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Healing After Leaving a Toxic Church Environment

It takes a lot of courage to leave a toxic church environment. Some may think it's an easy decision, whether it's your job or your church membership because leaving a place where you are devalued and disempowered makes sense. It may be easier to leave a corporate job, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual warfare you experience is overwhelming when it's the church. We wrestle with whether or not our mistreatment is just the "cross" we are called to bear. We don't want to believe that the people who are called to care for our souls are the ones who are throwing the arrows that are wounding our souls.

We try to make sense of what doesn't make sense. We wonder if our leaving makes us look like we lack faith. Until we actually leave, we struggle every day with whether or not we ought to persevere or flee.

I have even heard stories where people who were the victims of toxic church environments are made to feel like they are the ones who were wrong. They become the accused and are ousted, criticized, and even demonized by those in leadership and people they've known for years, all because they chose to be more loyal to God than a leader.

Stephen Arterburn says in his book, Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse, "In a toxic faith system, loyalty is equated with blind faith and complete agreement with the leader." Challenging a toxic system that is not congruent with the Word of God is often equated with being disloyal to the leader. This wounds us.

Some people become more focused on keeping the toxicity a secret than on exposing it so that their church can be a healthy church where people can grow into spiritual maturity. Toxicity breeds immature believers. Those longing for spiritual maturity usually challenge the toxic system and ultimately have to leave, and leaving our home church wounds our very souls.

Once we leave, we must deal with our mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds. We even experience the stages of grief because we are grieving the loss of friends, maybe the loss of a job, opportunities to serve God in a particular way, and our perception of certain people. These are wounds that require us to heal.

I thought I would share some of the things I am doing to help me to heal.

  1. Praying & Reading Scripture- There is no way I could survive this without God's Word and prayer. At the beginning of each year, I always select a scripture that will carry me through the year. I allow that scripture to be my guide for the year. My scripture for the year is Psalm 144. I am grateful that I have a word of encouragement and hope given to me on Jan. 1, 2023. What scripture(s) can be your healing balm as you heal from your experiences in your toxic church environment?

  2. Writing- Writing is my therapy. It's how I process the experiences in my life. It's a way for me to allow God to make something beautiful out of the ashes of my life. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, "God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others in their troubles." I write because I want those with similar experiences to be comforted, inspired, and empowered. I choose to become a resource for others. I also love to journal.

  3. Sharing My Story- The principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12) want us to be afraid to share our story. There are many fears like no one will believe us (even after sharing proof) or that they will believe us but not hold those responsible accountable, and that they will launch personal attacks. When all of these fears come against me, I am reminded that the God I serve is a God of justice, that one day, all things will be made right, and that all things are working for my good. (Rom. 8:28).

  4. Seeing a Mental Health Professional- Do not underestimate a toxic environment's impact on your mental health. Make an appointment to see a mental health professional. It will do your mind and your soul good.

  5. Talk to Trusted Friends- I have friends I can talk to about my experiences and other things; sometimes, I rehash experiences, but they allow me to "get it out."

  6. Find another place to Worship- It's okay to decide not to return to that church if it's your place of worship. Worshipping in the place where you have been wounded may not be healthy for you. You will need to discern this.

  7. Setting Boundaries- I decided, just this past week, that I will need to refrain from allowing people to bring me certain types of information related to my church. This keeps the person and me safe from being used to bait or hurt me; it keeps me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually safe.

  8. Do something you enjoy at least once a day- Be intentional about doing the things you enjoy. Take some time, write down 20 things you enjoy, and prioritize doing something you enjoy each day. This could include nature walks, certain foods, drinks, recreational activities, a good book, etc.; the list could go on and on!

My prayer is that this blog will be something that contributes to your time of healing. One thing I know for sure, this too shall pass, and one day, we will be healed. We will reflect on this time in our lives and say, "I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy!" Psalm 63:2-5

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