The Gospel Coalition


Everyone will leave their church at some point. Whether God calls us home to glory, move to another city, or decide to try a different local church, we are going to leave.

Leaving a local congregation should be one of the most difficult decisions we face. It should be filled with the recollection of our love for the saints, their love for us, our service together in the name of our Lord, and our sorrows and joys in the faith. A church is family and we ought never feel it easy to leave family--even an unhealthy family.

But we do sometimes find ourselves at that crossroads. When we've decided to leave, there are at least five things we want to do before we go.

1. Share Your Thinking/Reasons with the Leaders

You've no doubt been thinking of leaving for some time. In all likelihood you did not wake up with the sudden new thought, I think I'm going to find another church. The thought has been building for some time. You've been piling up observations, minor disappointments, major hurts and persistent longings. You've likely done that quietly, without talking to anyone. And you've likely kept your silence for good reasons. First, you thought perhaps the situation would change. If you kept quiet things would get better and you wouldn't have caused a "stir" by saying anything. Then you kept quiet because you didn't want to spread your concern to others or hurt anyone's feelings. Finally, you kept quiet because you stopped believing any change was possible or forthcoming. Now, after all those silent months of stockpiling critiques, you've decided to leave.

But if you leave this way, you're going to leave a ghost in the congregation. People will be haunted by your absence and wonder, What happened to them? Why did they leave? Then people feel abandoned and hurt.

There's a better way to leave. Share your thinking with your leaders before you make the final decision. Let them shepherd you through your thoughts and reasons even i that means shepherding you to the next church. Two things will happen. You will benefit from their spiritual care (and perhaps even be surprised by their agreement or receptivity). And the church's leader and congregation will benefit from your insight. There's a way to leave a church that amounts to win-win rather than abandonment.

2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts

I suspect I experience what a lot of pastors experience: persons coming to the church disgruntled with persons in their previous church without having done anything to resolve the conflict. They're running from something rather than facing it. The something could be personal conflict, church discipline or theological strife. In either case, don't leave your church before you've addressed the conflict. Obey our Lord's instructions in Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15. Go and be reconciled to the best of your ability.

If you obey the Lord in this before moving on then everybody wins. Lord willing, you win your brother over and the relationship is mended. You may find you don't have to leave at all and experience renewed joy in the church family you've already invested years of life with. Even if you still need or want to leave, you'll experience freedom from guilt because you've "made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). And your new church family will be able to receive you without the baggage associated with the previous church.

At FBC we refuse to take into membership anyone we know has some outstanding issue with their previous church. We insist they return to work things out before coming to us, and we very often follow-up with leaders of the church to confirm that appropriate efforts have been made. We find this leads to peace between churches, grace in reconciliation, and freshness in any new starts that are made.

3. Express Your Appreciation for the Church's Ministry in Your Life

When people leave suddenly and without conversation with the leaders of the church they very often fall prey to ingratitude. Having convinced themselves of all the problems in the church, they usually minimize the strengths and virtues of the church. Sadly, this is the way many of us work ourselves up to making major decisions--emphasize the negative and downplay the positives.

But truthfully, no true church is without significant positive qualities. Even the church at Corinth, with all their problems, could be commended for the "grace given you in Christ Jesus" (1:4), for having been "enriched in every way" (1:5), "not lack[ing] any spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed" (1:7), and being "the seal of [Paul's] apostleship in the Lord" (9:2). They had significant problems, but also much to commend. Though Paul heard things that he as an apostle should put in order, he nevertheless confirmed their testimony in Christ (1:6) and gave praise wherever appropriate.

We should celebrate God's grace in a church long before we decide and actually leave. We should note the positive ways the church has impacted and blessed us spiritually. We should communicate that to our leaders and, where appropriate, to the body as a whole. I love those resignation letters that actually strengthen and edify the body because the brother/sister resigning "builds an Ebenezer" to God's grace as they leave.

Please don't make this a matter of soothing your conscience once you've decided to leave in an unhealthy way. Make this a matter of constant discipline in grace. Communicate appreciation before you decide to leave, as you're thinking about leaving, and once you do leave. Our churches would be far healthier and more joyful if they were communities of gracious affirmation and appreciation.

4. Say "Goodbye" to Friends and Family

Unless we've been unusually isolated in our church families, chances are we have some significant family and friends who will remain in the church. They mean a great deal to us and they're likely to be affected by our leaving. These are people you want to say your "goodbyes" to in person. You don't want them to hear you're leaving or have left on the floor of a members' meeting. You don't want to inadvertently suggest their friendship doesn't or hasn't meant much to you. You don't want them wondering whether you actually loved them. You don't want things to be awkward when you see them out and about in the community.

Instead, you want them to be affirmed in and by your love. You want them to know you will carry them in your affections though you're going to settle into a new communion. You want them to know, circumstances permitting, that the friendship will continue and you'll always be brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, include some personal time with friends and family before you actually leave the church. Invite them to your home or to coffee. Share with them your appreciation and your hopes as you move forward. Most will understand and be happy for you, even if they're sad for themselves and their church. Such mourning and rejoicing are part of what it means to be the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27).

5. Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives and Failings

Leaving a church ought to be cause for self-examination. We ought to get the log out of our own eyes before focusing on the speck in the church's eye (Matt. 7:3-4). This is hard, slow work--and most people skip it. It's so easy to assume the purity of our own motives, to view ourselves as victims or martyrs, and to trivialize our many failings.

But integrity requires we be honest with the man in the mirror. Why are we thinking of leaving? What really motivates our assessment and desires? How have we contributed to the problems and feelings we're finding so dissatisfying or hurtful? Have we taken full responsibility in confession, repentance and action?

We're not honestly ready to leave and our churches are not ready for us to leave until we've gotten before the Lord with transparency, humility and ruthlessness with our own sin and flesh. But, if we muster such honesty, it will lead to our increased sanctification and joy.

CONCLUSION

Leaving a church can be a means of grace rather than a source of pain for everyone involved. But for grace to be multiplied we'll have to do some things before we decide to leave and actually exit. Receiving this grace will require putting to death the fear of man and believing that God exists and He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6). If you are thinking of leaving, think of how you will leave. It could make a positive difference for you, your friends, your current and your future churches.


Comments:

Britain

November 26, 2013 at 06:50 PM

Pastor Anyabwile,

Wonderful article! Would you say there are any other things to do if a person should reject a church while in the process of church searching?

Josh K

November 25, 2013 at 08:51 AM

Enjoyed this article, and have no direct feedback to it. I'm perplexed by a number of commenters, however, who see a church member's relationship with a particular local church as analogous to the commitment one makes to a spouse or child. With many good churches available, I see no biblical warrant for that strength of commitment to anything but the Church universal. When I switch for whatever reason from legitimate Christian church A to legitimate Christian church B, after the due process outlined in this article, I'm still part of the bride in the Church's marriage to Christ. Only if I left the faith for another, would we have an analogous comparison to divorce.

David Lee

November 24, 2013 at 04:09 PM

Pastor Thabiti - I hope you'll talk about this subject at next year's 9 Marks at Southeastern. I'm a layman who has attended the past two years with my wife, and we've learned and been blessed a great deal there. Thank you for this post, It has convicted me to understand that I have 1-2 more things left to do.

Laudable Linkage | Stray Thoughts

November 23, 2013 at 10:20 AM

[…] 5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church. […]

[…] my last post on leaving well when you’re a member of a church several respondents pointed out that pastors often leave churches in very poor way. Sadly, […]

Bev Forrest

November 23, 2013 at 05:07 PM

We represent a couple that has agonized over 15 years because our pastor had little place for peacemaking within the church. So often, we thought about, prayed about leaving. God has kept us there …. IN ORDER THAT WE MIGHT GROW UP. He has used this difficult place to teach us of our own expectations that led to judgment; He has taught us love and forgiveness; He has had us practice confession and repentance.
So …. our pastor is now retired. We don't know what our new pastor will be like. BUT, we know better what God would have us to be like! AND it's been worth the frustration, the impatience, the death of our agenda! GOD IS GOOD! Bev

Jonathan

November 22, 2013 at 07:25 AM

"You are taking specific incidents in your mind and applying them globally. I can just as easily say that I have never seen a pastor leave a church except for the specific purpose of a new church plant. In that situation they come back and guest speak."

Melody, I am specific experiences (not just mine but those of a growing number of individuals that I interact with on a regular basis) to common basis for action. I'm not justifying these actions, just pointing to cause and effect.

FWIW, I'm a pastor's son, married to a pastor's daughter (both men bear the scars of having been abandoned at very difficult times by key members and families). My overarching point is that we're now in an era where the focus has been so concentrated on church leadership, preaching, protecting church leaders, serving church leaders, sacrificing for church leaders, etc... to the exclusion of real and meaningful sacrificial leadership for the purpose of discipleship among the membership that members know the score and they're increasingly acting accordingly.

There is almost a jaded POV among all members outside of the closest circle around a senior pastor that correction is going to take more than sermons and blog posts that may come from the purest of intents but tend to sound like, "I'm the authority. You must follow my suggestions else be deemed disobedient to Christ." (yes, an exaggeration, but a perception that is on the increase by the laity.)

"I have seen people show up from other churches in town grumbling about something they didn’t like there, usually people, and then I see them move onto one of the other churches in town. I’m wondering what they are going to do when they run through them all? Start a house church themselves?"

Grumbling/murmuring is indeed sin and a one that leads down a very dark road toward other sin. And it must be dealt with in its infancy for the health of the grumbler and the congregation. But, again, the old tactic of harsh rebuke first seems to have largely lost its power. And its companion (disrespecting those who leave by attempting to create strawman impressions of them in order to create a heroes narrative for oneself) is even less effect and potentially more dangerous.

There is a reason that we call our leaders "pastors" and not just "Lecturers in Chief". God built a shepherding component into clerical and lay leadership giftings such that they cannot be separated from the office without undercutting the credibility that these leaders must have in order to be meaningfully followed.

"The thing you said about a legal pad of complaints. Well who would want to take that seriously? Someone with a long list of complaints can hardly be taken seriously. If I showed up with a list of everything I thought was wrong with you how would you feel? If I have even one hard feeling toward a pastor I pray for them. I pray for them as much for me as them, probably for me more to be honest."

We're largely in agreement here as well. What I'm referring to is the layer of protection that church leaders seek to build around themselves (and there are many reasons that such protections are absolutely necessary if the leader is to actually lead). The person who has the legal pad full of small issues might be a grumbler but he might also be someone who has seen a pattern of behavior and is convicted enough about it to bring these concerns directly into the pastor's office (btw, is there a more intimidating home court advantage than a senior pastor's study in this generation?). It takes a shepherd's heart to seek to distinguish between the grumbling and the authentic concern and then deal, as a shepherd with an eye (and hard) toward reconciliation and restoration.

What I see, however, is a front line of intimidation (right out of the executive MBA textbooks) that sees all such visits as a potential threat to that thing which must be protected at all costs: the office of bishop/elder/pastor.

Again, my point here is to encourage leaders to balance their desire for self preservation with the desire to see the Bride of Christ be built up...to see the potential loss of church members as not an attack on the church but an opportunity to disciple and grow some passionate lay people.

There is a reason God tells us to handle disputes a certain way. It’s for our own benefit.

Weekly Links (11/22/2013) | LBC Beacon

November 22, 2013 at 05:19 AM

[…] Anyabwile has a 2-parter on leaving the church. The first is for members and you can find it here. And then here‘s the pastor’s […]

Concerted Effort

November 22, 2013 at 03:58 PM

You offer some good advice, generally speaking, but this does illustrate the overemphasis some put on the local church. A Christian has the freedom in Christ to change local churches for any reason they feel is necessary. The local church is simply an gathering of a portion of the family of God. It is no sin to gather with another group of believers in another church. Becoming a member of a local church is not forming a "covenant"--as some have suggested, it is also not comparable to marriage. Those are unhelpful and inaccurate analogies.

In my experience, I was a member of a church that would not allow its members to resign their membership. The only way you could leave was for the following reasons:

1. death
2. transfer to another like-minded church due to job relocation (of course, if you were really a serious minded Christian, you would stick around until you found a job where your church is located).
3. transfer to another church you are more in agreement with (this option required several meetings with the elders so they could "convince" you to stay, which, by the way, was abused)

When we decided to leave that church, although the pretense for the whole unbiblical "transfer" system was to oversee the good of our souls, we never got a call from a pastor--not once.

I think such a system is simply put in place, in spite of all the good intentions, to control people. No pastor should think his church is the best option and therefore no one should leave, otherwise something must be wrong with them.

This is churchianity, not Christianity. No one should have a guilty conscience for leaving their church, unless they have unresolved conflict and sin. Otherwise, you're free to move along.

Kate

November 21, 2013 at 10:34 PM

Great article. I see both sides here. We do need to respond biblically when we have concerns... however, I see Jonathan's side as well. I guess I feel first of all that we should all view ourselves as responsible to the Lord & His Word (both pastors and laity). We are all His Children. Often, when you are first visiting a church, you cannot see some of the things until you have been there awhile. It's kind of like a dating relationship in that at first you just see the initial surface things... and as time goes on, you begin to see & understand more... I agree that we should seek to reconcile and resolve issues. However, if we bring things to leaderships attention, sometimes it isn't received well. Then, I believe we need to leave without malice & find somewhere we can worship. This article is so timely, as we have been discussing this as a family and just this past week a friend from church shared that they were considering leaving too. We have noticed that there has been an exodus of many in our small church & no one is saying why... Although our pastors say that they appreciate people visiting and such, and that they know there are plenty of great churches in our town... it seems like they are bitter when people leave... it has even been mentioned in conversations... how people left without a "good" reason. Sometimes when you hear that, you wonder if there ever is a "good" reason in that person's eyes. When do we accept that we are each personally accountable before God to follow what He has written in Scripture & placed in our hearts?! Why do we feel that we have the right/responsibility to determine what is a "good" reason?! Currently, we are pleased with our pastors teaching from the pulpit, but we struggle with the a few things. We have feel very conflicted because although the sermons are good, sometimes the living out of the Word is not working for us... while we realize for example, that the Bible does not forbid alcohol, it does condemn drunkenness. I personally have chosen not to consume alcohol because when I read Scripture it talks of being filled with the Spirit. I struggle with that enough. I don't need to make even less room for him by filling myself with something that can control me... be that alcohol, drugs... We have lay led small groups at our church. We have been involved in several of them. We find it concerning, that at these small groups, things often revolve around wine, beer, mixed drinks... Perhaps I am "legalistic", but I still feel this isn't right for me. I do not only have to be responsible for myself before the Lord, but also my children. So, what would you do in my case?! We have no real "friends" at our current church. I guess, you could say we have lots of acquaintances. We have had a few serious issues (surgeries...) and we have never had a pastoral visit, meal brought in... We have however, volunteered, brought several meals... and tried to reach out to those who are hurting. Face it, we are all hurting, have been hurt, or will be... we need each other. Part of me wants to stay, because we have moved multiple times & I just want to settle somewhere. But, I also don't want to settle just to settle...

Katherine Lyons

November 21, 2013 at 10:16 AM

This is an excellent article and quite timely for me. I have been on the fence so to speak for about a year over whether to leave my church. I have not yet done so for many of the reasons you suggest. (i.e., examining my motives, love for others, resolving conflict and not wanting to harbor ill feelings, as well as not wanting to take the problem with me to another church, which I reluctantly admit could be me) On another note, while there is a great deal of emphasis placed on church leadership among church leaders, my view is that the echelon goes no higher than a servant. If a leader believes there is a separation of the two in the church, he needs to find a new vocation.

[…] my last post on leaving well when you’re a member of a church several respondents pointed out that pastors often leave churches in very poor way. Sadly, […]

Jerome

November 21, 2013 at 08:07 AM

Hello Lydia,

We have the same situation right now. very very same issue that me and my wife is dealing with.

Melody

November 21, 2013 at 08:00 PM

Jonathan

You are taking specific incidents in your mind and applying them globally. I can just as easily say that I have never seen a pastor leave a church except for the specific purpose of a new church plant. In that situation they come back and guest speak.

I have seen people show up from other churches in town grumbling about something they didn't like there, usually people, and then I see them move onto one of the other churches in town. I'm wondering what they are going to do when they run through them all? Start a house church themselves?

I confess I have trouble being welcoming much in the way a girl would be leery of a womanizer paying compliments. I need a sermon telling me how to sort through it. Something more than just "well you have to love them anyway".

The thing you said about a legal pad of complaints. Well who would want to take that seriously? Someone with a long list of complaints can hardly be taken seriously. If I showed up with a list of everything I thought was wrong with you how would you feel? If I have even one hard feeling toward a pastor I pray for them. I pray for them as much for me as them, probably for me more to be honest.
There is a reason God tells us to handle disputes a certain way. It's for our own benefit.

Jonathan

November 21, 2013 at 05:38 AM

Thanks for your comments. It’s not really a matter of leaders doing it first, as if members are off the hook if leaders don’t. Both ought to live an Eph. 4:3 life.

I didn't intend the impression that "members are off the hook if leaders don't". Yes, it is true that both leaders and members ought to live the Ephesians 4:3 life but it is also true that we all live lives heavily weighted toward perceptions and what arguments can be supported. Since the Reformation, church leadership structure has slowly grown more unbalanced toward church leaders. It is somewhat ironic that the "for me but not for thee" mindset that Luther stood against has reemerged in our own time (albeit to a much lesser degree). So when a layperson sees a church leader deciding to leave a church in contrast to the suggestions you've made in the blog posting, it is more likely to be the case that the layperson does not think "hey if he can do wrong, why can't I?" but "If he is doing it, it must be okay."

Perhaps subjects like this might prove to be part of a catalyst to rethink leadership culture in general...at least while we still have the opportunity.

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November 20, 2013 at 12:02 PM

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Kevin

November 20, 2013 at 06:45 AM

Yes, as an elder at my church we have only had one person come to us and discuss with us why he and his family were leaving (but even then, he wasn't open to talking through the issues). I think it is for this reason that we as church leaders need to educate our people about these things. We need to not shy away from the uncomfortable discussion of "leaving the church", but tackle it head on and give appropriate counsel to the whole church.

Drew

November 20, 2013 at 04:12 PM

A good companion piece to this one would be, "How should church staff respond when members leave?" I've seen several go from my church, many of whom sadly did not follow the principles of this article, and the pastor made little to no attempt to learn why. Those answers, while potentially hurtful for the pastor, would seem important in helping the staff gain useful perspective. But more to the point on this piece, I'm thankful for the perspective. Too many are too cavalier when it comes to changing churches, and most leave as part of an emotional reaction rather than seeking God's direction for their church home. Anything related to the Lord is worthy of careful meditation and prayer, and among our Christian-related decisions, this one would seem to rank among the most important.

Hal

November 20, 2013 at 03:24 PM

Lydia,

The most helpful thing you can do is remain faithful to that church and support its leaders. When long-term members like your family leave a church, that discourages the remaining members, but it REALLY discourages the leaders. Be assured your faithful presence and support are precious to them (and to the Lord). If you see needs going unmet, perhaps God will use you to meet those needs ... or at least to get the ball rolling.

Lydia

November 20, 2013 at 02:46 PM

My husband and I have attended the same church for years. He grew up there and I've been there for over half of my life. We love our church dearly (as in the people) and would hate to leave, they are our family. Over the past number of years, however, a number of godly people have left our church, largely due to very poor leadership. Seemingly no vision for the church, little discipleship, teaching not in any way heretical but not great (don't mean that to sound proud, just being honest). We have no desire to leave but things just don't seem to be getting any better. People are generally not being shepherded and we are not moving forward as a church. We have attempted to approach our leaders in love and try and help in whatever way we can but to no avail.

You said in your first point about receiving spiritual care from your leaders, honestly this is something we would love but in all of our years of being at the church this has never happened. The men in leadership are nice men and perhaps even godly but just don't seem to be gifted leaders or shepherds. We have no intention of leaving the church at this stage and know that church isn't about us but we would love to be fed and shepherded at the same time. We now also have 3 small children as well whom we would love to bring up in a church that's alive and where spiritual well-being is at the top of the agenda. Hope this makes sense. Any help or advice would be much appreciated. We are obviously praying.

Caleb Suko

November 19, 2013 at 12:49 PM

I think the last one is very difficult to do. So often people leave church with a stated intention like "we feel God is calling us to..." or "We'd just like to be involved in smaller community" or "We're looking for a place closer to home". In reality there has been some hurt or disagreement that they don't want to voice. I think that if possible it is good for the church leadership to do an exit interview. Often there are things the leadership could and should learn from the experience.

It would be interesting if here was some data on the top 5-10 reasons why people leave a church.

[…] What To Do Before You Leave Your Church […]

Randy Greenwald

November 19, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Thank you. I've said similar things to every group of new members. Few have heeded my words. Perhaps if they read it from someone else, it will sink in!

Thabiti Anyabwile

November 19, 2013 at 10:18 AM

dear brother,

Please feel free to use it as it serves and helps! Grateful you would do so.

T-

Randy Greenwald

November 19, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Thanks for putting this into words. I wondering what I might need to do to get permission to reproduce this for use in our church's orientation class for new members? Thanks.

Rosa Lydia Munoz

November 19, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Thank you for wonderful article. I am sharing this with my ministry friends and leadership . We need to learn how to pray for our Chuch members and be sensitive to them. I
Like the way you explain each step before someone leave te church. May God continue blessing and guiding your life .

C. Frank Bernard

November 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

“even I[f] that means” [...] “putting to dear [<—death] the fear of man”

Thabiti Anyabwile

November 19, 2013 at 08:53 PM

Hi Jonathan and Janna,

Thanks for your comments. It's not really a matter of leaders doing it first, as if members are off the hook if leaders don't. Both ought to live an Eph. 4:3 life.

Jonathan, as for your comments under #2, adding "Attempt" is a good friendly amendment. And I think search committees should require candidates to resolve conflicts before leaving. That's a great practice in keeping with Matthew 5 and 18. We're not talking "theory" here. We're talking biblical commands from our Lord. These are negotiable things for the faithful.

T

Kerry James Allen

November 19, 2013 at 08:51 AM

Great article that I will be sharing. The only problem is, that after being at the same church for 20 years and seeing many dozens of people leave, their reasons for going are so flimsy that they will do none of the things you suggest because of their pride. My observation is that the vast majority of people in our churches who leave have absolutely no good Biblical reason to do so. But thanks, Thabiti, hope springs eternal!

Leaving - Do it in the Daylight | Trust AND Obey

November 19, 2013 at 08:38 PM

[…] Anyabwile shares Five Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church. I wish I had read this before I […]

Bill

November 19, 2013 at 08:34 PM

Knuckles, T.

Thabiti Anyabwile

November 19, 2013 at 08:30 PM

Hi Shawn,

Thanks for your comment. Based on your comment, it seems that you do enjoy your church--the people--but you may be too concerned with Sunday morning activities. Don't make the mistake of thinking the Sunday morning singing or preaching is the church. It's not. The people you love and that love you are. And that mutual love--not Sunday activities--is how the world knows you all are Jesus' disciples (John 13:34-35). If you have a really loving community formed by the gospel, you have everything. "Dry" is not a sin and certainly doesn't mean your church (the people) "suck." Better to "suck it up" and get on with the loving and inviting others into it. I agree with Bill. Recommit yourself and stick with the saints. You're not going to be able to find another church where you'll be loved the way you are now; that takes time and investment. So stay. Love. And call a lifelong moratorium on judging the saints. You'll be eternally glad you did.

For Jesus and His bride,
T-

Janna

November 19, 2013 at 08:08 PM

Jonathan...Thank-you. This is 100% accurate. As a past paid minister, current lay member, and future minister, I have voiced many of these concerns. I do not agree with the promotion mentality that many ministers seem to have. If God is calling you to youth ministry, do you really think it is for just 1 year? If God is really calling you to pastor a church of 100, so you really think He will have you leave for another church in 2 years? Yes it is important for lay members to see the value in these guidelines, but they must see it in leaders first.

John K

November 19, 2013 at 08:05 PM

I didn't say more initially, Bill, because I wanted the issue to be heresy. Its a language barrier issue, as my "new city" is actually in the Pacific Rim. I don't speak the native language, though my wife and kids do and speak in English, and while the first church is in the native language, the 2nd church does things in both that and English. We still go to two churches, though the English church we go to less than the other.

John K

November 19, 2013 at 07:56 PM

Not sure that the word "sucks" and the word "church" should go together. "Dry" gets the point across pretty well.

Bill

November 19, 2013 at 07:42 PM

How do you "split time between two" families? It seems to me that you can't really be invested in either...

Bill

November 19, 2013 at 07:41 PM

Curious ... does the church suck more than you do? If you worship with a family of people who love each other and are committed -- and the teaching isn't bad -- I would share your concerns with the pastor, and express to him/her that you'll do whatever it takes to help make things better (e.g., fast, pray, volunteer, serve more) ... because "I'm not going anywhere." Those are the people who can really make a difference.

Don't leave those great people. They'll be hurt by your departure, and the church will suffer. 2 cents from someone who doesn't really know the situation...

John K

November 19, 2013 at 07:37 PM

If there is actual heresy or going toward heresy in the church, you just have to get out, and if you want to fight it, do it from outside. We had moved to a new city and were splitting time between two churches. I differed with the 2nd church on some things but enjoyed it. I missed some signs I should've been wary of, though, and ended up realizing that the pastor was leading the church into Hebrew Roots. I actually walked out toward the end of a sermon where the pastor really laid his cards on the table (we should follow OT dietary laws, worship on Saturday, etc.), and never came back. I don't feel comfortable with the way I did it (this was about a year after my wife and kids started coming, and 6 months after I did), particularly because it was a small church, but I felt like staying around any longer with my kids was dangerous. I also felt like the pastor was being a bit deceptive as to how he was going about explaining his theology. I have run into a few people from the church, and briefly explained why I left, though I feel I wasn't strong enough in denouncing Hebrew Roots to them.

Shawn

November 19, 2013 at 07:25 PM

What if your church just sucks? That's not a reason mentioned here, heh. Forgive my bluntness, but I feel that I'm at a very dry church. It's a church that teaches on the baptism of the Holy Spirit but it seems like only a tiny fraction of them actually are. The worship is sub-standard and treated as secondary to the teaching. The teachings are not bad, per se. But I leave church still hungry. As your article encourages, I will mention one of the strong suits of my church... the people. The people at my church do treat each-other like family... for the most part. The only reason I'm still going there is because of the people. Many of my friends feel the same way too. A bunch of people who are like family and prone to good works settling for a dry church... sad.

[…] Five Things to do Before Leaving Your Church […]

Bernie

November 19, 2013 at 07:03 PM

What Jonathan @ 3:28 pm said.

Morning Mashup 11/19 | Theology Matters

November 19, 2013 at 06:29 AM

[…] 5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church - Thabiti Anyabwile is very helpful here if you are considering leaving your church. […]

Paul Cummings

November 19, 2013 at 05:55 PM

Thanks for this super timely article. Here in the belt-buckle of the Bible Belt we literally have about 20 churches in the square mile where our church is located. Invariably there is much hopping around, which always makes me think... "Boy I'm glad there wasn't some other church in Corinth for those offenders to stomp out the door and begin attending." The almost ludacris proliferation of churches here leads to almost none of the 5 questions you pose to even be considered because "why even bother? I can jump right in to a church that's 'really got it together' down the street." At least that's the prevailing attitude I see...

Tyrone Mann

November 19, 2013 at 05:55 AM

Thanks for this wonderful article! It definitely makes a difference when one carefully and graciously approaches how one leaves a church. No matter the circumstances for the departure, I've found that if you implement the right strategy for leaving, it can make all the difference in the outcome.

Kirk O'Connor

November 19, 2013 at 04:15 PM

I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully address this topic. :)

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November 19, 2013 at 04:01 AM

[…] 5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church […]

Noreen Spruyt

November 19, 2013 at 03:54 PM

Thank you very much for this article. My husband and I have struggled with the decision to stay or leave our church many times over the years. We have been at our church for almost 20 years and have survived two splits. Through both splits we stayed because we felt that was the biblical thing to do. There wasn't a theological reason behind either split. Our (my husband and I) latest struggle has been in the areas of teaching and lack of opportunities to study God's word throughout the week. Our (my husband and I) outlook had been that every church has it's problems. The grass is not always greener on the other side. For me, I see the church as my family, so leaving for me would be akin to a divorce-painful. As I said I have lived through the splits. There is a lot of pain in the church after people leave and is felt for many years after. Thanks for the encouragement to do things well and in some ways reassuring me that we have.

Ryan

November 19, 2013 at 03:42 PM

I suppose one could say that the issue of "when to leave" is the context of the entire Reformation ;)

Melody

November 19, 2013 at 03:32 PM

What I have wondered is, of the families that would never divorce their spouses or their children ever consider it an option, even realize the mixed message they are sending to their children as they haul them from church to church. Always unhappy with something or someone and bailing out of another church family.

Jonathan

November 19, 2013 at 03:28 PM

While I do not make this accusation against Mr. Anyabwile, this is another in a long line of posts that I've read where a problem is described without addressing the possibility of complicity by our leadership culture.

"1. Share Your Thinking/Reasons with the Leaders"

I agree. However, over the past few decades, our seminaries have produced church leaders with the mindset of almost intimidation against any type of criticism/expressed concerns on the part of the laity toward the body or the leadership. A pastor that I greatly admire once made the point that when a member of the body comes into his office with a legal pad and long list of concerns, his response is something between outrage and ridicule.

On the leadership front, I've known a number of pastor who did not discuss their own plans for leaving one church for another until the call to the new pastorate had already been accepted. Why should laity be given less room than this?

"2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts"

A great concept in theory but not so much in application. Pastors routinely leave one church for another BECAUSE of outstanding conflict. Perhaps this might be better worded as "Attempt to Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts"

As an aside, can you imagine the result if search committees directed pastoral candidate to return to their old pastorate to resolve conflicts prior to being allowed to be installed as the pastor of the new church (complete with the search committee checking in with the old church lay leadership to make sure that this action was taking place)?

Again, this is a very helpful article but it does appear to be lacking the proper emphasis that laity will tend to see liberty where they see leadership act or not act.

Its called "leadership" for a reason.

Melody

November 19, 2013 at 03:27 PM

It's not you, it's me......

various versions of break up speeches.

Ed Hlad

November 19, 2013 at 02:21 PM

While I truly appreciate the comments made in this article and I am trying to reconcile these thoughts in my heart as being part of the real world, I struggle with the whole idea of people leaving churches. Unless you are leaving for doctrinal reasons or due to physically moving from the area, isn't God glorified more by us staying together and practicing the principles of the Scriptures that bring reconciliation? Again, there is no reconciling good doctrine with bad but most of us move from place to place due to our felt needs rather than doctrinal concerns. Leaving in a good way is still leaving and I find that the Bible seeks to teach us many ways to stay together.

Bill

November 19, 2013 at 02:09 PM

As a pastor of a church that recently dissolved - prompted by a number of people leaving - I offer some fresh responses to your post.

1. Why do you say "Everyone will leave their church at some point"? Death and moving, yes ... but have we just given up on people fulfilling their covenants to a local body if they remain local?

2. I really appreciate your charge to "Let [leaders] shepherd you through your thoughts and reasons." 9 out of 10 make their decisions to leave independently, then announce it in a scorched-earth email on a Monday morning. It is clear the the crisis we have regarding spiritual authority in our churches is magnified when someone leaves receiving no input.

3. A wise man once told me, "the reason a person left their last church IS the reason why they'll leave yours." This has played out 100% of the time in my ministerial career. Write it in stone.

4. You don't mention that leaving a church is (in many churches) the breaking of a covenant - a reneging on a promise. We change favorite restaurants, but we don't change spouses. Are churches purveyors of consumer goods, or are they families? As long as leaders keep treating them like the former, and cease calling our people to covenant relationships ... then, yes, your opening sentence is correct.

I believe the world is baffled by believers who, with a Bible in their hand which speaks of committed love, will so easily swap out "families" for issues of personal preference.

Lord have mercy.

Hal

November 19, 2013 at 01:51 PM

Right, Kerry. These are perhaps the guidelines people will follow in heaven, when they leave their churches. In this life, probably less than one in a million would do these 5 things. The kinds of members who would go to these lengths before leaving are not the kinds of people who leave. They are careful, thoughtful, prayerful, godly, and selfless. That is a small number of Christians, in my world.

Melody

November 18, 2013 at 11:46 AM

What I have observed personally is that it leaves much of the same destruction that divorce does.

Matt Fletcher

November 18, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Outstanding article! Thanks, Thabiti, for taking the time to write this and also to respond to Jason's question. I gleaned as much from your response to that as I did the original article.

Jason

November 18, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Thank you, Pastor T for taking your valuable time to reply to my question. Yes, your answer helps a lot. In the Western world where we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places and people to worship with, we are forced tackle those hard questions of motivation and preference. I appreciate your wisdom in this matter.

Thabiti Anyabwile

November 18, 2013 at 09:48 AM

Hi Jason,
That's a good question, bro. Thanks for taking the time to ask it!

Given how painful and distracting "worship wars" have been, it's better to graciously leave for another congregation than to stay until strife erupts. So, yes, I do think there's probably a time to leave over issues re: music, singing, style, etc.

I haven't thought a lot about this, but off the top of my head, here's what I'd say at this point:

1. Yes, be sure to walk through the other suggestions in this post (talk with leaders, take note of God's grace and appreciate the church, etc.).

2. Try to pinpoint as clearly as possible what's troubling you. Is it merely a preference issue (i.e., I like hymns but not rock)? Or, is it a ministry philosophy issue (i.e., the music gets too much/too little time in the service)? Or, is it theological (i.e., the songs we're singing are not true or biblical in some way)? Try to be as specific as possible because that'll make it easier to address and also more accurately define the scope of the problem. Time spent singing is less serious than preferences and philosophy which is less serious than theology and truth.

2. If it's a preference issue: Try to assess to what degree you're being edified in the music and singing even if you have different preferences. If overall you're being edified, then the thing to do is work on your preferences instead of leaving. We will likely always have some different preferences if it's a church larger than one person. So, here's where we have to "think more highly of others than we do ourselves." We can be sure the songs we love someone else wishes they could skip, and vice versa. So, if there's edification we should rethink and hold loosely our preferences rather than leave.

3. If it's a ministry philosophy issue and we're not in leadership, then we should ask whether this might be a submission issue. If you've had talks with your leaders about your concerns and they've explained the philosophy/approach and you're confident that they're aiming to be faithful, then submit rather than leave. Try to adopt their view of things (assuming it's consistent with and not ruled out by scripture). Keep in mind the broader aim of the church, where you're likely to be substantial agreement, and the evidence of grace in the body. It might not be how you'd do it, but that' doesn't make it wrong or worth leaving over necessarily. It also might not be how the church always does it, so if you leave prematurely you might miss out on some loving relationships and some encouraging changes the Lord may bring. Unless you find the ministry philosophy repugnant to scripture or in some way morally wrong, then I'd try to first buy into the vision and direction of the leaders and submit to them (Heb. 13:17).

4. If it's a theological issue (i.e., unbiblical lyrics, false things said by worship leaders, manipulation, etc.), then I'd treat these as most serious. Assuming you've done the other things in the post (esp. talked with leaders), then it seems you're at an standstill. If the matters are secondary or tertiary issues, then you might choose to continue in the fellowship. But if these are primary issues and you're consistently offering what amounts to false praise to God, then you should probably leave in the way described in the post.

Does that help?
T-

Thabiti Anyabwile

November 18, 2013 at 09:38 PM

Congratulations, brother! I pray the Lord blesses your ministry to your new church!
T-

Jason

November 18, 2013 at 09:27 AM

Thank you for this very helpful post. In regard to your last point: examining your own motivations, etc. At what point (if any) is a desire for change in preference of ministry style (musical, philosophical, etc.) become a legitimate cause for finding another place to worship? (Assuming that you are following the other guidelines and not harboring ill will.)

Freddy

November 18, 2013 at 08:58 PM

Thanks for this timely article, brother! My family & I are about to depart our current fellowship for another local church but it is for me to serve as a student pastor. This was of great encouragement to me as we are headed that way as I type. Only one more Sunday with them! Thankfully, our time with them has been positive for the most part and we are thankful that the Lord put us in their midst for this season. We are excited about this new season of ministry, especially being my first in a full-time staff position, but we are sad to leave the people we have served and served with in different ways.

Again, thank you for an encouraging article!

Grace & Peace,
Freddy

Tom Brainerd

November 18, 2013 at 04:33 PM

It is worth reading some dead theologicians on the way to making a decision like this. Calvin's Institutes, Book IV, on the 'marks of the church' is pretty insightful. It is couched in the context of 'when to leave,' as I read it.

Ray Munsaka

November 18, 2013 at 01:27 PM

Thank you Thabiti for your very excellent article. How i wish i saw it 20 years ago!
I remember a time when I decided to leave my local church way back in the early 90's. The reason was that my doctrinal persuasions had shifted from those held by the church. I discussed this with the pastor and he understood my position. But when the matter was made known to the congregation, I think they felt betrayed, for various reasons. Some other leaders came to discuss with me from a doctrinal view point although we remained with our opposing views even after.
However, I decided not to leave as my leaving was not going to be rightly understood by all and also I had some ministry that would have meant creating a sudden vacuum.
In God's own providence (I believe), I had to leave town as I lost my job and my predicament was "solved" as there was no congregation of my previous denomination in the new town.
No doubt had I read your article back then, I would have done some things differently and more Biblically. Thanks

Alisha

January 27, 2014 at 09:54 PM

I find this very helpful! I am a college student and the church I attend is a church with a great deal of other collage students and young adults (there may be no more than 5 over 45). For a few years I have felt that there has been no one there to help disciple me or grow in my relationship with Christ. I almost feel selfish though for leaving, I feel like if I leave I am focusing only on what get get from church rather and giving every part of me in worship. I know that I could be helpful in helping others grow in their relationship with Christ, but I think in order to do that better I need to have someone there who could help disciple me. I feel like I have a lot of feelings but really don't have any scripture to back any of them up. I did not know if you had any or any advice to help. Thanks so much for your time!

Tim

February 6, 2014 at 01:10 PM

Great article. I have been wrestling over this issue for over a year. Me and my wife had our world shaken up over a year ago when we began to study the Bible and understand the doctrines of grace. Our church does not uphold the theological belief's that we do now. We are very active in children's ministry and have been praying for someone to come take over the ministry so we can pursue a church that we agree with theologically and doctrinally. We recently got a new pastor and the preaching has moved even further away from what we believe. Maybe it's time to move along? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Thabiti Anyabwile

February 3, 2014 at 09:01 AM

Hi Alisha,

Thank you for joining the conversation and sharing some of your situation. I'm not sure I have a great deal of wisdom for you here. It seems like points 1 and 5 in the post are applicable. You've written here about your internal struggle. Continue to be honest about your motivations. Wanting to grow and be discipled by an older woman in the faith is a godly desire (Titus 2). It may be that you would not only benefit from being in a setting where that's possible but another church might benefit by having some more younger persons in their membership. Ultimately we want all the Lord's churches to be multi-generational and it may be some of us need to move to places where we help make that a reality.

As you think about this, be sure to talk with your pastors/elders about your concerns. Give them an opportunity to shepherd you through this. They may have far better wisdom particular to your spiritual needs than I would have.

I pray the Lord leads and guides you.
T-

Shelby

February 23, 2014 at 03:30 AM

I've been mulling over this situation - to stay or to leave - for the past 12 months. I have been in my church since birth - 31 years. The reason I am contemplating leaving is because I don't feel like our leaders have a vision for where we are going. I feel our leaders are more reactive than active. I'm struggling to submit to authority because I am losing respect for people and getting frustrated that things aren't happening. I feel like I'm just hanging on by a thread because we are seeking a new pastor this year, so there is hope for change. Even so, part of me really longs for a new community.

William hamel

February 20, 2014 at 04:13 PM

The thought has been building for some time. You’ve been piling up observations, minor disappointments, major hurts and persistent longings.

Jerome

February 12, 2014 at 08:22 PM

1. Share Your Thinking/Reasons with the Leaders - What if our pastors and leaders are the problem? They are teaching half sound doctrine and half is superficiality. Currently me and my wife and 2 churchmates found a church a church that handles the word of God excellently and preach it biblically, not our current church preaching the word of God philosophically...

Thabiti

February 12, 2014 at 04:56 PM

Dear Sam,

Brother, I'm sorry to hear about this experience. There's no legitimate reason for a pastor to speak this way. This is "lording it over" the congregation. I don't know any more than what you've told me. But I would not keep my family under such "care." A shepherd should be able to answer those who disagree with gentleness and soundness (2 Tim. 2:24-25; Titus 2:7-8). If your goal is your 8 yr old growing up in a church where they feel loved, then you're not meeting your goal with a leader that says "It's my way or the high way." I don't think you're lost. You're just saddened and heart broken. But it seems you know what's right. Consider practicing the things in this post and the, if you can't win your brother, move your family to a place with healthy, loving Christian leadership.

I pray the Lord strengthens you and comforts you,
Thabiti

Sam

February 10, 2014 at 05:46 AM

I found your article at five in the morning. I was troubled even in my sleep and woke early. My heartache is somewhat different but I hope you will respond. I was not wanting to leave our church but the sermon yesterday ended with another "if you don't like it you can leave" from our reverend to his congregation. Yes literally. This is the second time since we have been attending (~6 years now) that our reverend has told his flock something the church was going to do and followed up by saying if you don't like it you can find another church. The first time was like a slap in the face. This time I am having a crisis of faith. Not in The Lord but in this church. It is not that I disagreed with what he was instituting but that we, his flock, are apparently so easily dispensable. My 8 year old only knows this church and I don't want to drag him from church to church looking for another. But I want him to grow up in a church where he feels loved and valued. I feel so utterly lost.

Hal

December 7, 2013 at 07:49 AM

JB, that all sounds painfully familiar. My experience has been very similar, except for the moral failure by previous staff. At 3 years, my struggles were exactly the same as yours. At 6+ years, it is becoming easier to accept that my church is what it is, and to simply try my best to minister to my congregation and community. Apparently these problems are very common.

JB

December 6, 2013 at 09:59 PM

I am a struggling pastor. Like many pastors, my struggles are sometimes many and always varied. My biggest struggle is with myself and my own attitude. I've pastored my church for 3 years and it has been the most wonderfully difficult 3 years of my life. The previous pastor ran off with another woman, leaving his wife and his ministry. When I came on as the pastor the church was reeling. Initially we saw people who had left come back for a time and leave again. Over 3 years I've watched many dozens of people leave our church. I can honestly say that I can count on one hand the number of them who came to me or another pastor/deacon and told us they were leaving and the reasons why. When people leave it is painful and hurtful and my pride and flesh often want to lash out. I have wrestled with my own heart more in the last 3 years than I could have ever imagined. People leaving has done more to reveal a sinful heart and attitude in me than anything in my life. I see that a part of these experiences are God working to humble me and draw me to Himself. It's not that people haven't or aren't joining our fellowship either. We had an exodus over the summer due to staff changes mainly because of finances and our attendance today is the same if not slightly higher than it was. Yet every time someone leaves it's like scabs are pulled off of wounds.

Here are the main reasons I here (mostly through the grapevine) for why people have left:
* people not happy with decisions on staffing (lots of financial struggles in our church over the past 5-6 years. Have let 3 pastors and a secretary go...no money to pay them).
* we no longer have a youth pastor so people take their kids and go somewhere else.
* the music isn't their style/preference
* we discontinued the choir ministry for a time
* the preaching is too convicting/confrontational
* the church isn't like it used to be with the old pastor (yeah...the one who left his wife and abandoned the church)

All of this to say that I struggle most days as a pastor to practice what I have asked our people to practice...i.e. to make a commitment and stick with the church through good and bad. I truly want what's best for our church. I'm wrestling to stay but ready to go if the Lord gives clear direction that this is what's best for the church.

To be sure, some who have left simply needed to go, but I just wish people wouldn't be so casual about jumping ship. And the way most have done it is to simply disappear and when I try to follow up with them I often am ignored.

Let's fight for our church and for the faith of one another! We are family and this is what love will do. (preaching that to myself!)

[…] my last post on leaving well when you’re a member of a church several respondents pointed out that pastors often leave churches in very poor way. Sadly, […]

Helpful Links | Youth Ministry Reformation

December 4, 2013 at 09:18 AM

[…] 5 Things to Do Before Leaving a Church “Leaving a local congregation should be one of the most difficult decisions we face. It should be filled with the recollection of our love for the saints, their love for us, our service together in the name of our Lord, and our sorrows and joys in the faith. A church is family and we ought never feel it easy to leave family–even an unhealthy family.” […]

Bev Forrest

December 2, 2013 at 08:49 PM

This is an excellent article, Ken. As someone who has expressed frustration with her pastor; followed by repentance and confession, God has kept us in the same church and under the same pastor for 15 years. God has kept me there to learn how to love this man …. am still learning

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December 12, 2013 at 09:17 AM

[…] 5 Things to do before leaving your church. […]

Bro D.J. Lonard

December 1, 2013 at 01:03 PM

I felt like taking the first baby steps in leaving my church today..For me its not being used in the local assembly..I have with this church since i was little, pretty much all my life.. well as i come to really understand grace and really understand how its all about Christ and not us..I have really grown in my relationship with my Father.. It seems like since i have stopped being a worker (walking in works), rather im walking in grace alot of my opportunities have went down to basically doing nothing.. I feel like im wasting away here.. God still uses me at work and other places, but i really want encourage my local community of believers cause we have been through alot together.It really seems like when i was speaking the same language when i was really in works, i got many opportunities to speak... For me to go up to the pastor and say i feel like im not being used here and im gonna be looking for another church home.. Then I feel like he would probably say oh i will pray about it, then may say God put this day on my heart... but in all honesty it would be a pity preaching.. H3 would probably let me speak out of pity.. Pity opportunities just doesnt fly with me.. i would rather given a chance to speak out of respect; Seeing that Christ's grace is working in me.. But right now since reading this i may take it a lil more slowly and give it 1 more chance..this is one my character traits, in some instances when i should be stern im too tender hearted...but all in all it really sucks
..im tired of being overlooked... pray for me.peace and. God bless