People who leave sects complain that they can’t find anything similar in their lives to take up the place of the missing piece. There is an intensity to the relationships in a sect that is seldom replicated in another, more open, church.
In the more rigid, sectarian Churches of Christ, it is required to attend Sunday morning Bible study, Sunday morning worship, Sunday night worship, and Wednesday night Bible study, especially if it is a small congregation. If any one of these is skipped, the preacher and/or elders will ask:
1. “Where were you?” Variations of this include: “We missed you,” and “Why were you absent (from the Lord’s body)?” If your excuse is insufficient (the only valid excuses: sick or traveling out of town), then you will be asked:
2. “Do you think that is a good example to the young people? ”
3. “Do you think the Lord would be pleased with you being absent?” Variations of this include: “Your faith is weak,” “What if the Lord came back and found you at [insert where you said you were] instead of at church?”
4. “You need to repent.” Variations include: “Do you really think you can go to heaven attending only once per week?” or “You’re not going to get to heaven attending only once per week.”
If your excuse is that you had to work instead of go to church, then you have a fifty per cent chance of hearing:
5. “I would never take a job if I had to work Wednesday night and miss Bible study.” or “Do you think Jesus would take a job where He had to miss church?”
This reminds me of a classic Church of Christ joke: Once a member of the Church of Christ died and was standing in line for the Judgment. All at once a big cheer went up at the front of the line. He asked what the hubbub was about, but it took quite a few minutes before the news spread to the end of the line: “Wednesday nights don’t count!”
The response from the elders is even worse if your excuse for not attending was that you attended a nearby Church of Christ NOT ON THE LIST. That very week the elders will descend on your house with their Bibles open, and they will reason with you until your eyes roll back in your head.
Even though Jesus never asked any of his followers to attend synagogue or church, attendance at sects becomes the primary definition of faithfulness to God. This attitude creates a group of people who tend to believe that their church attendance is more important than their job or school attendance. This sets them apart from almost all of their peers. It is awkward to explain to outsiders why it is so important to go to Bible study on Wednesday night and skip the annual office Christmas party. The attendance policy helps to isolate members from having close relationships outside the church, and helps to solidify relationships within the congregation. A feeling of us-against-them arises in the members against outsiders. Conversion becomes more a matter of joining our isolated group that is superior to, and stands against, outsiders, than a matter of believing in Jesus. We stood around and talked to each other after every church service for at least 45 minutes.
But what if you leave? If you leave you lose your group that you spent so much time with: about 7 to 8 hours per week, not including gospel meetings and time spent with friends from church. This is a huge amount of time. Ask all your co-workers, and they will tell you none of them spend 7 hours per week with any one group of people. Exceptions are: people putting on a play, people in boot camp, people being initiated into a fraternity or sorority, or people in a multi-level marketing group.
So those who leave a strict sect wander from church to church wondering why everything feels so bland. They are lonely. They may have few social skills, their social needs having been met by attending church so often. They may have no idea how to function in a group setting where there might be alcohol or marijuana, where people might be divorced or living together, where people aren’t following the strict clothing rules, where people might want to flirt and take them home for the night.
That is why some people who leave the Churches of Christ go to other sects, or communal living churches, or intenser Pentecostal churches. The book that Churches of Christ study the most is the book of Acts, and in the book of Acts there is an intensity to the fellowship among the Christians. There is a driving need, an urgency to their mission. So people who leave Churches of Christ often look for a church with that same level of urgency.
How long does it take to develop outside relationships so that the loneliness goes away? Well, perhaps one needs to remember the loneliness inside the sect. You may be around seemingly loving people much of the time, but they don’t want to hear that you disagree with them. They are rigid and brittle and cannot tolerate much disagreement before they break. And when they break, they send you and your disagreements out the door. That threat underlies the thinkers within the rigid Churches of Christ. The thinkers have an anxiety, a low level depression, a sneaking suspicion that the smiles and hugs and good times will end as soon as the group discovers the full extent of the doubts and beliefs that have crept into their thinking.
But realistically, it takes about three to five years to adjust to life outside a sect.
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