Monday, April 13, 2015

Leaving your church (for another)

People leave church for the right reasons. People leave church for the wrong reasons. People leave because they don't like the music. People leave because they want to BE the music. People leave because they disagree with the pastor's stance on minor issues. People leave because they disagree with the pastor's stance on major issues. People leave because they didn't get voted deacon. People leave because they heard a better church was down the road. People leave their church because after prayer and consideration and feeling legitimately led, they feel their family would be better served and they could better serve at that church across town.

For better or for worse, people leave their church all the time.

Did you see what I did there? I said 'for better or for worse', deliberately invoking the marital covenant, because that is what church membership is. It is a covenant with fellow believers. You you promise to love them, honor them, cherish them, in sickness and in health, bearing each other's burdens, (Gal 6:2), admonishing and encouraging, (Col 3:16), sharing lives in vulnerability and intimacy, and worshiping Jesus- together. (James 5:13). It's a close relationship and one not to be thrown away on petty squabbles.

Taking a biblical example, the church at Corinth. These people were fighting, getting drunk at the Lord's table, allowing incest, having chaotic services, dividing into factions and cliques, and debating over meats. Phew! Yet Paul wrote that he gave thanks for the people at the church at Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:4-5). There was no church down the road to move their letter to. Corinth. That was IT.

How about the folks at the church at Sardis? Jesus pronounced them dead, and their works were dead, and what wasn't dead was about to die! (Revelation 3:1-3). Yet a few remained alive and pleasing to the Lord. How terrible did they feel being surround by dead believers?! It must have been rough.

What if you had been one of the few members of the church at Sardis that had not soiled their clothes and remained righteous? It must have been hard for those members watching their church die! (Revelation 3:4). But what comfort. Jesus sees them and is not only pleased, but He commends them personally.


Or the folks at Thyatira, suffering by seeing a false prophetess prosper, teaching false doctrines (which is an agony to endure, believe me), tempting the members for so long she birthed spiritual daughters. A few did not hold to her teaching, and are commended.

Would "the few" at Sardis and "the rest" at Thyatira have left for another church, if there had been one? Its purely speculative. They didn't have the choice so they stuck it out. Were some that fell under the sway of the false prophetess Jezebel children or slaves of the members at Thyatira? No doubt. It is a heartbreaker.

It doesn't help that pastors these days display a craven ambition, using smaller churches as a ladder to bigger and mega, or as a stopping/resting  place as they write their next book. Some pastors church-hop themselves, pastoring as many as 6 churches in 9 years. They do not provide a good example of shepherding commitment and staying power.

On the other hand, leaving the marriage metaphor alone for a moment, there are times people can and should leave a church. Perhaps the Lord has legitimately led you to serve elsewhere. The Spirit gives gifts as He wills, so perhaps He wants move you to use you and His gifts at another location as a better puzzle piece fit. Maybe your pastor is teaching heresy. Or maybe not heresy but has drifted too far for your comfort zone, and you don't want to expose your children. There maybe practical matters- employment transfer, moving closer to aging parents, a road that has become too dangerous to travel. What then? Moving your membership to another church would be a legitimate thing to do.

Here are a variety of links exploring reasons to leave and reasons to stay, and if deciding to go, how to leave successfully and graciously. Just some food for thought. Apostasy is gripping all churches to an alarming degree. If a person leaves for a trivial reason, or impatiently, he or she may wind up in a worse condition at a church down the road where a worse apostasy is discovered. Apostasy is everywhere, even in that bustling church down the road. No church is perfect.

No matter how dim things have become in your church, Jesus is still in charge, sovereignly ordering all for His glory. But the nitty gritty of week-in-week-out worship in a church that preaches entertainment, or health/wealth, or Arminianism as an idol, or is teetering toward spiritual abuse, or any of the cringe-worthy fads...is hard. But no harder than the early churches in the Bible mentioned above. And they had to contend with false teachings to a major degree also. The Spirit may indeed by moving you to another worship center for His reasons. Or the Spirit might be impressing on you to stay. It's not for me to say one way or another when it might be time to leave a church or how long to stay. In Christian liberty, it's the decision of the spiritual leader of your home, whoever that leader is. There are many things to take into consideration, and prayer of course should be a major part of any decision.

When do you leave a church?
It is the conversation with church members every pastor dreads but inevitably comes to every man who has shepherded a local flock: “Pastor, we need to meet with you and discuss our future at the church. We have been praying about transferring our membership to another church.” Naturally, you ask the inevitable question, “Why?” 
When Should People Leave Their Church?
Leaving a church is not something that should be done lightly. Too many people abandon churches for petty reasons. Disagreements over simple matters of preference are never a good reason to withdraw from a sound, Bible-believing church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17). However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men. Such circumstances would include:
When is it right to leave a church?
Believers who feel a desire to leave a church should be clear on their reasons. If the church does not proclaim truth, cling to the Bible and revere Christ as its head, and there is another church in the area that does, then there are grounds to leave. A case can be made, however, for staying and working to bring about changes for the better. We are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). If one is strongly convicted of the need to move the church in a more Bible-based, Christ-honoring direction, and feels he/she can do that in a loving and non-divisive manner, then that would seem to be the better course of action.
Good reasons for moving on
“What right do you ever have to leave a church?” I can remember that question being asked by my ecclesiology professor in seminary. It is a good question and one that would benefit us all to wrestle with. As Kevin has recently pointed out on this blog, there is biblical warrant and there are practical reasons for entering into covenant through local church membership. Having entered into that covenant our breaking of it should never be done lightly. Clearly, there are reasons to leave a local church. But what are they?
5 Really Bad Reasons To Leave Your Church
Let’s be honest, while there are some good reasons for leaving a church, there are a lot more bad ones. As a pastor, I hear some of them every now and then as people walk out the door. As a church planter, I hear them constantly as people walk in the door. If you’re thinking about looking for a new church home, please don’t use one of these five reasons to make the jump:
5 Tips on Leaving a Church the Right Way
I met yesterday with a friend who is leaving our church. We had a good conversation about his reasons for leaving (they are legitimate) and then some discussion about how he can “leave well.” I told him that, based on my experience with people leaving our church or coming to our church after leaving another one, most people don’t leave well.




9 comments :

  1. To me the real question is why we chose the "wrong" church to begin with. But for arguments sake let's say that we have. What do we do next?

    We are told NOT to be unequally yoked with unbelievers yet that is very easy to do either by accident or sometimes intent. If by accident, then as soon as we know we are "yoked" with unbelievers we must make a decision about whether or not to ignore Scripture and it's demands to be separate.

    We need to recognize our disobedience and it's effect on our need to seek a Biblically correct doctrine. Of course, there are mature believers who stay in those "Churches" in hopes of influencing them to accept a true Biblical view. But for most born again believers, we must recognize that kind of commitment is not always within the scope of our influence and our abilty to initiate the necessary changes. That is entirely up to the Holy Spirit and is more likely to be successful if a mature believer is involved!

    So staying or leaving for most of us boils down to what is being taught and whether or not it is supported by Scripture. Granted, it is a much bigger problem today than it was just a few decades ago. But that is just another reason to be discerning and committed to the Truth of God's word and not modern secular thoughts we so often fall prey too.

    I am willing to concede that God leads mature Christians in their efforts to "change" a Church but I do not believe that is His will in the majority of cases.

    Perhaps taking the time to plant a church is a more reasonable alternative. It eliminates any possibility of the perception that by being a member of a church with less than a Biblical doctrine taught, is some how an endorsement of their false teachings.

    Jesus never compromised His message and actually got right "testy" with those who looked for some kind of compromise to the truth. Christians today have become cowards when confronted with defending the truth. We have allowed God to be kicked out of our schools and our lives in general. God has left this country to it's own desires and we wonder what the reasons are that we suffer!

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    1. The main complication that exists is the ambiguity in the definition of "the church". Most use the "membership role" and the "voting body" as the qualification for input.
      If you do not belong to the corporate entity, you do not have a say. If you do it is a democracy that allows popular vote to rule in decision making.
      The real question to any group is, what determines policy, corporate constitution or scripture?
      The fact is the corporate entity has pushed Jesus/Word out of the church.
      If we are called to Christ by faith we then are the church. It is not a destination.

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    2. Hi Jeff,

      I think there is implicit understanding that in the context of this essay, "the church" is the local assembly of believers. The global body of believers is the Body, or the Bride. Or The Church.

      Yes, there are local destinations called "the church." Paul traveled to them- he roamed between the church at Ephesus, the church at Corinth, the church at Sardis, the church at Rome...those I just named were local assemblies to which local believers gathered and other Christians traveled to.

      Church Membership: A Distinctive
      http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/DD03/church-membership

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  2. Hi Elizabeth, I am a lurker on your blog and just wanted to say "Thank you" for writing this post. Thank you for the reminder that leaving a church should not be done lightly. For some of us, it's not a question of why we chose the wrong church in the first place: some of us have watched our church change over time to the point where it's not recognizable any longer. Discernment has been replaced with pragmatism. Some of us have watched our church fall incrementally under the Purpose Driven sway and become so seeker-sensitive that we are being fed bowls of sugar-coated cereal instead of the meat of God's word. Yes, I realize that we are individually responsible for digging into God's word; however, it is also the pastor's duty to preach the whole counsel of God in order to feed the sheep both new and mature. Also, when your church begins to make merchandise of you (2 Peter 2:3) by running the church like a business hawking every latest fad "Christian" book, selling conferences, merchandise, etc...it might be time to leave. When your church for years rails against the Hollywood influence, and then embraces Roma Downey and the A.D. sermon series kit because they have flattered your pastor, it might be time to leave. We have brought our concerns about these issues and others to leadership and our concerns were basically brushed aside. We have watched and waited patiently for years and have tried to address our concerns in a Biblical way. It is time to leave and I am sad. I will continue to read your blog. Keep up the good work.
    -Claudia

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    1. Hi lLaudia,

      I'm sad for you...:( Thanks for your note, it must have been heartbreaking to watch as the composition of the body of believers with whom you worship changed and the pastor deaf to pleas to return to more biblical footing. I see a lot of what you mention too, around here. A lot. It is the worst to watch happen because of the blight on Jesus name and the stunted growth of fellow believers, and worst, the deluded ones who soak it all in. I ache for them all.

      Thanks for your encouragement, very much.

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  3. We left a church (after 12 years) when our children were being taken on 'prayer walks' during the Sunday school hour (without our prior knowledge) instead of being taught the Bible, and when "Listening (contemplative) Prayer" was being taught also in the Sunday school children's classes. We made the decision to leave only after we brought our concerns forward and had several meetings with the elders/pastor (the Sr. Pastor left first. He couldn't deal with the lack of support from the elder board on issues like the above...) While the Sr. Pastor was still there, the elders issued a statement (after we and several others protested and brought Scriptural concerns forward about listening prayer), that it would 'not' be taught any more. Once he left, and after we and several other families left also (after a series of meetings trying to work this out), the elders issued another statement saying that Listening Prayer was actually 'ok'. (in other words, the elders did a 'flip-flop'.) (talk about confusion!) It was a tragic situation but very clear that the false doctrine was the catalyst for many other problems that ultimately divided the church.
    When you have children it is another whole ball-game. You can't safely stay and fight it out (contend for the faith) unless you keep you children with you at all times and don't let them participate in church activities while doctrinal concerns like the above are being decided.
    Just my .02 : ) (I am sorry; I never post comments anonymously but this time I am going to : )

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  4. Great article. I have been wanting to leave my church for quite sometime. It is ver clicky no one really associates with anyone out side my cburch except the clicks there nkt bad people. JUST CLICKY. The activities that come up afe very expensive. Only the clicks can afford to participate. Well what about the rest of us! My husband has been ill. Just diagnosed with Liver cancer. Went for his first chemotherapy treatment. Nobody called and asked if they could do something for us. A week later someone message me on fb. My Pastor hasn't even called. I think it's time to leave

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    1. Hi anonymous,

      I'm sorry for the diagnosis, I pray all things will turnout well. Also I'm sorry to hear the people at your church have taken some time to warm up to you. Sometimes there can be church cliques, I know. However it goes both ways too...what have you and your husband done to love and serve others there? And even if you have served them and loved them well, but don't get the expected and hoped-for response, (after all Jesus didn't...Paul didn't...) maybe you stay and continue to serve anyway?

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    2. I'm sorry, but I respectfully disagree. This family is facing some serious challenges with her husband having liver cancer. The Church is called to serve, her local church should be there to encourage, pray and serve their family during this time. To only have one person send a message to check in and for the pastor not to reach out at all is inexcusable. The church is supposed to be a family, her church sounds pretty dysfunctional.
      And the shoe fits both ways...even if her family has not served in a meaningful way is that a reason for her church not to support her?

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