A few weeks back, I asked the question, “When Do You Leave a Church?” here on the Founders Blog and promised to continue dealing with this issue in a second post. With this post, I want to examine the issue of how to leave a church. When it becomes necessary to find another congregation we must keep a close watch over our hearts and our motives and we must be careful what we say and how we act “out the door.”
Both as a pastor and a church member, I have seen many people leave the church and, once they have done so, they have continued to heap untold damage upon their former congregation through slander, gossip and complaining about leadership and other members. Curtis Thomas, in his excellent volume Life in the Body of Christ (Founders Press, 2006), delivers a good dose of wise pastoral counsel on the manner in which one might leave a church without leaving the bridges in flames behind them. Thomas advises that:
1. We must check our motives very carefully.
2. Our reasons must be well grounded and clearly articulated.
3. We must be in regular, earnest prayer about the matter.
4. We must guard our tongues very carefully.
5. We must be extremely careful that we do not unnecessarily create unrest in other members.
6. Our discussions with the leadership must be characterized by love.
7. Our attempts to correct matters must be with great respect, care and patience.
8. If our concern is over personal preferences, rather than biblical matters, we must consider others’ interests more important than ours.
9. Great care should be taken that we submit to the leadership of the church, unless we determine with proper counsel that there is a serious biblical issue at stake.
10. If the leadership will listen, we need to give them plenty of time to consider the matter.
11. If the leadership will not listen to us, or will not take proper action to correct the matter and we are thoroughly convinced that there is a serious biblical issue, we should ask for a meeting of the church in which to express our concerns.
12. We should ask ourselves what we have personally done to correct any wrong or deficiency in the church with which we are concerned.
13. We should evaluate if our leaving would do harm to an otherwise good church.
We should never leave, nor encourage others to leave, unless we are thoroughly convinced that one or both of the following conditions exist: 1) that the church has become an apostate church (where serious unbiblical teaching or practices are allowed), or 2) that we are convinced that, over the long haul, we cannot find a place to serve in the church, or that our families will not be spiritually fed in that body.
Church membership is a solemn matter, one of God’s great gifts to His people. We will give an account for how we dealt with Christ’s body and we will give an account for every single word we have spoken in this life (Matt. 12:36). Therefore, if we must find another congregation for ourselves and our families, let us do so in a manner that honors the Lord of church.