Seven Ways to Leave a Church Well

"Churchgoers are not members of a country club, but rather members of the body of Christ. We should therefore stamp this image upon our hearts. If you feel called to leave a local church, here are seven things to do to ensure you leave it in the right way." - Facts & Trends

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Several of these items seem to assume that the church you're thinking of leaving is a great church... in which case, why would you be leaving?

pvawter's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Several of these items seem to assume that the church you're thinking of leaving is a great church... in which case, why would you be leaving?

Clearly because you "feel called" to leave, whatever that means. Good luck finding that in Scripture. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Christians are comfortable with gentle mysticism. "I feel called ..." I'm not sure they ever really believe that, or if it's just a learned behavior to employ churchy language that means nothing!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

Christians are comfortable with gentle mysticism. "I feel called ..." I'm not sure they ever really believe that, or if it's just a learned behavior to employ churchy language that means nothing!

When changing employment, it's often a pious euphemism for "I'm bored with my job," or, "They'll pay me more money." ;) 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes, I do think it's often language people use because they've been taught that it's ungodly (or just less godly​​) to say, "I thought about it and did what made sense."

Jay's picture

Yes, I do think it's often language people use because they've been taught that it's ungodly (or just less godly​​) to say, "I thought about it and did what made sense."

It's also a lot easier than "I don't think this church is heading in the right direction" or something like that as well.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

pvawter's picture

Jay wrote:

Yes, I do think it's often language people use because they've been taught that it's ungodly (or just less godly​​) to say, "I thought about it and did what made sense."

It's also a lot easier than "I don't think this church is heading in the right direction" or something like that as well.

Yeah, so in order words, it's a way of leaving without addressing the real reasons or issues that are a problem. If so, then it's dishonest and ungodly. 

Mark_Smith's picture

Any person is free to leave any church they want for any reason. Period.

Now, if they made ministry commitments, like running a SS class, or being a deacon for this time period, etc., they need to deal with that. But, no one needs to have a "proper" reason to leave.

Mark_Smith's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

Jay wrote:

 

Yes, I do think it's often language people use because they've been taught that it's ungodly (or just less godly​​) to say, "I thought about it and did what made sense."

It's also a lot easier than "I don't think this church is heading in the right direction" or something like that as well.

 

 

Yeah, so in order words, it's a way of leaving without addressing the real reasons or issues that are a problem. If so, then it's dishonest and ungodly. 

 

So why do reasons need to be addressed before you leave? If you felt like you could address them you would. So, people just leave. No reason to be argumentative. Just move on. Sometimes its the collection of little issues that people just can take anymore for whatever reason, and those things are more preference than doctrine.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

On Mark's perspective... a couple thoughts.

  • Free to go, yes, but entirely without obligations? 
  • Golden rule: if you were in leadership you'd want to understand as well as possible what went wrong.
  • The NT encourages us to view our relationship to a body of believers as something too serious to casually disregard. 1 Cor 12, and Eph 4:11-16 come to mind.

So there are some responsibilities that go with leaving. But, no, it's not always possible to make yourself understood or to leave "on good terms." And sometimes all the reasons why are already obvious at that point. 

Jay's picture

Yeah, so in order words, it's a way of leaving without addressing the real reasons or issues that are a problem. If so, then it's dishonest and ungodly. 

It's also a good way to avoid an ugly and unnecessary war with the church leadership if the leadership doesn't take it well or is perceived as having a tendency to retaliate against departing members.  It's not just a matter of wanting to be dishonest as much as a way of cutting losses and knowing that the situation simply is no longer tenable. 

Furthermore, if a family wants to leave a church because they want their children in AWANA or the youth program, is that really 'ungodly'?

In an ideal world, yes, there'd be a sit-down and face to face with brutal honesty on both sides and everyone would know exactly where things 'broke'.  We don't live in that world.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

pvawter's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

So why do reasons need to be addressed before you leave? If you felt like you could address them you would. So, people just leave. No reason to be argumentative. Just move on. Sometimes its the collection of little issues that people just can take anymore for whatever reason, and those things are more preference than doctrine.

Because you've covenanted with the church body, and you need to keep your covenant obligations. It shouldn't be argumentative, but honest and up front? Yeah.

pvawter's picture

Jay wrote:

Yeah, so in order words, it's a way of leaving without addressing the real reasons or issues that are a problem. If so, then it's dishonest and ungodly. 

It's also a good way to avoid an ugly and unnecessary war with the church leadership if the leadership doesn't take it well or is perceived as having a tendency to retaliate against departing members.  It's not just a matter of wanting to be dishonest as much as a way of cutting losses and knowing that the situation simply is no longer tenable. 

Furthermore, if a family wants to leave a church because they want their children in AWANA or the youth program, is that really 'ungodly'?

In an ideal world, yes, there'd be a sit-down and face to face with brutal honesty on both sides and everyone would know exactly where things 'broke'.  We don't live in that world.

You seem to be assuming that the church and its leadership are dysfunctional and hostile. I don't recall that being a part of the article or conversation until you brought it up. Pretty sure that's a more serious reason to leave than just "we're not sure we like the church's direction."

If someone's leaving their church for a youth group down the road, do we really just shrug our shoulders and say, "Oh well! It's not an ideal world. Can't expect them to talk about why they're leaving"? I don't think so.

Mark_Smith's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

So why do reasons need to be addressed before you leave? If you felt like you could address them you would. So, people just leave. No reason to be argumentative. Just move on. Sometimes its the collection of little issues that people just can take anymore for whatever reason, and those things are more preference than doctrine.

 

 

Because you've covenanted with the church body, and you need to keep your covenant obligations. It shouldn't be argumentative, but honest and up front? Yeah.

Covenented? I joined a church. I didn't enlist in the Marine Corps... If I feel the church I joined is no longer serving my needs, or my family's needs, or for another reason, I can leave. I don't have to petition to leave. I don't have to win an argument to leave. If I want to talk to the leaders, fine. If not, fine. There is no biblical instruction on leaving a church.

pvawter's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

pvawter wrote:

 

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

So why do reasons need to be addressed before you leave? If you felt like you could address them you would. So, people just leave. No reason to be argumentative. Just move on. Sometimes its the collection of little issues that people just can take anymore for whatever reason, and those things are more preference than doctrine.

 

 

Because you've covenanted with the church body, and you need to keep your covenant obligations. It shouldn't be argumentative, but honest and up front? Yeah.

 

 

Covenented? I joined a church. I didn't enlist in the Marine Corps... If I feel the church I joined is no longer serving my needs, or my family's needs, or for another reason, I can leave. I don't have to petition to leave. I don't have to win an argument to leave. If I want to talk to the leaders, fine. If not, fine. There is no biblical instruction on leaving a church.

So in your mind being a member of a church is kind of like being a member of a country club...

Larry's picture

Moderator

There is no biblical instruction on leaving a church.

Wonder why that is.

Covenented?

Yes, in most churches there is a covenant that people agree to when they join. Check yours out. I imagine there is one.

If I feel the church I joined is no longer serving my needs, or my family's needs, or for another reason, I can leave. I don't have to petition to leave.

Yes, because the church is all about you. Forget everyone else, just make sure you take care of yourself.

Of course you can leave. No one can stop that. The question is far different than that.

Mark_Smith's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

 

pvawter wrote:

 

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

So why do reasons need to be addressed before you leave? If you felt like you could address them you would. So, people just leave. No reason to be argumentative. Just move on. Sometimes its the collection of little issues that people just can take anymore for whatever reason, and those things are more preference than doctrine.

 

 

Because you've covenanted with the church body, and you need to keep your covenant obligations. It shouldn't be argumentative, but honest and up front? Yeah.

 

 

Covenented? I joined a church. I didn't enlist in the Marine Corps... If I feel the church I joined is no longer serving my needs, or my family's needs, or for another reason, I can leave. I don't have to petition to leave. I don't have to win an argument to leave. If I want to talk to the leaders, fine. If not, fine. There is no biblical instruction on leaving a church.

 

 

So in your mind being a member of a church is kind of like being a member of a country club...

Not at all. If I joined a country club and quit I'd want my balance of dues back.

Mark_Smith's picture

you guys can play holier than thou on this, but people leave for all kinds of reasons. You can't chalk it all up to selfishness and such. Just accept it.

-Maybe people just didn't feel welcomed.

-Maybe they didn't like your music.

-Maybe they didn't like that weird guy over in the corner that always asked about that thing.

-Maybe they didn't like your boring sermons.

-Maybe they think you are too liberal!

-Maybe they think you are too conservative.

-Maybe their best friend started a church over there and they want to help out.

-Maybe there isn't an opportunity to do anything meaningful at your church.

-Maybe they don't like your bad breath.

----

Who knows. They just don't want to tell you. So what. I know it hurts, but move on. It isn't UNBIBLICAL to leave unless you can show me a verse in Mark 17 about church membership responsibilities.

Mark_Smith's picture

Say you started attending First Baptist two years ago. It seemed like a good place when you started attending after moving to town. After two years, you realize one day that you have no real friends there. You just never made a deep connection. You like astronomy and reading, they like hunting and fishing, say, so you never meet up. You wife works while the other wives all talk about sewing and cooking recipes. She feels left out. You also realize the pastor barely knows you and doesn't respond to your attempts to engage, at least as you see it. The kids have no friends there. Its just never worked.

Let me ask you. Why stay? Is there some document in triplicate you signed? It didn't work out. Move on. You can say it is to minister to others, but what about when the others don't care if you are there? A lot of people feel that way whether you know it or not.

I've been in the above situation a couple of times in the last 29 years of my Christian life. Once I stayed, and stayed , and stayed. Tried everything I could think of to help it get better. Nothing. Once I left fairly quickly.

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Yes, I do think it's often language people use because they've been taught that it's ungodly (or just less godly​​) to say, "I thought about it and did what made sense."

I think Aaron meant this as a criticism, but I think that if it’s, "I thought about it with Biblical principles and did what made sense," then it’s very appropriate to say, "I feel called." In fact, that’s exactly when we ought to say that.

Larry's picture

Moderator

"I thought about it with Biblical principles and did what made sense," then it’s very appropriate to say, "I feel called." In fact, that’s exactly when we ought to say that.

Why not say, "I thought about it with bliblical principles and did what made sense"? Wouldn't that be a whole lot better?

Dan Miller's picture

 I was in a church one time where a group of the pastors and mature deacons set out to study the Word and reevaluate the Biblical way to do something. The study was stepwise and the results of each step were made public and discussed publicly. Some members didn’t like the result, and they left. I understood that. Then around the time when it was all done and the church (the vast majority stayed) was embracing the new path, one of the main pastors left. He had been a strong voice in the new system and without him, the other pastors basically decided not to implement the new path. It wasn’t anything drastic and I don’t think most members ever understood that they had chosen their traditional understanding over what the church had studied and embraced. 

I strongly considered leaving. But I didn’t. Both the traditional path and the new path were ones that would find adherents here at SI. I was left with the impression that two of the pastors were in many ways (great disciplers, dedicated loving men) excellent shepherds. But if I had left at that time and they asked me why, the answer would have been, "You don’t seem serious about reading the Word and doing what it says." 

But after time has gone by, I’m not sure that would be fair. That men are taught things in seminary and they believe them without wanting to go back and reevaluate everything in some ways makes sense. You can’t spend your whole life studying basic underlying questions about the BEST way to do x, y, z, in the church. At some point, just get to work on the path you have. And that should be ok. 

I’m generally a don’t-leave-your-church-easily guy. 

Dan Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

"I thought about it with Biblical principles and did what made sense," then it’s very appropriate to say, "I feel called." In fact, that’s exactly when we ought to say that.

Why not say, "I thought about it with bliblical principles and did what made sense"? Wouldn't that be a whole lot better?

haha. Yeah, maybe. 

Mark_Smith's picture

Larry wrote:

There is no biblical instruction on leaving a church.

Wonder why that is.

Larry, are you implying there is no biblical way to leave a church?

Bert Perry's picture

I want to be with Dan in saying I'm not one to leave a church easily, but unfortunately, I've had a few cases where my family has felt compelled to leave.  All of them really have to do with when theology becomes deformed and the church for all practical purposes ceases to be a church.  Per Larry's comment "no Biblical instruction on how to leave a church", you've got examples of people moving (e.g. Paul going to Jerusalem), and then I would have to guess that those churches described in Revelation with huge issues might have had some people rightly leaving as well.  

In my life, the cases that have prompted me to leave are the neglect of the preaching ministry (seeker-sensitive to the point that nonbelievers called it "church lite"), KJVO/Trail of Blood theology becoming obvious (they didn't fess up at first), and when the church leaders refused even to hear about problems with the teachings of a guy they were watching on video--James MacDonald.  

(put differently, I've listened to a lot of music I detested without leaving churches, to draw the obvious picture)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Why would moving be an automatic pass in this scenario? Are you sure God told you to move? Membership is solid. You made commitments, etc. Why would God tell you to move from where you committed?

 

Jay's picture

Allow me to recommend a very helpful book to all of you called "The Courageous Follower".  There is an entire section in the book about how and when it is time to take a stand, to disagree, and to push back.  It is one of the most valuable resources I've read. 

Yes, we generally sign membership covenants.  But if the covenant is breached by the church itself for whatever reason, then it may obviate the covenant and lead a family to leave.  That's a major decision that must not be made hastily or carelessly, but it may need to be made. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

pvawter's picture

Jay wrote:

Allow me to recommend a very helpful book to all of you called "The Courageous Follower".  There is an entire section in the book about how and when it is time to take a stand, to disagree, and to push back.  It is one of the most valuable resources I've read. 

Yes, we generally sign membership covenants.  But if the covenant is breached by the church itself for whatever reason, then it may obviate the covenant and lead a family to leave.  That's a major decision that must not be made hastily or carelessly, but it may need to be made. 

Then certainly, if the church violated the covenant, you'd tell them that was the reason you were leaving rather than just saying, "we feel that God is leading us away," right?

Mark_Smith's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

Jay wrote:

 

Allow me to recommend a very helpful book to all of you called "The Courageous Follower".  There is an entire section in the book about how and when it is time to take a stand, to disagree, and to push back.  It is one of the most valuable resources I've read. 

Yes, we generally sign membership covenants.  But if the covenant is breached by the church itself for whatever reason, then it may obviate the covenant and lead a family to leave.  That's a major decision that must not be made hastily or carelessly, but it may need to be made. 

 

 

Then certainly, if the church violated the covenant, you'd tell them that was the reason you were leaving rather than just saying, "we feel that God is leading us away," right?

 

Sometimes you are tired after years of trying to engage with nothing happening. You've talked and talked and talked... yet nothing. Maybe you are not really connected with a leader, so having a meeting and saying "you do this wrong" or "I do not feel welcome" is not a fruitful conversation, especially given the 99% probability the leader is going to say you haven't done your part without any reference to their failures Smile

Bert Perry's picture

Jay, are you referring to Ira Chaleff's book?  Your link didn't work for me.  

Regarding Mr. Vawter's question, I have personally told church leaders why I was leaving those three times, and the response was generally "well, this is what we're going to do."  It's along the same lines as one of the best criticisms of Chaleff's book which read to the effect of "if you do what Chaleff recommends in situations I've seen, you're going to be fired, and quickly."   I personally have had situations where I've said things to management, knowing it might get me fired, but simultaneously knowing that if I didn't speak up, the same thing was very likely.   Ironically, "da**ed if you do, da**ed if you don't" can be a position of real power.  As Kris Kristofferson (and Janis Joplin) sang in "Bobby McGee", "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Mark Smith also is hinting, I believe, at some things he's seen and experienced that church leaders ought to take seriously.  They might consider him rude, but my gut feeling is that he's just saying what a lot of people are feeling, and it has everything to do with the reasons most "church growth" these days consists of recycling members from other churches.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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