The “Rally to Restore Unity” continues, and I’m throwing down more thoughts on Christian unity, specifically, how to break it.
I’ve been really surprised lately. In email and Skype conversations, in comments on the blog, several people have shared with me a very specific problem. Their problem isn’t finding a church, or creating a ministry in a church. They just need to leave their church!
As a longtime member and pastor of small churches, I can tell you that watching people leave your church sucks. It’s a punch to the ego. But leaving your church doesn’t mean you have to break Christian unity. Leaving a church is a lot like breaking up, and a lot of people need a lesson in the how-to’s of breaking up with a church.
Step 1: Have a Freaking Good Reason to Leave
What is one of the biggest barriers to Christian unity? Christian consumerism, this awful idea that a church should meet every expectation we have. If it doesn’t, we shop around until we find a church that suits our little egos just right. You should have a few non-negotiables when it comes to churches and potential spouses, but if you have more than five, you might be too picky.
Don’t leave your church by saying something vague like, “I’m just not being fed here.” That’s like breaking up by saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Every pastor has heard it, and it’s a ridiculously non-specific excuse. No one gets fired for no reason. No one gets put on trial for no reason. So get rid of these mushy, vague excuses, get some cajones, and a real, specific reason why you have to leave.
Step 2: We Need to Talk
Almost no one divorces their spouse out of the blue with no warning. There’s always some sign of trouble. Most spouses will have the dreaded “We need to talk” talk many times before the divorce lawyer shows up. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people blindside their churches by just leaving with no warning.
Being passive-aggressive doesn’t count as giving fair warning. I’ve seen people voice their disapproval of the church by just not singing the songs, or by not tithing anymore. What a load. If you’ve got a problem, have the guts to tell the pastor. If he seems concerned, give him six months to address the problem. Your problem may not be as big as you imagine, so don’t let it fester.
Step 3: Go to Counseling
If I had the guts, I’d ask everyone who said they aren’t being fed by their church, “Really? Well how are we being fed by you?” Or maybe I’d ask, “How are you feeding yourself?” An hour of church isn’t going to save a spiritual life that’s crap any more than eating one meal a week will keep you alive. We’re not miracle workers, people! People rarely ask what they can do for their church. They only ask what the church can do for them.
News flash: the church isn’t some abstract thing. You are a part of it. If your church is dysfunctional, or directionless, or has conflict, what have you done to protect it and build it up? If you have been at your church a long time and can’t answer that question, maybe you are part of the problem. You know how couples in crisis have to figure out why they fell in love in the first place? You need to figure that out with your church.
Step 4: Step Lively!
People will always wonder why you are leaving the church. They will be wounded, or at least morbidly curious and anxious to gossip because they are church people. Just because you’ve got a problem with the church, you don’t have to tear down the church. Keep your business to yourself, and when it’s time to leave, just make it fast. You also don’t owe anyone an explanation if you brought your problem to the pastor six months ago like you should’ve. Don’t try to take a bunch of people with you out the door either. People that are hyper-critical of the church as they leave aren’t missed all that much.
If you do these things, people will be hurt when you leave. The church will be wounded. But Christian unity isn’t really broken.
How many times have you seen people leave church, and do so really well? Tell us about when you’ve had to leave a church. How did you do it? Are you trying to leave a church now?