One of the most common assertions by those that teach covering theology is that people need to suck it up and endure when they have been dealt with harshly. If people were to leave the “covering” of their church then they would open themselves up to all manner of spiritual attack and misfortune. Those who leave the church are rebellious and lost.
I don’t believe any of these things. A friend pointed me to Jeremiah 23 the other day. This passage then opened me up to other passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that all speak to the issue of mistreatment by spiritual authority.
"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.
(Jer 23:1-3 ESV)
I found this passage very enlightening. God accuses the leaders of Israel of both exploiting the people and neglecting their needs. Because of this the “sheep” have scattered. Notice how God blames the shepherds for causing the sheep to be scattered but also mentions later on that he had driven them out. In this situation God lead the battered sheep away from their abusers.
Should you stay in a church where you are mistreated and every reasonable attempt to rectify the situation has failed? No. If the leaders are exploiting the people and care nothing for their needs God is likely leading you out to a place where you can be safe and heal. For many this means people spend a long time in the “wilderness” letting God rebuild their faith before they come back to corporate church gatherings. This is ok, because in this era Jesus has always been our shepherd and He can tend to our needs. I’ve observed a number of people that have gone through this and most of them return to some kind of committed Christian fellowship eventually.
If you are in the “wilderness” don’t fret about your anxiety about return to “church.” Trust that the Lord will lead you to where need to go in due time. While you are in the wilderness rest in God’s grace. Meet with true friends you can trust as they journey with you as God repairs your heart.