How to Break Christian Unity

May 4, 2011

Sometimes, Christian unity just isn’t possible.

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?

52 responses to How to Break Christian Unity

  1. Hi Matt,

    OK.My wife and I are victims with the complaint that we did not leave our church; our church left us.

    We’d been members for 27 years and intended to die at Good Shepherd and be buried in the churchyard. I taught the adult Bible class, served on the vestry, worked in the church library, and cleaned urinals in the men’s rooms.

    Sunday by Sunday, day by day, the foundational doctrine in our denomination changed. In addition, an organization of folks with an alternative lifestyle targeted Good Shepherd as a place to infiltrate and take over the beautiful classic neo-Gothic building. Over time, and a series of pastors, the doctrine presented in the pulpit changed.

    My wife and I hung on. We supported and encouraged. We voted and discussed. We continued to serve at coffee hour, pull weeds in the garden, clean restrooms, wash dishes, pray, and maintain our personal daily prayer time.

    Higher administration dictated that little plaster statues be set up beneath the stained glass windows around the sanctuary and that laypeople be taught to bow down and pray in front of these statues.

    That did not seem kosher to me.

    I did talk privately with the then-current pastor who counseled me to shut up.

    In our denomination, people can only voice objection to the hierarchy in two ways: stop giving, stop going.

    My wife began donating our tithe to the local zoo where it would do more good.

    Quietly, without fanfare, without gossip, without confrontation, we dropped out of church. Best move we’ve ever made! Sundays are so much more peaceful now.

    We continue in our daily prayers and Scripture reading each night. We cordially greet people still attending Good Shepherd in the grocery store. We continue to serve in the soup kitchen when needed. We continue our Christian witness… And notice, we do not have to be part of any sort of organization to do these things. Church is for Sunday, Christianity is for everyday.

    When we chose to stop going to Good Shepherd, the Scripture which guided us most was the place where Jesus said that if you are not welcomed in one place, just shake the dust off your feet and move on.

    The only regret we have–Well, we won’t get to be buried in the beautiful churchyard. But we’ll try to manage to die successfully without that amenity.

    Matt, I didn’t mean to get so long-winded and I would never have mentioned our experience if you had not specifically asked.

    It’s something we choose not to talk about.

    Other folks may find church attendance helpful. Good for them. We don’t.


    • Sounds like you did everything right, John. You definitely had a good reason, tried to work it out, tried to talk to the pastors, and left quietly. I wish you had been able to find another church, but it sounds like you’re having “home church” anyway!

    • I am sorry for your experience but it is all to common. “The church left you” is happening in so many mainline denoms. Thank you for sticking it out as long as you did but do not give up[ on church, find another and pour yourself into that church.
      Brian recently posted..Shut Up –!!!

      • We did what John did. It took us 2 years to leave. We made repeated attempts to express our concerns to the new pastor about his direction and liberties with the Bible. He repeatedly told us to shut it. Once unsound doctrine started coming from the pulpit, we quietly bowed out. Around that same time, my best friend passed away. I honestly don’t know what hurt worst…losing her or losing our church home.

        We truly wanted to stop going to any church for a while, but we made ourselves get up and go visit the very next week and so on until God showed us our new home.
        Marni recently posted..Rally to Restore Unity

  2. I’ve recently left a church. I left over theological reasons that while not big enough to make me believe that the old church was a false church or made up of people who didn’t love Jesus, were significant enough that I could not continue to be involved in or recommend it in good conscience.

    My concerns had been growing for a while and I had occasionally informally raised them with the pastor. I finally got to the point of knowing I needed to leave just before I was to be out of town for 3 months. I (somewhat foolishly) decided to leave announcing I was leaving until after I came back. While I was gone the pastor I had known left and a new one I had never met started. This obviously makes the leaving process a bit complicated! The old pastor had also been my small group leader so I didn’t really have any connection to any of the other leaders. The first time I met the new pastor was an incredibly awkward conversation in the foyer of the church on my last week there. He came bounding up to me thinking I was a new person so I had to gently explain to him that I was actually leaving!

    I decided to not say much to anyone in the church about my theological reasons for leaving. I didn’t feel comfortable approaching the new pastor I had met once about it all. I felt that it also risked seeming disrespectful to the old pastor and could be a bit confusing for some of the younger Christians. I did however make sure to assure my friends in the church that I still loved them and would like to keep in touch.
    Joanna recently posted..Book review- Worldliness

    • You made a good call, Joanna. Hitting a new pastor with a complaint is likely to get you nowhere. It takes trust between a member and pastor, which you didn’t have time to build. Sounds like a terrible sitcom type of way to meet him though! :)

      • It really was pretty terrible. I got all apologetic and he was trying hard to be reassuring. Making it even more awkward, his wife wandered over mid conversation to introduce herself
        Joanna recently posted..Book review- Worldliness

  3. A superb post Matt. You have hit the nail on the head, yet again. I left a church once when I realized that as a choir member I was merely a hired servant, not a “real” member of the congregation. Eventually I left the Episcopal Church, where I had been for 35 years, because social agenda replaced Christ as the focus.

  4. Another topic I could write a book on – I sort of did.

    First, the idea that WE pick churches like video game consoles is not really Christian. We are supposed to follow Jesus, and he picks, we sit, we serve etc. Churches should be able to meet some needs, but really, the church is people and it will fail. Only Jesus meets the real needs. We need to hear God and do it.

    I have been in some tough churches to be in. I have been asked to leave, and I have left. Here’s the acid test. If the pastor can’t bring you up front and bless you on the way out, you may have some work to do. Division is sin. That has been the case in my last 3 out of 4 moves. I simply said, “God is moving me on, and to stay would be sin.” They blessed me and my wife corporately.

    There are no good reasons to leave except that God moves you on. I have sat under bad teaching, abusive pastors, been in leadership and gone to other denominations that I disagreed with because that is where God sent me. The idea that it is about us and our pathetic little needs that won’t matter in a year, is immature. You are where God wants you, or you are not.

    Recently I reconnected with my old church. I left when God moved me on, and I knew a year before that I was leaving. It has been healing, and the new pastor wants to know what he can do to fix th betrayal. Interesting. He can’t fix anything, I am at a new church where God sent me – sure I wish it want an hour away, but that is where I am supposed to be.

    Instead of blaming that church, I wrote a series on the Top 10 Stupidest Things Christians Do.

    Great post Mat. Churches are relationships, and they have the potential to wound us, wound us deeply. Jesus knows all about this.

    Jesus said: Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

    I might add, “pick one.”
    David recently posted..Osama bin Laden and Jesus

  5. A couple of years ago we left a church where we started attending when our now adult children were babies. They didn’t really change much of their doctrine, but we finally realized that all the things God was teaching us and moving us were not places our local congregation would go. I did go to the pastor because it did feel like breaking up. The pastor and I always had a great relationship, and still do. But he agreed that they couldn’t, and wouldn’t, be changing the way they see things (ie. I was accurate in my perceptions, not that I was asking them to change). Leaving and becoming a part of a new family that has been growing, affirming, and nurturing has been great. Being part of a church that is still forming has been a challenge.

    Local churches are about relationships and vision, and we do become a lot like family. But meeting with another group of believers should really not be seen as as much as a betrayal as it seems to be. I don’t doubt it hurts the pastor’s feelings, but why would that be unless s/he is feeling some ownership that may not be appropriate? There is one Church, the bride of Christ, and where we meet should be much less of a branding / feelings / statement than it is, imo.

  6. My wife and I are strongly looking at leaving our church for a variety of reasons (though you made some good suggestions that we will talk about). And it comes down to the fact that whether it’s done for good reasons or not, in the right way or not, it still sucks. You know?
    David N. recently posted..My late-to-the-party Love Wins Review

  7. Matt, your timing is perfect. This is the current topic of discussion for my husband and I. I’m frustrated (he’s not) with the church we’ve been attending for the last eleven years, enough to blog about it recently ( I’ve wondered if the problem isn’t the church, but rather my attitude, and I’m asking God to point out where I’m off base. In any case, we won’t be leaving, at least not until God directs both of us elsewhere.

    The dynamics are so different is a very large church. No one would notice if I left. Our close friends attend other churches. The pastor has no idea who I am. We volunteer for one of the church ministries, and I think the staff member in charge might know my name. Maybe.

    Still, I’ve been encouraged by what you wrote today. “[T]his awful idea that a church should meet every expectation we have…” really hit home. Thanks, I needed that!

    • I checked out your blog post about it. You’re right – changing congregations won’t solve some of the problems you are dealing with. And talking with the pastor (who doesn’t know your name) won’t change the dynamic of a large church (where no one knows your name.) But maybe your boredom with church would be alleviated if you genuinely enjoyed and connected with the people you worshipped with.

  8. I met a family at our church at was fairly new…they have 5 kids and the oldest is 13 years old….they had left a church that they got saved in and been for a long time…but the kids grew and the church has NO activites or “classes” past 12 years old….so the son was sitting in an adult atmosphere preaching and was bored out of his mind….the Mom and Dad felt and prayed and he said it was a really, really, hard descision to leave and they even talked with their pastor and he understood and they went left that church Building with unity in their hearts…

    It’s sad to know that most poeple don’t leave a church for this reason….it’s sad to know that some people would truly leave a church just because the pastor didn’t shake their hand…(i’ve seen it at my church)…

    Arny recently posted..Dream On- Dream On- Dream Untill Your Dreams Come True – Steven Tyler

    • I’m not sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying there should be a separate class for teenagers on Sundays? It seems to me that a 13 y/o would benefit from adult preaching. In my church there is no separation between ages. We are all together hearing the same message. I’m sure the kids don’t always love it, but they are hearing the gospel from an early age, and not a watered down version with an activity.

      • No I’m not saying that at all…I was 13 years old when I heard our pastor preach a sermon all the way through and I loved it and stayed there and didn’t go to my “sunday school class” for about 4 years. and that did allow me to grow and eventually become a sunday school teacher myself at the age of 17 to my peers.

        In my personal opinion and by MY experience, I have to teach kids at their level. I can’t teach them the same way as a 20-100 year old person. Maybe “Activity” was a poor choice of word on my part….but you can’t say that when You teach a 6-11 year old the Gospel with their own peers in a class atompshere its some how “watered down”…

        We all start of as “baby christians” …we have to learn to grow…

        I teach a bible study for 13-17 year olds…and I know from experience, I have to teach them differently than when I teach a sunday school class full of college students…

        Oh and I saw my last sentence and I didn’t mean it to translate that people should leave their church if there is no sunday school class seperate from the “adult” preaching…I ment it to mean that it’s a valid excuse for people to leave instead of people leaving because the pastor didn’t shake their hand.
        Arny recently posted..Dream On- Dream On- Dream Untill Your Dreams Come True – Steven Tyler

  9. I’ve wanted to leave but I just feel like every church would be the same. So I don’t.
    Charlie Chang recently posted..286 Christian Napkin etiquette

  10. One thing I add as a pastor that I blogged about – I don’t call the quitters who slam the door on the way out. They expect some obligatory phone call from the pastor so they can trash them and the church. If you can’t talk about it before you leave, I am not going to talk about after you leave.
    Brian recently posted..Shut Up –!!!

    • Amen! I’ve seen so many Christians indignantly say “I never even got a phone call after we stopped showing up.” I’m sorry, did you put anyone on notice that you had broken up?

      • That’s kind of a sword that cuts both ways, IMO. I stopped going to a church I had been attending for years due to a pretty deep personal problem – wasn’t planning on staying gone, just couldn’t go for a while. My husband continued to attend. What surprised me is that no one called. I go somewhere for 10 years and stop and no one notices? Or thinks it’s worth asking about? When I went back I heard lots about how they were relieved, they figured my husband and I were having marital problems. Really? And *that* didn’t prompt a question either? Good heavens. I did get feedback from one person who thought it was up to me to tell everyone I would be gone for a while because of the aforementioned problem, but that is an odd burden for someone in pain or with a potentially sensitive issue. We all need to bear each other’s burdens and pain, when possible, and not assume they’ll call us if they need us.

        • Very true. I guess someone should call, but if you’re planning on leaving the church, you shouldn’t expect one. :)

        • There is a difference between the quitter and the person who sort of drops out. You deserved a call. I think your situation reflects our culture where we throw away anything that is broken. we are in a culture of “don’t get involved.” Maybe the fact that you stopped attending because of a personal problem was the first bad sign. If your church family can’t be leaned on and confided in, then maybe its time to find a new family! As a pastor we can only help bear burdens when we know about them. I hope that this season of life is over for you and you are doing well.
          Brian recently posted..Shut Up –!!!

          • Brian,
            I have been a pastor at the same church for 27 years. I have discovered that persons who avail themselves of more than just sitting in a worship service are almost always missed and contacted. Likewise, those who believe they have done God and the church (people) a favor by just occupying a pew most likely will not be missed. Public worship is for worshiping God not developing personal relationships (fellowship). I plead and plead on a regularly basis for persons to join a small group, come to Sunday School, take advantage of the men’s breakfast, the women’s social…etc. Those who do will usually stick and if they do have a concern, we can work it out. Those who don’t… well..won’t. It is sad but true.

    • @Brian – people want to feel significant. Phone calls, and visits make most folks feel significant.

      Luke 15:4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

      You may be right that it is too late once they’ve gone, and some days it just may be a test one has to pass. If people feel the need to trash that church, maybe they should have been asked to leave.

      What I do know is that churches hurt people.
      David recently posted..Osama bin Laden and Jesus

      • David, what bothers me is the expectation that I am supposed to call the quitter, beg the quitter to return and do all this work like I or the church is solely at fault in the broken relationship. Where was the conversation when things were going sour? I have learned that many people are living with unresolved anger and are looking to be offended. They come to the church from another church and will eventually leave my church with the same complaints. I cannot validate their immaturity anymore. A family will always have problems, but we don’t quit them.
        I agree that people want to feel significant. I am talking about people who take and take and take and can never get enough. Proverbs 18:19. maybe I am just tired of playing games.
        Brian recently posted..Shut Up –!!!

        • Well Brian, that is an interesting viewpoint. I led a small church for about a year, and I know who you are talking about. There are undoubtedly people that live and offended lifestyle. I could be one of them. (see my earlier comment)

          I suppose the fact that folks come and stay broken is what bothers me. Not too many would get that far where I am now. Because we are big on relationship, we teach, live it, and breathe it. Folks with issues generally run into a confrontation fairly early on, and it is fixed or they move on.

          I don’t know if you are supposed to call after they leave, but I can assure that when the regulars start skipping Sundays, that is probably your last opportunity.

          My experience where I am now (and this ain’t no Bible belt) is that I get calls, and I get a lot of them. My Facebook runneth over with those I see weekly. That’s what they’ve been taught. And immaturity is not really tolerated – it is confronted lovingly.

          Well blessings to you, sounds like the sheep have teeth in your town.
          David recently posted..Dead Religion vs Life

    • What if you have tried to talk to the Pastor and he is not listening because he does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings? What would you do then?

  11. I’m about to give this a try. These were really helpful even though I wasn’t planning on going out in a really douchey way. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  12. So based on the same question, but completely different context:

    How do you leave your church, with the reason being that your dad is the pastor?

    I’m having to face this soon. I’m studying at university in a different country right now, so while I’m here I go to a wonderful church. Fairly orthodox but incredibly evangelistic and outward looking with a decent dash of charisma. I’m currently serving on reading/drama/worship teams and I love it so much!

    When at home, I have to go through what seems like spiritual death. I literally returned to university in a near stae of depression that lifted after praying with my friends.

    My dad is not a bad preacher, I’ve come to realise that he’s incredibly gifted in that department… but the rest of the church… oh my The average age is around 70 and while the people are lovely, lovely, lovely… I feel ignored, bored and out of place. I don’t ‘get fed’ and there’s no way for me to ‘feed it’ since I’m not there except for Christmas/Easter/summer and there’s not the resources available to work with.

    And then there’s the PK’s ‘caught in their parent’s shadow’ syndrome. I don’t even really consider it to be my church, just my parents, especially since we moved to it just as I was leaving home 2 summers ago.

    But there will be the day where I will have to come home after I finish my studies and I will have to live at home until I have the funds to go out on the missionary field again. And during that time I will have to go to church with my parents every Sunday for what could be a considerable length of time. This honestly horrifies me. I have thought long and hard and I know deep in my heart that I need to find a church where I can breathe and be recognised as an individual and not the Rev’s daughter (something that has sadly pushed my older brother out of the church completely).

    I know my dad will probably take it personally. I don’t want to leave because I don’t appreciate his preaching, I would just rather have a dad and a pastor, not a pastor who’s my dad.

    Any words of wisdom would be appreciated.

    I realise I’ve just vented a bit, sorry about that :)

    • Ooh, tough one. There’s a balance to be struck between honoring your parents and tending to your own needs. And the factor of your older brother leaving the faith complicates things. I would “phase in” another church while continuing to go to church with your parents. Check out some churches on Sunday evenings, or a time that doesn’t compete with “home” church. When you find a church that you are comfortable with, maybe you will be in a place to tell Dad “this is where I need to be.” That way, you aren’t “abandoning” him with no plan going forward.

      • Most of the churches in my area are Catholic, so it’s going to make finding somewhere to slowly migrate to that little bit harder. There is one just down the road, but it’s a massive mega-church and I’m ridiculously shy. I guess I’ll find somewhere when I have the time to ‘look’.

        I’ll just keeping praying and taking it slowly. I have gently ‘mentioned’ my unhappiness before (and my parents are very well aware that I hated the circumstances in which we had to move)… but I guess I’m just going to have to be careful, and you know, loving?

        Thanks for the advice :)

  13. Oh, the stories I could tell you about churches I’ve left over the years. Honestly, I wish they were stories about wanting to just church shop but unfortunately there are some real legit horror stories.

    The one that stings worst is the one where a pastor was excited to have us in their church until my autistic son came for a weekend visit. The Wednesday after the Sunday Eli was at church this pastor calls and says “I don’t think God wants you at our church.”

    There was one church that I’ll share about but will be vague to hide the guilty. 😉

    A couple in this church were going through a really hard time. Hard as in “no food in the fridge” hard. They’d been a part of this church for years with the wife heavily involved in the church’s children’s ministry. When the problems began, no one in the church did anything to help them. It was common knowledge about the couple’s struggles, so it’s not like people didn’t know, it’s that no one did anything.

    About a month into this couple’s struggles, there was someone who a church member knew that had a similar problem. The person in trouble wasn’t a Christian and wasn’t a part of the church…so suddenly people were being mobilized to be “Jesus” to this unsaved person. They were given literally thousands of dollars in gift cards. Clothing. Furniture.

    The couple in their own church who were having trouble feeding their children? Nothing at all.

    As you can imagine, that couple left the church soon afterward. Ironically, after they left, the church wanted to offer them help with their troubles in an attempt to “welcome them back into the fold.”

    I’ll have to be honest, Matt. Every church I’ve been in where I tried to talk to the pastor about issues and concerns were met with them being turned around and it being “my fault” for some reason. Even if they had no ground to stand on, they would turn to the whole idea of being disloyal to God’s chosen, etc. The attitude I see in the third part of your post is the majority of what I’ve seen from pastors.

    Not claiming I’ve been perfect. However, I’ve found very few pastors that don’t immediately get defensive when you try to bring up things that might be a problem within the church. Not just when it’s been me…I’ve seen it when others have gone to them. It’s to the point I don’t see the value in trying to meet with the pastor. In the past, it’s done no good.
    Jason recently posted..Day 123- Is this what it means to be broken

  14. What great and needed instruction for those wishing to leave their church. Why is this topic rarely discussed?

    I recently left my church of 3 years to begin a house church. The church my husband and I left was a small, hierarchical, controlling church. The pastor was king. I had major issues from the moment we walked in the front doors. However, God was placing us there and I knew it.

    We learned a lot about what not to do, but also learned from them in the areas where they were excellent.

    They knew we were leaving to start another church. I think my husband secretly hoped they would commission us, have the congregation pray for us..but that never happened. It was like we left out the back door, not able to tell people we were leaving to start another church.

    We wrote the pastor and asst. pastor letters thanking them for our time there and the equipping we received. We were respectful and grateful, despite our huge leadership style differences.

    We left knowing that we were above reproach and we did as God asked us to do. The end result is in His hands now, not ours…and that is a good feeling.
    Modern Reject recently posted..Is it Really a Man’s World

  15. My wife and I have been attending the church her family is involved in since we returned to the US last June–and we’ve been debating whether this church is the “right” one for us ever since. Our reasons ranged from “not getting fed” to a general lack of fellowship with the congregation (the only time we see these people is coming and going to a pew). I did, however talk to a pastor friend who said the same thing you did:talk to the pastor. So far, posts like this (thanks for the conviction by the way)and the problems themselves remind us we’re in the right place, at least for now. People from the church that we hang out with even said “No one else ever asks us to do anything with them.” I don’t see this as a criticism but rather an encouragement to more individuals, couples and families to be a part of the solution. Because if we just criticize and/or leave, it will just be someone else’s problem and might even get worse.

  16. There are 2 main reasons that I left my previous church.

    1. I was desperate for spiritual meat. I was tired of “sermons” void of Scripture, passion and most importantly, the Spirit! I’m not saying I need to get goosebumps when I hear preaching, but some pastors simply are not anointed. They preach *about* God instead of *for* Him.

    2. My previous church seemed to care more about the denomination’s rules instead of the Bible. As I mentioned on a previous blog, after our pastor left (he’s not guilty of the “bad” preaching I was referring to), the 3 board members (elders if you will) were assigned to find a new pastor. They simply *talked* with a pastor who wasn’t of that denomination. This stirred up so much (unnecessary) controversy, and shortly after these 3 men and their families were told in various unpleasant ways that they were no longer welcome.

    I have no desire to stay in a church that a) finds more value in man’s laws than God’s and b) shows such malice and bitterness toward its own.
    Sarahbeth recently posted..Not Ashamed of the Gospel Part 1

  17. My wife (at first just girlfriend) and I were attending one church with friends when we both individually felt God’s calling to go to the church where the youth pastor who invited me to Phoenix worked. We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were to encourage him in his work through friendship and siblinghood-in-Christ and to help him in his work with the youth.

    Two years later, after much decline in the preaching content, pastoral leadership, and doctrinal integrity from the senior pastor (and, quite frankly, elders who did not stand up to the problem coming from the pulpit as well as they could have. They have admitted to this), our friend was pushed into resigning. For two months afterward, we kept working with the youth. I was even encouraged to put in my resume for the youth pastor position. However, even after talking with the pastor and the elders, we still saw the problems from the pulpit. My way of handling youth ministry was very much like our friend’s, and the church leadership said changes needed to happen but kept standing in the way. For that entire two months, we prayed about what to do.

    Finally, we called the elders and pastors together and announced it was time to leave. It hurt since this had been our home for over two years. The new youth pastor even started doing a lot that we had wanted to do! We decided God wanted to do what we had in mind, but He did not want to use us at that time. Anyway, nine months after we left the pastor was finally removed. This past Sunday, two months after the change in leadership, we visited. The senior pastor is different (another friend of ours who used to be the music pastor) and the church is full of new life. We were welcomed as long lost family!

    It is possible to maintain unity through division. We have seen it. And we followed the biblical model of speaking privately with the pastor, taking friends and elders with us to speak with the pastor, and finally speaking publically with him. When no changes occured, we told them we had to leave.
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..One in Heart and Mind

  18. I left my non-denominational church because we could never get there. We just could not arrive. There was always another rung on the Christian project ladder, to climb.

    I think it was (is) that way there, because they had NO Sacraments, for the assurance of their salvation.

    Therefore, everything revolved around the believer, instead of Christ.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Are you doing enough

  19. such a good point about being fed by a church – they think the church exists for them – not realizing they are apart of the church!
    Charlie’s Church of Christ recently posted..Something To Keep In Mind- Or 1 Of A Thousand Posts You’ll Skim On Osama Today

  20. What caught my attention today was the word ‘UNITY’. I had a phone call from a colleague today to tell me she would be at work tomorrow. She had met with a friend yesterday, they prayed, had coffee and talked about unity – how God is bringing about unity, and the need for repentance to help bring it about. 20 minutes later she was on the way to the doc with what appeared to be an allergic reaction (mouth burning, throat burning). She is good now, but her friend was taken to hospital with a bleeding esophagus during the night. Guess the enemy was trying to take out those who are onto what God wants. UNITY!!

    Leaving a church – the only reason I’ve left a church was because I got married and moved four hours away. But I have known many reasons for people leaving a church family – not being fed; not being made welcome (because you walk in late, leave early, or stand in a corner and don’t make an effort to meet someone); and not wanting to change when convicted (because if I let go of my ‘victim mentality’ and allow God to work in my life and make me new, what will I have left?) just to name a few.

  21. Funny that comment about not being fed enough, I’d expect to hear that from a 5 year old not someone in their 20’s. I left my church coz the pastors were kicked out by a couple in the leadership. They changed the locks and got lawyers to stop them from returning. I was a youth leader and was told that I had to turn our pastors away if they rocked up to Youth. How much crap do you have to take? People thought they were leaving but they made it clear they weren’t, even in a letter. By the way there was suppose to be a vote and it never happened.

    So I’ve found a new church that was recommended by my previous pastors. Only a handful of us left after hearing it from their perspective. I spoke to people in the church and came to the decision that it would take an affair or money embezzling to stop people attending the church. I lost alot of friends. And people were saying “God hasn’t told us to leave”.

    It killed us to leave, I was engaged, married, and our little girl was dedicated there. I was on the music team and the main youth leader.

    So pretty much the church left us.
    Mike recently posted..Favourite 5 Friday

  22. I left my last church 3 years ago to follow one of the pastors who was planting a church. I am an African American woman and I was attending one of the mega-churches in my city. I am not particularly sensitive to racial issues but I couldn’t help notice that the church was 90% white, and most of the leaders, pastors, board members, worship band, etc were white as well. They paid lip service to diversity but it was never evident on Sunday. But I liked the church and stayed (for over 6 years) because they had a lot to offer, was a safe place to get lost in for a while, and was really outward focused.

    When my son was born the lack of diversity became an issue for me. I didn’t want him growing up in a place where he never saw anyone who looked like him. So when our current pastor (who is African American) left to plant his own church we went with him. Our new church is about 50% African American, 30% white, and has a few Hispanics and Asians. Sunday morning is the rainbow God intended it to be.

    What’s nice is there isn’t any negativity towards the old church or vice versa. They were very helping in helping us get started; lent us supplies and resources. Because we’re so small (about 100 people) we often hook into the outreaches that they do, advertise their events for our members, and several of the pastors from the old church have come to speak. It has worked out well.
    M. Smith recently posted..On a Mission- Rachel in Haiti

    • One of the criteria when I looked for a new church after leaving my old one was the flip side of yours. I have tried to choose professionals, organizations, and now churches with diversity in mind so that my children don’t grow up thinking all doctors are men, all lawyers are white, all churches are homogeneous. We’re not there yet in our young church, but it’s a whole lot closer to a cross slice of the community than the last one was. And it helps each of us in the faith community see things from other perspectives so we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that ‘Jesus = American’ or ‘Jesus = my political views’.

  23. My husband & I have presently been praying for God’s direction He wants our family to go in. We’ve been members of our congregation for 10 yrs & have been given a safe place to grow. However, our old pastor left over a year ago & we don’t feel the new pastor(whom is a wonderful man who’m we both agree really loves the Lord)speaks from God but about Him. He has a problem making the message personal, & we desire better teaching. It’s not that we feel we’re not being fed, because we both deeply feel that a true relationship with God is based upon become self-feeders based on intimacy with Christ & His Word. But, we don’t feel the Holy Spirit in the sermons being taught. Please pray that we would listen to God & make the right desicion on this matter.

  24. I’m coming to this blog late in terms of the date most of the posts appeared. As a Pastor this topic hits close to home. We’ve had about 40 leave our church over the last year. Some didn’t like the style of our Student Ministry. Some felt another church would have more to offer. A few had complaints from a year or two previous to their leaving which had never been discussed. A few others felt our leadership style was not correct. As was said by others, regardless of the reasons given, it hurts when people leave. My experience has been that none of those who left took time for adult give and take conversation, Bible Study, and prayer. It was an announcement that said, “we’re leaving.” I believe God calls people to other churches just as he calls a Pastor to leave and go elsewhere. I have a family in our congregation who felt they needed to leave their previous church where they had come to faith in Christ and served for many years. They did it right. They remain good friends with the leaders and the people in the church. Sometimes there are genuine problems with the church. As a church leader it is my practice to listen to the criticisms, pray for God’s direction, search the scriptures for correction on my end. But I also believe it is my responsibility to hold accountable the person raising the issue. When I have done this, the person rarely is in a listening mode. “That Pastor” won’t listen, and only speaks the “party line” become their additional criticisms of the church.

  25. Oops, didn’t quite finish. I often feel like Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?!” Long before he said this, Jesus prayed for the UNITY of his followers. May God give us grace with one another as we seek to live for Him and as we follow in His paths.

  26. I like this post. I don’t have anything theologically resounding to say except that what you said is truth. I’ve never left a church, but I’ve watch others go in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons. It hurts everyone. This is probably one of the best things I’ve ever read to say ‘hey, this doesn’t have to suck.’ So thanks for writing it.

    • As a pastor, I have grown to recognize that people have reasons to move on. There are some, who are a poor match in my congregation to whom I’d like to recommend a different congregation!
      When someone tells me that they are leaving (or if I hear it by the grapevine), I invite them to be present at worship for us to pray our goodbyes. Similar to the liturgy I use when leaving one church for another as an interim pastor, I introduce a short litany that blesses those departing and invites them to bless us.
      I have found that this public goodbye helps the congregation to not feel abandoned. It leaves a better feeling – even for the disgruntled who need to go. Not everyone will do it, but church is different from other organizations/businesses: WE CAN PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER!

  27. I’m very interested in the post above where a pastor herself admits that sometimes people are a “poor match” in a certain congregations and simply do not fit in.

    I certainly feel that way now at my current church. But it is not by choice; it is more so that I and a few others have been made to feel excluded for not fitting their church lady mold! I am not a stay at home mom, I have a quirky sense of humor and I would LOVE to find a church where I didn’t have to be an herbal tea drinking, quilt making, demure type and just let my quirkiness show… and, more importantly, GROW AS A CHRISTIAN without feeling like I have to be met with the approval first of the other members of the congregation…

    Isn’t there an old saying that goes, “Sometimes church gets in the way of religion?” I think the issue is that PEOPLE get in the way of church, and conflicts with other church members or disapproval from other church members cause people to leave. When the church experience becomes too much about the PEOPLE of the church and the social experience of it and less about the connection with the one and only God, then it might be where things go sour. On that note, the name of THIS blog the “Church of No People” resonates with me a lot.

    In a nutshell, how much of the church experience is about “fitting in” with the other church members and how much of it is about growing in our own personal connection with God (which will then show in how we treat other people)? Are those two things meant to be so dependent on each other? It’s very confusing :)

  28. a pastor’s wife May 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Before I married a pastor, I had a very different view of church. I never really considered that maybe I was there because God was giving me opportunities to love those He loves desperately. I thought more of “are my needs being met?”(forgetting that because my God shall supply all my needs, that is never really an issue or my problem:) I believe that every situation is an opportunity to love. So often we are into our circumstances and trying to manage them, that we stop looking outward and turn inward. Even someone leaving can be such an opportunity I guess, even though it hurts alot.