There are definitely more than fifty ways to leave a church.
- You could just sit further and further back each week and come less and less until you have shrunk out of the back door.
- You could leave dramatically and cause a scene, email a bunch of people, hold secret meetings and tell everyone why the church is a disaster.
- You could just stop going and if anyone asks after you tell them all is well and avoid any resolution at all.
But if you are going to leave a church, you should leave with grace and integrity. Leaving a church does not mean you have to stop acting like a Christian!
Sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to do to leave a church. I have left a couple of churches in my time, and everytime I have done it well. We will talk about how to leave well next week, but this week it is important to consider the right and wrong reasons to leave a church. Bob Yandian said at the last pastor’s conference I went to that “most people leave churches out of offense” and that if people leave a church offended it can take ages – if ever – for them to get back to the point where they trust the Word and live the Christian life the way they were before they stormed out.
So we need to think very carefully about this issue, and make sure that whenever we change churches we do it through being Spirit led, not offense led.
Let’s start with five great reasons to move churches:
- You are being led by the Lord to move to a different geographical area where it would be impossible to continue to invest in the life and community of the local church. Now, make sure the change in geography is Spirit-led and not money-led, and make sure there is a healthy church where you are going. However, if this is the case, it’s a healthy reason to leave a church.
- When you have through the study of the Word come to a clear conviction that what the church is teaching is not something you can with a good conscience support. Now, don’t run out the door because you disagree on one or two points with your pastor – we all disagree with each other on a couple of points. We are talking about the big issues – how we are saved, the true nature of God, the nature of redemption, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, it is probably better that you leave – I have seen people try and change churches from within and it never works out well.
- When it is clear that the Spirit of God is leading you to be part of the life and community of another church. Always move forward, never move away.
- When something about the church has been exposed as exceptionally unhealthy. Perhaps the pastor has had an affair, money has been misused, the culture favours the wealthy and there is an in-crowd and clique. Again, we are not talking about rumour and the conjecture of the offended, they exist in the healthiest of churches.
- Because you are getting married. Ideally husbands and wives should worship together and bring the children to church with them.
So there are times it is good and wise to move church. However, these are in the UK (and US, and probably around the world) people moving churches for these reasons are few and far between. Most people leave because of offense, and no good comes from it. As a pastor, I have sent many people who have left their churches out of offense and come to Tree of Life Church back to their original church (so far no other pastor has ever repaid the favour). I told them if they sorted out the offense then they would be more than welcome to the Tree.
But I am genuinely grateful that all of the people I have sent back made amends with their first church and are still there! That is good news – we are not building an empire, we are building a church. I am interested in helping people!
Now here are 5 really bad reasons to leave a church:
- Offense. Now you knew that would be on the list, because it is ubiquitous. We live in a generation of remarkably thin skinned people. People leave churches because pastor is preaching against me when pastor knew nothing of your situation and was just preaching as the Spirit led. People leave becaue they don’t get their needs met, they don’t get a platform, they don’t get to lead worship the way they want, they don’t get whatever. It’s a symptom of our increasingly handout desiring generation that has elected Obama the president of America and Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the Labour party back here in the UK. People want to get what they can from the system without investing in it. When they don’t get their wants, they get offended. And of course, sometimes people get offended for legitimate reasons, but having a good reason to be offended is not a reason to get offended! Pastors – you need to preach on the stupidity of being offended a lot – it is contagious.
- Because the church is splitting. A church splits because someone in the church wants the big chair and does not have the patience or character to launch out on their own or wait for the Lord’s timing, so they rip apart another building to get bricks for theirs. With the wisdom of Solomon, most lead pastors – who have build from nothing most of the time – would rather people are kept alive than ripped in two and will not fight in the way you might expect. In a church split go with the man of peace, don’t follow Absalom, you won’t get anywhere fast, and his church will end up caught in his vanity like Absalom’s hair was tangled in the tree.
- Because your pastor is being attacked. I thoroughly recommend staying in a church when the pastor is being attacked, you are about to learn the most important lessons he can teach you.
- Because other people are leaving. Don’t be a lemming – they often end up going splat!
- Because a new cool trendy church has opened up down the street. I have been preaching for over two decades and ministered in four different continents and I have found churches come in two main types – the mushroom and the oak tree. Mushroom churches are seeker-friendly, cool, trendy with the right music and the right coffee. The problem is that they do not feed people, and eventually they fall apart, have a mid-life crisis as the world’s definition of cool changes, and a new trendy church opens up five years later with the new new music and new new sounds. Better to find a church that is growing slowy but surely, and that feeds people the truth of the Word. Some people will come and go because of all sorts of reasons but the core will keep growing and produce a harvest of 30, 60 and 100 fold in time.
What church you go to is the third most important decision of your life, (getting saved and who to marry, if you must know) so don’t let your base emotions make that decision for you. Pray, fast if you have to, listen to the Lord, but get the decision right! Without being overly dramatic whether you live or die could depend on it!