It has come to my attention that there is, apparently, a new reason to stay with a church that doesn’t fulfill any real need in your spiritual, emotional, religious, psychological, of family life, and that may even harm those by staying on: guilt-psychology.

One thing that churches have always made a special mission of is assistance to parishioners and community members in need. I myself have benefited from this in the past; many churches have special funds for this, or collect “deacon’s offerings” specifically for helping out families in financial trouble, and so on. It’s commendable, and biblical besides.

But the church is not a bank, and neither is it a “social service agency,” although there’s nothing wrong with it filling those roles. And the church MUST KNOW that it absolutely cannot expect anything in return when it dispenses this kind of assistance to anyone, whether they attend the church or not. When the church fails to realize this, there’s trouble. When the church expects certain things from you in return, it is no longer a church.

Admittedly, it’s natural to feel some sense of obligation to a church or anyone else who helps you out when you’re hard up. But when a church fails to meet spiritual and emotional and religious needs, one should not feel obligated to “stick it out” simply because it gave you some help at some point. And just as importantly, the church should understand that, for any number of reasons, as people grow and mature in their spirituality, in their religious needs, in Scripture, in Christ, and so on, many will find that the church they go to (and received help from) no longer meets the needs of their spirit. It goes without saying here that not all churches recognize this last observation, believing themselves to be either just as good as anyone else on the one hand, or among those churches (usually fundamentalist in some way, shape, or form) who believe that if your needs are not being met, the fault lies with YOU, and not with them.  To prevent people from leaving, these kinds of churches will go on the power/authority trip and lay on a thick layer of guilt about “everything we’ve done for you, and this is how you show your gratitude, by leaving us.”  There’s no chance to even discuss the real issues when this kind of crap comes out.

As I see it, there are two options. The first is the easiest; just say “screw it,” wash your hands of the place, and move on, no matter how many phone calls you get or requests for a “meeting.”

The second option is the more difficult, and that’s to actually try to address all the reasons why you are in the process of leaving the parish you’ve been going to. It is difficult because it requires honest introspection on your part about all the reasons why you leave a place, and you may find that some of those reasons may not be very good. It is also difficult because you are putting yourself at risk of being taken advantage of by an “expert” (like the bent-out-of-shape pastor of the church) who is trained to make people feel guilty as part of his theological and psychological vocation. He’ll have an answer for every legitimate point you make about why you are leaving, and not many of us will be able to rebut him (or her), and even if we could, they would not take the rebuttals seriously because “they KNOW they know more” than you do. Big on theology, big on doctrine, small on sense, small on sensitivity, understanding, and compassion.

It’s a sad situation. But it’s time to go for sure. And hopefully the reasons for it are clear.