**was originally submitted on UBF: Ur Being Flat on 9/30/16**

Leaving an organization like UBF is often a messy, complicated process. The level of emotional and spiritual manipulation that one has experienced by the time they are compelled to leave can lead to stress, anxiety, fear and confusion. Cult dogma that has been grafted in and emotionally hardened over the course of years is not easily tossed aside, and it is not simple to sort out the truth from the twisting. Am I really leaving God’s will? Does this mean that I’ve compromised in my faith? But what about all the good things that have happened in the ministry?

Therefore, when the time comes that the Spirit prompts one to leave an unhealthy church, it is the start of a long, bumpy process. Here are some things that helped me along the way.

  1. Prayer

At the time God opened my eyes to the truth about UBF, I was in the habit of praying for a couple of hours every day because I was living in the common life. During this process, I used that time to bring my concerns to the Lord rather than suppressing them, since I knew that He would not lead me astray (“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” – Matthew 7:9). Specifically,

I prayed for clarity. I asked God to remove the fog in my mind and enable me to understand the way UBF works and what exactly is unhealthy about it. I asked Him to reveal true biblical doctrine and to show me what a healthy ministry should look like.

I prayed for discernment. I asked God to let me distinguish between right and wrong. I asked Him to distinguish between the two voices that were pulling at me: one the voice of peace, logic and clarity, which was leading me out of UBF, the other the voice of fear, sentiment and blindness which was urging me to remain.

I prayed for guidance. I asked God to lead me down the path the He’d chosen for me. I asked Him not to let me take a wrong turn; I begged Him to force me in the right direction. Whether I remained in UBF or left, I prayed that God would make His will painfully obvious to me.

I prayed for strength. I asked God, no matter what decision He led me to make, to build me up and empower me to follow through with His will. I asked Him not to let me hesitate and stumble but to obey and press forward with a pervasive commitment to Him.

I prayed for Jesus. I asked God, in the face of all these struggles, ultimately to center my heart, mind and soul on Christ, so that I could serve Him in spirit and in truth. I asked Him that, through this trial, He would lead me into a deeper and fuller relationship with Himself.

Much of my prayer time was spent at the church building. In that environment, you were often expected to pray out loud, and even louder the more people were there. In these cases, I prayed on these matters silently as I audibly prayed for the usual vague things (mercy, mission, “You alone, Lord!”). I also made a special effort to find times when I could pray by myself, away from the influence of other people, so that I could approach God sincerely and openly. Which leads to the next point:

  1. Meditation

A practice that UBF never emphasizes is the balance between community and solitude. When you worship, you worship with your co-workers. When you pray, you pray with your co-workers. When you study, you study with your co-workers. However, both the Bible and the history of the Church place great value on solitude: taking time to remove yourself from other people and from the regular routine, including “spiritual activities”, and spend time with God. Jesus especially was in the habit of doing this regularly.

During the time when I was making the decision whether to leave UBF, I started a regular habit of meditating on the scriptures by myself. I would read a passage and try to determine its meaning apart from the UBF doctrine, praying for the insight of the Spirit. I often wrote down my reflections and thoughts on the passage as I was meditating. Then, after I had sought the Spirit’s insight, I would read commentaries on the passage to understand it on a deeper intellectual level as well. Some days, when I felt a special need to draw close to God in solitude, I fasted from food. My relationship with God deepened as I sought Him in this way. Additionally, as I removed myself from the constant influence and manipulation of UBF practice, I started to see the organization with more clarity as well.

  1. Support System

Many people who want to leave UBF (and many cults) find themselves trapped because they have been manipulated [or coerced] to cut off ties with friends and families. By the grace of God, I had not reached that point yet (though I was beginning to feel the pressure from my shepherdess). During the final stages of my exit process, I finally shared my concerns with some family members and friends. I was also attending an independent Bible study at my school (which I never mentioned to my UBF co-workers), so I had a strong Christian support group to help me through the process.

For some, it is impossible to leave a manipulative organization without a support group, because then they would be forced to work through the confusion and the fear on their own. Some do end up leaving, but are left stranded. My suggestion: if you are considering leaving UBF (or another group), don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends for help. Even if you have cut off ties, usually they are still very concerned about you and will be aching to help you in your time of need.

At the same time, I realize that family members sometimes don’t fully understand what it is that you are going through. My own family was supportive, but couldn’t offer much direct advice because they didn’t grasp the kind of manipulation under which I had been living. Still, there are plenty of people more than willing to talk with you and help you through this process. I started commenting on the blog at ubfriends.net for advice as I was leaving UBF (it is on hold right now, but will be back sometime in October). They are all people who have been through UBF and understand how the system works. Also, feel free to email me if you just need someone to talk with about all of this. I would be more than happy to help! [email provided at the bottom]

  1. Godly Counsel

Before making my final decision to leave UBF, I sought out the advice of Christians whom I admired. This can be difficult if one has been in a group like UBF long enough, because the sincerity of outside Christians is usually downplayed. Still, UBF at least does not claim to be the only valid church like some cults do, even if they claim to be the only valid church for you. Because of this, I felt comfortable emailing the pastor of a church up in my hometown, whom I recognized as a man with a deep faith and a clear grasp of scripture. His advice was clear-cut and to the point: you need to get out. Reading those words was the last wake-up call I needed, because if another genuine Christian recognized the red flags of UBF so quickly it had to be a serious matter. Most pastors of healthy churches will recognize an unhealthy church immediately if you describe it well enough, and they will be able to help you make your final decision whether to stay or go.

  1. Christian Community

One of the most important—perhaps the most important—aspects of following Jesus is community. After leaving an abusive church, it may be difficult to move on. You may have unexplainable desires to return, even though you know that you’ve made the right choice. You may never want to deal with a church again. Maybe the best thing to do once the excessive burden is removed is to finally take a break and seek God on your own for a time. However, I would strongly advise anyone leaving an unhealthy organization to seek out a healthy, Jesus-loving, gospel preaching church.

I started attending a new church immediately after leaving UBF because some of my Bible study friends invited me to check it out. The community offered me support as I healed from my experience in UBF. It offered sound doctrine and fellowship. It helped to secure my foundation as a Christian seeking Jesus.

Because cult-like groups disparage outside Christian churches, when I left UBF I felt a desire to church hop. I wanted to move from church to church until I found a body that was just as zealous for religious activities as UBF had been. However, I am glad now that I didn’t. I’ve realized since leaving UBF that the most important thing in a church is healthy, sound doctrine that focuses on Jesus. A church may lack a campus evangelization ministry, or it may only sing traditional hymns (or only contemporary music), or it may do this or that or the other, but none of those things would change the fact that it is a gathering of sinners who need the gospel. My new church is healthy, and God placed me there to serve Him and to encourage the Body of Christ.

If you are struggling with a decision about UBF or any other group, I hope that this post/article finds you well. Please know that I have no intention to tell you what to do; I can only speak to my own experience and to what I have learned about the true nature of Christian community. I would encourage you to continue praying, meditating, and seeking counsel from the people in your life as you work through these problems, because it really is a decision that you have to make. Just remember: as you seek Him, the Holy Spirit will lead you to all truth.

God bless you all!

MH – michael.the.hopkins@gmail.com