Detoxing from Church

This is an old article, written by Rob McAlpine in 2003, which describes the process of detoxing from church. He looks at the outcomes of what can sometimes be a lengthy healing process, and demonstrates how for some Christians it can be an essential part of their journey to maturity in Christ.

For brevity’s sake, I’ve only quoted some worthwhile extracts, but the entire article is worth a look.

Brian McLaren, in his widely-read book “A New Kind of Christian”, has a small section in the prologue which details the progression from recognizing there is something not quite right with church as we’ve known it, going through a tunnel of disillusionment and disconnection, and finally emerging into a period of renewed vision for re-constructing.

In describing what I just referred to as a “tunnel of disillusionment and disconnection”, McLaren observes:

“An individual or group in this phase turns against the old paradigm and can’t stop talking about how wrong, inhumane, or insupportable it is.” (A New Kind of Christian, page xi)

It is this part of the process that I’ve labeled “detox” – the period of time where individuals and groups go through an intense season of feeling betrayed, confined, and to a degree, deceived by their previous participation in a church system that they no longer find attractive, healthy, spiritually invigorating, or even biblical. They can’t help but vocalize their disillusionment, and finding many people with the same feelings, they begin to realize that the problem isn’t just them and their opinion. And with the popularity and easy access of the Internet, they find many others on the journey, with the same pain, and with the same dreams.

It is during this part of the process – an extremely necessary part, in my view – that much of the current animosity between disillusioned postmoderns and the churches (and leaders of the churches) that they’ve left can trace its roots. And it can get, quite frankly, ugly. Big time ugly.

But what if we can view this as a necessary process (call it a tunnel or whatever) which, once it runs its course, can actually produce maturity and life in people and groups? How can we work with the process and not against it?


Sometimes, the only way people can adequately detox themselves is to completely step outside the system- usually ending up in a home group or house church that is wrestling through similar questions of what church is supposed to look like, and feeling the same sense of disillusionment, and even animosity towards, what some derisively call “institutional” churches.

It is important to remind everyone that at the bottom of this whole sense of detox are people who are in love with Jesus, and who want to be a part in the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. If they didn’t care, there would be no issues. They wouldn’t be upset. They would either leave altogether, and never again seek out fellowship with other believers, or they would passively go through the motions week after week and never give their spiritual state a second thought.


During my phone conversation with Bob Girard, one of the questions I had to ask was “after your church left its building behind, met only as house churches, and then completely ceased to exist four years later, what happened to the people?”

Bob related that, as far as he knew, all of the people ended up serving in a church, a para-church ministry, or in missions after they pulled the plug on the house churches. When I asked him if those same people viewed the 14 year history of their journey as a waste of time, or possibly even a mistake, he emphatically said that they felt that their journey together was absolutely crucial to their maturing as Christians.

Bob says that those he’s talked to have all mentioned that they now lead quite differently – with a much stronger expectation and practice of community and being Spirit-led – than they would have had they not gone through their journey with Bob and the church.


Perhaps the biggest task for established churches and newer, de-structured communities (house or coffeehouse), and individuals (like me) will be to remember that this is ultimately God’s thing. It’s His Bride we’re talking about here. God is fully aware of the state the Bride is in. He’s more proactive, loving, and desirous of Her being healthy and attractive than any of us are capable of being. The trap we need to avoid is to let this whole (very necessary) process of detoxing from inadequate models of church leadership and church structure to polarize and further divide the very Bride that we’re so longing to see come to maturity and health.

Read entire article here

I think this is an interesting description of what many people go through. I like that Rob MacAlpine can see a good end to it, and recognises the time needed by many for healing, as well as the potential trap of longer term bitterness.

I suspect that forgiveness towards those we feel have offended us is one of the keys to detox, with God’s help where we feel it is too hard.

23 thoughts on “Detoxing from Church

  1. I suppose it’s a fairly accurate description. I came out of this system four years ago and actually got over my bitterness pretty quickly. It took me, I think, half a year.
    Then joined another system that was actually worse. But I already had gotten over the bitterness of bad church experiences.

    But when people want to find out, I get edgy. The question is then asked as a ‘bitter bottom’, ‘am I being divisive if I tell the truth of what happened’?

    The question is no. If people are wanting to know what happened to your relations with a church, just don’t show bitterness when explaining the circumstance.

    However, because I see so many people go through the cracks of these mega churches, legal-driven churches or common church, we can get angry when nothing is done about it, where issues need to be addressed. I believe every believer has the right to get angry when someone in church is not treated appropriately. Settle the injustice biblically by organising a meeting and getting a few witnesses, etc…

    I think any individual has the right too. But because these types of churches aren’t listening to the voice outside, it is actually them that bring division among the body of Christ as it is them that refuse issues that need to be addressed that result in people being healed, restored or encouraged to find Christ in that time.

    I think Geoff Bullock could have had that help and some others who went through such experiences.

    “It’s His Bride we’re talking about here. God is fully aware of the state the Bride is in.”
    He’s also aware of the wh0re in the church. We know He’s fully aware of both. So why aren’t the prophets in the churches standing up and exposing the truths of some deceivers or those who do things out of ignorance? Do they not want to lose their positions and fancy titles?

  2. The author of the article seemed to be thrown out of his church after he raised some of the issues.

    Its definitely much easier for those who don’t have positions to lose to acknowledge some of the problems. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have had positions who have done so anyway. They have my full respect. As for false teachings – the best sales people believe in their product. I don’t think false teachings are recognised because discernment is no longer exercised except to tell who is ‘for’ or ‘against’ the goals of leadership. It’s goal oriented – God will look after the rest it would seem. And He no doubt will! But its a lot harder usually when people don’t listen to)God (including when He speaks through ‘insignificant’ people) and things come crashing down at some later stage.

    Its pretty hard not to feel anger when seeing people treated badly or false doctrine taught, and I know people who have left churches when they felt it was just bringing out these sorts of emotion repeatedly. Jesus was pretty angry when he overturned the tables in the synagogue. Anger in itself is not necessarily bad, and can be good – it can spur us to positive action. Hanging onto that anger forever is probably unhelpful though. You can tell when those in charge of something aren’t interested in hearing about issues, and I’ve found that many people in a congregation aren’t particularly interested either, even if they agree there is a problem. Only God can change hearts – arguing about things when people aren’t interested will just get you dismissed as a ratbag.

    One can’t expect others to be in the same place as ourselves. But people do change. Given enough time, who knows where their journey will take them. Regarding division, I guess any kind of gathering that insists it has the only right or the best expression of worship is divisive when it rejects or belittles others. But we don’t have to take that attitude ourselves. Forgiving people for hurt they have done to us (such as teaching falsely for years) doesn’t mean pretending they aren’t still doing whatever it was or putting ourselves back in harm’s way.

  3. True what you say about anger RP.
    We have a saying- anger is passion waiting to be unleashed. Do something good with it rather it run wild.

  4. Very good my friends,

    Im fascinated by the human heart- and how groups of religious people drift this way and that in their Beliefs, just as if they were changing their hairstyles to suit fashion-trends!-meanwhile, behaving something like “Animal farm”by George Orwell-and becoming as devillish as the very devils they once drove out!

    [Bruce Lee once said; ‘Peoples hearts go this way and that, but when you break a man, he remains broken”-interesting observation from a boxer, and I wonder how useful as we think about this stuff-nothing quite like a broken heart, is there?]

    ‘Save yourselves from an evil generation”-hm, I left ‘my old church’ in anger and remained an outraged and skeptical Christian for 4 years as I prayed for ‘The holy Spirit church’ to come- and then I was led into the CCC movement…..only to slowly realise that they have some pretty crazy problems too-mostly centering around Authority-structures, ‘Super-Spiritual’ laziness, Faddishness & Money!

    Religion is really so open to abuse, where there is False reasoning & poor Management; things are acceptable behaviours within Religious organizations that would be Hair-raising & totally unacceptable in a secular Professional situation!….so many crimes committed in the name of Jesus Christ; Ive seen so many bad leaders and the ‘trail of bodies’ they leave behind—

    It is said that ‘An idiot is someone who continues to do the same thing and expects things to change’-

    Ive never seen a system changed from within, though I live in hope and “subject myself to Gods righteous judgement” while within such a structure.-However,

    “Eventually the Good-Guys get Together”, so I remain eternally optimistic and action-oriented!

    I’ve been taught that ‘Anger happens when something you love is threatened”-so it is a good warning-sign, and its ok once-in-a-while as we are made in the Fathers image.I Like your observation above SpecksnPlanks.


    Yeh, Im not bitter- Its been a painful learning-curve however, and Christ himself sucked away the poisonous sap from my past-We love Him, and He heals us…in fact Id say that once Jesus gets ahold of you, then nothing, ever can tear you away from His Love–

    -There is ‘no more condemnation in Christ’ ,against us, or from us, and we love, we find it hard to hate anymore.

    God is Life to the believer-nobody is going to get in the way of this fact and one of my heart-dreams is for ‘indestructible’ Christians-people who refuse to die spiritually.


  5. I’m not comfortable with the notion that he Church is actually toxic.

    Certain ideals or wrong doctrine, perhaps, or manners, methodology, misguided motives, or the influence of ungodly people led astray by various desires, but the Church is Christ’s Body, so therefore not some kind of poisonous ocean of refuse, but, supposedly, a refuge.

    Toxicity in this instance must be relative to offenders, offence and the offended.

    Then, we have nowhere to turn but to God, who ultimately heals, and removes the septicity from our wounds and binds them up with the salve of love, mercy and grace.

    Nowhere to turn but to God.

    When all else has failed he remains.

    When we’ve run out of men to blame for exposing our shame, the careless others who uncover our nakedness, and open wounds to reveal our anger and fear, until, when we’ve screamed our loudest scream, or lost our brightest dream, no man can stand with us and we can stand no man, yet, still, beyond all our excuses, offenses and reasons, there is always the One to run to.

    That is the greatest way to be, when Jesus is all we have.

  6. “I’m not comfortable with the notion that he Church is actually toxic.”

    Its partly a matter of language. What do we mean in each context when we use the word ‘Church’?

    When people leave a church due to a dysfunctional culture, ‘church’ for them is that body of believers. However…

    When the church is regarded as the body of Christ – all believers abiding in Him, wherever they are, in any type of expression – then that is something we all want to be part of, and we are all united. But cultures can develop within _any_ type of gathering which may be toxic where they are not of Christ. So for example, interpretation of scriptural principles in a worldly fashion within a gathering can lead to toxic behaviour.

    In that sense, any ‘church’ can become toxic, where it veers away from Jesus’ behaviour. But also in that sense, it stops truly representing Him, so it could be said that church is never toxic. That which is toxic is perhaps not truly church.

  7. “I’m not comfortable with the notion that he Church is actually toxic.”

    So was the Inquisition not toxic, or not church?

  8. “Apostasy. Nothing to do with the Church.”

    The Inquisition was sanctioned and run by the church of the day. The Jesuit order that ran it is still around.

    I guess what you are saying here is that the church of the day can be in apostasy.

    I agree.

  9. No, I’m saying it wasn’t the Church, so therefore the Church isn’t toxic.

    You must enjoy chess. You always gear questions for an end-game. Not that I mind. I like chess, but prefer spontaneous, upfront conversations. Say what you wanna say!

  10. Amen my Brothers- your thoughts are so welcome;

    The ‘toxicity’ is real enough- Ive met far too many people poisoned away from God the Father by practices within the Christian religion; the roots as Facelift & Heretic rightly point out are ‘Disobedience to the Fathers Spirit and instructions to Love.’

    But its also the ‘feeling’ or ‘state’ of being poisoned that is quite interesting; its so necessary for Christs servants to be spiritually wholesome & pure, so that they truly conduct love for the people- [lest the Master return and butcher them, as the parable says!]

    the mere fact that brothers are offended in scripture means that God recognises that state of being as a reality we have to deal with, whatever John Bevere, etc want to say, so heres thanks to the Master for loving me, and relieving me of any of my own defences, and to the blessed Peacemakers of the earth!

    Im finally out of bed- love & peace to you all,


  11. I’ve heard John Bevere called ‘Severe Bevere’ re his preaching style to the locals here.

  12. So true RP, I finally got rid of his books because I felt I was losing my “joy”. Enjoyed his passion when I heard him at church but it was too much “works” and not enough grace.

    That’s a problem today, too many books and not enough bible. You only have to go to Koorong and see what sells the most.

  13. Look up ‘The Truth about Amway” on utube, and you’ll see where the big money is in mass-movements!

    You’ll start to see our Big-Name people and the ‘Preacher-circuit’ quite differently!

    Much wiser I feel, to keep really close to the gut truths God is really telling us personally.

    I tried to watch TD Jakes’ :”positioning yourself for Prosperity’ today, and couldnt stomach it for more than a few minutes- my spirit is saying-No!, uh-huh!

    ….heyyy, theres another obese Minister, eh Ravingpente!.

  14. My beautifully fluffy and silky friend, what is a “modalist aka oneness pentecostal,” and how does this bear on my feelings as above??

    –hmm, looks at laptop dictionary….hmm, sounds okay to me.- Is John Bevere that different?- doesnt ‘Elohim’ denote incredible multiplicity/plurality within the unified godhead?…hmmm.

    -Actually, I was referring to the Tithing doctrine, which began the DVD- Ive now studied through the tithing scriptures and am no longer convinced it is a ‘Christian’ teaching.-My understanding is that even Derek Prince also does not teach the Tithe.

    -My feeling was if TDJ was so fully prepared to start his DVD series with such poor workmanship, then I simply didnt have the time right then to get into it.-Very similar to Ed Young “In the Zone” stand on positioning for prosperity; dangerously hypey & vacuous.

    Okay, okay, what have I got against Obese preachers and ministers?….heh, heh.

    Well, if they cant even control their own personal ‘boundary’ of their ‘skin’ [note Claude & Townsend: Boundaries], then who are they to teach or advise me about my own?-harumph.

    -so there1;’ diet fellas, and feed a few starving kids with the food you save!’-[theres a Church Detox!]

    Wow, regarding the ‘truth about Amway’ site mentioned above; looks like it has been removed or is being prosecuted by Amway/Quixtar.
    -below may give you a handle-

    Basically, the documentary showed, in giant, all-too-familiar conventions, many thousands of people-desperately ‘want to believe’ in the dream of Networking-success;singing, making various shouted affirmations, lighting candles, listen to ‘Success sermons’,-and most wind-up financially ruined, while the Leaders actually make their money on the speaker-circuit, and via merchandising their motivational books, DVDs & Tapes- ……..sound vaguely familiar to you?

    The behaviour & Cash-flow is instructive; for the System is Idealistic and a Sham in reality, sucking peoples invested lives out.

    If this is the behaviour of ‘normal’people in large groups, then it seems wise to be quite wary of our own people, in large groups.


  15. I remember when my old church had a problem with too many people going to Amway instead of mid-week home group meetings. Not sure how it was resolved.

  16. John Bevere isn’t a pastor. He is a teacher. A very strict, in-your-face teacher. Every now and then we need to hear this kind of teaching. A pastor would baulk at teaching this way constantly because he would wear out his flock, or they’d develop a guilt complex. A teacher, however can come into a flock and give them a good old straight talk which gets those off track back on track.

    The problem is where we only ever listen to what someone with this gift has to say at the expense of other teaching. Cabbage only, and no chocolate pudding. We need a balanced diet. Yes we all love the steak and gravy, and lick our lips at cheese cake and ice-cream dessert, but we also need our greens, folks. We don’ all like spinach or brussel sprouts, but they are very good for us. Bevere is brussel sprouts.

  17. I like spinach, but I’m not too keen on brussel sprouts.

    “Bevere is brussel sprouts.”

    I hope that’s not defamatory. Better be careful, Facelift!

  18. Tearing down what though? I think the tearing down would be the strongholds in our own minds. We don’t need to tear down a structure we may have left, and tearing something down from within can harm the inhabitants most of the time. Building elsewhere may be better.

    We can easily go elsewhere to build, but if we don’t get rid of the old mindsets, we will risk building something pretty similar to what we left behind. Or else reacting to what was left behind, rather than building without its influence.

  19. Facelift:
    “John Bevere isn’t a pastor. He is a teacher.”
    Teacher? Over my friggin’ arse! Has anyone seen his latest product- Affabel?
    He supposedly uses the arts to ‘communicate’ the gospel story in our current time.
    There is nothing more twisted, deceptive, corruptive and wrong about such a blatant abuse of scripture. Bevere, through this project, has proven his theology to be a joke! He is not a teacher. I am not afraid to label him WOLF!

    “My beautifully fluffy and silky friend, what is a “modalist aka oneness pentecostal,” and how does this bear on my feelings as above??”

    A oneness pentecostal denies the trinity and believes that Jesus is the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit- a mode of each. In accepting this belief, the common OP does not have a basic understanding of the atonement, resurrection, ascension and Christ’s priestly duty in heaven. When they worship, the Spirit and Father are simply other names or forms of Jesus.

    And because the rest of the church has been wrong in how we have baptised people they have cut themselves off from the body of Christ and started their own cult/following. Do be OP you HAVE to be baptised in Jesus name alone. Then you HAVE to speak in tongues. Then you have to live a life of holiness by following the rules and standards of holy living set down by the pastor of the church. This church preaches the ancient arianism/modalism heresy and tithe/covering/submission heresies as well.

    This cult is huge in America and has unfortunately hijacked a large number of healthy pentecostal churches. It’s attractive in it’s ability to seek new and greater revelation in how to live a more holy life for God. They will say they are saved by God’s grace and love, but have a very little understanding what grace is. Their preaching and evangelising is very legalistic and condemning. The church is hugely legalistic and is really hard to get out. Many families have come from this movement brutalised.

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