Why I left my “dream job” (and the church too)

Ever since my sophomore year of high school I knew that I wanted to be a pastor. It was the obvious choice. I grew up in the church, in a home with christian parents, and I went to a christian school. I started leading worship consistently in high school. I went on mission trips and to christian conferences every summer. Faith, christianity was my life. Everything seemed to point me toward vocational ministry.

I went to bible college. I got ordained. I became a pastor just like I was supposed to. Eventually, I ended up with what I thought was my dream job. I was a worship pastor at a church of almost 2,000. I had made it. This is all I thought I had ever wanted. I had no doubt that I would be in ministry for the rest of my life.


About a year ago, however, everything I thought I knew and everything I believed started to fall apart around me. I started asking questions about the bible, about theology. Why would such a big God go to such great lengths to create the universe around us only to save a few and condemn the rest for all eternity? Why would a moral God ever be violent? Why would God be so beholden to “justice” that he had to kill his own son? Couldn’t he just forgive us? Or is God not actually big enough for that?

The domino that started knocking down all the rest was leaving behind an inerrant, literal view of the bible. Allowing myself to be open to even the smallest amount of historical criticism quickly changed my view on the bible. If there is a perfect revelation of God, it’s Jesus, not the bible.

This realization finally allowed me to honestly look at the rest of my life. To actually consider what I believe about God, the church, and myself.


My relationship with the church is a messy one, in large part, because I’m gay. I’ve been taught my entire life that my sexuality is a sin. I have spent the majority of my life hating my body. I’ve spent most of my life angry with God. I was ashamed of who I was. I thought that I was a mistake. Because of my sexuality, I was forced to be celibate. It made me jealous, bitter, and angry. In 2016, I entered into a deep depression. For about 6 months I cried myself to sleep every single night. It was the darkest time of my life. Eventually, I started to think that it would be better if I wasn’t alive.

All of this, because of what I learned about my sexuality at church.

To be honest, I’m angry with the church. Because of what it has done to my mental health. Because it was my years in the church that led to my struggles with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Because little queer kids like me want to kill themselves. Because so many churches are teaching little girls that the best thing for them in life is to grow up, get married, and submit to their husband. Because churches have been hijacked by American nationalist christians, who bow to country over Kingdom. Because I watch so many christians checking their morals at the door in order to support a conservative of any kind, even if they’re racist, misogynistic, and locking kids in cages.


I know for a lot of you reading this (if you made it this far), this might be a little shocking to you. You’re probably trying to figure out how I got here. I think the simplest explanation is that, for the first time in my life, I decided to put myself first. I decided that if my mental health was ever going to improve, if I was ever going to be truly happy, I had to leave. I finally decided that my well being was more important than staying in a job and in a belief system that was sucking the life out of me just so that I wouldn’t let others down.

So I left. I left my church, and at least for now, the church as a whole.


If you’re reading this and having a hard time with it, I just ask that you be open to other voices. Read “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines, listen to an episode of the podcast “The Bible for Normal People”, or listen to a sermon by Greg Boyd. There are people just like me in your church and they desperately need you to try to understand them.

If you’re reading this and you’re dealing with self-harm, PLEASE tell someone or call 1-800-273-8255. I have been where you are and I know how impossible that seems. I know the last thing you want to do is talk to someone about it, but talking about it saved my life. You are not alone. You are valuable. The world is truly better with you in it. Please reach out to someone.

And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re an LGBT individual, know that it will be OK. If you feel trapped in the church because it’s unsafe for you to come out, know that there is a whole world outside who will love and accept you. If you’ve been hurt by the church, there are christians who will affirm you. On the days that I believe in God, I believe in a God who loves you just the way you are. You aren’t a mistake. You are deeply and fully loved.


I plan to keep writing about my journey away from the church. I don’t know where I’m going, so for now all I know is what I’m leaving. I’d love for you to keep reading with me, but if not that’s OK too. We are all on our own journey. May you find peace and happiness wherever you go.

27 Comments

  1. Jon, I truly appreciate your honesty, your heart, your courage.

    Though we land in very different places on some of the issues you have mentioned here, as I told you recently over lunch, I love you, and will continue to do so. A lot of people in the church love you too (and will continue to do so).

    Faith, like life, is messy. Know that as long as I have breath in my lungs, I will do my best to be available for you on this messy journey of life. I’m glad you’ve been there for me as well.

    Will continue praying for you (and with you, whenever you want).

    Love,
    Steve

    P.S. As we all know, it’s very easy to get into arguments etc. in forums, social media, etc. with very little productive conversation. I would simply say that to anyone reading this, there are other resources that provide a different perspective than Matthew Vines (and others who have similar viewpoints to his), but also do so with lots of love of compassion. Ok, ’nuff said.

      1. First, sorry for the delay. I just now saw your request. Second, I don’t claim to be an expert! But a couple of resources I found to be helpful are “Single. Gay. Christian.” by Gregory Coles and “Messy Grace” by Caleb Kaltenbach. Have also heard good things about “People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue” by Preston Sprinkle — though I haven’t yet read it, I just ordered a copy myself. Blessings!

        1. I really appreciate it! I haven’t heard of any of these, but I’ll definitely look into them.
          Personally, I’m drawn to the writings of Rosaria Butterfield and Jackie Hill Perry, probably because they’re women like me. 🙂 But it will be good to hear from some men as well…

  2. Jesus is the way, truth, and light.
    I’ve seen a lot of Christians start to fall, lose their faith, blame everybody but themselves, act like no one else has any issues, etc, etc. “woah is me”
    I won’t even get into the political errors you made, because they’re ignorant and probably just based on emotions.
    I am in no way attacking you, I don’t even know you. I love you as God loves you, and me.
    God does not love sin, but He still loves you.
    I don’t know what else to say except, how dare you insult the one and only living God!
    People always forget while writing these hateful, sad messages… If there is truly a God (which there is) who are you to say what he can and cannot do? I mean, you really think you know better then the one who has no boundaries or restraints, the one who created all things, the one who loved the world so much He sacrificed out of love, His only son? How can you try and twist that around? The greatest sacrifice ever made, and you challenge it? How dare you. God created all things? Who makes the rules? You don’t get to decide what’s moral, or fair, right, or wrong! Have you forgotten who YOU are, and who HE is? The way is not easy! There will be confusion, and pain, and sorrows, and sadness, and depression… but you endure it here, so that you may have the upmost honor to be welcomed into the kingdom that has no such things! God and his word, are not supposed to change for your likeness. YOU are supposed to change for His likeness! Have faith.. Believe in your unbelief. It is not wise to test the great I Am. You may be risking eternity for things of this world.

    Holy, precious, Almighty Father in heaven I come to you now to plead on behalf of your child Jon!
    In the name of Jesus I ask you almighty God, if he is willing to except it, send your Holy Spirit to Jon and I both, let us be filled with it, every part of our body let the Holy Spirit dwell, and work.
    Please help Jon to see you, even in this low time Father. Help us to truly understand what it means to walk by faith, and not by sight. Help Jon to feel your love, and mercy. Please touch him in a way that would be life changing. Please let him take refuge in you like he’s never done before. Whatever it is that satan is using to influence Jon, to tempt him, scare him, make him sad, I pray that you would take it away in the name of Jesus! Please help Jon to overcome this, please let him except the forgiveness you offer, and give him an untreatable faith that he may use for the building of your kingdom. I pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ our lord and savior, Amen.

    I will pray for you, and certainly love you. Please understand how scary this is, how serious it is! You are not alone! God speed.

    (I was in a hurry, not checking typos, all Love)

    1. I won’t give comments like this much of my time. But I did approve it so that others could see what you wrote. Your comment is the epitome of why I left the church. You’ve made a better argument for it than I ever could! I also laughed out loud when you ended your comment with “all love”. The irony is just too good.

      1. You take it however you want.
        Your emotions are determining your eternity. I, nor anyone els will be held accountable for it but you.
        You can blame whoever and whatever you want for losing your faith. But the only person God is going to blame, is you.
        It doesn’t sound like you were really ever a Christian:/ You’d still be a Christian for the same reasons you “were” then. Faith. Good day.

    2. Oh mighty, holy, and blameless Ned Bula. May we all learn from your ways of “all love.” Thank you for your spot on wisdom and gracious revelation. You are truly an inspiration. Way to go!!

  3. Jon you are not a mistake!!
    God does not make mistakes & you are a child of God.
    I’m a 70 year old grandma from FCC who misses the spirit & enthusiasm you shared with us Sunday mornings.
    Peace & Love
    Jean

  4. This was such an honest and heart wrenching post, Jon. You are going to help so many people by writing this and and I am sorry you had to endure so much to be able to write it, if that makes sense. I’m so happy you have stepped out of a dark time and hope you find the happiness and acceptance you deserve.

  5. The older I get the more questions I have. And the more I am certain that much of what the evangelical culture has taught us has turned into baggage (fear, guilt, shame) many of us no longer can nor should we carry.
    I am so sorry for the baggage you have had to shoulder and carry.
    Congratulations for stepping into the incredible person you are, and for not allowing the narratives of the church define you. The journey to wholeness, while brutal sometimes; truly is a worthwhile process.

    PS: I am here because of John Branyan’s horrible, egotistical, fear filled post. These are the “leaders” who bring so much damage to our communities and world. While his post sucks, it brought me to yours and I am grateful and thankful to have read your words.

  6. Jon, my friend, I hear you, I hear you.
    My transition from cultural Christianity to where I am now began about 11 years ago. Where I am now, I don’t know, but it’s a beautiful trail and I and deeply content in the not knowing.

    The trail you taking is only yours. Me, nor anyone else can blaze it for you. You’ll need a sharp machete, sturdy boots, and your CamelBak full of water to hack the trail for yourself. The hacking is so painful, it’s so “what the fuck I am doing”, it’s fearsome, its lonely. But. It’s so glorious. I promise. There are many of us on trails right next to you, or just a little ahead, or just a little behind, armed with our own gear to hack out our own trail. I am fully convinced that all of our individual trails are creating a network of glorious beauty in what is now unchartered wilderness. They will meet up and branch off time and again. The trail system we all are building will be the glory of our developing community of people who have come out from oppressive religion, sexual norms, and gender roles to save their souls. This community is growing and together we will create shelter for all people.

    It’s beautiful here Jon. The not knowing is so peaceful and freeing. There is no more continual gas-lighting and mind-bending shame infliction by people who profess that God is love. There are so many wide hearted, accepting, warm people out here ready to celebrate you now, and the you that you will discover. Keep going. Stay with us. I’m glad you are here.

    Please feel free to social media add me. I’m cheering for you and I’m proud of you.

    Jenn
    Ally
    Ex-wife to a wonderful gay man
    Wife to a wonderful cis/hetero man
    Mom to 3 sons who have various sexual orientations or refuse to identify.
    Cheerleader for Trail Blazers.

  7. I look forward to being able to sit down and talk with you Jon. I left organized churches years ago. I’d love to talk with you about you’re specific reasons as well as your general concerns with the teachings of the Bible and ir churches. I know that after I left I felt as if doctrine within churches were conflicting with what the bible teaches. I can also tell you that I have more appreciation and confidence in who christ is now more than ever. If you are looking to answer questions raised by your time in the church I’d love to be sounding board for your journey.

      1. Hey Steve, I’ll be happy to reach out. I have some fond memories from my parents and my time there at discover.
        -David

  8. Jon, I have been attending FCC for 5 years. Even though you don’t know me, you have been such a blessing to my family and me. Nothing you have written here changes that. I see you. Please know you are not alone. I tell my sons, remember who you are and WHOSE you are. God created you, and you are beautiful.

    With sincerity, admiration, and love,

  9. Jon,

    I have attended FCC for 10 years. After reading this, I still have the same view of you… A child of God that is blessed with amazing God given talents. We miss you!!! I pray for God to ease your pain. You are obviously have some inner pain that needs to be healed. Hopefully the chains that are holding you back will be broken. I know you don’t know me, but like others, I continue to pray for you. I pray for healing so that you may have peace and begin to love yourself. God always has!!!!

  10. Forewarning, I’m not blogger, a poet, I’m an average guy with a small vocabulary living in rural NE Ohio.

    September 24th I first read this magnificent article and experienced your courage and honesty. Thank you for sharing these feelings and experiences. It has taken me a few weeks to even begin to process what to type here. I feel I have to share my story with you, not to hijack your blog, but to come alongside you and encourage others as well.

    I was raised in church and I currently serve in a church as a youth pastor. I love music; I went to school for audio engineering, and ultimately, my passion for music and your passion for music allowed our paths to cross briefly. I had this love for music in High School and I met a young man and we became close friends. I invited him to church but he never really liked coming, but that didn’t matter, we were best friends anyway.

    Our senior year (2009), my best friend came out to me as gay. I told him (I am going to cringe as I type this) “That’s disgusting, I don’t want to be your friend, and you’re going to hell….” I unfriended him on MySpace, deleted his phone number and that was the end of the friendship, but NOT the end of my story.

    It felt justified at the time, I thought I was doing it the right way. Some “Fellow Christians” even said “nicely done.” Some people affirmed my behavior was correct.

    Years went by. I went to college, I met my wife, I got married, and I had never heard from my old friend. 2015 my wife and I landed at our church, and for the first time I started to question who am I in Christ, and I began to take my faith to a new level.

    Spring 2017:
    I don’t remember the day, I don’t remember the month. I remember I was drawing closer to God. For the first time in my life I deeply wanted a relationship with Him; I was trying to figure out this whole faith thing. I grew up in church, I knew all the stories, but my faith was simply entitlement.

    But this one day in Spring 2017, I felt as if I needed to reach out to my old friend, I felt God was telling me to make things right. I thought to myself, I don’t have his phone number, I surely cant get a hold of him. I deleted all his information, so I quickly dismissed that thought and preceded with my life.

    Fall 2017:
    I remember the day. I remember the time. I remember what I was doing. I was playing a video game, nice right? I was on Steam (a video game client) and I saw my old friend had just come online. We had played video games together in high school all the time, but apparently, I didn’t unfriend him on steam 8 years ago. I immediately stopped the game I was playing, and just sat there.

    I had been working on my faith for 2 years diligently, trying to set aside my love for money, my pride, my own personal sin. I knew this was happening for a reason. I was in full time ministry at this point. I knew I HAD to reach out to him. I knew I had to ask for forgiveness. This was time to practice what I was preaching. But, I ignored it, and I didn’t send him a message out of pride and discomfort.

    January 21, 2018:
    I was at work. I work for a Ministry, I work for a church. I received a text from a high school friend saying my old best friend had taken his own life. I was overwhelmed. I was ashamed. Many emotions are still painful to this day. My friend said. “Do you want to go with me to the funeral?” I immediately felt I needed to go right? I never apologized for the way I treated him, I never reached out when I was supposed to… The least I could do is go to the funeral. But I made up an excuse and didn’t go.

    March 2018:

    That winter was a busy winter. I was traveling for work, I was leading national conferences. I was simply too busy to actually reflect on what had happened. March 2018 came, my schedule slowed down, my marriage was strong, I was growing closer to God, I was trying to figure out my identity and why God put me here.
    Then, God broke me. It had finally hit me, the severity of my sin. I dropped to my knees and for the first time asked God for forgiveness for the way I treated Bret. You see, I had 9 years of sinning against someone, holding a grudge, unfair judgment, self pride and this sense of false holiness.
    I started to think to myself :
    “Would he be alive if I had reached out?”
    “Would he be alive if I would have loved him as God loves him?”

    Guilt
    Something I struggled with for almost a year. I know God forgives, but forgiving myself was the hardest part.

    Fast forward to today:

    I am still in ministry. I’m still a sinner, a nasty horrible person compared to our perfect God. I still make mistakes, I still sin.But God’s not done with me yet.

    God has brought me 4 amazing young people in my youth program. These 4 superstars are here every week. They are hungry to hear more about God’s love. Two of my 4 teenagers are experiencing same sex attraction. These 2 have felt rejected by the church, the rural community we live in, even their parents are embarrassed of them. One of my 4 teenagers is transitioning to become a man. The last of the 4 identifies as bisexual.

    If I have learned one thing in my short 27 years, it is this: It’s not my place to judge others. It’s not my place to “turn them straight.” or condemn. It’s my job to Love others for who they are and to create a safe place where they feel comfortable. It’s my Job to let them know they are beautifully and wonderfully made. They have a creator that loves them. They are His masterpiece. They are perfect.

    I have shared my story with these students, and I am humbled to do life together with them.
    I genuinely believe all of us should seek our identity daily, in prayer, scripture. The closer I’ve become to God, the more I understand who I am and how my story can be used for His purpose.

    This is what I tell my students, because in the end, we are just trying to figure out our identity in together, but we have to remember we have a God that loves us, we are His masterpiece.

    Until our paths cross again.
    Sending Love

  11. Jon, what is happening to you is all part of the Movement. It’s ok. You’re going in the right direction.
    IMO, the church was tainted from the start and people are seeing it. There is something terribly wrong with the bible. And taking it as “God’s word” and literal fact is the stumbling block.
    Why do you think Jesus said to beware the scribes? Once you get your heart clean, you’ll finally see God. And you’ll find he is not jealous, wrathful, vengeful, and doesn’t want anything or anyone killed to appease him.
    One more thing. If you are an open minded seeker, you’ll see that Paul is to blame for much of the insanity of the Christian religion. Why on Earth would Christians go against virtually everything Jesus said and commanded? If you seek you will find out. Then you’ll find the Way to be truly free. Not like the “freedom” of being ensnared in a religion. All the best.

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