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How To Leave Your Church

Last week on Marked by Grace, we talked about when to leave your church, and we talked about how to process the decision about whether or not it is time to find a new community of believers. This week, I want to follow up on that conversation and not talk about when to leave your church, but talk about how to leave your church. It is possible to do the right thing in the wrong way. That is, it is possible to come to a clear decision that it is time to go to another church and then for you to leave in a way that is bad in a way that is harmful in a way that is damaging. The Lord may lead you to another church at some point. If he is, then that same Lord will be leading you to leave that church in the right way. Then as you’re processing how to leave a church, when you think it’s time to leave, I want to talk about four realities that need to control your departure.

1. Leave Clearly

Here’s the first thing I want to encourage you to do if it’s time to leave, leave clearly.

I mean by that that you really need to be sure there is understanding between you and the leadership about what is going on behind your reason for leaving. If there’s something wrong with the leadership, if you sense that they have behaved inappropriately, that they’ve made bad decisions, that they’re making unprincipled decisions, or they’re making decisions at odds with biblical principle, then talk to the leadership. My goodness, as a pastor, I can tell you this sometimes feels novel. It’s amazing the number of people who express problems to everybody else except the people who could fix them. You need to talk to leadership; you need to give them an opportunity to repent. Listen, there is no perfect pastor. There is no perfect leader. There have been times in my life. There have been times in my ministry. There have been times in my home when people have had to come to me and say, hey, I’m confused by something that you did. Could you help me understand it? And I’ve had to go, oh, my goodness, that wasn’t right, that thing that I did. Would you please forgive me and give me an opportunity to make it right? It might be that there is no reason to leave if you leave clearly, and you give that person an opportunity to repent, or that person could give you more understanding than what you have at the present moment. You need to talk to the leadership. You need to ask questions. Did you understand all of the factors involved in what it is that is upsetting you? Do you need to talk to other people or confront other people? So if you’re gonna leave, you need to be sure that you leave clearly. The enemy of leaving clearly is leaving in confusion. You’re leaving because of gossip, you’re leaving because you’ve heard one side of the story, you’re leaving because you’re frustrated, don’t do those things. If you’re going to leave, leave clearly.

2. Leave Reconciled

The second thing you need to do, if you’re going to leave, is to leave reconciled. You need to leave being reconciled to the people in your church, if you’re leaving for practical reasons or personal reasons, this might not be necessary. But if there is a serious disagreement, if there’s been a conflict, and that is the reason for your departure, you need to leave reconciled. If you discover a problem you have with your brother or sister in Christ, you need to deal with it. Jesus Christ says if your brother sins, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you, and if he listens, you’ve won your brother. It could be that when you get reconciled in a broken relationship in your current church, it might still be time to go to another church, but you’ll be able to leave reconciled with those relationships intact and not doing ongoing damage. If you decide it’s time to go because of a frustration or a sin with somebody else, you need to take the effort to meet with that person. If they won’t meet with you, then that’s on them. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is the person who refuses to meet is the problem. If there is somebody who just won’t meet with you, though, you are being humble and gracious and kind and caring, and you’ve expressed a willingness to have an open, caring, godly relationship. If somebody refuses to meet with you, then that is on them. It is not on you. But insofar as it depends on you, you need to live at peace with all men. And that means before you leave a church where there are broken relationships, let’s get those things reconciled.

3. Leave Honestly

Leave clearly. Leave reconciled. Third, you need to leave, if you’re going to leave at all, you need to leave honestly. You need to tell the truth about why you’re going. Listen, you need to be honest about what the issues are. You don’t need to lie about the issues, and there are actually a couple of ways to lie about why you’re leaving. You could lie about why you’re leaving on purpose because you’re trying to be destructive. You’re trying to torpedo somebody’s life. You’re trying to torpedo a relationship. You might be trying to torpedo the ministry, and you could also be dishonest about the reason you’re leaving. Your lies could be potential lies or lies that you’re telling without even knowing if you heard one side of the story. If you’re hurt, if you’re leaving because you’re upset about a report you heard about somebody, but the report you heard was a lie. Well, you are believing a lie, even though you don’t know it. And so if you go out hearing one side of the story, if you go out believing gossip, then you are a potential liar and a potential believer in lies, and you won’t leave, honestly. So you need to tell the truth about why you’re leaving. This takes some discipline, to be honest, because a lot of times, we just get frustrated. A lot of times, we just get upset. A lot of times, we don’t like that person. We don’t like that, Pastor. We don’t like that Sunday school teacher. We don’t like that friend. We don’t like that decision. And we moralize our preferences. We moralize our decisions. And instead of saying the truth, which is, well, we disagree, he did things differently than I would do them. She wanted to work this out a little bit differently than I did. Instead of being honest about that, we moralize our preferences. And we say she’s a liar, or he’s corrupt, or those kinds of things. And that is dishonest. It takes some real discipline to be honest about the reason that we’re leaving.

A couple of other things about leaving, honestly, is that we need to do this in relationally sensitive ways. You need to be honest in relationally sensitive ways. Let me give you two examples of ways that we violate this principle. It is relationally insensitive for you to get on social media and say, so glad to finally be leaving my church, or I’m so thankful to be finally at a good church after all these years. Listen that is relationally insensitive. It doesn’t acknowledge the damage that you are doing to many relationships who would see that post and not understand or misunderstand, be confused. It is a relational sin to drop one of those bombs. Another way we violate this relational sensitivity is if you got a close friend, and the close friend comes up to you and they say, hey, I heard you’re leaving. Is that true? Yes, we’re leaving. Well, why are you leaving? I’m not going to talk about it. Well, listen, I understand that we need to be sensitive to avoid gossip. But we also need to be sensitive to love our brothers and sisters. And then we need to be careful here. We can have gossip masquerade as love and care. We don’t want to do that. But it is right, if you’re leaving, you’re leaving for a principled reason. You’ve tried to be reconciled. It is right for you to honor close relationships by saying hey, you know, we just couldn’t get agreement with the leadership, or they’re just some disagreements with some of our relationships in the church. And we just felt like it was time to go. Even saying something like that. It’s not damaging to anybody else, but it’s giving the person who’s asking enough to be able to honor the relationship that you’ve got. Here’s one other thing I’ll say about leaving honestly. You need to tell the truth about corruption. If you have found lies if you have found financial misappropriation, if you have found sexual immorality. Listen, you need to tell the truth about that. But certainly, if people have broken laws, if people have done things to disqualify themselves for ministry. It’s not the moral high road to be quiet about that. You should try to find ways that you can be honest about this corrupt leadership. You don’t need to speak in code or cast aspersions. You should just say straight up this person is violating Scripture. And we got to have some help addressing this problem.

4. Leave Peacably

So leave clearly, leave reconciled, leave honestly, and finally, leave peaceably. When it’s time to leave, when it’s finally time to walk out the door, you need to try to be reconciled. You need to try to understand what all the issues are. You need to be sure you understand both sides of the story. You need to tell the truth. But then, after you’ve done all that, you need to move on. You got to move on. You can’t move on with bitterness and anger in your heart. You can’t move on with anger and frustration about that person or those people. You can’t move on with an intent to try to destroy a ministry or relationships in the church you left. If you can’t do that, the Bible calls that bitterness, and that is your sin. Regardless of the reason you left, the bitterness is your sin. And if you can’t move on, if you are going to be bitter, it is going to ruin you. It is going to make you an ugly, nasty, corrupt person. And ultimately, what it means is you’re not trusting the Lord. You’re just not trusting the Lord. It would be better to leave and have there be a little bit of confusion than for you to ever be a part of the dismantling and destruction of a ministry. You do not want to do this. You don’t want to dismantle and destroy your own heart with bitterness. And you don’t want to dismantle and destroy a whole ministry.

In the book of Acts, in Acts 5, the Jewish leaders are trying to decide what to do to the apostles who keep preaching the gospel, and they want to, they want to do something to punish them. But this man named Gamaliel stands up, and he’s like, hey, leave him alone. Leave him alone. If this is from God, we won’t be able to stop it. And if it’s not from God, we won’t have to stop it. What Gamaliel is doing is he’s trusting the Lord. If you’re looking at a situation that’s tough, trust the Lord. If it’s time to leave, even if you don’t want to leave, you can trust the Lord. But don’t leave bitter. I’ll tell you very candidly, I have seen over my ministry, I’ve seen people leave church with bitterness in their hearts, and it is a mess. I’ve seen screenshots of people telling folks not to go to that church but to go to another church just because they can’t stand that somebody would bless the church they left with their attendance. I’ve seen bitterness in conversations. I’ve seen bad reputations spread in the community by former members. I’ve seen nasty social media comments by people who left, but they are just bitter. Well, as I said, that bitterness is on you. You don’t ever want to be a part of the dismantling and the destruction of a church, and if you are bitter, if you have left wrong, then that sin is on you, and you need to repent. If you don’t want to sin and it’s time to leave your church, then my goodness, leave, but do it clearly, do it reconciled, do it honestly, and do it peaceably.