How to Leave a Church
Surprised? Suppose I were to change the title to "How to leave a family." Your quick answer would be "You can't!" Point made. What is the church if not the family of God. That is why in Scripture, conversion to Christ is called being born again. We call God our Father and each other, brothers and sisters. If then you are a true child of God you cannot leave his family. If you are just pretending or haven't professed to be a child of God... well, you can't leave something you never joined.
Of course what most people might have in mind is leaving a particular visible expression of the family of God. That's a whole other story. The Scriptures don't prescribe a particular organizational form for the family of God. What you find are principles which the godly seek to respect as they gather to worship Christ and serve His kingdom. Chief among those principles is that Jesus, and none other, is Head of the church. (I know, sudden metaphor switch. It's that way in the Scriptures too.) Derivative principles include a serious respect for the Scriptures. That is how the Head of the church communicates with the body. Another would be human leadership that resides in more than one person, i.e. a council, or session, or team. If leadership is the domain of one person, Jesus will inevitably be nudged off his rightful place. A third organizational principle is we are to be missional, a trendy word for being about the mission Christ entrusted to us. You know, "make disciples of all nations..."
Now since Christian people are not perfect and may come to mutually exclusive views on how to implement these principles we wind up with Baptists and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Brethren, etc. Add to that our finite capacities, our continuing struggle with sin and we have split Baptists and split Presbyterians and, well, you get the picture.
It's not surprising, then, that you might find yourself wishing to change from one visible expression of the family of God to another.
Many simply stop going to one church and start going to another. They hang around for a little while to see if they like it. If not, they move on. A perfectly appropriate practice if you are shopping for a new hairdresser or a different brand of toothpaste.
Not so good when switching churches. Remember, the people you're leaving are still part of your family. The people you're going to are already your brothers and sisters. Unless of course you're switching religions altogether, in which case there are other issues to consider. As in, where's your heart?
The most appropriate way to leave a church is to be upfront and honest with its human leadership. Seek a quiet conversation with the pastor or one or two elders. Explain why you feel you should make your move. Ask for their prayers and support as you explore other options. If they are, in fact, godly people, they will desire what is spiritually best for you, not simply to maintain the membership of their own church.
Common reasons for leaving a church
"I'm just not connecting here" If I had a dollar for every time I heard this reason I could retire in luxury. Folks expected to develop close ties with others in the church and it didn't happen. When I dig a little, I find that there's often a particular offense that has been felt. Well, before you bolt, have you considered what the Lord has to say about dealing with offenses? Check out my hub, "Dealing with Nasty Christians."
"I don't get anything out of the pastor's sermons." I've heard that one too. Lots of times. No doubt most pastors have. Again, any pastor worth his salt will welcome constructive suggestions. Often the issue isn't the pastor's public presentation but his personal relationship to the troubled one. It's easy to listen to someone you like despite his faults. But if you don't like him, no matter how expert his presentation, he'll leave you cold. So we're back to a relationship that needs some mending in accord with the gospel.
"I just don't agree with this church's teaching and practice." Well, you must have agreed when you joined. What changed? If, in fact, the church has stopped preaching and practicing the Scriptures, God may use you as a prophet to draw the church into line. If that doesn't happen then perhaps you should leave, but do it sadly. Many a church has started faithfully representing Jesus Christ but has then lost her way. That's not a contemporary issue. There were several that John addressed in Revelation. How long to stay and work for reform is an issue each of us must take up with the Lord in prayer. Each situation will be different.
Knock my sox off
A woman came to my office after a morning worship to announce that she and her husband were leaving our church. "We're looking for a preacher that will knock our sox off," she proclaimed cheerily. In other words, after over 15 years under my preaching and having reared her family there and assumed a number of leadership positions, she now had gotten bored with my preaching.
I casually mentioned the incident to a close friend. The next Sunday after worship, I entered my office to find it draped with hundreds, if not thousands of sox. God and his people have sense of humor.
© 2011 Frank P. Crane
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