Leaving? So Soon?

Hank* and Francine* and their children have been attending East Northwest Church* for eight years. Some recent events and personnel changes have made them wonder if they should leave the church and they wrote me asking for advice. Here is my response:

When to change churches is a difficult question. There are so many emotions involved and the impact is immense. First of all, there are reasons that would compel someone to leave a church:

  • Heresy that continues even after a Matt 18 confrontation process.
  • Immorality within the leadership which is ignored, covered up, or excused.
  • Unethical practices in the way finances and business decisions are handled which continues after a Matt 18 confrontation process.
    Only rarely do I hear of people leaving a church for the three reasons listed above. Most of the time the justification to leave is based on personal preferences, private agendas, power-plays gone wrong, hurt feelings, and claims of hypocrisy. There are a myriad of other things in the categories of music, youth ministry, greeting, etc, which can be summed up with this question: Is it style or substance? If one contends that the reasons for leaving are substantive, they better fall under the three topics above.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul makes it very clear that the body – the local church, the household of faith – is not to be treated with a consumer mentality but with respect and honor. We cannot choose to leave because we’re unhappy, don’t feel good about the worship, or claim we’re not being “fed.” “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1Cor 12:21)

Does this mean people can’t leave a church? No, of course not, but such decisions must be treated with the utmost seriousness, much prayer, and a great deal of patience. Church hopping is not a game and those who move from place-to-place risk grave consequences. After all, how does a hand which is not attached to a body survive?

Proceed with caution:

  • Have you followed the confrontation procedure outlined in Matt 18 to get answers?
  • Have you listened to both sides with an open mind?
  • Is it possible the leadership has information they are choosing not to make public?
  • If the leadership has lost your respect, have you thought about what they might do to earn that respect back?
  • Are there written job descriptions and regular performance evaluations for both paid staff and volunteers? Is there documentation of corrective action, second chances?
    If you are still seriously considering leaving, prayerfully approach the possibility that God might be asking you to stay. Sometimes God directs us into difficulty because it is in those times that we are most teachable.

Josh Harris recently posted this on his blog:

  • Don’t love the church because of what it does for you. Because sooner or later it won’t do enough.
  • Don’t love the church because of a leader. Because human leaders are fallible and will let you down.
  • Don’t love the church because of a program or a building or activities because all those things get old.
  • Don’t love the church because of a certain group of friends because friendships change and people move.
    Love the church because of who shed his blood to obtain the church. Love the church because of who the church belongs to. Love the church because of who the church worships. Love the church because you love Jesus Christ and his glory. Love the church because Jesus is worthy and faithful and true. Love the church because Jesus loves the church.

*Names and church name have been changed


The New Year. It’s time for goal setting, resolutions and evaluations; for determining schedules, marking calendars and setting priorities. We make plans for family, work, budgets, church, vacations – and if we’re honest we do all this based on emotions, logic, and money. The lists and decisions are calculated to fulfill what I want; what’s important for me.

My expectations, my hopes, my choices seem so important to me. Even for the Christ-follower the temptation is to list objectives and set schedules that are all about the little trinity – me, myself, and I.

This year is all new – more so than ever for me. It’s the first time I’ve attempted planning for a new year without Lois since 1974 – the year we met – and I’m reminded again how much I relied on her. So I stepped back from the process to pray and think and read; to inspect, repair and prepare the foundation so decisions and plans will be based on God’s Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is what I’m learning:

1. Looking back on the past year I recognize that many of my plans were blown away like sand but the ones that survived were formed through prayer, the Word, and trusted advisors. Psalm 33:11 says. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”

2. I am testing all goals, objectives and schedules with God’s Word based on Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” I need to make sure God is in the center – not me.

3. When working on those items which are personal, I keep coming back to Galatians 5:22-26, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” It seems ridiculously obvious that if this fruit is evident in my character, the result will be humility, faithfulness, and obedience. The focus is God’s plans for me not my plans for God.

4. My major job description is to serve as a pastor to pastors and church leaders. Instead of trying to compile a list of tasks on my own, I am turning to Acts 2:42:47 which lists the primary qualities of a Christ-led, authentic household of Faith: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

How does this get fleshed out for ministry?

Preach the Word – the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation. In most churches 99% of the people who come through the front door are already Believers but 99% of the messages are presentations of salvation. We must preach the Word.

Model and encourage New Testament fellowship; not just eating a meal together or having pie after the service. Koinonia takes place when we drop our masks, quit playing politics, and actually begin caring for one another.

Embrace the full experience of celebrating the Lord’s Table. Slow down. Contemplate. Plan at least one entire service centered on Communion.

Pray; not just for health concerns but for souls, and spiritual direction and discernment. Pray.

Talk about what God has done in the past month and is doing right in the local church. If those stories don’t move the soul and fill people with awe, some serious examination and tough work needs to be done.

Practice generosity. First, take care of the pastor and if there is anything left in the bank account give it away. The “rainy day” is here – people in the community are homeless and hungry.

Go where the people are. Don’t schedule non-worship services at the church building.

Small group gatherings are essential and while small groups don’t guarantee personal growth there are no documented cases of personal growth without small groups.

Let’s be careful and purposeful in making Christ the center. Practically, this means we look for how to join what God is already doing; participate in His plans and resist the temptation to ask God to bless our plans.