“We just want to let you know that we are leaving the church.”
These words are spoken by many Christians in response to God’s calling in ministry and/or changes in their circumstances. Sadly, there are many more who leave without saying goodbye and for reasons other than following God’s leading.
Is it time to Change Churches?
So how do you know when it is time to move on – and how do you quit your church in a healthy way?
Leaving a church can be a daunting process and identifying your reasons for moving on, can alleviate the distress and facilitate your departure. Are they God reasons, growth reasons, a change in circumstances, or irreconcilable differences?
Some people are required to move due to circumstances such a promotion, new job or other familial change or crisis. Finding a suitable church that is not only close to your new home, but also aligns with your beliefs and values, can help to settle you and your family into the new community. In this case, a church may come on good recommendation. Alternatively, attending services and seeking out the pastors in a few churches can help with the decision making process.
When you Just Can’t Stay
But what happens when the reasons are that you “just can’t stay” – such as not agreeing with the vision of your church leadership, or doctrinal disparity?
Jolly (1) says, “Leaving a church should feel like leaving a marriage. It should hurt because we have lived our lives with a group of people, and now we are leaving”.
He warns against “sneaking off” which causes concern and a sense of loss for the church leaders and members of the congregation.
What do people have the most problems with in churches that ignite a desire to leave?
- Church too big or too small;
- Disagreeing with leadership;
- Not sharing the vision of the church;
- Doctrinal discrepancies or poor teaching;
- Poor communication;
- High expectations to give (time, resources, money);
- Disharmony in the church;
- Lack of opportunity to serve;
- Burn out;
- Insufficient facilities to meet family/children’s needs;
- Too much or too little emphasis on healing/miracles;
- Worship ministry not to their taste (music too loud etc).
Aaron Loy (2) lists unhealthy reasons to leave your church. The following is an edited version of the list:
1. “I’m not being fed / my needs aren’t being met”
Great preaching resources to expand one’s understanding and fill the spiritual appetite can easily be accessed by computer, TV or Kindle. Whilst the pastors should nourish and nurture the flock, it is the congregation’s responsibility to contribute by helping others – because we are all called to be disciples of Jesus and lead others in discipleship. Corporate church is about coming together to serve Jesus, to worship him and recognise his place in your lives, not to meet every individual’s needs. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and then commissioned his Church to go and do the same.
2. “Church is getting too big”
Big churches can be daunting, and it is easy to feel lost in the crowd when growth happens. There is less intimacy and some people deliberately seek out larger organisations so that they can “hide” – ie so they don’t have to be involved, they can just turn up.
In the corporate world it is said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, and this applies equally to churches. There are often sub groups within the larger church body – being involved and helping out can be a way of finding your place. If you are in ministry and feeling the burden of being part of the 20% doing most of the work, it may be time to renegotiate your position. Healthy change requires effective communication and boundary setting. Setting limits is a biblical principle.
3. “I don’t agree with the preaching”
It can be very hard to get it right, and produce a punchy, relevant, scripturally-sound message every week. Exercising grace and forgiveness for a less than perfect message, and agreeing to disagree on points, allows for diversity and healthy discussion. If a sudden change in doctrine leaves you challenged, then discuss this with your pastor and elders.
4. “I have an issue and I don’t know how to address it”
This is probably the biggest reason people leave. Nobody likes conflict and when it is unresolved, offences magnify. Christians can do forgiveness really well, but they are not always so good at communicating hurts without blame or negotiating. Loy (2) encourages us to stay the course and work it out, especially when it is hard because “God’s best work happens in the mess”.
- Leave intentionally. The Bible describes a body of believers deeply committed to Christ and to one another. Be bold, stand your ground and move on in Christ to a new place in his kingdom.
- Leave graciously. Whatever your reason for leaving, focus on the good that your church family and you shared. Recognise that these people – God’s people – contributed and invested in you during your journey with them. Avoid magnifying their imperfections and faults. Be gracious and kind and forgive them.
- Leave with gratitude. Talk to the leaders and share all the things you are grateful for that they have contributed toward. They have shared in your growing up, your hurts, loves, dreams and they have shared your journey in Jesus. Saying goodbye is hard, but the pain can be softened by the joy of a meaningful farewell and a thank you.
If you have issues in relation to your Christian relationships, if you’re having anxiety around difficult conversations, conflict at church or need help with setting limits, I am here to help.
I am a Christian Counsellor, with training and experience as a facilitator in women’s healing ministry through the Search for Significance program (A. Meyers), as well as a Certificate 4 in Pastoral Care. As a Christian (Pentecostal) I can relate firsthand to the challenges of expressing and practicing one’s faith in the sometimes complex and contradictory roles and issues we are faced with on a daily basis.
As a mother and professional, I am experienced in balancing roles, juggling time management and relationships with the joy/burden of a growing family. As a Christian Counsellor, I can listen to your worries, concerns and beliefs, explore where you feel you are up to with your relationship with God, challenge misconceptions around shame and guilt, and explore strategies for deepening your faith.
Strong emotions such as fear, betrayal, grief and anger can lead to bitterness and resentment. This in turn can derail your faith, undermine your confidence and immobilise you, or cause Dis-Ease. Talking through concerns in a safe environment, where you will be respected, can help you to find meaning and significance in your life within the context of your faith.
Strategies we might utilise in counselling sessions include:
- exploring obstacles to achieving the life you want;
- listening to God with journalling;
- examining Scripture to support and strengthen your understanding of God’s promises for your life;
- setting small goals toward healthier relationships;
- boundary setting; and
- seeing yourself as God sees you.
As humans we struggle with frequent reminders of our failings, insecurities and shortcomings. Yet as Christians we can gain strength, encouragement and hope, knowing that we are created to be in relationship with God, and that we are loved and cherished.
Living a Christian life does not mean we have a life with no problems. Our faith combined with systems and strategies can build hope and confidence to help you move forward and live your life to the full.
Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Dip Midwifery, Cert 4 T & A, Cert 4 Pastoral Care.
Julie is a midwife who has completed additional training in counselling for a range of women’s issues – such as birth trauma, menopause, intimacy and post natal depression – but also in the field of Christian counselling.
Please note: Julie Fickel is currently not practising
- http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2009/01/how-to-leave-your-church-and-do-it-well.html – Putting Asunder: Some Thoughts on How to Quit Your Church by Reed Jolley
- http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/5-really-bad-reasons-leave-your-church Aaron Loy January 27, 2014