Up front, I know the church is the Lord’s so don’t take me to task over the use of the phrase “your church.” Yet there is a sense in which we take ownership of the church – it becomes “Family: in the best and holiest of senses.
Most of the time my advise is to stay when you have a challenge. The culture, especially in the heart of the Bible belt is much to easy to jump ship. We’ve all but made it an Olympic sport here in middle Tennessee and in north Alabama. God wants us to learn to love each other through challenges, to not abandon one another even when we don’t see things eye-to-eye. To learn to “accept one another” in the love of Christ. To treat each other as family. So stay, stay, stay. Learn to confront the weaknesses and to not run away from problems. Learn to love.
Yes, sad as it is for all involved sometimes people who fall in love with a congregation have reason to leave. And there are sometimes good and legitimate reasons to leave a place. While these are not set in stone by any authority here are a few thoughts should you find yourself in that not so good place to be:
1. Decide to leave as a Christian: The only reason that needs to be said is because so many people do not! This is not an “I will if they will thing…” As in “I’ll behave as a Christian if they do.” No, you are a Christian determine even in leaving you will be one. When they look back, when they talk about you (and they will) you want them to ultimately say: “She’s a godly woman…” On top of this you do not know what the future holds and you may want to go back there sometime. Do not stay so long when you are fed up that you feel you must burn bridges. Protect your faith.
2. Give the church you are leaving a chance to address the reasons you are leaving: I am totally amazed at what goes around, what is said that is absolutely not right. At what is said, that the elders or the preacher said that is either taken totally out of context or is just false! Please, learn to check out any “the elders’ said…” statement that gives you concern. You’ll be surprised how often there is not an ounce of truth in it. Don’t leave over what is a non-reason.
3. Look inward: Ask yourself, “Is the feeling of a need to leave something I have brought on either by allowing a wound not to heal, or not making an effort to connect, or being a bench warmer?” Do I need to change something, try something, before I leave? You came there because you loved the place or the people or the preacher or something – don’t leave before trying to salvage that love.
4. Honor your commitments: Have you committed to teach a quarter? Fulfill it. A promise of a financial gift? Give it. An agreement to lock up the building for a month? Do it. Being mad a leaving does not take you out of your promise.
5. Meet with someone who can do something: The elders, the preacher, a deacon. Don’t just leave. Give them the opportunity to know why you left. Give them the chance to answer the problems if such exists. Give them the occasion to improve what was wrong in the future with others. I’m sometimes amazed that people will tell me one thing and everyone else something different when I could be the one who might be able to fix the problem. Or when something is being spread as the reason someone left when that is not the reason at all. At one church I was told a couple had left because they didn’t like the youth minister. I found out nearly 4 years later it was because one spouse was having an affair and some people knew it and they were uncomfortable about it. But people were critical of the YM when he had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
– a side note on this one: Get to know your leaders “pre-problems.” If you hear something negative about them and believe it to be true you should have a relationship with them where you can call them and check it out. Or if they make a decision you don’t understand and think you can’t live with you need to be able to contact them and work with them in understanding where they are coming from.
6. Don’t conspire with others to leave: It is a painful situation. You want to feel justified in your leaving. You didn’t plan on it but you become part of a whisper campaign against the church. You find yourself questioning every decision, critiquing every service, looking for fault in every person and you want to hope you are not alone and before too long it is you and your little crowd against the others. This is called division. You may not like it but the Bible is very clear it is sinful. Satan would rejoice in nothing more than to use you to hurt God’s Family. You don’t want that. Work through it, work out of it, but don’t divide the church. Leave before it gets to that.
“I’ve learned in whatever state I’m in….to be content”