Left Behind: letting go of your friends from an abusive church

abusive churchNow that I’ve released my latest book, Broken Trust, I regularly hear from people stuck in an abusive church or who have just left an abusive church. One question I often get is: What do I do about the friends I leave behind at my former church? I feel so responsible for them. I don’t want to leave them “to the wolves.”

Leaving an Abusive Church

Leaving your friends is one of the hardest parts of leaving an abusive church and it’s what causes many people to stay (when they should leave). When I left an abusive church I didn’t know what to do about my friends who stayed. I wanted to rescue them. And they kept asking me why I was leaving and encouraging me to just stay.

Then I read some advice that said the best thing you can do is have NO contact with friends from your previous church. At first I thought it was terrible advice. It sounded extreme. But over time I realized the wisdom of it. When you stay in contact with people at your former church it only adds unnecessary drama to your life and the lives of your friends. There are the continual updates about “what they did/said this week” and it only leads to gossip and confusion.

You Can’t Decide For Your Friends

It’s important to let people make up their own minds on whether to stay in their abusive church or leave it. You can’t make that decision for them. Their experience isn’t your experience. You need to respect that.

If you compel your friends to leave, they may resent you and eventually return.  Then suddenly YOU are the bad guy. But if you leave and stop communicating with them, that makes a powerful statement. It shows your friends how serious this is to you. It also gives them the freedom to hear from God on their own, without your influence. You have to trust that if God spoke to you about leaving the abuse, he can speak to your friends as well.

What To Tell Your Friends

There is no recipe that “works” in this situation. It’s like a divorce. You are just trying to make the best of a very bad situation. Personally, I would tell my friends that stay in the abusive church something like this:

“Friend, I’m leaving the church for these reasons (list). I don’t want to sway you to leave and I’m not going to defend my reasons for leaving. I’m sorry to have to say this but I’m not going to be in contact with you for an extended period of time. I don’t want to cause any dissension in the church or be a stumbling block in your faith. I leave you to make up your own mind. For this reason, it’s best that we don’t talk for a season until we are all settled on what’s right for us. I love you. I’ll be praying for you and the church. I’ll miss you. I’m not doing this to hurt you. I believe it’s the best for everyone.”

I understand that this is hard, but there’s nothing easy about an abusive church. I believe that drawing these firm boundaries are necessary. You may not agree with this approach. That’s fine. Let me know what you have found that has worked better for you.

If you are looking for practical answers to help you to deal with an abusive church situation you might want to check out Broken Trust and read the reviews from people who have already read it.

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