Why I Left the Church and Why I Came Back

I’ve seen a lot of stories circulating around social media about men and women who are “deconstructing” their faith. They’re leaving the church after being hurt by it. This is not part of my personal story, but I recognize how isolating this experience must be and I want to help. How can we love each other well no matter where we are in our journey?

Singer/songwriter Tasha Layton shared her story with me about leaving the church, studying other religions, and ultimately, coming back to her faith and working in full time ministry. She touched on something crucial to all people as we focus on forming real friendships and community with each other.

Below, you’ll find Tasha’s story of why she left then came back to the church, along with what she would say to both sides – someone who has walked away from religion and someone who’s in it right now.

Why Did You Leave and Why Did You Come Back?

“I grew up in South Carolina, in a conservative Christian home. My family loved God, they loved people. And I really was excited about my faith! I was excited about Jesus, missions, worship music, and all of those things. But like a lot of people out there, I experienced some hurt in the church. Long story short, I just experienced a vast chasm between the people who said they were Christian (even Christian leaders in the church) and who the Bible tells us to be. It was just really painful and I had some personal wounds from some church leaders.

I decided to walk away from the church because I was sad about it. I was hurt. I couldn’t understand how people that were supposed to be Christians could be so mean. I was just in a really dark place. I was depressed. I was sad. I was hurt. And I just went searching.

I always wanted to serve God in music, but I decided that I was going to switch my major from music to religion and really seek out truth. I went to Buddhist meditation camp, I went to synagogue, I went to mosque, I studied mysticism for a summer in Europe. I needed truth because I was hurting and I felt stuck. I was also studying a lot of really humanistic philosophy at a liberal arts college.

All of that put me in a bad spot. I was suicidal and at the lowest of low, I took inventory of my life. I realized that in all of these other religions, that you have to strive to reach God. You have to try to be good enough or try to do all of the right things to be accepted. In Christianity, Jesus is in hot pursuit of us. In the season of Christmas we sing about Emmanuel. It’s Emmanuel – “God with us.” He’s come to us. I realized that I didn’t have to be good enough – that he was good enough.

I was reading books like The Case for Christ and anything I could get my hands on to try to stir up the faith I knew I once had. I didn’t realize how it could be so real to me for so many years, and then all of the sudden I just felt completely empty of it. But at that lowest of low I realized, “You know what? Jesus is the only God of all of these lower case gods that I’m searching out, that offered any power to transform in my life.”

So I decided I was going to go back to church.

That wasn’t an easy decision. I didn’t necessarily connect with a lot of people there. I felt like I had gone through some searching and questions that they had not. I don’t say that pompously. I just lived in an area where everyone was sort of sheltered and shielded. I felt I had this open mind and I couldn’t meet other people who thought the same way I did. I thought something was wrong with me.

But you know, faith is a decision, much like love is a decision in marriage. And so I decided “I’m just gonna go back, whether I feel anything or not.” And I forced myself to go for about a year and a half. One Sunday, the pastor said, “Hey, if you need a touch from God, come up at the end of service.” I left three hours later  because I was just a sobbing mess on the floor. That started my journey home, so to speak.”

What Would You Tell Someone Who’s Been Hurt By the Church?

First off, God is not intimidated by your questions.

I had a lot of questions that made me fearful. As a conservative Christian growing up in a Christian home, I was afraid to be questioning who Jesus says he is, the reality of him being the son of God, the virgin birth, and all these things that I had real questions about. I was afraid to say what I was questioning because I didn’t want to be judged. God’s not intimidated by your questions. He knows and he will walk with you through it.

Second of all, don’t judge yourself or others.

I was judging myself because I felt afraid to go where I knew I needed to go to get my questions answered both mentally and spiritually. But I was also judging other people who maybe weren’t questioning. I was judging the people who were super conservative, thinking, “Well, your faith is one of ignorance, because you haven’t tested it.”

When you’ve walked away, don’t judge the people who are in it. And if you’re in it, don’t judge the people who are searching. Because the minute you think that you are better off than someone else, you have entered into judgment.

What Would You Tell Someone Who’s In the Church Right Now?

When I came back from that season of hurt and being suicidal and depressed, I don’t think there was anything more that the church I was going to could have done. They just loved me back into the fold. They loved me into healing. They just loved me.

There was no, “Hey, you should do this” or “You should do that.” No “shoulds.” Just loving me.

God brings his own conviction. You know, Jesus came to save a world that deserved condemnation. We deserved condemnation, but he gave us love instead. He’s our model! We’re supposed to be like him. So, he’s the only one that could judge. He didn’t act judgmental towards people. So that should tell us something.

Even the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) – she was caught in the act. They bring her to Jesus and he says, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” He’s saying this to all the people around, so he’s protecting her. Then when they leave, he looks at the woman and says, “Don’t you ever do that again.” So there’s this balance of love and justice, but it’s always personal and it’s always straight from him.

So I think, loving me was the best thing they could have done. And they did it well.

For those people in the church welcoming people who are maybe bitter or resentful or just negative or suspect – when they come in, don’t try to have a conversation about what they should and shouldn’t believe. Just love them. That is what Paul tries to get into our heads in the book of Romans! That we’ve all sinned. There’s none righteous, no not one.

Or we that we’re just self-righteous, because we do everything “right.” Or we’re good, or follow the rules, like we have pride, you know what I mean. So whatever end of the spectrum that you’re on, the second that you think you’re better than someone else, or more moral, or you’re abiding by scripture more than this other person or whatever. You have lost the idea.

Paul also says in Corinthians that you could do all of these things right, but if you don’t love, you’re a clanging symbol. It’s all for naught.

I think the best advice I could give to both sides is to release that spirit of judgment over the other person. We think by judging them, we’re helping God change them or we’re assisting God in his work. Instead we’re creating a vacuum of judgment.

You know, when you’ve asked yourself some hard questions like I did, then you come into contact with people in the church and they haven’t asked those questions – don’t look down on them! Don’t think, “you’re ignorant” or “you’re not as intelligent.” No. They’re just different from you and they’re in a different place on their journey.

We should really be focusing on our own walk with God and on our own ability to love people.”

Special thanks to Tasha Layton for boldly and hopefully sharing her story and reminding us of truth we all can grow from today and beyond.

Read Next: 3 Things I Learned About the Church from Christian Radio Listeners
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