Thursday, November 8, 2012

Deciding to Leave Your Church

 My book, Changing Churches: A View From the Pew has two focuses: 
       1. Church switchers and their difficult journey
2. Changes in churches.                      
Most readers have understood the focus on "church switchers" from the title, but this is only half the story. Changing Churches also describes the church today.

For decades the church did not change. You've heard the saying, "If you don't like the weather---wait a minute." In many churches now we can safely say "If you don't like the music, or the worship service or the preaching---wait a minute."  In many churches changes are occurring faster than you can say "Amen." We need to understand the implications of changes in churches so we can guard the truth that has been entrusted to us. We'll talk about change in a later blog.

In mid October I wrote a post on The Grieving Process and Leaving a Church. Go back to that if you missed it or some may want to reread it. Grieving and leaving is difficult. This week our topic is leaving.

Deciding to Leave Your Church
The decision to leave your church should be made prayerfully and carefully, not lightly or quickly. Pray about it and talk with trusted friends and pastors about it. When we were uncertain about leaving "Main Street Church," I attended an ecumenical prayer group held in another church. As I came to trust the confidentiality in the group I confided my struggle to them. This caring and supportive group rarely gave advice. In this instance they were unanimous and clear. "Don't leave your church unless God tells you to do so."

Membership in a church should not be dismissed casually. It's not the same as choosing to leave a health club or Rotary. We may not realize it, but God places us in our local church. And we commit ourselves to our family of God. Breaking that commitment should not be done simply because we're dissatisfied.

Here's what John Calvin says: "The Lord esteems the communion of his Church so highly that he counts as traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of the Word and sacraments." Changing churches for less than biblical reasons is a serious matter. 

Valid Reasons to Leave
There are valid reasons to leave a church. If your pastor is a "false teacher," God's Word supports leaving. Scripture tells us to flee, to run away from, false teaching. Other legitimate reasons to leave are: The teaching is not biblical, the leaders are tolerating sin, or God is calling you to help plant a church or calling you to leadership in another church. Even when some of these reasons fit your situation - prayerfully make your decision. Let God guide you.

Managing the Leaving Process
In 1999 my husband and I struggled about whether to leave our beloved church. Again in 2008 we grappled with leaving another dear church. Both times I found journaling invaluable. Writing about the difficulties helped me process them. Talking it over with my husband and with my prayer partner also helped. Of course I prayed about it daily, if not hourly.

I advise leavers not to talk about your issues or struggles in a church class or group in order to avoid spreading gossip or sowing discontent. Do talk with your pastor and leaders and let them know your concerns. Speak the truth in love, with grace, not with anger or blame.

Para church groups and events helped us during the leaving process. For example, when too upset to enter into worship at our own church, we were able to worship in a meaningful way at a monthly Emmaus meeting. We also joined Bible studies and a prayer group elsewhere. Leaving is difficult and assimilation into a new church takes time. Once you've decided to leave, begin looking prayerfully for your new church.

We're not supposed to give up meeting together.

On this rock I will build my church. Matt. 16:18

Blessings, Dottie

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