From time to time, Christians leave one church to go to another, or at least think about it—and often without any guidance or godly counsel. Odd as it may seem, elders can prepare people in their own fellowships for this kind of thing. In fact, the thought about leaving, if considered rightly, can be a good thing and become a catalyst for growth in either the believer’s life or in the assembly’s life—or both. Read what one church has published in pamphlet form.
One of the most excruciating decisions you will make as a Christian is to leave your home church. By this, I mean leaving a church you have been part of for a number of years. There are many different reasons for leaving: job relocation, God is calling you out to a different church or ministry, disagreement with leadership, differing vision, unresolved conflict, change of doctrine, lack of pastoral ministry, personal needs not being met, few people at the same stage of life, etc. Some of these are valid concerns, while others may be symptomatic of underlying issues. Whatever the reason, considering a change in your church family is not an easy task or one to be undertaken lightly.
How can you know for sure that leaving is the right thing to do? If it is, how can you leave in an amicable, God-honoring way? Here are some thoughts that may help you think through your options.
Eight Things to Consider
1. If you have been committed to your current church for some time, they are your spiritual family. The church is not an organization like a social club or a corporation. So your actions will have a significant impact on you and the church. One way to know if God is in your decision to move on is whether a) you have found or trained others as your replacement in ministries you have been involved in and b) you have made it clear there is no desire to draw away others with you.
2. Can you clearly state your reasons for thinking about leaving? Have you asked yourself, “Are these reasons enough to break fellowship with my church family, the people I have shared so much with over the years?”
3. Have you sought the advice of godly counselors, people mature in their faith walk? Their gentle input will be invaluable in helping you think through your concerns and the pros and cons of leaving. Those from whom you seek counsel need not be part of the church you attend, but they should be godly, mature individuals.
4. Are you leaving because of unresolved conflict with someone? Matthew 18:15 (NASB) says that a Christian is to “go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” If conflicts are left unresolved, you run the danger of repeating the problem in any new church that you join. Conflicts, though, can be a great tool for helping us mature in the Lord, provided we don’t run away from them. They help us develop grace and mercy. So before picking up root, wouldn’t it be better to seek resolution rather than avoidance? If you need help in doing this, seek wise, godly counsel.
5. If your reason for leaving has to do with what you see as inadequate ministry or wrong doctrine, your best bet is to talk with the elders or leadership of your church. You may have some valuable feedback they need to hear. Plus, it is not good to leave without giving them a chance to respond to your concerns.
6. Is your concern a matter of “worship style?” For some, the music makes the difference. It is true that the singing can be an indicator of the joy in the life of the church, but this is a very subjective thing and so must be considered carefully. A church can have a professional-quality Sunday morning presentation but be lacking significantly in spiritual depth. On the other hand, if not much effort is put into the music ministry, this could be an indicator of lazy leadership or restrictive spiritual life.
7. Has “church hopping” become your style, in the sense that you have been part of numerous churches and find problems with every one? This is not healthy. To be sure, every church is imperfect, for they are all made up of imperfect people. Leaders are flawed as well. The church is made up of sinners saved by grace who continue to have the odor of sin as well as the fragrance of God’s grace. It will be that way until the Lord returns. Could it be the Lord wants to develop in you the character of grace and forgiveness towards others’ imperfectness or sin? Maybe it would be a good idea to discuss this with your current leadership before leaving for another church.
8. Have you earnestly prayed about your decision? Honestly, God knows your heart and wants to help you make a wise decision. The impact of this decision is significant for you and your family, as well as for the church you are leaving and the one you will join—so it is essential that you walk in step with the Spirit of God when considering leaving.
OK, what if after all this you feel God is leading you to leave? First, meet with one or more of the elders to discuss your concerns. Be open to their response, listening for their burdens, struggles, and thinking. There may be a misunderstanding or clear disagreement—but there needs to be clarity! If they disagree with your assessment of things, that doesn’t mean they are being defensive. Remember, this is a two-way conversation.
If personal interaction with an elder or elders does not bring resolution and you still feel leaving is the right thing to do, then write a letter (not an e-mail, which can seem too impersonal) to the elders of the church, and include the following:
- Briefly acknowledge what God has done in your life through your fellowship at the church (it is always good to begin with “good news” before you bring on the “bad news”). Don’t forget to thank them for the role they have played in your spiritual formation. Even if you are leaving with some significant concerns, surely God has used the church in your life for some blessings, hasn’t He?
- Explain what you have done about your concerns (for example, talked with one or more of the elders or leaders, tried to make changes, etc.).
- If you have negative reasons for leaving then describe your concerns clearly, without going into too much detail—just enough so they know why you feel leaving is the best option for you. Don’t lay blame, simply state your case. You don’t want to burn any bridges, but to lay the foundation for continued fellowship and friendship with them after you leave. You may want to return some day!
- Share with the elders what your plans are for the next stage of your spiritual journey. They will be concerned that you do not drift out into the world, but find a good fellowship where you can grow.
- Do all you can to minimize the impact of your leaving. Provide time for replacements for any ministry in which you have been involved.
- Commit yourself to not tearing down the church you are leaving by gossiping or spreading discontent. Remember, Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, so be careful about what you say regarding His Body. In all your conversations with other members of the church, let your words be seasoned with grace. Assure the leadership that your intention is to leave quietly and with as little adverse impact on the church as possible.
- If a public statement is advised, suggest that the elders work with you on a carefully worded announcement that conveys the matter clearly and graciously to the rest of the church. This will ensure that everyone is hearing the same thing. Show respect for the body in the way you leave—keep silent if that is what they want, write a letter to the church, or make a public statement. Whatever you do, do it in consultation with the leadership, as much as possible. Do not give Satan a foothold or opportunity for disunity.
- If the elders or leadership of your church are unresponsive to your overtures or react in a fleshly way, take the high road of grace. There may be many factors involved in their reaction, so it is not safe to guess what they are thinking. Therefore, grace along with meekness is the better response.
- Commit to pray genuinely for the church, its leadership, and its people.