How Do I Leave a Church with Grace?
In life, one door opens and another one closes. Seasons don’t last forever. This is true of attending church and being part of a church community. Sometimes there is a time to move forward and transition from the current church community you are part of to another church.
I have transitioned from two churches in my lifetime and now lead one. Life is ironic. You never really understand what it feels like to leave a church until you take the step. Even then, assuming you are not the pastor or someone on staff, you don’t understand what it’s like to be a church leader and experience loss from this perspective.
I have both experiences, but today I want to focus on those of you who feel it’s time to make the big step. How can you do so with grace? These are some important questions to ask before leaving and joining another church.
Question 1: Why am I leaving?
Are you leaving because you don’t like the worship or someone hurt your feelings? Perhaps the church doesn’t have a youth program, or maybe you don’t feel included at church. Think about this question. Why am I leaving the church? If necessary, write it down and reflect.
Question 2: Is my motive for leaving pure?
After some reflection, ask yourself another question: Is my motive for leaving pure before God? Some people leave the church because they say their “needs” are not being met.
But there is a big difference between needs and preferences.
Leaving the church because I don’t like the worship, or I don’t get anything from the pastor’s preaching (even though he/she is a solid Bible teacher) are not needs. They are preferences. It’s viewing the church as though it were a business. It’s about what you want and how you like it.
Unfortunately, the church has become like ordering a drink. “Please give me a large latte with soy milk and no cream,” If they get your order right, you are happy. If they do not, you get mad. But, according to Scripture, the church does not exist to make you happy. The church exists to serve God and his work.
At the top of the list, the church exists to find lost souls who need to know Jesus. Otherwise, they will be eternally separated from him. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28: 19-20).
Notice it does not say, Therefore go and make the biggest church, with the best worship, best kids’ program, and the best preaching. It says go find people and make them disciples of Christ. I am not saying the church should not strive for excellence because we should (Col 3: 23). But it’s a sad reality in North America because we have let our culture’s consumerist tendencies drive our attitude towards the body of Christ.
So, before you leave, reflect on your real reason for this decision. If you are transitioning because of real issues like church abuse, moving to a new city, or a poor leader who does not shepherd their flock, these reasons make sense. But we must always distinguish between needs and preferences.
Needs are important. Preferences are just that, preferences.
3. Should I tell my church I am leaving?
Absolutely. Unfortunately, some Christians don’t get this right. They don’t tell their pastor or leadership they are leaving and stop all communication to the church. This is awkward and inconsiderate. Let me be the one to tell you, please don’t do that. Your pastor and the people in your church are human too. It’s better to say something so that they know and understand why you are leaving.
The truth is you may run into those same people at mutual functions like weddings, funerals, or in your local community and it is better to be on good terms than to leave in a manner that makes for awkward conversations. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
4. How do I communicate my reasons for leaving gracefully and honestly to my church?
Probably the best way to do this is to have a conversation over coffee, tea, or dinner. Bring a witness if you feel it is necessary. But please don’t leave the church by text or email. I remember one time a person in my church wrote an email to me saying “effective immediately” we will no longer be attending your church. I remember reading this email and I thought, this is what you write when you are resigning from a job.
The church is not a business institution. We are the church. In essence, we are a spiritual family. Just imagine writing a letter to your parents or siblings that said, “Effective immediately we will not talk to you or come to this function.” It’s not kind, and it certainly is not Christ-like.
Instead, have a kind and graceful conversation with your pastor and leaders. Tell them you are no longer coming because “you see something happening in this body you think is concerning.” Outline your challenges and give them the opportunity to respond.
5. What if I have had honest communication, but the pastor and church are mad at me?
Leave this to God. I have had many situations in my life where I invested in people. I talked, prayed, and served them, and they left with little warning. They stopped talking to me. This was painful, but it taught me an important lesson.
I have learned you can’t control people’s behaviors, but you can control how you react to your situations. You did your part and communicated with grace. Now let God do his work, and work in the hearts of his people.
6. Recognize the grass is not greener on the other side.
Once you have left a church and started going to a new one, remember the first few months are the honeymoon phase. Just like the newlyweds who struggle after time together, so it is with the church. Initially, everything is great, but after some time, if you find that you are experiencing challenges, ask yourself why. How come these problems continue to persist in this new setting? Come back to that earlier question. Are your issues over preferences (I wasn’t asked to be in the choir) or real issues like (lying in the church, money abuse, doctrinal issues, etc)?
Could it be that maybe we are the problem? Sometimes we need to do some inner reflection.
No church is perfect. No pastor is perfect. No church member is perfect. But no matter what, we are called to be Christ-like. If you are leaving the church to join a new one, do so in a graceful way because this helps keep relationships that are ending or being changed, remain healthy despite differences.
John 13: 34-35 says, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’