s a lot easier to smile and say, “I’m going to start attending at The Bible Church in town, because I’d love to join their children’s outreach program and small group that focuses on biblical Greek” then to say, “I’m going to leave this church and I have no idea where I’m going, but anywhere is better than here.”
So, how should you choose a church? That’s another huge decision. A great place to start is with careful consideration of the biblical descriptions of a healthy church which were mentioned in the previous article. Questions to keep in mind would be, “Do they study the Word? Do they teach scripture accurately? Do they reach the lost at home and abroad? Do they care for those in need? Do they love other believers? Do I feel welcome here? Am I able to sincerely worship? Am I able to respect their leadership? Are we in agreement on essential doctrines and nonessential doctrines which are of special importance to me? Do I leave with greater love for and understanding of my Savior? Do I see myself being challenged and growing in Christ?” If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, you likely have found a healthy church. The Christians and teachings you surround yourself with will shape whom you become—for better or worse—so don’t be afraid to be picky. Make as educated a decision as possible, with as much research as possible, as much counsel as possible, as much thought and prayer as possible, and as much insight as possible. But at the end of the day, don’t stay in a toxic church, just because you can’t find a perfect church.
Transitioning from one church to another can be very difficult. That difficulty is compounded if you are also transitioning from one denomination to another, and it’s most especially hard if your identity and worldview are also going through a major shift. The best way to navigate this level of change (without losing your sanity) is to develop a strong support system. A support system is made up of people you can trust, who have your best interest at heart, and who will encourage you to do what’s right. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m in trouble because I don’t have many people like that…” Stop thinking that way. Those people are out there, you just need to go find them. When I came to the realization that I was in need of friends, I took the steps to find them. I started texting everyone in my contact list. I reached out to old friends I hadn’t heard from in months. I reached out to strangers who had gone through similar struggles and asked if I could visit them. I started googling small groups near me just to meet other Christians. I started having conversations with other Christians on social media who I found through similar interests or mutual friends. This was completely out of my comfort zone, but at the end of the day it worked and it was worth it. I didn’t build strong friendships with everyone I reached out to, but enough friendships resulted that I no longer felt alone. People were praying for me, checking up on me, listening to me, and showing they cared. It was exactly what I needed, and it’s what you need you too.
Take Care of Yourself
As we’ve already stated, change is hard. I know of people who, while transitioning from one type of church to another, have suffered from panic attacks, depression, migraines, and even nervous breakdowns to the degree of hospitalization. It’s very important that if you choose to change churches, and most especially if you’re facing rejection for this choice, that you make daily, conscious effort to care for yourself—mentally, physically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Stay aware of what you’re feeling. The worst thing you can do is bottle all your negative emotions inside of you—this is what leads to breakdowns. Journaling is a fantastic way to both process and record your faith journey (it’ll be so much fun to look back years later and see how God was leading/growing you during this season). Another suggestion is long nature walks. When I first moved away, I had so much processing to do that I took long walks almost every day—sometimes for hours. It really helped to supplement my walks with music, another stress reliever. Eating healthy, exercise, and 7–8 hours of sleep won’t just benefit you physically, this will also help you think more clearly and give you the strength to respond to highly emotional situations without losing your cool. Most importantly, always prioritize daily prayer and Bible reading! This is a season of so many critical decisions; the best way to make them is by focusing on Christ and letting Him lead. With access to the internet, you have literally thousands of deep, quality sermons right there at your finger tips. Start listening to them and let the teaching of God’s Word refresh your soul.
Never Leave Holiness
Many of you who are reading this are considering leaving a church from a Holiness Movement, be it Conservative, Oneness, Free, Congregational, or Independent. To put it bluntly, these aren’t easy churches to leave. There are a few exceptional churches and plenty of great Christians in them, but in general, they see anyone who leaves their movements as backslidden and rebellious. Just a few months prior to writing this, I visited one of my favorite Holiness churches and had to bite my tongue as someone who knew me stood up and said that even visiting a non-Holiness church for one service “isn’t worth your soul.”
No matter how many good reasons you have for attending elsewhere, brace yourself for being looked upon in a very negative light. It’ll be hard, but no matter what happens, refuse to see yourself through the eyes of others—that will only bring you down and cause you to make bad choices accordingly. Instead, see yourself through the eyes of Scripture, as an undeserving, yet priceless, blood-bought, Child of God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. People will say you’re backsliding, and weird as this is, they actually need you to backslide in order to reinforce their belief-system. Don’t be afraid to prove them wrong, and shake their world in the best of ways. You’ll be amazed at the people who come around and later apologize to you! I certainly was.
One of the most cutting remarks your going to receive will be, “I can’t believe you’re giving up holiness.” It’s as if you used to be holy, pure, and pristine, but by putting on a wedding ring or attending a non-holiness church, you’ve defiled yourself. It’s easy to just accept this as a fact. Don’t! The only reason you’re leaving that church is because you believe you will grow closer to Christ somewhere else. That’s not leaving holiness, that’s pursuing holiness!
If you’ve watched the definition of holiness be abused in a Holiness church, or if you’ve had other bad experiences associated with the word “holiness,” it will be easy to grow resentful towards the word itself. Refuse to let that happen. True holiness is absolutely beautiful. It is God’s chief attribute and the perfection of every other virtue. It is a treasure imputed to every believer at salvation, it is a gift that none of us can enter heaven without. It is something we must work towards daily as we strive to be more like Christ. Whatever you do, never leave it. Never leave holiness. And when you’re told that’s what you’ve done? Smile. Laugh inside. In your heart you know the truth, and so does the Holy One. Nothing else matters.
— Natalie Edmonson
If you’re trying to decide if a church is healthy and whether or not to leave, check out part one, “Is It Time to Move On? Making the Decision.” If you’d like hear from Christians who have transitioned well, see their testimonies here. If there’s anyway we can encourage or support you, please contact us.
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