Even if one is not a Pastor, it is still hard to walk away from the faith. It creates psychological and emotional trauma much like that of going through a divorce. Marlene Winell, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and former evangelical Christian herself, has written a book entitled: Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion (1993). She also has a practice in which she counsels those who have decided to leave their conservative religion behind. I highly recommend her work.
In the book, Leaving the Fold, she writes:
In general, leaving a cherished faith is much like the end of a marriage. The symptoms of separation are quite similar--grief, anger, guilt, depression, lowered self-esteem, and social isolation. But whereas help for divorced people is readily available, little if any assistance is available to help you to leave your religion. The familiar sources of church support are no longer there, and family members still in the fold may actually shun you (p. 15).
Losing one's religion can create enormous confusion. Winell explains:
This can be a major upheaval because your religion essentially defined your entire structure of reality and your old definitions no longer hold. Notions of who you were, your purpose in life, your relationship to others; needed explanations about the world; interpretations of the past; expectations for the future; and directions about how to feel, think, make decisions, and lead your life have been lost. Letting go of such a massive structure can leave you feeling totally adrift (p. 17).
So, its not easy to break away from something that has been so central to one's life. Something that essentially defined you. Something that provided a neat package of explanations for everything in life. Its like starting life over. Many people just can't tackle such a task.
However, for those that do, once they get resettled, they ususally feel liberated. Winell states:
The experience can also be liberating, like breaking out of prison. If you feel oppressed by all the formulas and judgments, the rules and regulations, you might now feel a great relief, able to think and feel and experience much more of yourself. Some people describe a wonderful, almost euphoric, feeling of "coming home" when settle in to the notion of just being alive and living life now, in this world (p. 17).
For those who might be struggling with a loss of faith and feeling overwhelmed by it all, I highly recommend Winnell's book.
Here is a podcast of an interview of Marlene Winnell in which she gives her de-conversion story. She details her own religious upbringing on the mission field and how as an adult she gradually lost her faith.
The video clip below is an interview of Marlene Winell conducted by Valerie Tarico, who is also a psychologist, former evangelical and author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth.
Dr. Winnell talks about how destructive fundamentalist religions can be on children and about her recovery seminars.