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Leaving Your Church: 7 Road Signs to the Exit | Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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Leaving Your Church: 7 Road Signs to the Exit

I find myself having a disproportionate amount of conversations with friends discussing the benefits and pitfalls of leaving or staying at one’s home church. If you are worried about the divisive nature of this blog, it is actually the follow up to a post I wrote on “How to Choose a Church“. Having recently left a couple of churches and now church planting myself I have, what I hope will be, some helpful musings. I am not in any way trying to advocate people leaving their communities of faith because they are bored or their church isn’t perfect. There is no perfect church! As the maxim goes, if you find the perfect church don’t join…you’ll ruin it. However, the sad reality is that far too often local churches stop functioning as the living body of Christ and they become His corpse; the Bride of Christ can habitually become the harlot. When this happens an exit is usually (though not always) in due order.

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There are several helpful blogs out there on why people leave churches, how to leave a church and poor reasons for leaving a church (an odd source, but mostly good advice). If this is something you are considering, please peruse those first as this is not a light matter. However, I have yet to find a blog addressing the excuses we use when staying at a church we should leave. A good practice would be to ask yourself these questions to see if you are still at the church for the right reasons. Following are a few of the reasons given for staying at a dysfunctional church…I’ve tried to rank them from most understandable to least:

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  1. “I am staying to be an agent of change.” – Very admirable, but often foolishly optimistic. Assess your role in the community, the degree of influence you actually have and the type of polity your church practices. In top down groups that are not a part of larger denominations or networks with some oversight it will be next to impossible to change what the senior leadership does not see fit to change; in a congregational church it may be equally as difficult but for different reasons. If a church has not attained the marker of health it is typically because the leadership was derelict in leading – whether that is the senior team or the church elders or the congregation…more times than not, the people that got the church there will be the people that keep the church there.
  2. “I’m waiting for a sign.” – Nothing wrong with God giving us a sign…but sometimes the sign is called logic and common sense. My wife reminded me of the story of the man who drowned at sea and asks God: “Why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “I sent you three boats!”
  3. “It’s convenient.” – Whether it is geographic location or service times, what we are really saying when we put these things high on the priority list is: “I have a lot going on in my life God, if church can’t fit around my schedule it probably isn’t going to happen.”
  4. “I don’t like change.” – A valid, but sad reason. 80% of our population dislikes change…that means to some degree, 80% (if not 100%) of church parishioners make choices based on their comfort level.
  5. “There are still good people here.” – Unless you are involved in a cult of stupendous magnitude there will always be good people at even the most dysfunctional of churches. Leaving is not conveying your dislike of the good people; in fact it can be one of the most loving acts towards that community…especially if you are calling some of those good people out of dysfunction and into health. When I left as the youth pastor of the Desert Vineyard this was the hardest part of disembarking…but ultimately I had to trust God was leading me and trust that He would shepherd the students that I was leaving behind.
  6. “The Gospel is being preached.” or “People are still being saved.” – Many churches have excellent Theology, it is their Ecclesiology that is lacking. Don’t mistake theological accuracy (teachings on God and the Bible) for ecclesiological accuracy (the calling and equipping for mission and discipleship).
  7. “My friends are there/I’ve gone there forever.” – Tantamount to declaring the church a social club, you most definitely need friends in your home church- but, it should go deeper than that…your church should be your extended family. But friendships in and of itself are no reason to stay at a church.

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There are so many good reasons to stick it out at a church. In our culture we typically devalue commitment, fidelity and longevity. But that doesn’t mean you should continue living with your spouse if they systematically and repeatedly abuse you.

These are a few reasons/rationales I have heard on this subject…there are so many more…what are your stories and experiences?

What do you think?

Please keep your comments polite and on-topic.

comments

I think there is always room for self helps in all situations, but one for leaving a church seems like leaving a marriage relationship. Sometimes, there are very just causes; but on the most part, it is because no one wants to change themselves. Without change, there is no growth. Being in a church is a very growing experience, because like you said, no church is perfect and we all deal with each other and imperfections. That GROWS US UP, and if we leave before we see what God can do and WILL do, we will stay stagnant. I think I mainly agree with you, but I have seen too many people walk out for one or two things that happen that make them mad or they don’t agree with. That seems a bit childish, and I would hope more people would stick it out and see how God will work it out. Thanks for your FB post!! Carmy

Carmelita Seeber

August 21, 2013

Carmelita, Yeah I totally agree, many leave for poor, unreasonable reasons…that is why I referenced some of those earlier blogs. I do think a lot of the time people stay where they shouldn’t out of fear, unwillingness to change and stubbornness. I agree with the marriage analogy, though the analogy is between us (as the church) and Christ, not us and the church. We are married and committed to him, usually this is shown throw the church first..but if the church becomes an obstacle to christ instead of a helper then it is time to be faithful to the marriage by leaving the immediate setting. Did that make sense? I have had a long day

noahstepro

August 22, 2013

This blog seems especially relevant to me right now. We had been feeling a call to join Kairos for more than a year, but we couldn’t make the decision to do that because it interrupted our worship at the Desert Vineyard. When Kairos switched to Sunday evenings, we decided to give it a try because we had been feeeling convicted.
Let me say that we are so very glad we decided to give it a go. The transition to Kairos was easy and quick for us. It was hard to leave the Vineyard, but God has given us such peace for it.

John Zweckbronner

August 21, 2013

Hey John, so glad to hear there has been peace in the movement for you:)

noahstepro

August 22, 2013

Hello Pastor Stepro.
When I go to my church sometimes the people are supportive and sometimes not. I’ve been thinking about leaving, but I don’t think it’s the right choice. Since I’ve attended my church I feel a little bit uplifted in a communal sense, and the pastor always preaches a very nice message, however I feel like no one has any time to really talk to me. Many times I leave my church feeling much worse off than when I came. I used to serve on the worship team, but around six months ago our worship leader decided to kick everyone off because it was too “stressful” for him to handle, although he still runs it by himself now. I’m not sure if I should keep attending my church or not because I might have the same problems elsewhere.

Joshua Johnson

August 21, 2013

Joshua, I yes, most people will have a bad day with the gathered church…I have two questions though: 1. Do you feel bad because there is a challenge that you are unwilling to rise to? Or do you feel bad because you are ignored, snubbed, discouraged? I think that is a big differenciation to make. 2. Make sure you aren’t leave over your feelings being hurt over worship stuff. Though that situation sounds weird, make sure it isn’t a petty grievance (see the other blogs I referenced).

Always make sure if you are leaving a church it is because you are being called somewhere new. I don’t think God would ever want us to take “time off” – that line of thinking comes from assuming we are going to go from one bad church to another. Another word of advice is to make sure you always talk to the sr. leadership before hand…there may be a really good (or really poor) answer to the questions you have. If all else false, pray for a new home and seek:)

noahstepro

August 22, 2013