3 Things you Should do Before Leaving a Church

“I need a church that meets my needs” as if we’re a pre-teen relationship and not the body of Christ, people leave the churches they attend all the time. Where I live, there’s a known circuit, with a few new churches entering the loop. This is not unique to where I live.

With all these people going from one church to another, we need to ask ourselves, What are the steps we should take before we head for green pastures (or pastors).

Here is my take on the three steps you should take

(1) Is it personal or theological? Evaluate.

Personal issues can happen in various ways. Some are serious, but usually, they are not. Whenever you are in a community of people, there will be personality clashes. We see it on sports teams–we see it in the workplace–we see it in church. Chester and Timmis write,

“Community may sound exciting in theory, but in practice it is also painful and messy. When you share your lives with people, you can be sure you will annoy one another! But grace makes us humble.”

The church is called to live in the community it is designed for, but as these authors point out, it is difficult. However, as they also note, grace becomes a powerful tool. Most times, when something gets “personal” in a bad way, and we want to leave a church, it is for a minor issue. Usually a different opinion, an offence over a statement, or perception about a situation.

Way too often, people are easily offended and leave a church, not reconciling the relationships nor feelings.

This is not how we have been called to act!

We are called to love one another! Jesus stated in the book of John, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Community isn’t our calling. It’s to love each other. Community is the result of the love. “Those who are in love with community, destroy community;” writes Bonhoeffer. “..those who love people, build community.” We need each other. If we throw away relationships like used paper towel, we are left alone with a mess and no one to help us clean it up. As the old Italian proverb says, “The one who drinks alone, chokes.”

Personal issues are just that–personal. Usually, it has something to do with you. If it does have more to do with the other person, then you talk about it. {spoiler alert}

The Church needs different personalities. That includes the weird and difficult ones. Plus, how do you know you are not the weird and difficult one? Just because your friends tell you you’re not doesn’t mean a thing (who is to say they don’t fall in the weird and difficult category too!).

I believe there would be a lot less movement from church to church if we all gave each other a little grace. What if instead of leaving we were part of the solution. What if God wants to use you as an agent of change towards His grace and love?

The second part of this is theological. Just like personal, so much of this is your interpretation. We need to weigh whether the theological issue is a small issue or a significant issue. Paul told Timothy that the church was not to “argue about words.” Churches argue about some of the most foolish, small, unimportant theological issues. We should be able to have disagreements on matters without it meaning splitting a church. After all, we are to be known by our love.

Yes, of course, there are significant differences. Egalitarian vs. Complementarian–Calvinist vs. Arminian/openness–sola Scriptura vs. traditional readings. Such differences can make it hard to find theological unity. They can tend to be distractions to our growth in Christ. So while we are to love each other in Christ, we can grow deeper in our faith when we can find agreement on significant issues.

There are also small issues. Who wrote 2 Peter? Is Job or Jonah a parable? Was Jesus born on Dec 25 or not? (idk). No need to fight! These are nothing to trifle over. These are insignificant, and it is only your pride stopping you from growing together.

We must allow different opinions to spread their wings. If not, we are saying that our interpretation of God and the Scripture are infallible. I hope we all know that that isn’t true for any of us.

(2) Pray. And then pray some more.

Before you pray about whether you should leave a community or not, you should be praying for the people/pastors/deacons/elders who you have an issue with.

Whether it be a personal issue or theological issue, our humanity can get in the way. We can be set off by a comment, opinion or body language, and it can skew our whole entire thought process. I love what Andy Stanley says about other’s words,

“When someone’s words stir something inside of you, remember, it’s inside you. That makes it a you issue. You need to own it.”

Yes, they may have issues, but what is happening in you at that moment is “a you” thing, and you need to take it to God. Often we react when things begin to stir. While accountability and understanding are essential, they need to happen within the context of love. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are a body. We want the body working in wholeness.

There is a caveat though. Your temptation will be to pray for God to change their mind/attitude/heart. That’s normal. After all, you are the offended or the one in the right, and God clearly needs to work in their heart…..

Not so fast.

Don’t be so self-righteous. We are all broken people who are addicted to our selfishness.

When you pray for them, you need to be praying that God blesses them and pours His amazing love upon them. After all, Jesus did say to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. I believe your heart will begin to be changed, after all, that is all you can control.

When you pray for them, it helps you see them for who they are–a child of God. It helps you push past the issue and see a God-loved-child who is a part of the body of Christ. It will also help you see that your battle isn’t against that person or their opinion/worldview but,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Ephesians 6:12

The Pastor isn’t your enemy. Dorthy, the worship leader, isn’t your nemesis. Just because Tom has an opinion about everything and feels free to share it despite how it makes others feel, that doesn’t mean he’s the villain. Our enemy is the brokenness from Hell itself that is ravishing each and every one of our lives, the brokenness that God has come to break.

Pray blessing on the person or church and ask God to increase your love for them. Do it until it happens. Only as your love increases to a burden are you ready for step three.

(3) Have a responsible, adult conversation. Not an email, text or facebook message.

If we never talk about our issues and each other’s issues, we can never be iron sharpening iron. If you never talk about what is on your heart, don’t assume the other person knows. Living as a body is hard. Just look at your own body. You need to exercise and to eat right as a whole unit, or there will be problems. Talking with each other in loving, responsible, and sensible ways is all a part of the exercise. To wait until you are in crisis is neglecting the body. It is like the person who never takes care of themselves and is then surprised when they have a significant health issue.

This conversation shouldn’t be one where you say that you are leaving nor you threatening to leave. The discussion should be about the health of the relationship, and that person should be the prime directive. After all, now that you have prayed and have a burden for all parties, you should be more concerned about the health of the person and church to which there is an issue.

If your first time discussing the issue you have is when you are wading a threat or say that you are leaving, that is your wrong, and you need to repent. Remember, you can only control your heart.

If you have thought it through, prayed for, and discussed, only then is it appropriate to consider leaving and that discussion needs to be filled with love and care, even if it is only on your end. It is also a discussion that needs to happen face to face. It will probably hurt, but it is the most healthy way to experience an amputation (after all, we are a body).

There are a few other steps that could be added. However, I believe if you follow these three basic steps, you will be along the road to help yourself and our churches be a much healthier place.

What are some steps that you would add?