Leaving faithfully

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So, what happens when it is necessary to leave your current church?  This may be because:

  • You are having to move due to work or family reasons
  • There’s a specific opportunity to serve God in a new context
  • You disagree with the church over a significant issue in terms of doctrine, direction of travel etc.[1]

I want to suggest a couple of ways that you can leave graciously and continue to show faithfulness

  1. Be very clear in your mind what the reason is.  Don’t use another subtext to leave. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, when we were considering moving to multiple services, we heard about another church that had made a similar move. We also heard that people had left because of this. Fascinatingly, some of the people then went to another church that also had multiple services.  This leaves you wondering what the real issue was.  You see, sometimes we can wait for a particular decision that gives us cover or a pretext to make our move.  This might help us but as you can see in  the example here, it isn’t really helpful to the wider body.
  2. If it is about a positive – or at least neutral towards your existing church -issue such as job change, ministry calling etc. then this should be something that you can share with others in the church and with church leaders. This isn’t about informing them about a decision you have already made but about very early on seeking the wisdom and accountability of others. Take time to listen to what they have to say. They may even challenge you and this may lead to a change of mind.  Or they may offer practical advice about timing and other things. It’s so much better to be sent rather than just go off on your own.[2]
  3. Make sure that you don’t have outstanding obligations
  4. If there’s a genuine disagreement about vision, mission, doctrine etc. then meet with the leaders if possible, or write to them and explain what your reasons are for leaving. Keep this succinct and focused on the main reason.
  5. Speak for yourself. Don’t act as a representative for other anonymous discontents. Let others speak for themselves. That also means being careful about not going round the church polling for support.
  6. Don’t try to encourage them to persuade you to stay. This must be a genuine decision not a tactical move to get them to make you feel wanted.
  7. Make a clean and clear decision. Don’t drag things out. Don’t unsettle people by talking about being unsettled, disappearing for a few weeks and then reappearing etc.  I’m assuming here of course that we are dealing with secondary but important issues. 
  8. When you go to a new church, it’s right to be honest with the leaders about why you have moved but don’t go around badmouthing the old church to the new congregation.
  9. A good move can actually build links between churches. We like to contact a previous church when someone becomes a member. This means we are able to have a handover of pastoral matters and confirm that they were in good standing as a believer in that church. We think this is important because it shows respect for the other church, we are not trying to sheep steal. It also means that we respect and recognise the discipline exercised by other churches.  Why not pro-actively put your new church leaders in touch with your old church?

And now a difficult point. A friend reminded me recently about a decision they had to make to move on. They asked me how they could leave well. At the time, I said to them that they should be prepared for the possibility that no matter how well they left, others might take offence and hold it against them. Sadly, they said that this had been the case.

However, I maintain that our responsibility is always to keep our side of the bargain and let others worry about theirs. Keep loving them, keep praying for them. Pray that God will make them fruitful as a church. This isn’t about praying for success regardless of methods and doctrines. Rather when we desire fruitfulness, we desire that a church will be faithful to the gospel and that this will lead to true growth.

Remember that our faithfulness is first and foremost to God.  It is when we are faithful to him and to his word that we are most loving to others.

[1] You will notice that in this post, I’m generally assuming that whilst you may have a significant point of disagreement it is over issues that are important but secondary not things that are essential to the Gospel.  Where the church is preaching another gospel, liberal, social, prosperity, legalism etc. then that is a different situation. There are people who are in spiritual danger if they remain and we do have a responsibility to warn.

[2] You may find our series of articles on “discerning a calling” helpful here.

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