22 March, 2010

The "Right Way" To Leave a Church

After someone recently left my church, letting other members know they are going but never letting me know and leaving me to find out from a member who received a letter telling them that they were leaving, I decided to post an article from "Ministry Best Practices." There are times to leave a church, but there is a right way and a wrong way to leave. Sadly, more times than not, people go dragging as many others with them as they can and leaving a mess to clean up.
I won't comment further, rather I will let this article speak for itself.

How to Leave Your Church and Do It Well.
If you are a pastor, then you understand the feelings when someone or a family leaves your church. Even though you may do everything you can to close the "backdoor", it is inevitable that people are going to leave your church.

So how do you encourage people to leave "well", if they are already determined to leave?

Below are a couple of great thoughts on how to leave well. (I have posted Jolley's thoughts in full)


After ten great years, it’s time for our family to leave this church. She said this over a cup of coffee and with a hint of tears in her eyes. She wanted me to know that their family’s sojourn with Santa Barbara Community Church had been a pleasant one, that they had grown in their faith, and that they would miss the people. She wanted to express her gratitude and let me know why they needed to leave….

It’s fairly easy to find a book or an article that tells you how to choose and join a church. Eugene Peterson, for example, writes in one of his books that it’s a good idea to choose the church that is the smallest and closest to your home. On the other hand, Ted Haggard says somewhere that we should ask where God seems to be moving and then get as near to that place as possible. Fair enough. But what about leaving a church? American evangelicals shuffle all too often from church to church, following the movements and fancies of the moment, but that’s not what I’m addressing here. I’m talking about when there are legitimate reasons for leaving a local body of believers.

First, however, let me say that our loyalty to our church should be stronger than our attraction to the better praise band down the street or to the in-depth preacher who just took a job at the church on the corner. Leaving a church should feel like leaving a marriage. It should hurt because we have lived our lives with a group of people, and now we are leaving. But, again, there are legitimate reasons to leave. Doctrinal considerations or the specific needs of our children are, for instance, two valid reasons for leaving a church. When a church is moving in a direction that an individual or a family feels is contrary to God’s Word, that is another prudent reason for making a change.

But how should one leave? The usual method is to slither out the back door with the hope that no one notices. Over the years I’ve had numerous conversations with people who have left Santa Barbara Community Church, conversations that are sometimes embarrassing and sometimes hurtful. Haven’t seen you in a while, I say as we pass on State Street. Is everything okay? Then I learn that this person has moved to another church for whatever reason. I’m quick to try to relieve the embarrassment. Assuming this person has moved to a good church, I say something like Well, may God bless you and keep you. . . That’s a great church, and I’m sure it will be better with you in it. We’re all on the same team in the Body of Christ. We’ll miss you.

But these conversations—while cordial and sincere—are hurtful because they happen accidentally. A serendipitous encounter at the grocery store should not be the moment to announce that three months ago you left your church. When I have these encounters, I find myself thinking as a pastor, I’ve prayed for this person and invested my life in this family. I performed his wedding and dedicated his baby. Besides, aren’t we members of the same church universal? How could he and his family leave without so much as a good-bye?

So how do we leave a church? I offer the following suggestions:

First, leave deliberately. Don’t slither or slide. Don’t wander hither and yonder. When it’s time to go, go—and then go become an integral part of another good, Bible-believing, Christ-saturated church. The New Testament knows nothing of individual believers taking a little from here and sampling a little from over there. The biblical doctrine of the church describes a body of believers deeply committed to Christ and to one another.

Second, go graciously. Has your theology changed to the extent that you need to join a different church? Have the needs of your family or your work schedule compelled you to make a move? Fine. Move, but move graciously. Resist the temptation to concentrate on the warts and blemishes of the church you are leaving. (You’ll find, soon enough, that your new church has a few of these too!) It is important that you leave your church graciously and join your new church graciously. Eugene Peterson writes:

Every time I move to a new community, I find a church close by and join it—committing myself to worship and work with that company of God's people. I've never been anything other than disappointed. Everyone turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamorous secularizers. Every once in a while a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminate these companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: Word of God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer, persevering obedience.

Third, go thankfully. I write as a man who has been a pastor of the same church for almost three decades. During these years many people have left our church (some of them because of me). To be honest, some of the people who have left I don’t miss much. And others I miss sorely. But I always appreciate the one who takes the trouble to say good-bye.

Embarrassing or awkward as it may be, have an exit interview with one of the leaders, elders, or pastors of the church you are leaving. Explain the reasons for your departure, express your gratitude for their hard work, and commit yourself to praying for the church with which you will no longer be associated. These exit interviews are rare, but they are sweet. Pastors care about people. So when someone comes to me, shares where God seems to be leading her, and gives thanks for her season of involvement at SBCC, I beam with joy. Pastors are not running a business and trying to get more customers. Pastors are shepherds of a flock. On our good days we are not jealous of our sheep; we have their best interests at heart. Still, it is rarely easy to hear someone say, I gotta go. . . In fact, it always hurts. But the pain is softened when we learn that he or she is going to settle in a godly congregation of Christ-exalting believers. After all, we’re on the same team working for the same purposes.

Church membership and church involvement are serious undertakings. When we meet Christ, we are saved into the church. The Bible speaks of our being members of one another (Romans 12:4-5). We are joined together in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16). We eat from one loaf and drink from one cup (Ephesians 4:4-5). We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). We might even find ourselves selling our property in order to meet another’s needs (Acts 4:32ff.). We are to be a forgiving community (Colossians 3:13) that is deeply in love with one another (John 13:34). The church is a precious gift to God’s people. Christ died to bring the church into being (Ephesians 5:25)! The church is the mantelpiece of God, the display of God’s splendor before the angels (Ephesians 3:10)! So let us take care that we cherish the organism that Christ suffered to create—and may God bless his church!


Anonymous said...

Well if you ask me anyone who leaves a church writing letters to anyone is a coward who is trying to cause trouble and is not even saved. That person is trying to cause division in the church to make them look better. Probably much more behind the scene than anyone nows. But the lord does and he will sort it all out. Be glad they is leaving.

Anonymous said...

I think that the article discusses adn important aspect. My wife and i are in the process of leaving a church that we were referred by friends after moving into an area. After 10 years and lots of ministry effort adn leading bible studies we have a new close group of friends. Last year my wife ended up in an emotional affiar with one of these friends [know as my best friend] who happened to also be my neighbor. He physically and sexually assaulted my wife repeatedly for roughly 6 months while she was in the affair. God showed me the affair was going on as I am not the type to see this kind of thing happening and after much conversation with my wife and others have determined that the whole thing was instigated exclusively by my neighbor who apparently is a sexual predator who has not been held accountable for his motivations and actions in the past. Add to this the fact that now know your wife was emotionally, and sexually abused as a young teen for 5 years. Now the question is, how do you support your wife? How do you leave this church that has 10 years of your life invested and you have three boys/young men in church fundtions and all their close friends are a part of the church? Leaving a church may be out of your control completely and God compelling you to leave may not be a factor.

Darrell said...

To my anonymous poster, I don't have to know who you are, but know I am praying for you. God knows who you are. I strongly encourage you to seek some Godly counsel. You and your family have been through something that not going to be resolved simply by switching to another church. If you happen to be in my area, I want you to know I am available to you. If not, please do your self and your family a tremendous service and seek out a competent pastor/counselor that you trust to work through this process.

Anonymous said...

This is "Anonymous Mon May 17" back with a comment for Darrell. -- Thank you for praying, I certainly hope it makes a difference --On the topic of getting a good counselor, I have worked with a few Christian and secular counselors thus far, most just agree with me and tell me to continue on with my plans and ideas shared. The situation my wife and I are in is not nearly as simple as described in every book I have thus far. I have not received any useful information from any counselor thus far. In interactions with a few [apparently inspired] Christian friends [with experience in affairs, infidelity and sexual abuse], I have found them all to be of a mindset to keep the information to yourself and forgive and move on. The Christian counselors including the senior pastor at church have suggested the same idea of acceptance, forgiveness, and even asked the question if reconciliation seemed possible. I have no trust from any earthly counselor because they are unable to wrap their feeble and feel good minds around the complicated relational history of my wife: parental emotional and physical abuse, sexual abuse as a minor, poor teen counseling, father was a child molester and committed suicide, spouse with pornography problem, victim of prey to predatory Christian friend, being sexually assaulted by the same friend. Only God can hold the role of counselor, since He showed me the problem he will show me the way through. I have been given references to life coaches, counselors and doctors but these references come from people to trivialize one or many parts of this situation and focus on the one they most relate to and then tell you what you need to accept to move on. I have found the commenting and blogging general public to be the most inspiring and somewhat truthful group of people because they are not hiding behind a guise of friend, confidant, leader, shepherd, counselor... I appreciate the need for a life counselor, but have yet to find one who can accept how complicated this really is and not continuously expect my wife to keep paying for the sins of others in her life. --New news, my wife and the psychiatrist and counselor have just agreed that there was no affair, it was a one sided relationship by the predator [previously my best friend] and my wife. This certainly helps with my confusion and my wife’s as she has been struggling with the idea of an "affair' since the revelation that something was going on. However, this does not make the situation in life and church any easier. -- On the topic at hand for leaving the church, you have shared the exact same expectation that no resolution will occur by changing churches. I realize that you never intended to state that, but your lack of elaboration leaves that idea as the primary point in your reply [people seem to tell the most in what they do not say]. We have struggled with whether to leave the church or manage the conflicting messages and feelings by staying and we have decided that the best approach is to approach the leadership team at church and state that we are prepared to stay in the congregation as long as the other family is not attending or involved in the congregation in any way; otherwise we resign our positions and remove membership to focus on God as a family with interactive Christian friends without a "church"; we are hoping that the leadership chooses the other family as the one they elect to support directly as this leaves us with the opportunity to start fresh in a new place with new people with new experience and passion for change that will be accepted. Our congregation was built upon the "seeker sensitive model of the late 1990's, and now find ourselves church damaged people on the hunt for a loving home where God is real and alive and not just convenient. ---I see you are in Illinois, I am in Western Canada so we are bit far apart. –I appreciate that you are a pastor and hope that my somewhat candid comments provide a real and useful addition to your site.

Anonymous said...

My dear anonymous friend. You need to focus on why your wife could not be open with you about the advances that were being made. I suspect the real problem is your relationship to God and your wife's relationship to you...i.e. "I now know she was abused as a teenager." Thus, what you should have known all along is now facing you. Hate it as you might, you are not in tune with the truth, "Christ is the truth." Wisdom does not come from man, it comes from God. a man may council you in the word, but he cannot lead you to what Christ wants you to do because Christ reserves that for himself. If any man can tell you what you should do then he is trying to take the place of Christ and the Holy Spirit in your life. Do not be dependent on men for what only Christ can give. You will not see the truth until you get the Idols out of your own life, then you will see clearly how to deal with this. Right now you are blinded to many things, not just what happened here. And how can God show you the heavenly things if you are not taking care of the mundane things properly? Whether or not this affair went on, it is your relationship with your wife that was the issue, and with Christ. You cannot fix the one without the other, (relationship to Christ) being first.

Men want you to think they are wise and can cure your problem, if your marriage is still fixable, only because they think themselves wise. "there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." Let God alone be wise for you.

Anonymous said...

This is "Anonymous Mon May 17" back with a comment for "Anonymous Wed Aug 25". I can reply to your first proposal 'You need to focus on why your wife could not be open with you'; she stated that she did not think anyone [including me]would believe her if she brought it forward. There is also supported history for this mindset but I will not delve into it here. Your final quote and proposal 'Let God alone be wise for you' is interesting because it is God alone who made me see and prompted me to ask my wife if something was going on 5 months before my first post on this site. As an update, we have removed our membership with the church and received amazingly authentic support from those we left. We have 2 families have decided to be authentic christian friends with us through this. My wife is changing and growing in ways that you may find hard to believe and she recognizes those changes daily to weekly. In closing, it is too bad that we humans are unable to make a relationships work properly without God and the other person involved with the same interest and motivation; we are unable to make it work or see inside the other person if they do not make themselves visible [in this case God showed me things that I would never have come to on my own to the point of putting the words in my head to think about and study].

Steve said...

We attend a very Bible teaching church but our pastor will not confront people and he is letting a narcissistic negative person control out church. The pastor is well aware this person does not respect him or others. After 10 years we are fed up and want to leave. We have confronted this person in a private meeting and personally and this person says they are too old to change, and our pastor will do nothing. This person has helped at least 5 couples decide to leave the church and we are ready also.

Darrell said...

Steve, you obviously are not a "church hopper" nor does it appear that you are one to stir up trouble. Neither the author of this article, nor myself were trying to suggest that you are "glued" to a church forever, no matter the situation. It sure sounds to me like you've done all that you can to try to reconcile and make things work. That said, I would strongly suggest you do as the article said, and make a firm decision, don't sneak out the back door, but let it be known to the pastor exactly why you are leaving. Interestingly, I have had countless people come back to this blog since it was posted and I have "counseled" via email with many who were ready to leave their church. Some stayed in their church, some left. Again, I can only go by what you've said, but it sure appears you have made every effort to resolve the differences you have. If it is time, then it is time. Be gracious, take the high road as you leave and don't look back.

Hope you find that church home that you need!

Pastor D

Anonymous said...

I want to know your reactions to this. One Pastor (he preaches well) quit the job to pick-up more lucrative ministerial assignment here in Lucknow, India. He and his wife continues to remain part of this church. They instigate the congregation against the new Pastor who is not as good a preacher as the earlier one was. This went on for many years. The old Pastor continues to have his preaching programs and continues to invite the members..he also has started one program to clash with the prayer meeting that takes place at the church at the same time. This he did over the years..now he wants to come back again as a Pastor of the Church. You may also reply to anthonyanthony@indiatimes.com

Anonymous said...

Thank you Darrell for your words of advice. We are in the process of leaving the small church that my family joined when I was 10. Nearly 25 years later, and now the director of music, I just feel it is time for a change and need to find a congregation that better suits the needs of my children. We love the pastor and congregation, and it is indeed breaking our hearts to leave behind the home of our confirmations, wedding and baptisms. But, the time has come. "Googling" this topic, I felt awkward and guilty, but am sure that the Lord guided me to your reassuring words. Thank you and God's peace.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a big church, very outgoing, well known community loved pastor. He passed on. A pastor friend of his took over. He fed me what I needed to hear,and gave me exactly what I needed in grieving my beloved pastor. Members ran him out,because of things he wanted to do.He returned to his church,which is smaller but that's not the issue. I have become involved in the nursery,a nursery that was not currently in service at his church. I love it but there are things about the church that have me thinking its time to move on. Maybe its me but I feel as a pastor you should speak when passing someone. He only seems to speak when wanting something for me to do. And our first lady...well she interferes with everything idf she isn't controlling. Our pastor allows her to do alot and says nothing. There just seems to be such a lack of organization. No one ever knows what their doing and when someone tries,they're shutdown.The favoritism is at a all time high. The first lady now because I sat her grandson in timeout a few times for his outrageous behavior that they refuse to give him medication for wants me to start attending service more,so I don't get " worn out" I'm a preschool teacher,kids don't tire me. It saddens me because to hear two year olds reciting the lords prayer is a joy! There's alot more going on including the persistent asking for money..i just don't know. I'm praying hard but could use some other opinion

Herb said...

After 25 years in a church, being an impotamt part of it for 23 of the 25, my wife and I want to change. Our problem is our pastor is part time, he is also a college professor, our youth person is part time, has been in the situation for several years and the youth continue to dwindle, the music program, well to be polite is mundane at best with no spirit to speak of to call us to worship. There has some been some trouble and back biting but most of that has stopped because everyone has left except the group that instigated it all. I have some talents as a teacher, and a vocalist. I have done my part to work in all areas that I felt God wanted me in, but our church has gone from a little over three hundred in Bible study to about fifty. My wife and I are hungry for the Holy Spirit to move in that church but something seems to be holding back, I feel guilty leaving some of those I have worked with for so many years , but many have left me and never looked back. I am just so confused about it. I have been praying for over a year for God to show me what he would have me to do. I am still waiting. Do you have any advise, by the way I have been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I don't want my wife left alone when God calls me home. So that is playing a part in my thought process.