Friday, February 15, 2008

How to Leave a Church

It's on more than a few minds.

Wes, the Engineer-Ambassador, reprints Mark Dever's counsel on how to leave a church from Dever's new book What is a Healthy Church?:
Before You Decide to Leave

1. Pray.

2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.

3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?

4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.

5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life - places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt. 7:3-5).

6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).

If You Go

1. Don’t divide the body.

2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred t as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).

3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.

4. If there has been hurt, then forgive - even as you have been forgiven.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

1 comment:

Chuck E. C. said...

Thanks for your post on churchleaving. Most of your comments are right-on, but they are insufficient to the largeness of the problem of leaving a church. It feels as if you live in a different universe than I. I've had to leave two churches, and it was pretty awful both times. I'll focus on the more recent event, when I left a Christian & Missionary Alliance congregation.

How can I "let my pastor know" when he barely knows who I am and shows no real concern for me? He has a small clique of people close to him and the rest of us in our congregation seem to not matter. He had rarely shown me a moment's consideration, and he didn't act as if my opinions were meaningful.

My motives for leaving were many. They had to do with a lack of Bible teaching (alongside various unscriptural lessons), poor choices of worship music (consisting of some of the more vulgar songs in the contemporary Christian repertoire, e.g., Jars of Clay and 3rd Day), and a spiritlessness and lovelessness among the members. Then the pastor started showing odd Powerpoint slides during sermons, including pics of shirtless men praying, holding babies, etc. They seemed semipornographic. But nobody said anything.

How do you bring these things up? I brought up the music issue to the pastor, and was shot down immediately. How then was I going to raise the question, "Why is there a man in a towel on the cover of the Sunday program?" Nobody appeared to notice or care, except me.

I asked other Christians outside my church for advice. I was surprised at how nasty and critical people became, claiming I have no right to disagree with the pastor, no right to leave, that I am just bitter and a troublemaker.

Finally I wrote the pastor a letter outlining all my concerns--the unbiblical teaching, the art photography, the unspiritual music, and other things. He replied with a two-line email, ignoring everything I said, saying goodbye, wishing me the best in my future endeavors. Indeed, I've never had a pastor who ever actually discussed anything with me--the typical responses are lecturing, bullying, or ignoring.

There were no broken or strained relationships between me and others in the church. I'd been congenial. But nobody cared about me either. Nobody in the congregation had befriended me after several months of regular attendance. I had members over to my home for Christmas dinner and never heard from them again--they didn't even bother to thank me at church the following services. When I quit attending, nobody contacted me for any reason whatsoever. I did speak to one member, who said nobody ever talked about the fact I wasn't attending, and that what I did was my business alone. And in her last point I disagree: The congregation is supposed to care for one another. And when the issue is doctrinal heresy, the spiritual survival of all the members is at stake. Maybe it would have been appropriate for me to be divisive, to openly speak out about what I saw, heard and thought to anybody who would listen. That approach seems more Jesus-like, after all.

I say that these are the more typical experiences of churchgoers--apathetic, spiritually dead members, subtle heresies, ignored until a crisis occurs, and an atmosphere where a mere churchgoer (not a member of the leadership or ministries, who has a completely different experience of church and churchgoing) has neither access to leadership nor political/spiritual legitimacy for bringing up concerns.

Finally I chose Titus 3:10 as my instruction in the matter. I'd spoken to him once, and the letter was my second admonition. Since he wasn't going to leave, I'd have to.

No, there were no evidences of grace in my congregation. The membership was dwindling (I wasn't the only one who decided to leave); the previous two pastors had severe moral problems--one went to prison as a consequence of his--and I occasionally thought the greatest grace would be that this congregation would come to an end. I spent many hours in praying and fasting and study trying to decide what to do. And I believe the Holy Spirit gave me my answer, which is the following.

Perhaps the better question is, "when is a church not really a church?"