This is a bit on the nose for my family and I at the moment since we are going through this decision to leave the church we have attended faithfully for 15 months. It is not something that we have taken lightly or out of anger (James 1:19-20). It is something that has lingered in our minds for months and has been discussed over and over with by my wife and I. It is OK to leave a church, you are not trapped and it isn’t always something that is going to burden you with sin. I write this for those seeking an answer to a touchy question but I also write this for myself and the ones I walk through life with that have angst right now as much as I have.
Why are you leaving?
This is the most crucial question that must be answered because parting ways with a church is a serious event for any Christian. We are not meant to be in isolation. We should be seeking community (Ephesians 4:11-16). The answer isn’t a simple one and even after we determine why we feel we need to leave we need to ask ourselves if it is righteous.
Leaving because someone hurt your feelings is a great example of why you should not leave a church. We are fallible and a lot of times we are going to capitalize on that ability to fail. Even if we had no intention of doing so. This is part of being human and if a few people hurt your feelings at the church and you leave, it will likely happen again at your next church. Instead of running off you should give forgiveness and seek to reconcile the confrontation.
We should be seeking unity as Christians so pull yourself up by the bootstraps and seek reconciliation. If the door is closed by the other parties and they are unwilling to even discuss what happened that still doesn’t mean run. Instead, serve. Serve in spite of their behavior and do so graciously.
Reasons people leave
There is a loss regardless of whether we determine the reason as “good” or “bad” when someone stops attending a church or seeks another church. Some of the reasons below apply to why we decided to leave and some do not. Some are good reasons in my opinion and some are bad. I’d love to discuss this with others so please feel free to reach out. People have been known to leave a church because;
- Moving too far away
- Long-term Missionary Work
- Escaping false teaching
- Openly committed and unaddressed sin
- Power-drunk Leadership
- and more
- Church Size
- Hurt Feelings
- Lack of ways to Serve
- The Church is changing
- The Church refuses to change
- You’re leaving/giving up Church entirely
This is a big topic, isn’t it? I hope you weren’t expecting a snack for today, it’s a banquet. There are a lot of reasons and way too many for me to cover because I can’t even think of them all. I just know these are things I have personally used before as reasons, justified or not. Reasons I have come to reconcile with their validity or whether I was just needing a scapegoat.
Don’t Give Up and Leave God
Of all the bad reasons giving up on church entirely is the most dangerous of them. God created us, Jesus commanded us to be a community and leaving that community opens a Christian up to the enemies power. It is open season on a soul.
Change can be positive or negative. How the church handles it really can affect how you are going to feel about whatever that change may be. There are still churches today that believe wholeheartedly that a woman’s place is at home, rearing kids and in a kitchen. If you’ve been at a church for over a month and that wasn’t evident to you. Please open your eyes. They will likely refuse to change that and if you are uncomfortable with that it is even more imperative that you move on.
Leadership is hard and changes to leadership are even harder. The morale of a congregation can be shaken when a pastor who has their heart turned so fiercely to God leaves suddenly that people become hurt, angry, afraid and betrayed. Questions are asked, people are shouting, and fiefdoms can form because of it. This is when leadership must step up their game and be honest , opening their heart to those who attend their church. Non-answers to tough questions force your people to question things even more than they already do.
We cannot forget the Pastor who may be leaving the church. As an outgoing authority they are called to gracious exiting. God’s work takes providence over their personal feelings. This is not some cop out but is in fact extremely self-sacrificing because they could stay and fight. They could blast the leadership out of the water over Pharisee-like polity and power mongering. They could. Yet, a man going through God’s great work of sanctification seeks to live as Christ. And that alone is why a Pastor won’t.
Jesus could have lay waste to those who persecuted him. Effortlessly, they could have been gone, nothing, a bookmark in God’s work. Yet he submitted not out of fear but because his mission was of peace and love and forgiveness.
I have struggled with that realization of peace-seeking because of the affection I hold for a Pastor who affected me deeply. The messages that God allowed him to share with us always left me convicted. I never walked out of church feeling like I had heard the same thing by someone else just said marginally different. I am in no way putting a man on a pedestal because he is too humble for that.
What God did do is show me what a Pastor is. Something I’ve sought for over fifteen years. Something I lost and did not know how to find again. I am forever thankful and changed because of that season in my families life.
Leaving Ain’t Easy
When we choose to leave a church we are choosing to leave a portion of the body of Christ. That’s big. Leaving is a lot like a relationship coming to an end. It sure feels like it doesn’t it? There are two perspectives I want to address this final part through. That is the member and non-member of a church but one who attends regularly.
Non-members go through phases just like relationships. New church and it is so exciting! I want to be involved. What can I do to make this greater than great?! It is a lot like you meeting someone on a date you like and decide to continue dating. You start building your life on this and thinking how to show commitment to it. You start serving and getting involved, it’s a lot like you are now engaged. And that is where non-membership ends.
You could leave at any time. Whether it is a righteous reason or something that eventually proves out to be petty. While you committed yourself to the church in many ways, it was not like a membership. I am not placing non-membership in a serving role as less than a member but only highlighting there is a certain level of commitment that is missing from a non-member.
Members of a church have gone through the same steps of excitement, engagement and increased commitment but they took that last leap. They’ve married their desire to serve to that particular body. The church has poured in to them knowledge and trust that their lives meet the church’s barometer for membership.
Members parting should seek leadership and talk about it. Let them know why and pray they seek God’s authority in their leadership and not their own. When you part, do so graciously. Don’t burn bridges and cause a disturbance out of anger. There are people staying there after you are gone.
It’s Not Always Running
If you’ve come to that heart rending decision to part a church and you’ve prayed, given the decision due diligence, prayed some more, discussed it with the leadership, prayed with them. They will need your prayer and if Christ can pray for those murdering him, we surely can swallow our unjust pride and pray for them as well as the situation in general.
Leaving a church for a “good reason” is not running or “going out with a whimper” it is a walk by faith and not by sight.