Rare is the person, pastor or lay person, that stays in a church his entire adult life. It is realistic to expect to leave one church and join another. Many of us minister at or attend several churches over our lifetimes.
Have we ever been taught how to leave a church the right way? There is definitely a right way, but many of us don’t choose the right way of leaving. Therein lies the problem.
If you are leaving your current church for personal reasons that have nothing to do with dissatisfaction or anger, great. You most likely will want to leave in a way that leaves the door open to future good relations with that church (pastor/leadership/congregation) and not burn any bridges behind you.
But what if you are leaving a church because of perceived problems? I’m not talking gross sin, just differences of opinion. What if those differences of opinion have taken on gargantuan proportions that you cannot work through? What if during your dialogs regarding those differences feelings were hurt and angry words were spoken? What do you do?
Start by identifying what YOU DON’T DO!
Do not go on Facebook and blast your pastor, church board, youth minister, or Sunday School Supervisor. Seriously, put on your big girl or big boy panties and be mature. Your temporary hurt and anger can cause more confusion and chaos than you intended. And if you intended to cause confusion and chaos – SHAME ON YOU! That is certainly not acting in a Christ-like manner. Examine your own heart and mind first and step away from your computer!
Do not send out an email blast to the entire church (or some church members). You do not have to justify why you left the church by trotting out every difference of opinion and every perceived slight to be examined (and told from your perspective alone). Ask yourself first how a critical email will bring health to the church you are leaving. If you are concerned about others in the congregation then refrain from going this route. God is not honored when you seek to drag others through the mud because you are angry. Hurt pride is not a good reason for slander, true or not. Take the high road. Confide in a trusted few who ARE NOT PRONE TO GOSSIP. You’ll feel better for having shared and you won’t be perpetuating more hurt.
Do not use inflammatory, accusatory, or all encompassing (always, never) words when you do speak of your reasons for leaving. Choose your words carefully. Your overreaching concern should be for those who remain in the church. You have no right trying to convince others to leave because you have an issue with (insert title here). Do you take issue with your pastor’s leadership style? Then say so. No harm in that. But do not assassinate his character by using words and phrases that speak to what is in his mind and heart. We are NOT mind readers and we cannot search out the hidden depths of a man or woman’s heart. Only God can do that.
What DO YOU DO after you’ve made the decision to leave?
Pray for wisdom when telling your story. People will ask you questions. If you are caught off guard you may blurt out too much information. Whether in your anger or your desire to justify your decision to leave there is a temptation to share too much. Again, if there is no gross sin involved then why go there? If it doesn’t directly involve them don’t drag them into it. People love scandals and gossip. It is human nature. Human sin nature. Give too much information and others are pulled into your drama and may take on your offense. Give too little information and people will fill in the blanks with their imaginations. Neither scenario is healthy. Be mature, even when you want to stomp your feet and cry foul. Be loving, even when every fiber of your being is angry. Be Christ-like, because the only winner in this scenario is Satan and you don’t really want to stumble a brother or sister do you?
Seek to honor God with your thoughts, words, and actions. Church splits are painful to everyone in the church and the community. When a staff member leaves a church, especially if he/she is a popular staff member there will always be talk. When a family decides to leave a church there will always be talk. When a pastor steps down there will always be talk. Talk will die down if no one is fanning the flames. However, it has been my regrettable experience that too much talk can lead to church splits. People tend to take sides due to too much gossip. Too much speculation. Too much carnality. Okay, I get it. You’re angry. Didn’t Paul talk about this in Ephesians 4:26 when he said, “Be angry and do not sin.”? It is possible. Even Paul had a difference of opinion with Barnabas that they couldn’t resolve. Yet, they didn’t sin. They simply separated for a season. No bad talking. No slander. They both sought to honor God during that difficult time with their thoughts, words, and actions. They modeled the correct way to leave.
I write all of the above with a broken heart. A church that I love is struggling. There has been a lot of talk and taking of sides. Criticism and judgment is rampant as more and more people are being pulled into the drama. Why? Talk, gossip, and speculation. Gross sin? No, just leadership style and differing opinions and preferences. Staff members have resigned. Volunteers have left. People in the congregation are confused. It’s a mess and it has gotten messier due to Facebook postings, email blasts, and indiscriminate conversations. God is grieved I’m sure.
I will close with a few scriptures that speak to church life – with my comments included. Come on church, we can do so much better! We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
Philippians 2:1-4 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. Can you imagine what a great place church would be if we strove to be like-minded and humble, valuing others and their interests (opinions, preferences) above our own? Wow, I’d like to go to that church!
I Peter 4:8 – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Several commentaries equate multitude of sins with seventy times seven passage. Love, don’t hold grudges.
Romans 14:19 – “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” We can disagree and part ways without hurting each other.
Soli Deo gloria,