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

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