I decided to leave the church that I had faithfully attended for the past 10-plus years.
The church where I had met three of my closest friends.
The church that had provided me with a community of like-minded believers when I needed it the most.
The church where I had the privilege of teaching children in the youth ministry program.
But I knew, after praying for guidance and wisdom, that it was a decision that I had to make because of what the church’s leadership did to Dan and me.
They left me no choice.
I had to leave.
So what happened?
Unexpected Wedding Planning Surprise
It started as I was planning our wedding.
One of our first tasks was to meet with the pastor for pre-marital counseling.
Our initial session lasted 30 minutes. The pastor talked to Dan about Dan’s faith and Dan opened up about some personal experiences that had shaped his faith. I said that finding another Christian was a primary characteristic that I looked for in any man that I dated, much less married. I also told the pastor that Dan and I had discussed this as well as a variety of religious topics at length and that I had no doubt as to what Dan believes.
As the session ended, the pastor smiled and said that he saw no reason why we could not get married in the church.
Everything went great.
Or so we thought.
A week later the pastor called me at work and said that he was concerned that Dan was not a Christian so he was not sure that the church would be able to marry us.
I was caught off guard, to say the least.
So, I asked him to speak directly to Dan instead of me. He said that he did not want to speak to Dan because Dan was not the Christian in the relationship.
I was confused because I listened to Dan’s conversation with the pastor and there was nothing at all problematic about what Dan said.
The only thing that I could think of was that maybe the pastor had misunderstood Dan. So, to clear up any doubts, I again suggested to the pastor that he speak to Dan. I said that I knew what Dan believed so I did not have any concerns about Dan’s faith.
I thought that that would resolve the issue.
But I was wrong.
The pastor responded that he did not like the way that I phrased my response and told me that I needed to re-phrase it.
I did not know what the problem was so I repeated what I had just said.
He told me again that I needed to re-phrase my comments.
I said that I did not understand what he wanted me to say. I also reiterated that marrying a Christian man was my highest priority and that I would not have even dated Dan if I did not think that he was a Christian.
The pastor told me that if I thought that this line of questioning was difficult then Dan and I should be aware that our pre-marital counseling sessions would be “15 times harder”.
At that point, I told him that I needed to go to a meeting and that he could call me or Dan later to discuss this matter further so that we could move forward.
And, with that, the call ended.
Do You Really Know Your Church’s Leaders?
What occurred during that conversation was not at all what I expected when I picked up the phone.
I was very taken aback by the pastor’s rigidity toward an “issue” that should have been easily resolved with a simple phone call to Dan.
The pastor’s communication style during the call was certainly very different from how he communicated during his weekly sermons (that I had attended for years) where he delivered, in a gentle, reassuring manner, messages about the need to forgive and to treat others with love and respect.
Was this the same man?
I did not understand why he, a man of the cloth who seeks to bring others to Christ, would not even call Dan to discuss Christ.
If, in fact, one of us was a non-believer, why would a pastor not want to talk about who Christ is and why accepting Jesus as your savior is necessary in order to be saved from your sins?
It made no sense.
So I waited for the pastor’s next phone call.
It never came.
A week later he sent me (not Dan) an email. In it, he stated that he would not perform the ceremony but that he would counsel us.
His email did not state whether another pastor in the church would perform the ceremony.
I had been an active participant in the church for over 10 years and that is how I was being treated during the planning of our once-in-a-lifetime event?
He sent me an impersonal email?
His lack of personal follow-up and answer said as much to me about how much the church leadership valued me as any part of my phone call with him did.
As the realization of what I knew I needed to do slowly dawned on me, I felt like the little lost sheep from the Parable of the Lost Sheep…only in my case, I felt like the church leadership could not be bothered enough to “bring me and Dan home” by just talking to Dan.
I felt like we were not as important to them as their “other 99 sheep”.
Challenges Help Us Build Faith In God
I prayed about what had occurred and my feelings of spiritual loneliness began to quell when I remembered the memory verse, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
I remembered that God’s love will get you through disappointments.
Even those brought about by your church.
I knew that it would be a challenge to give up such a big part of my life, but I also had faith that God would point us in the direction that we were meant to go.
Even if I had no idea where that would be.
I think Shauna Niequist put it best in her book, “Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way”, “There are times when the actual experience of leaving something makes you wish desperately that you could stay, and then there are times when the leaving reminds you a hundred times over why exactly you had to leave in the first place.”
The Perfect Church For Our Wedding
Once the initial pain of leaving subsided, we began the search for a church for our wedding.
And it did not take us long at all.
In fact, it was right there in front of us the entire time and we did not even “know” it.
You see, ever since I was a little girl, I had imagined that I would get married in the same small, country Methodist church where my parents were married. Unfortunately, that church burned down a few years ago. When I found out that it had burned down I cried, not only for the loss of the building but for the loss of a place that held so many fond memories for me and my family.
That was the type of church that we needed.
One built with family at the center of it.
And that is exactly what we found.
We were, just like my parents, married in a small, country Methodist church…by my dear Aunt Jane, a Methodist minister who has always had my best interests at heart and been there for me.
I guess, in the end, the Lord has a way of working things out and giving us what matters most when we need it.
Have you ever been disappointed by your church leadership? What happened? How did you respond?