1. Don’t leave by email or text. Church is characterized by a web of connection in relationship. You owe it to yourself, your friends, and Church leadership to at least have a civil conversation about why you are leaving.
2. Don’t compile a long list of complaints and things you want to see change. They aren’t as helpful as you might think and are often based solely on your opinion. Often times these issues are areas that God might be revealing to you as areas where you could contribute to the overall mission of the church. (See point #3 from yesterday's post)
3. Don’t draw attention to yourself, make yourself a martyr, or try to take others with you. Again unity in God’s church is a serious issue that we are to work for. Unless there is a clear violation of scripture and you have gone through the biblical processes outlined in scripture for dealing with these issues, you have no scriptural impetus for any divisive action. Intentionally causing strife or discord is more than problematic, it’s sinful.
17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! 18 For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites...
If you do choose to leave, do so quietly but at least have a conversation with church leadership before doing so.
4. Don’t stop going to church altogether. Churches have problems because they are made up of imperfect people. As it is often stated, If you find a perfect church, don’t join it because you will mess it up. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes something similar:
“The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”
I recommend that you find a church that is grounded, Biblically based, fruitful, and attend regularly. Get involved, talk to people, learn all you can, offer and receive grace, join in genuine Biblical fellowship and when you feel that God has placed you specifically where He wants you to be, begin tithing at your new church home.
5. Don’t leave your church unless you have gone through all the steps outlined above. Too many times when conflict arises we leave when God wants us to stay, work through it, and grow to be stronger disciples as a result.
I believe that at times God does call people from one church to attend another, but that there is always a greater purpose to be served. Sometimes it is to start a ministry at a new church, or to use certain interactions and relationships for your own growth or the growth of someone else. I can think of one special family that God has moved to various churches for seasons in their lives where they have proven to have the exact skill or experience needed to help get that church on its feet or to progress to the next level of ministry. God calls both laymen and full time pastors alike. When it is something God leads us to in our lives, it can bring great blessings to the Kingdom. Many times when we ignore the call God places on us to leave, it only leads to pain and frustration later. The same happens if we leave when God wants us to stay.
However, with the above being said, the consumeristic, “church hopping” mentality that is prevalent today is dangerous not only to the church, but to an individual’s spiritual life. Our lives are to be about God first and foremost. Following His will in all we do is the simplest way to describe what the Christian life should be. When we choose to stay when God has plans for us to go we are inviting pain and conflict into our lives. When we choose to go when God has called us to stay it does the same. What I know is this: Ultimately the best life we can live is the result of our complete obedience to Him. Everything else disappoints.
God desires something more than our comfort and freedom from anxiety. He desires that we would be holy and that we would lead others down that path. He has ordained the local church, with all her flaws, as the best place for that kind of life to develop. People tend to struggle to do that unless they are planted where He has called them to be. Your relationship with God is a personal one and as such the responsibility for your spiritual growth lies on your shoulders. In Acts 17 the Bereans took that responsibility seriously as they "examined scripture daily to see if what Paul was saying was true." yet continued to sit under his ministry. Your pastor may just need some of the minutiae of ministry lifted from his shoulders, to be better supported in prayer, or encouraged from time to time.
Leaving a church is a big deal and is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. Trust God to provide the direction you need to make the right decision and have the patience to wait until it is sure. God never fails us. He will show the way!