leaving, lifetime, transitional

Leaving Your Church the Right Way

**Author’s Note: This blog is not directed at any one person, any family, group of people or entire church. I wrote this in 2008 after talking to a minister and his wife. Remember: my opinions don’t have to agree with yours and vice versa.

We live in a transitional society. People are constantly moving from one city to another, from one coast to the other and even from one country to another. Some families are so accustomed to moving that they never completely unpack – leaving things rarely used (but just can’t be parted from) in boxes in the garage or attic. I have read that the average family moves 11 times over their lifespan, approximately once every 7 years. This also means that if they attend church, they belong to at least 11 churches during their life. But moving out of the city or state is an acceptable reason to find a new church. After all, one cannot drive across the state or fly across the country and back every Sunday to attend church. It is wisdom to find a church that preaches and practices one’s beliefs in one’s new location.

But what about people who leave the church for wrong reasons and in the wrong manner?

First, there are those who would say, “I don’t like the music. It’s too loud, not loud enough, too traditional, too modern…” You get the idea. Perhaps these people come to church to be entertained. Here’s a real surprise for those folks – we don’t attend church to be entertained. We attend to worship the Almighty God. The Wesleyan Catechism states that our chief purpose in life is to praise God and that is why we worship.

Others complain about the temperature – it’s either too hot or too cold, or too stuffy. Or the color of the carpet or walls is wrong, or the time the service starts or the time it ends doesn’t please them……again, you get the idea. This may come as a real shock to these people – how can I say this gently? Well, let me be frank – it’s not about you. It’s all about HIM – and only Him. Certainly, we don’t want frozen statues sitting on the pews by the end of the service, but try and set aside your discomfort long enough to bask in the presence of your Abba Father. I promise – His presence will warm you up in no time.

And then, there’s the poor pastor – who some complain about and secretly (or maybe not so secretly) don’t even like. They disagree with what he preaches, even if it is straight from the Bible. They don’t like how he preaches or how long he preaches. A five-minute sermon should only last 2 ½ minutes in their opinion. They have “roast pastor” every Sunday for lunch and they share their feelings with everyone in the congregation and half the community, too.

So how do we deal with these people? Our first inclination might be to say (we are human, after all) “Don’t let the back door hit ya’ where the good Lord split ya!” As much as we might want to say that – we can’t. And in fact, we should repent for even wanting to say it. And yes, you might as well be honest and confess you have felt this way at times.

Our first action that God calls us to is to love them. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:19). We don’t have to buy into their complaints and certainly should not buy into any gossip they are spreading. We should, in fact, gently and lovingly correct them if they are gossiping (see 3 John 1:10). If they do not receive our correction, we should encourage them to meet privately with the deacons, or better yet, the pastor himself. Who better to address their concerns than the leadership of the church? Then our responsibility is to 1) continue to love them, 2) pray that the person(s) will schedule that appointment and 3) pray that the meeting will go well and all issues will be resolved.

What these people should not do is leave the church without talking to the pastor or one of the elders. If they leave without letting a leader know why they are leaving, the issues they have with that church will follow them to the next church…and the next….and the next… Even if the person(s) has a serious issue with the pastor himself, it needs to be addressed. Once the issue has been discussed with the pastor, if the person(s) still desire to leave, they can do so, knowing they have done the right thing by giving the pastor the opportunity to discuss the issue. And the pastor, although he may regret the person(s) leaving, will know that he took advantage of that meeting to listen and discuss the person(s) issues and hopefully, offer solutions. This is the only correct way people who are unhappy should leave their church.

So if you are unhappy with something or someone at your church, go talk to God. Then go talk to your pastor. It is the right thing to do.

(c) 2008 Edwina E. Cowgill

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