Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The term “breaking up is hard to do” has never been more true than when you’re leaving a church. As you can imagine this can be a sensitive topic for those of us who are pastors. I mean, I get it.

Sometimes you should leave.

Sometimes you need to leave.

Sometimes we want you to leave. :)

Seriously, as a pastor, it still stings a little bit every time someone leaves our church regardless of how large the church gets or how good their reasons are for leaving.  And somehow I’m guessing it’s not easy if you’re the one having to walk away. Especially if it’s a church you’ve been at for sometime.

I read THIS interesting article on RelevantMagazine.com about the process of leaving a church. The author listed several questions to ponder when leaving a church…

•    Is there anything I can do to change the situation?

•    Have I fully communicated my frustrations with someone in leadership?

•    Is this really God’s prompting?

•    Is my current situation unhealthy?

•    How can I “leave with grace?”

•    What options do I have for spiritual community elsewhere if I do move on?

So what do you think… How do you know when it’s time to leave a church? How do you leave with grace?

101 Responses to “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”

  1. Michael says:

    I’m currently in this process. Receiveing credentials and possibly taking a church. It has been tough at times.
    .-= Michael´s last blog ..Reconciliation And The Passing Of A Loved One =-.

  2. DB says:

    I wonder why churches don’t help members find new churches. I love my church, but that doesn’t mean there might not come a point where I choose to leave. It may be due to a relocation or some other change in me or the church, but either way I might need to go somewhere else. The problem is, I have not ‘dated’ in 15 plus years. If I go visiting I am likely to find a place where I ‘like’ the music and/or the preaching, where I am physically comfortable, where the people are like me. The problem is, that might be exactly the place God DOESN’T want me to be.

    The question is, how do I find a healthy church that will help me, but more importantly somewhere where I can serve (which will help me even more)? While my home church would not want me to leave (hopefully), I would think they would want to help me find the right place if I do need to leave.

    Our church invests a lot of time and money training church planters to go out and build from scratch. I could see this along the same lines, helping church members find a place where they can build…just maybe not from scratch. Maybe not a formal class called ‘Leaving 101′, but possibly a brochure or questionnaire for a member to walk through to help them remember to ask the right questions.

    Just a thought…
    .-= DB´s last blog ..Big Picture: More from Eyjafjallajokull =-.

    • Pete Wilson says:

      This is something we try our best to do at Cross Point. It’s why we encourage people thinking of leaving to come chat with us. Our goal is NOT to talk them into staying at CP. As we very well know it’s not for everyone. Our goal is to help them find the right church home for them here in the community.

  3. Jan Owen says:

    I knew when I felt released by God. I was unhappy before that but one night I just sensed all the doors closing there and doors opening elsewhere. I didn’t want to leave, but God showed me it was time. What God was calling me to do was not going to happen if I stayed. It was heartbreaking. I still hurt and grieve, yet consistently I see it confirmed that it was the right choice.

    How do you leave with grace? This is tricky. I could say that you should simply leave quietly but sometimes there are things that need to be addressed. I’d say limit your comments to those people who need to hear it – such as leadership or maybe very close friends. (who probably are aware of how you feel anyway) But running around trying to take people with you is uncool. You have to be careful. But truthful. And that is a hard, hard line to walk. I don’t think saying nothing is the way to deal with it either, btw. That just leaves it’s own set of problems.
    .-= Jan Owen´s last blog ..A Challenge to All Worship Leaders =-.

  4. Amy says:

    We left our church last summer. I had wanted to leave for years but my husband didn’t. I have to say first off, if married, both need to be in agreement. I can’t imagine the rift I would have created had I forced the issue. Especially with family members that still attend.
    I think we had both just gotten to a point finally where our views had changed about what church should look like. And after fighting for years for that change and not seeing it, we had distanced ourselves so much from leadership and some of the members that we were probably doing more harm than good. It was time to move on.
    It was hard but we had to communicate openly and honestly, especially to family members still there. The only way to leave gracefully is to know and communicate that God is moving you.
    As for finding a new church, I think the Holy Spirit just lets you know. There is a peace where you don’t need to question every single thing about the church. You just know your “home”.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Sunday Highlights: imPOSSIBLE: Letting Go of Your Baggage =-.

  5. Brian says:

    Struggling with this myself. Thanks for the post.

    Just started reading Plan B, and hope to find something in it too.

  6. Jim F. says:

    I was asked to leave a church and given six months to find another position. I was an associate who had done nothing wrong – no moral failure – but the senior pastor told me (and 2 others) that the church was going in a different direction and we needed to leave. I was hard because he did not want the church to know that he asked us to leave. It is a complicated and long story. It was one of the most painful times of my life and the life of my family. God has worked and moved and we love where he called us to. I did not sense or feel in anyway that it was time to leave that church is what I think made it harder and I was there eight years. Regardless – as I said God moved and we are blessed to be where we are.
    .-= Jim F.´s last blog ..Calling foul on yourself? =-.

  7. katdish says:

    We left to plant a church, but I really didn’t view it as leaving so much as I did beginning something new. Our old church was very supportive of our decision, and continues to be. Sometimes I think churches try to be “one size fits all”, and that’s an impossible scenario. You have to be what God calls you to be, whether that be a megachurch with lots of programs or a smaller, more intimate environment. Both serve the Kingdom well if we’re doing it right.

  8. It was very hard for me, this decision. I did have lengthy conversations with a leader who met with me on behalf of the pastor. I also conversed with those who’d left and reached out to them for their insight and their own perspectives. What it came down to for me was not hard feelings towards anyone, rather, the judgment calls made by leaders at this church — and also some things I did not know where taking place that I found objectionable. I never had a problem with my pastor and still believe that God’s Word does not return empty. God still blesses the receiver of the Word and the messenger. What I hope for people is that they will eventually work out their differences at this particular church. For now, for my peace of mind, I have to withdraw and find another home. It has been a tragic experience, all the way around, though. More on it is at my blog.
    .-= Heidi Rafferty´s last blog ..A Good Friday Gift for You =-.

  9. Gary Reed says:

    Excellent questions about such a relevant topic! A question I think we all need to ask our self in this situation is: How much discomfort and emotional pain am I willing to endure?

    I believe a key to deciding is using key supports to talk about reasons/motives to leave and the barriers (obstacles) in staying. Using resources will help one to look at options to stay by God’s grace or to go in grace.
    .-= Gary Reed´s last blog ..Conveying Leadership Principles =-.

  10. CarpoolQueen says:

    Our family is a gypsy and we’ve moved to many places. Finding a church has always been a priority, and we like to give a church a fair shake before we decide whether it’s right for us.

    I’ve found that we’re most comfortable in churches that allow their members to use their spiritual gifts for the good of the body.

    I’ve left when I’ve felt that service/leadership is limited to a select few.

    I’ve been honest when asked about why we’ve left and I’ve never left in an ugly huff.
    Each church body has its own vibe and can’t speak to all people.
    .-= CarpoolQueen´s last blog ..Tuesday Tidbits =-.

  11. Jaycee says:

    Excellent topic. I’ve seen people leave churches for some of the most ridiculous reasons though. “My pastor said something to hurt me”; “a minister sinned”; “someone gossiped about me.” Big deal! No matter where we migrate to we will meet imperfect people and imperfect churches. That’s why Jesus gave us the mission to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We can be the difference the church needs.

    I like the first question from Relevant Magazine, “Is there anything I can do to change the situation?” That’s what God would recommend that we ask in any of these situations. I also think that people who move away to plant other churches are not really “leaving,” they’re just building.
    .-= Jaycee´s last blog .."Washed Just For My Daddy’s Kiss" (True Celebrities VI) =-.

  12. Tony York says:

    Ah.. Pete. What a can of worms you have opened here. :)

    I have been openly blogging over the last few months about my family’s process of finding a new church family. I am going to try to answer your bullet points as candidly as I can, so here goes:

    • Is there anything I can do to change the situation? First, pray… a lot. Make sure your heart is in the right place. Second. Search scripture for direction on the situation. Finally, speak to leadership. For me it was difficult because as a lay-leader of a large church, I was just one voice that had no say in leadership decisions. I could raise a question but, seriously, what large organization stops or changes direction on one voice from the back of the line? Ultimately, it is God who has to be in charge of the situation. There are times when both sides disagree on how they believe God is directing. That is a very difficult situation.

    • Have I fully communicated my frustrations with someone in leadership? Yes.

    • Is this really God’s prompting?This is one of the hardest questions. It is so easy to vacillate between is this just me or is this the Holy Spirit? Or… it is so much easier to give into status quo than to make a decision that will impact people beyond just myself. I wrestled with this question for 18 months.

    • Is my current situation unhealthy?I was becoming jaded. That was no fault of the church. That was me trying to be a square peg in a round hole. I think that defines unhealthy.

    • How can I “leave with grace?” An earlier poster made the comment that the best way is to leave quietly. I agree. This is one area that I could have done a better job. It wasn’t that I went out of my way to make waves, but it is very difficult to leave quietly when you are a ‘full-time’ volunteer. My family was part of several ministries within the church and the final decision to leave was abrupt. This causes questions from those impacted by the change and so it can be very difficult to walk the line of being perfectly candid and fully supportive.

    • What options do I have for spiritual community elsewhere if I do move on? This is very important. It can be so easy to get caught in a vacuum if thought and action are not given to this area. For our family, we started visiting other local churches. We are also involved with a home group study with families from our previous church. It is a help to have some grounding with familiar faces as we are experiencing new churches.

    This experience is going to be different for each person based on variables of church size, family dynamics, and reasons for leaving.
    .-= Tony York´s last blog ..The Little Slave Girl =-.

  13. Emily says:

    Church can stink sometimes !! When I experienced this a few years ago – I KNEW God wanted me to leave, he cut me out of that family with a meat cleavor and it hurt, but everything HE has since showed me was worth it- it was very painful but it strengthened my relationship with HIM – I’m so thankful now that God moved me when He did – It was a pure God thing -and lots of growth has come from it – For HIS glory!
    Grace covered the situation when I chose obedience -

    By the way – have you run yet ?
    Or is it this weekend?

  14. Kevin says:

    I have been on both sides of the coin. In one case, I went to see a friend’s baptism in another church. While there, both my wife and I saw a need to help serve, so we moved to the other church. Within a month, we were having LifeGroup at our house, helping with children’s ministry, and maintaining the website. In another case, a deacon made flat out racist comments (referring to some workers as “wet backs”). I called him on it in a meeting. At the time I was the Youth Pastor. Afterwards, my family was asked to leave the church.

    That’s tough. In the back of our minds, we think because we are Christians that we should all be on the same page. But that’s not true. We were made unique and different. There are going to be conflicts and they are opportunities to show grace, mercy, and even more importantly Christ’s incredible leadership of such a diverse group of people. He makes the ultimate manager, if we let Him.
    .-= Kevin´s last blog ..Anselm of Canterbury’s Proof for the Existence of God =-.

  15. ttm says:

    If it’s a spiritually abusive church, you run like hell when you get the chance because, as you shake yourself out of the last KoolAid stupor, you finally get it! Christ came to give people freedom from things like Bibliolatry, necessity of a high priest making atonement and being your middleman to God, mandatory group think, human-made hierarchies of people, legalistic meddling and dishonest advertising. Christ came to provide the very freedom that so many insitutional churches try to take away.

    How you leave a church like that with grace is beyond me. Leaving the institutional church has been supremely painful for me. To use an old cliche, it has felt very much like wandering into a vast, arid desert where the sand works itself so furiously in a frenzy, there are times I believe there is no way out. But maybe I don’t really want out of this desert…

    It is the desert experience that has taught me about my own strengths and weaknesses and how God carries me through or finds me a safe place when the sandstorms rage. It is the desert that is teaching me who I am and am not. I have discovered the lushest oases of Spirit–the few drops of water or morsels of fruit near still waters and green pastures–that somehow keep me moving. That somehow keep me hoping.

    I’m glad I left the church. I was dying in a place where I should have felt alive and now I am living in a place where I should be dead. God is a fascinating and inexplicable guide because, wherever you find yourself, the I AM is there first, last, and always.

    • singingnewyorker says:

      We were at an abusive church for many years but didn’t realize til we tried to leave-then “all hell broke loose”. We consider ourselves wounded sheep. Still healing, still trusting God

      • ttm says:

        As you probably surmised from the slightly astringent (bitter?) tone of my first paragraph, I am still healing, too. And, like you, still trusting God. I hope your healing process will ultimately be a blessing for your family.

  16. Jason says:

    It’s not easy to walk away but sometimes it just becomes clear that you no longer fit with that part of the body of Christ. I’ve done both the tell the pastor why and not tell the pastor and honestly the not telling is significantly easier. I also don’t think the time I told the pastor why made even a little bit of difference because he told me why I was wrong in all my observations.
    .-= Jason´s last blog ..The Peter Point =-.

  17. Dean W. says:

    Lots of interest in this question these days. I recently left a church that I loved, but had become unhealthy. I was surprised that the way I did leave does line up with the article.

    The situation could not be changed, as I tried. I did make concerns known in several meetings with “leaders”. I did leave because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and left with grace, on both sides.

    I guess my concern is with: “What options do I have for spiritual community elsewhere if I do move on?” If you are leaving a healthy church, that question is great, however if the place has become unhealthy, sticking around waiting for a better place, I am not sure is a good idea.

    Is a bad church/community better than no church/community at all?

  18. what do you think of Donald Miller’s blog “asking people to leave your church”
    http://donmilleris.com/2010/04/19/asking-people-to-leave-church/

    • Pete Wilson says:

      I can certainly agree with aspects of that Nate. At the beginning of the Discovering Cross Point class I used to say “I’m confident that tonight some of you will discover this is not the church for you. And that’s OK.”

  19. Shanda McReynolds says:

    Oh, how this topic resonates with me. It was only a few months ago that we made the decision to leave the church that we had attended for seven years. It was quite a heart-wrenching decision. This church had played such a significant role in our lives for years. We had been praying about whether it was time to “break-up” with the church for a year or so before finally making the decision that it was best for our family to move on. We needed to be sure that we weren’t expecting something from the church that only God could give us. I believe that when we realized that we had become just “Sunday Attenders” that it was time to begin our search for a new church home. There was no depth anymore. We had felt so connected for years, but at some point this changed. We made every attempt to gain back the connection – leading a small group, volunteering, etc. Unfortunately, all of these attempts left us feeling more sure that things had changed. I could go on to explain other reasons that we chose to leave the church, but it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Honestly, I believe we all know when it is time to “break-up” and move on. It is simply a matter of whether or not we are ready to leave what feels comfortable. We are still searching for our new church home. It is definitely difficult, but we know that it will be more than worth it in the end.

    • Anna C says:

      Wow Shanda, I feel like I could’ve written this exact comment. My husband and I met at our church and helped start it. We consider the pastors dear friends and the feeling is mutual. We have poured ourselves into it over the past 7 years and also have been feeling the season change in the last year. We did everything we could to help bring solutions to the issues we had with it, just like you said, leading a small group, volunteering, etc.. My husband was in charge of the men’s ministry and I was on the leadership team for the women. It was the hardest decision we ever made, but once we made it, we felt incredible peace and joy.
      I hadn’t seen that Relevant article, but we did work through those questions. After months of fasting and praying, we did end up writing a letter with our concerns and gave it to our pastors, then sat down with them for a follow up meeting. It was our hope that we could talk through the issues and come to a greater understanding of what their vision was and they could see what our needs were and we wouldn’t have to leave. Instead, they said the Holy Spirit had told them we were in sin and were friends with “bad fruit” (who had also just left the church) and that was the reason of our letter, not really the issues.
      Though their words hurt us, we decided not to carry the hurt with us. We told them we thought they were wrong about it, but that we would pray more about it. We gave it another few weeks and didn’t feel conviction about a hidden sin or that God was asking us to not be friends with these people. They gave us their blessing to find another church and left the door open if we find that we are wrong and want to come back.
      We stepped down from our positions, wrote heart-felt, grateful emails to a few select people who were also in leadership with us. We left with as much grace and love and gratitude as possible. I know they were hurt, but we did everything we could to prevent it and to apologize for it.
      I ultimately have to believe that God is big enough and the body of Christ is big enough to accommodate any and all our issues and special needs about church. I think God is mostly concerned about how we treat each other in the context of church. And if even in leaving I can honor God and build up my brother, then I have done what He’s asked of me.
      Sorry about the novel here. This is obviously still a fresh issue. Pastor Wilson, thanks for this post. It’s been healing to read through the comments.

  20. Bill Renfrew says:

    One time you said something like, “there are probably people that go here that don’t even like it here! But they’re here because they believe in what we’re doing.” At that moment I was very frustrated and if my wife hadn’t been sitting there I just might have jumped up and yelled, “Amen brother!” (Glad she was.) Some things had changed at CP and it wasn’t comfortable. I felt my needs weren’t being met. (this seems to be a common source of my frustration in many situations…that ‘me’ part.) Not sure why we stayed but for some reason we did. A year and a half later I look back on rocky relationships that used to seem intolerable, and I see how they’ve come full circle and turned into relationships of profound mutual respect, trust and affection, and I stand nothing short of amazed. In one particular instance I thought we’d never see eye to eye. As I try to find an explanation for how this could have possibly happened the only thing I can come up with is that we chose to not to give up on each other. God did the rest. Not sure if this addresses your topic directly but it’s what came to mind.

    • Pete Wilson says:

      You hit on something that is INCREDIBLY important. When we run every time we have relational conflict we almost always ensure that our church relationships will stay at a surface level.

      I love that you stayed and worked through some of those things. Our community is better for it.

  21. Anonymous says:

    We struggled in our former church for a few years on this issue. Sometimes I was ready to leave, sometimes my husband was ready. We decided not to leave until unified and sure we weren’t “taking our toys and going home”. We were in an upfront position. Church direction was wavering and we thought it best for our family not to be a part of that after 20 years there. We went through above steps with close friends in leadership yet the only people to think it “wasn’t time” for us to leave were two lead pastors. Elders and staff were on board with our decision. And we left as quietly as you can when you are known. The lead pastor doesn’t speak to us even though we are thriving in our new church some several years later.

    Its hard to leave well when you aren’t released well.

  22. Good post, as usual Pete. This tends to be one of those topics that is not the most fun to discuss as pastors / leaders.

    This is good discussion that would do us all well to engage in to help us all process.

    Thanks bro.

  23. Zac says:

    My wife and I have been praying for some time (over a year) about this, but until recently hadn’t received confirmation that we were to leave. Finally, about 3 months ago we started receiving confirmation through many things and prayed a lot to ensure it was really God that was saying that now was the time to go. Last week I told our pastor what God was telling us. However, upon telling him… we received the opposite of ““If you stay, stay with grace, but if you leave, leave with grace.” In fact, an entire sermon was preached Sunday where the Pastor quoted (not by name) word for word what I said when I told him we felt God was telling us to go. We were told we were being deceived and that unless he heard from God that we were to leave, that we are stepping out of God’s protection! Talk about awkward and not the graceful departure we were hoping for.

    Now we are left wondering if there is a way to say goodbye to everyone at all in a graceful manner. Please pray for us as we begin to “get back out there” and for us to have proper closure to our less than graceful “breakup!”

  24. Buddy Knight says:

    This may or may not sit well, but I think we need to understand that some folks changes churches because God re-assigns them, just like getting orders in the Navy. Your time is up, here, and I’ve got work for you, elsewhere.

    We have to be careful not to have “too small” a view of God’s Army, the Church. God may train some folks at your church with the intention, all along, of transferring them to a new field, possibly to an existing church that needs the skills/heart/insights that God developed at the current church.

    One thing I noticed in the Navy was that getting new recruits was great, but the influx and out-go of EXPERIENCED sailors kept things fresh and constantly brought new skills, ideas, and capabilities to the unit. This was great, as the “threat” and the “mission” kept changing.

    Our mission may stay the same (ala the Great Commission) but our execution must change, as the World has changed.

    Great topic, Pete!
    .-= Buddy Knight´s last blog ..Securing the iPad: A Step-By-Step Guide =-.

  25. Eric D. says:

    Sometimes leaving a church can go horribly wrong. In my situation I was with a church very near its start-up, having been asked to join the staff by our senior pastor when the church was about 4 years old. Being a growing multi-site church and all, there were many changes in the following decade. As an Associate Pastor in charge of a specific ministry area, I held about 4 different titles in that time.
    To answer some of your questions….Was there anything I could do to change the situation? I tried somewhat, but as the church grew my influence began to diminish. I no longer had the senior’s ear. Other’s concerns, as well as mine, were sometimes viewed as “anti-growth”, “not having a real desire to see God’s kingdom grow”, or just “having a bad attitude”. Was my current situation unhealthy? It turned out that way for me. Unfortunately; due to Satan’s attack, my unhealthy cry for help, or maybe a subconscious desire to get out no matter the cost, I fell into a compromising situation with someone in the church. There was no affair, no sexual relationship whatsoever. But there were some questionable emails that were discovered. Obviously I had to resign.
    6 months later I still ask God if there is a way I can be used by Him. Because one thing I have found is that there is no satisfaction in life; no matter what we do with our lives, like the satisfaction of knowing you have served someone and, as a result, served God.
    I pray I will find a church where I will be able to tell my story and be received unconditionally. I may never be a pastor again, but I do want to be part of a church body again soon.

  26. Kristi says:

    I just watched a interview yesterday on Catalystspace that showed pure grace as Francis Chan annouced he was leaving Corner Stone Semi Valley after 16 years.

  27. Pokinatcha says:

    We’ve been involved in 4 churches in 21 years. We end up moving & twice has been out of state. Makes it a little easy to leave.
    .-= Pokinatcha´s last blog ..Surf’s Up =-.

  28. NWGirl says:

    Wow! This post brought up a lot of feelings I thought I was over…. I have been at my church for 25 years, ever since I became a Christian. I have been on staff for the past 10 and I have seen people come and seen people go. I have seen people leave in good ways and in terrible ways.

    I think the bottom line is: what do you leave in your wake? Did you wound people needlessly, did you gossip about leadership, did you try to convince others that you were right and take them with you? When you told people in leadership that you were leaving, did you take one last parting shot at their integrity, their ministry, their leadership?

    Leaving a church is painful, but it is also painful for those left behind, especially when it is done wrong.

    • ttm says:

      Is it gossip if it’s the truth?

      Is it gossip if it’s said not to hurt the staff but to help churchgoers who are confused as to why they continue to be ignored, shadowed, chastised and/or mocked?

      Hurtful language and behavior can and do go both ways. It would be amazing to me if I saw church staff members who went after the wandering sheep so they might find out why the flock has such turnover. Instead, it seems, they either shrug and mutter “one less to worry about” or start eyeing the sheep from other pens so they can be the biggest and best sheep ranch around.

      • NWGirl says:

        It sounds like you have had a painful experience, I’m sorry. There’s no excuse for behavior that you described.

        Your first question about whether something is gossip has to do with intent. I think only the person speaking can really gauge that. But I know that being bashed is never fun.

        • ttm says:

          And I’m sorry that you’ve been bashed as a minister. I really hope that my experience isn’t the norm for most churchgoers and members. It gives me hope to think that there are pastors out there who really care–about all of their members and attenders, not just the rich ones in the pastor posse.

          I pray that your church continues to be a place that enriches and comforts you, NWGirl.

  29. Lindy Abbott says:

    Pete, I love your website and posts. The post are always thought provoking without a who lot of empty words.

    Now on to “breaking up is hard to do,” great topic and thank you for being honest. You will not be surprised by this statement – I have had my share of breakups from churches.

    I love when you said – Sometimes we want them to leave….pastors are getting bolder…I have been told a few times if I can’t come to terms with disagreements/issues to leave. This has only been happening to my knowledge in the past 10 years. Most pastors saw membership as a long-term commitment like marriage, now it is like a signing up for a club membership with a monthly renewal.

    The problems come when you speak. As long as you remain quiet, cheer about changes or upcoming events, have no input even from the nudging of time with God – everything is sweet. But when real active living growing Christians are relating together in a church environment things can get messy. When we are learning to walk especially in new spiritual areas of growth we stumble, fall, and even cry.

    Sunday come to church people (Sundayism believers) are usually real great church members…they participate in service, attend events, give offerings…the best church people.

    It is those who are dealing with mess in their life, often not mess they initiated, but clinging to God and trying to figure it all out….those weird, emotional, transparent, childlike faith, expecting miracles church members that are so volatile.

    I am getting much better, but I have made more than my share of mistakes. I confess, repent and try to work on moving forward but I still fall backwards at times.

    It is only the rare pastor that look at you with the compassion of Jesus that can see who God created you to be and who He is transforming you into that sees beyond the present moment and looks deeper into the heart.

    I am blessed again with this kind of pastor. I had one about 20 years ago and now for the past 6 I have one again. We all need to try to be this kind of Christian to others.
    .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..Used, Abused, Toss – Books =-.

  30. Diane Zandstra says:

    I am actually at a place where I am indifferent about the church where I am a member, I could take it or leave it. It would be much easier to say “This horrible thing has happened!” and leave in a huff than be apathetic about my place of worship. Fortunately for any faith journey there are many roads and avenues that I continue to explore, although I have to say I miss feeling the pull to be part of worship where if I’m not there (or any of the members aren’t there) something is missing because it takes all of us. Does that make sense? Maybe they are breaking up with me, what’s up with that?! Thanks for sharing this post, Pete, it’s helping me prayerfully think about how I am called to serve and worship in a more meaningful way.

  31. Becky says:

    I’m on staff at a church and it’s really hard when someone leaves and never shares with their church family 1) that they are leaving and 2) why they are leaving.

    All of us on staff understand that sometimes this is a choice you need to make–but it’s so hard when we don’t even have the chance to say goodbye or know what happened. There are several families/members that I’m still guessing about. Was it something I did? Is there a family issue? Could we have done something different?

    So many questions when someone just sneaks out the back door.
    .-= Becky´s last blog ..10 Things I Love To Do =-.

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Those are really tough ones Becky. I’ve had friends I’ve done life with for 5+ years that have disappeared without even a phone call. I know it’s tough on everyone but open honest conversations are so important.

      • JuliaKate says:

        i had a great meeting with my lead pastor when i gave my resignation. we are cool with each other. but a part from one other pastor, the staff seems to not know how to react. it’s been 6 months and there hasn’t been a single returned phone call or invite or facebook comment or twitter reply… absolutely no follow up. we served together for 3 years. we were in each others homes and deeply involved in each others lives. there have been, however, tons of “anonymous” blog visits by the staff, lol!
        that was pretty tough to ride out, the end of contact. i still have occasional communication with ex-boyfriends… crazy that the church leadership can’t find a way to make peace. but i know they don’t know what to say or how to approach it, so the easiest thing is to ignore it.
        i’m okay, i just think about the others that aren’t okay and have turned their backs on the church because of stuff like this.

        • Lindy Abbott says:

          I have seen this with staff also, not Pastors…it is like “we are great friends if you come to church and are loyal to us” but if you move on …. we drop you. Makes it all feel fake. So…uh…are you only being a “friend” because I am a member….very weird…
          .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..Used, Abused, Toss – Books =-.

  32. diane1230 says:

    I have never left a church – I have been a member of my church since birth. (Well, I was baptised as a baby and then officially joined in Confirmation.) However, I recently took a job that will be an hour away from my current home church. Having a 2 year old son, and knowing my husband and I are really active in our home church, I feel we need to semi-leave. Semi meaning that the Methodist church has an awesome way we don’t have to completely leave – whenever we find a home church in our next town, we will become associate members. That way we can have a place to plug in and become active in, but we do not have to completely leave our home church. We’ve talked with our families and with our pastor and feel this is the best way to do things. :)
    .-= diane1230´s last blog ..Easter! =-.

  33. NWGirl says:

    A Tale of Three Kings by Eugene Edwards has been a great resource for me

  34. I think one way you can know it is time to leave is when you can’t buy into the church’s purpose and vision. There might be many reasons behind this: You could not agree with it, there might not be place for your gift set, you might have other passions and desired direction. While explaining this to the pastor does not make this transition easy for either of you, it is better for the long run. When we allow ourselves to stay discontent we allow bitterness to brew, and eventually that bitterness will spill over to others. If you don’t like where your church is going don’t stay to change the church to your vision. Find a church and a pastor with similar passions. You will do more for both churches and the Kingdom in the long run.

    We wish all churches could be well rounded churches, and as much as they try, they can’t please everybody! If purpose and vision reconciliation can not occur be willing to move on. However, this does not mean that you do not have to have reconciliation of relationship. We can and should love one another even if we can’t serve together!
    .-= Mason Stanley´s last blog ..There’s only 1 Heaven… =-.

    • Pete Wilson says:

      “they can’t please everybody” Now that is some truth!!

      • I sometimes confuse “be all things to all people” with “please all people with all things” For some reason we think “be all” is synymous with “please all.”
        .-= Mason Stanley´s last blog ..There’s only 1 Heaven… =-.

        • Lindy Abbott says:

          I think sometimes we think that, especially in bit churches that they could offer more pathways since people are so different. I think you have a real special church when the leaders trust God in their people. If God is calling a person to step our in faith and do something…we should all encourage it, encourage them to be obedient.
          I know pastors get bombarded with complaints so I try real hard not to be that kinda person. I often find leadership under the senior pastor to be very territorial and possessive of ministry…like only God can “grace” them with vision or cautions. In many ways churches are families. We need to learn to value everyone and and encourage all, we also need to make sure as Mason said that we “reconcile relationships”. This is so important to God.
          .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..Used, Abused, Toss – Books =-.

    • stacikristine says:

      Or if the church doesn’t seem to have any vision.

  35. Melinda says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. My husband and I have been contemplating the need to leave our current church. My husband, whose family “church hopped” when he was growing up, doesn’t have any problems with it. However, I was in a lot of emotional turmoil over it. As of right now, we are staying with our church, which was actually a hard decision, but we’re going to give it a try.
    .-= Melinda´s last blog ..National Day of Prayer =-.

  36. Tony York says:

    Forgive me if I am out-of-line with this additional comment, but maybe it can help one person.

    There are several reasons why God’s children are supposed to gather corporately. Mutual Edification and Worship are two of the biggest, in my opinion. If we state that we are leaving a church body because we are not getting anything out of it, there should be a quick introspective question that we point towards ourselves to ask what we were putting into it.

    Did we show up to Worship our father with like-minded believers or were we more interested in being entertained and fulfilled? Did we ever reach out to another to encourage them or were we always looking for someone to encourage us instead?

    The 2 greatest commandments are supposed to be practiced when the corporate body comes together – Love God and Love People. I believe as a member of a church body it is my responsibility to be prepared to act on both and to hold accountable the leadership that they have created an environment that stands up to the litmus test of the bible. That is their service to the body.

    And just to clear up something – the bible gives instructions on how the church body is to discipline a wayward member which can include putting them out. If a member can be excluded for not aligning with doctrine by the church, I believe the converse should also be held. A member should extricate themselves if they believe the church is unwilling to align with scripture (an unhealthy environment).
    .-= Tony York´s last blog ..The Little Slave Girl =-.

  37. Dan (MrMadChef) says:

    Interesting article, and it’s something I’ve been struggling with. I came back to the faith about 9 years ago, and it was about that time that I came to the church I’m in now. About six months later, the senior pastor resigned to accept a position in California. The search for a new leader took about 10 months, and I left to spend about a year in Erie, PA as part of a Master’s Commission shortly after the new pastor was installed. I think when I came back I noticed things were different, but I never really let myself accept that until recently, when the senior pastor (and his wife, who was heading up the fine arts department) resigned at the request of the district leadership, after a petition had been circulated among the membership asking for a meeting presided over by district leadership, at which “serious issues” with the senior pastor’s leadership would be discussed. In the time that they were leading our church, membership had been steadily declining, and the district superintendent had been receiving phone calls, letters, and emails weekly about their leadership. Looking back, there were many warning signs and red flags that we should have seen, and I think those that stayed turned a blind eye, with the exception of those who circulated and signed the petition. Needless to say, this has caused another rift in the church, many families have left (shortly after the pastor’s resignation, the entire board resigned, and nearly all of those families have now left), and I now find myself questioning if I should stay or go. Part of me thinks that the church has passed the tipping point and won’t recover from this, and that I should get out now, but part of me just can’t leave. I’m very involved with the youth ministry and would hate to leave students behind, and I am also part of the worship ministry.

    Sorry this got so long; thanks for giving me a place to let this all out, and if you have any advice or guidance, I’d love to hear it.

    • JuliaKate says:

      can i offer an opinion based on a similar experience? sometimes sticking it out during a transition can be very beneficial to you, the people you are leading, and the church as a whole. though you can not save the church or the people you lead, you can perhaps ride out the storm and gracefully exit the boat at the next stop;)

  38. JuliaKate says:

    in my 32 years of church attendance and 17 years in church leadership, i have had to leave 6 churches. 2 were extremely painful experiences, but the rest just came with the territory. until recently, i served the Church in the missionary capacity. i came on board to set something up or get it through transition and then i hand it off to the next person. all the leaders & pastors know that i have no intention of sticking around for the long haul. some find it threatening (questioning loyalty, etc.) and some are relieved (because i cost them nothing)… i also have a full time job and have no goal or dream to ever be on salary at a church. so good, efficient, free work is usually appreciated.
    to be honest, i don’t know when the last time was that i felt at home, in sync, and in agreement with a church. i know authentic churches exist, it’s just taking me some time to find one. now i just want community and to serve with the gifts that i have. i am not going with a “mission”, just wanting to be a part of something. i’ve been blogging about the hunt. turns out there are a lot of people that are on a similar search.
    looking forward to getting your book in the mail… i could always use some more wisdom on the plan B i am currently living out;)

    • Lindy Abbott says:

      I so relate! I too want community and to serve God with the gifts He has blessed me with. It is important to stay missional…Jesus was missional…always reaching out beyond the church walls, but there is a balance…there is a missional purpose for reaching toward the people already in the church walls.
      .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..Used, Abused, Toss – Books =-.

  39. Lisa says:

    hmm… I just wrote my own post on this subject. Between Don Miller’s thoughts yesterday and yours today I had some thoughts to share…

    As a pastor’s kid, I’ve seen a lot of people leave, and the wounds that causes.

    And those have made me cognizant of my own actions in the churches I’ve left. Including the one my dad pastors. Twice.

    I try to leave with as much grace as possible – and with as much willingness to forgive and bless as possible. I try (though it’s never easy) to remember that though God made not have led me to stay in a particular situation, I don’t get to be in charge of how he’s leading others, or how they think and feel and make decisions, and it’s not my place to judge their choices to stay (or go!) whether I agree with them or not.

    my post on leaving church is here: http://ofalltheliars.blogspot.com/2010/04/leaving-church.html
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..22 Years (and 1 Year) =-.

    • Lindy Abbott says:

      Leaving With Grace is the key. Relationships should be mended as best as possible, and tight lips must be maintained to not poison those who are staying. I like what you have to say.

  40. Rob says:

    Tough? Nah, this is easy!!!

    Actually I’ve seen it done well and done poorly and from both sides… from the churches side and the person that left.

    Above all else, we have to remember that this is the bride of Christ and it matters to God. Lives are at stake not just our own personal egos or agendas… so good luck!
    .-= Rob´s last blog ..I Suck at Being a Christian =-.

  41. singingnewyorker says:

    Ater being at a church for over 20yrs& in a visible ministry, God began moving our hearts to help in a smaller church. We wrote a heart felt letter thanking them for everything & assuring them we were not angry. We infuriated the founding pastor we thought we knew. We lost ALL our friends. They believed being loyal to their pastor was the same as being loyal to Christ. My husband apologized to him in person for any hurt our leaving caused. We are not welcomed there any longer. Only for ticketed events or funerals. He promised he would call any church we started attending. He did. Finally after years of pain this pastor called for an outside pastor to have a meeting with us. Only my husband was allowed to attend After 5 hrs. the outside pastor told him that we had not sinned, we had only left his church peacefully. He told our ex-pastor he needed to apologize to our daughter. He asked if his son could apologize instead of himself. He also told my husband if we ever tried to go back to his church we would have to promise that if God told us to leave again-we would not listen but only listen to him.The pastor who mediated the meeting told our ex-pastor Sheep sometimes bite but we shepherds NEVER hurt the sheep. He told us we had gone over & above what scripture requires for unity & peace. He had never met any pastor like him before.
    Our eyes are WIDE open NOW. We still attend church. Our children no longer trust any church or any leadership. This is heart-breaking. Still trusting God. But only God.

  42. Kimberly says:

    I believe people need to stay where they’re congregating, unless they know that God is moving them on.

  43. Karen La Mar says:

    A little over a year ago I left a church I had attended for over 12 years. It was not easy, leaving or staying. It has been a very emotional journey, one that is not over. But, the decision to leave was done out of much prayer and talking to a dear friend. The biggest answer however must come from God because if I asked 20 people I would have had 20 answers. It took me really listening to the Lord on what He was telling me after I prayed for truth to be shown to me. And, it took over a year to make the final decision to leave. The final answer came when I really felt I needed to be at a place my children would attend with me. So my journey began. I am grateful to have found a new church home, one my children attend with me :)

  44. Ginger says:

    I really enjoyed your post and the question to ponder or consider. I attend a church just under went a horrible spit in the last year. I watched several friends leave, one start a new church that several who left are now going too…. It has been difficult because I have friends on both sides and it has proven to be very painful. It is funny this was your topic, on Sunday I was sitting in church and it was the first time since all this has started that I felt peaceful, knew with confidence I need to remain where I am, that if I would chosen to follow and attend the new church it would not be God telling me too but me following man. I have wanted to run from this situation, life is stressful enough why have stress at church… but God has been faithful and I know that unless He places that burden in my heart that going through this process has been a growing experience. I was able to answer the questions you truthfully… I think God has to tell us… Good God stuff!
    .-= Ginger´s last blog ..The waiting word =-.

  45. Nic says:

    I’m currently struggling with this. How do you know when it’s time? I have no idea. I don’t think it’s typically one thing or another, I think it’s usually a whole assortment of things. I belong to a small church, about 200 members. I would like to join a larger church that has more of an adult education program based in the Bible (the church’s current adult ed. program is on the enneagram.) But is that a personal preference? I would like to find a church where the senior priest or pastor is hands on and caring, not one who would never dream of extending his had to help someone up the stairs. I think the general idea here is good, but am I letting my own pettiness skew my current view of the current priest? I don’t know. I go back and forth.

    Should I wait to leave my current church until I find another church? I don’t know. I’m having a hard time finding another church. I’ve been exploring. I thought I had found one, and had even convinced myself that I could fit in with the long skirts and the homeschooling (I cannot) and was okay until they prayed for the “murders, thieves and homosexuals”. And then I knew we just would never be on the same page.

    What’s a deal breaker and what’s a learning opportunity? How do I discern my desires from God’s will? Or, more accurately, keep them from clouding God’s will from my vision? How do I find a path that will help me grow the most spiritually?

    Clearly the only way to get there is through lots of prayer, but I’m pretty dense so I think I need God to send me an e-mail outlining his directions here, with bullet points, before it’s going to sink in.

    I wish it were easier.

    • Lindy Abbott says:

      Either God is moving in your church or He is leading you to move to another. Some churches unfortunately get to a dead or dying point. They embrace their traditions and nostalgia and stop meeting the needs of who God has sent them. If you aren’t being used by God or really feeling your are growing in faith by staying, I say move.
      .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..Used, Abused, Toss – Books =-.

  46. Lisa says:

    Pete, How refreshing to here that’s how you handle things at Cross Point! This post really ministered to me. Thanks!

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Don’t always get this right Lisa but we really try hard to give people are blessing and help connect them to another church if they don’t already have a place in mind.

  47. Jan C. says:

    I knew it was time to leave the church we had belonged to for many years when the new associate pastor stood up on Holy Family Sunday and gave a homily about how the main cause of divorce/broken families was women working outside the home. The man was about 25 years old, and a new priest! I stood up in the middle of mass and took my 2 impressionable young sons by the hand and left. We found a new church within a couple of months of browsing around and have been very happy.

    • Lindy Abbott says:

      I have stayed with a church for several reasons long after I wanted to leave. One time our Pastor asked us to say and we weathered through a very difficult time but eventually left. The next time has been most recent. We have children invested in relationships, beside I love so many of the people. Often I wish the church would listen more to the congregation because they miss needs and don’t realize that only a small percentage feel bold enough to speak up while many may feel the same way. I have been frustrated several times…being an older Christian, getting a caution in my spirit, relating the caution to much younger leaders, watching them say “decision already made” and two year later seeing them say “oops, it was not that great of a decision. we made a mistake.” When leadership are young this happens a lot. I respect the growing time but also wish more leaders listened to the older, long-term active members instead of always looking for the next new technique to reach our culture. There needs to be a balance, new catchy programming isn’t everything. We need to watch our young pastors grow but they also need to respect depth in their congregation as support and not a threat.
      .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..Used, Abused, Toss – Books =-.

  48. DEb says:

    My own personal opinion…. TOO many people just “get mad” and leave… these same people have probably lived their whole lives like that, running from issues that arise and NEVER working things out. Sad to say… but unless you’re taught by your parents to WORK THINGS OUT with people, you will go through life a big mess. But I also realize there are legitimate reasons for some people to leave. I always F.R.O.G it.. (fully rely on God) no matter how hurt my feelings are. You’re NEVER going to find that “perfect” place… so you’d may as well work w/people and make some new and interesting relationships with it.
    Also, I don’t believe we (as a church) should help people who want to leave find a church. That is their business, unless they come and ask for the help. <3
    .-= DEb´s last blog ..Country Music Marathon – 2010…DOWN THE DRAIN! =-.

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Good stuff Deb. I know you guys have been through tons of changes over the years here at CP. I’m glad we’ve always found a way to work through it together.

  49. Joni Ruhs says:

    I go back and forth on how much should be told to the congregation when leaving a church. My husband and I were part of the music teams and led for a time as well. So when me left that church–and we talked to most everyone in leadership about it for advice, confirmation etc.–it was difficult not to get to say anything to our congregation about it. I’m guessing we weren’t trusted to say goodbye publicly even though there wasn’t any venom in our departure. I wish we’d been given the benefit of the doubt that we wouldn’t be divisive. And being so visible, it’s obvious that we left. Our silence was taken by many to mean there was some horrible conflict. We spoke with close friends so they knew the truth and asked them to direct others to us if they had questions.

    Do you think some pastors are afraid of the questions that come up when people leave? Why is it assumed that when someone leaves it is a personal affront or the person is wrong to go? What is everyone afraid of? Even if someone leaves for “the wrong reasons”, certainly God will work in that situation. And yes I realize there are nasty ugly situations where my comments won’t apply.

    All this coming from one who has never been in that leadership role. Can’t imagine the fortitude it takes.
    .-= Joni Ruhs´s last blog ..“Let me explain…” =-.

  50. stacikristine says:

    This was perfect timing.

    My husband and I have been serving at our church for almost two years now. He’s the full-time youth/music minister. We definitely felt God calling us to this church, so I know that He has a plan in us being here, but it’s really hard at times.

    We’re both very passionate about living sold-out lives for Jesus. All we want to do is live for Him and love on others in His name. But almost every person in our church seems to be content with just warming a pew. I feel like there’s no community–it’s almost all surface-level. People don’t want to be challenged, and they don’t want to be told that having a relationship with the Lord is more than just being “good people” and coming to church. Everyone is completely fine with their skim-milk relationship with God.

    We both feel very strongly that youth (and all Christians) need to be taught the Truth and challenged to live wholeheartedly for the Lord. Being a follower of Christ means that we follow hard after Him. But our pastor had a talk with my husband yesterday and told him that some of the parents had come to him with some issues that they felt needed to be addressed. The main ones were: 1) the messages were too long and too deep without enough “play” time; and 2) we need to do more things like going to the movies and bowling.

    YES, church should be a lot of fun! I have a blast when I get together with Christian friends. But that shouldn’t be the focus. We do have game nights, and we’ve taken the kids ice skating, and I’ve had the girls over for a sleepover and shopping trip, and we take them to do mission work in another state once a semester, plus a lot of other fun things. But it seems like what the parents want is for us to be a place where their kids can get some good, clean entertainment. What happened to equipping the younger generation so that they can be sold-out for Christ?

    I want to leave so badly. My heart aches to be with a group of believers that are chasing after God and His ways. I want to be a part of a church that actually has a vision!

    But for some reason, we just don’t feel like God has released us yet. Maybe He is using us here and we just can’t see the fruit of it right now. He obviously has a plan, or He wouldn’t have brought us here. So we’re praying and praying that He will make His ways clear and show us what we’re supposed to do here. And we’re praying that someday we’ll be able to be a part of a spiritually thriving church once again.

    But for now, it’s not time to break up.

  51. Julie says:

    The last two churches we left: 1) multiple moral failures by the Pastor 2) the Pastor divulged things that were shared with him in a counseling situation with a large number of people in the church. The first church, I am afraid we didn’t really leave with grace. We just left in the midst of the fall out. Church 2, we tried very hard to work it out with the Pastor but he kept justifying his belief that he did the right thing, so we walked away.

  52. Rizzyvoe says:

    I have battled with this very same issue for the last 2 years now, but what I don’t understand about “church” today, is why Pastor’s view the church as their’s and how they can consciously ask someone to leave “their” church. Maybe the reason there is so many ppl migrating from “a church” is because it no longer belongs to God but to men. In acts it seemd very simple that a church was established for a region and the assembly was the church and they were “real” family and there was no putting someone out of the “body” but they reasoned together. I marvel at how far we have strayed from the foundation Christ laid and I can now understand how He is going to call a “church” out of church.

    I hasten the return of God and when the true “church” has assembled and grown into it’s fullness. If I do leave my place of assembly it will be because the leadership have yet to return to those foundations and placed more vlue in storing up treasures here on earth than in heaven where moths nor theives can enter in. Who will reflect God’s image instead of simply standing in front of His Glory? Who will declare His generation in the earth?

    • ttm says:

      Interesting comments. I agree that “church” today no longer resembles the loose regional associations of the early Christ followers. And I’ve been reading in the gospels lately. Jesus had nothing to say about church but a lot to say about this hard to define “Kingdom of God.”

      About “calling a church out of church,” there is currently a quiet but massive migration of Christians out of institutional church. Yes, I know that Christians need community in which to do the “one anothers” and to edify and build each other up. Yes, I know that corporate worship is a great thing that pleases God.

      And, there is a very quiet voice inside my soul that asks this: What if church as we know it is just one more thing that God has created/allowed for a time until it is time for the next big thing. I think of the garden, the tabernacle, the temple, the law, the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Each of these had its time. Each of these had those who would defend it to their own deaths. Yet, each of these was ultimately replaced by something else.

      What if the institutional church has served its purpose? What if God really is speaking to men and women through his Spirit without need for an intermediary priest (or pastor)? What if the speaking to men and women in visions and dreams in the last days is already happening? What if God wants to move beyond church or outside of church? Will we be willing to get on board with that? I daresay that there will be some who will not move with God because they value the institution over the One who instituted the institution.

      Just thinking out loud… but your comments resonated with me.

      • Rizzyvoe says:

        Those are very thoughtful questions that we all should be ready to give an answer to. In the end I value God over anything else and desire to move any way He desires. Prayer builds relationship with Him and leads to His trust to communicate His will to each of us. Now is the time to pray like never before.

  53. [...] can read Pete Wilson’s thoughts on the article (HERE). You can read the original Relevant Magazine article (HERE). The thing that stuck out to me were [...]

  54. [...] can read Pete Wilson’s thoughts on the article (HERE). You can read the original Relevant Magazinearticle (HERE). The thing that stuck out to me were [...]

  55. [...] can read Pete Wilson’s thoughts on the article (HERE). You can read the original Relevant Magazine article (HERE). The thing that stuck out to me were [...]

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