Notes from the Trail

When it’s time to leave your church

There’s a provoking entry over at oldtruth.com that addresses the answer to this question. The thing that has consistently amazed me is that most churchgoers have never thought to question their particular church and its fidelity (or its leaders’) to scripture and spiritual maturity. Living smack in the middle of the Bible Belt, I’ve consistently observed people who have attended the same church for years without ever evaluating whether they or their children are growing spiritually and in their understanding of and embrace of a life mission and ministry.

It’s more of an intuition than hard, empirical research, but I suspect that most churchgoers attend church habitually rather than passionately. They are somewhat committed to the people they see in church week-in and week-out, but they hardly consider these fellow followers as family. They’re just “people that go to the same church they do.”

It’s sad to consider that few regular church attenders are aware that there are genuine and authentic (though certainly not perfect) gatherings of Christ followers – perhaps in their own community – who are earnestly seeking to follow Christ, serve their communities in love, and seek to implement the principles of Christ’s kingdom on earth. This is a far cry from their pew-centered, classroom-oriented church setting; however, they haven’t paused long enough to consider the dearth of a deep love of God and others in their own spiritual life.

When do you think it’s time to leave a church? (Or perhaps, when is it time to begin going to one?)

On this day...

  • Ryan
    Most people truely believe that life on Earth is as good as it gets. So they go through the motions of church because it seems to be the right thing to do.
  • http://www.the-grateful--dean.blogspot.com dean
    i’ve encountered so many people in the south that claim a certain church as their “home” church, just by virtue of the fact that its where they went when they were younger, or they were saved there, or in the case of we southern baptists, its “where their letter is.” what annoys me is that they may not have stepped foot in that church (or any other church) in years, and have no intentions of doing so any time soon. but they have a church that they can claim as “theirs” and they’re satisfied with that. yeah, they may have figured out when it was time to leave, they just never bothered finding another one.
  • http://tj-scott.blogspot.com TJ
    great topic. We’ve all attended church out of obligation at one time or another, haven’t we? It’s a shame that thoughts like “I don’t want to hurt ________’s feelings” or “It will leave a void if we go to another church” hold us down in a place where we have little hope of growing.

    If you are leaving a church, are you leaving for the sake of leaving? Or are you leaving because you are going somewhere? If it’s the latter, and you have God’s leadership involved in SENDING you somewhere, then you know there is great blessing on both the leaving and going.

    When you have people moving from one church to another, the pastors need to work together and think about good of the Body of Christ as a whole. If God chooses to move me into pastoring, I will most likely have a requirement that I at least am able to speak with the pastor of the churches my “transferred” members are coming from. This way I can ascertain the heart behind why this person is coming into my church. If it’s for the wrong reasons (not desiring to submit to pastoral authority, running from the truth, etc) I can confront the issue, and send that runaway person back “home.” Unfortunately, not enough pastors are doing this, and allowing a Jezebel (controlling) attitude to come into their flock, simply because they’re too excited about adding to the numbers or gaining one’s talent.

  • http://blog.conrady.org Elton
    1. I have always liked the idea of pastors working together to minimize church-hopping. But my experience has been that many pastors are too insecure to work with other pastors on issues like this. Pastors would be opening themselves up to criticism if they do this. It’s easier just to let unhappy people go silently. 2. On the topic of when it’s time to leave a church… There are so many different reasons I could think of that would be legitimate reasons for leaving a church. BUT, I think too many people leave without ever consulting with the pastor about what their concerns are. I think this shows either (a) apathy about the condition of the church on the part of the departing churchgoer or (b) a lack of approachability on the part of the pastor. Then again, you have some church members who refuse to leave but constantly have concerns to share with the pastor. 3. People stay in their lifeless “home” church because they are spiritually lazy, apathetic, or dead.
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  • Jill
    On Memorial Day weekend 2004, my family and I decided it was time to leave thw church my mom grew up in, mom and dad were married in and that I had grown up and gotten married in. Things had been going on and finally, the camel couldn’t handle any more. We were invited to another church, a Baptist church, where we were welcomed into a totally new community and town. The pastor of the “old” church never once came to us, nor did any of the members. We were approached by someone that used the excuse, “you need to come back for (my grandma) because she isn’t happy there without us there” Well, she wasn’t happy there before we left but it was “home” to her so she wouldn’t leave too. We have since been baptised into the Baptist church and have a whole new perspective on Christianity. We also have a church family who acts more like family by loving, helping, and praying for each other. We feel alive in the Spirit at Immanuel Baptist Church, Warren, AR.
  • http://www.dustincook.ca Dustin
    Leave whenever it doesn’t feel like your faith is the main focus.
  • http://www.journeyguy.com Jeff
    Jill,
    IBC is indeed a great church! I’m sorry to hear of your experience but excited that God has led you to a fellowship where you are serving Him.
  • http://peaceandcraziness.blogspot.com Mandy
    Oh boy is this topic close to my heart right now! We’ve recentely been visiting other churches (as you may have noticed since we’ve been frequenting Journey lol) and we stayed in “our” church far too long for ALL of the wrong reasons. I finally was just honest with Clayton and let him know that I haven’t grown spiritually in years in that church, had no friends there, and our children had no youth to grow spiritually with. I left each Sunday feeling sad, upset, frustrated… nothing that I think you should routinely leave church feeling. Since we finally stepped out and started seeking the place God wants us to be I’ve been so much happier! I’m excited about church again! Church doesn’t always have to be fun, exciting, or even moving.. but if you’re not growing in faith, in christ, or in fellowship, or worse, you’re going backwards, then it’s time to leave your church.
  • http://momma-tude.blogspot.com/ K.T.
    I think this one is going to win…..I knew it would be a toss up between this one and Ruining my metro…LOL!!!!
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  • Gay Y
    Leaving a your home church is always a hard decision. I made that decision last fall. The Lord has used me to assist in other church’s but I have not found a new home as of yet. The reason that I left my church, is that I am a sinner saved by grace. The church I attended doesn’t want sinners attending. When a church cannot administer help and concern to their own members, I don’t believe that God is in that Church. There were a lot of good people hurt and several of them will probably not get involved in another church. It is a sad thing to think that some people think that they do not sin and hold themselves above others. I pray for them and I miss my old church family but my heart is at peace with mt decision.
  • Jenny
    Less than nine months ago I joined a new church that is non-denominationl. (I come from a Baptist background) I left my old church because I felt as if I wasn’t growing. I am still friends with the members and pastor of my old church so there are no hard feelings. The problem with the new church is the pastor appears to have respect for certain members while ignoring others. In the nine months I have been there, he has not once asked me anything about myself. Most of the times he doesn’t even speak. It is weird; some folks he is just crazy about and the others he ignores. I have approached my new Pastor three times with different plans outreach ministries and each time nothing. This last time he nit-picked my rough draft proposal. He admitted to liking the idea but kept harping on the way the proposal was written. I explained to him that I thought we were meeting to discuss outreach ministries and that the proposal was a tentative and rough draft of a guide. I got the impression that he was looking for any excuse to say something negative. His mother who is an Evangelist made a comment the other day while we were in leadership class about Baptist folks, knowing full-well that I have a Baptist background. I want to work for the Lord and I don’t want to have to fight with others to do so. Part of me feels like I should leave the church but I don’t want it to appear that I left because I couldn’t get my way. What should I do?
    Please advise.
  • http://journeyguy.com Jeff
    Jenny,
    Without knowing your situation in depth, I would encourage you to be patient and seek to discover what the church’s existing vision and ministry philosophy is. After only being there 9 months, I don’t know that you’ve had a chance to fully internalize what the dynamics are.

    If you are sincerely seeking spiritual growth, know that you can grow apart from having to create a formal program at your church. Just jump into ministry in your community and neighborhood.

    As a recovering Baptist myself, I think too often we try to start “programs” and all when in actuality we simply need to befriend people in our community, schools, and places of business.

    As far as him nit-picking your ideas, I can’t speak to that. I don’t know him or you well enough, but it’s never fun to feel like your input is not valued. It doesn’t sound like he is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but that he’s having a hard time “connecting” with your intentions.

    I’d advise, patience, humility, and persistence. Don’t get into the habit of running from church to church, always finding fault.

    Jeff’s last blog post..Review: The Kneeling Christian (rated 4 stars)

  • Jenny
    Jeff:

    When you say, “…he’s having a hard time connecting with your intentions.” What are you saying? Are you saying that he is questioning my motives for wanting to start an outreach ministry?

  • http://journeyguy.com Jeff
    No. I just think that since you’ve only been a member there less than a year, he’s probably trying to understand why you’re thinking of doing something new when the church is obviously doing a lot of things really well (or they wouldn’t have attracted you).

    Many times, pastors feel overloaded already, and when you bring them something new to put on their plate, they may initially respond with hesitance.

    Like I said, “patience, humility, and persistence.” Plug in to what is already going on and pray about what you’d like to see happen.

    Jeff’s last blog post..Review: The Kneeling Christian (rated 4 stars)

  • Kevin Wieser
    Recovering Baptist… my gosh… have you lost your compass? To whom much is given, much more will be required… sound familiar? Baptists from all over the world have invested in you Jeff, are they getting good return for their dollar or their love dished out to you?

    YES, there is much to be improved upon in the typical Baptist church, but there is far more good than bad. It is not always about YOU, it is about the impact they are having on their community and world.

    Remember all those sweet senior citizen at the Friendship House in Garland. How they would pour countess hours or sweat and love into feeding people off the street?

    Remember the great old men who would travel to disaster after disaster all over the US (at their own expense), and get this… they were serving in one of the deadest churches in the Baptist General Convention of Texas when we both served there.

    Jeffrey Dalmer Noble… you sound bitter and arrogant. Hey, I know you.

    I am the one that gave you my scooter, and I did not just give it to anyone, but one of my best friends! So, cram all the holier than thou stuff about when it is time to leave your church.

    Tell all your whiny friends, to grow up and not get their panties in a wad when the pastor does not speak to them as they wish. I know a minister now that keeps his head down so he won’t trip and fall. I have been called snooty by some because I don’t speak, but the truth is I have other things on my mind like standing upright and kissing the ground with my face. You just never know ALL the story.

    A church is about people who get their hands dirty and serve Jesus by serving others. All this Holy, righeous talk about when to jump ship misses the point of “blooming” where God has planted you.

    I love discussions like this… Kevin Wieser

  • http://www.shortstaycare.com assisted living
    you have to go if you do not feel comfortable
  • scottie
    Jeff, I have a question. I am going to take you advice and do some praying about this issue. I have been at my church for 10 years and have only been active in a couple of activities. I feel that I have much more to offer, and would love to be in a teaching area, because I love to study and learn new things and to be able to share them. But I cannot find my nick where I am. Could it be me? Everything I seem to find an interest in, there is a conflict. I want to activate, can you give me some lead as to how to do this?
  • http://www.journeyguy.com Jeff
    @Scottie: I hate to say this, but yes, it could be you. In situations like what you’re describing, it could always be “us” rather than “them.” I would urge patience. At the same time, I would encourage you to visit your leaders about possible places of service. We always find less to complain about when we’re serving others. Sometimes our discontent is caused when we become consumers in church which is meant to be a servanthood environment. Folks who are evaluating their church on what it does for them may not quite understand that there is a mission of Jesus to embrace.
  • Roberta
    I just recently lost my mother-n-law whom I was very close to. She passed away on March 26th 2009, it’s been so hard to to continue in fellowship with the church and I miss her presence there. I feel empty since she is gone and it just don’t feel the same. I cry everyday because I feel as though it’s time to go and then again I think of the others there like my pastor which is the husband of my mother-n-law. she was involved in everything in church and always gave me encouragement and taught sunday school. She was a great singer and a positive enfluence in my life as well as my children. I’m going through a storm and it’s really hard to move on there without her.I don’t know what to do because I’m thinking about others feelings and not mine.
  • http://journeyguy.com Jeff
    @Roberta: I am sorry to hear about the loss in your family. This article certainly didn’t cover instances such as yours. Many years ago I read Phillip Yancey’s “Where Is God When It Hurts?” It’s a fantastic book for times of pain and grief. I highly recommend it to you.

    So glad to hear what a positive impact she made on your life for Christ. I will be praying that the Lord brings comfort, healing and direction to you in these days of loss.

    Jeffs last blog post..Rectal 2009 [Flickr]

  • chris
    It seems to me that this is a little bit selfish attitude- “I am not growing” in a church. The best way to grow is to use your spiritual gifts to serve others, in love. That’s the purpose of the “church body” that resembles Christ – growing through loving service to one another. Use your spiritual gifts and yo will grow spiritually, no matter where you are- this should depend solely on Christ and you can be a blessing for others.
    If one loves people as Jesus did, he/she would leave a church when they would kick him out/ or he exhausted all the ways to serve in that church.
  • Almost Home
    I would love help with my current dilema. I’ve been at my church for five years…… serve in leadership…. do all I can for my church and my church family. I’ve had two tragedies in the past 4 months of my life and when I’ve looked around my church and my church family were no where to be found. I am so stinking upset but I keep telling myself I must die to my flesh – I can hurt but I cannot get mad. I seriously have NEVER questioned leaving my church the very thougth was CRAZY. Now I think I should. I don’t think I’m growing there, and I know I feel constantly unimportant… I don’t know what to do.,
    .-= Almost Home´s last blog ..Threadless Tshirt Giveaway at jaypeeonline.net =-.
  • willie
    I feel as though it’s time to leave my church home. I find that the pastor and leadership alow too much with the lifestyles of those in leadership. Shacking, not paying tithes, speaking out during service and causing confusion….what should I do. I’ve spoken with the Pastor and he feels as though it’s not his place to get into peoples’ business but if not him then who?
  • http://www.journeyguy.com Jeff
    @Chris: Sorry for not seeing your comment before now, but the idea of serving to grow is fantastic. It’s especially relevant for those who may be pew-sitters and after doing so for too long begin to complain that the church is “no longer meeting their needs.” However, many (like Almost Home) are pouring themselves out and in moments of crisis, they feel that their church has dropped the ball and neglected their very real need of being ministered to.

    Home: I am deeply sorry to hear of your crisis experiences and regret that you have felt overlooked and unloved. While I don’t know your church, I would ask if you’ve made your needs known to them? Are they aware of your hurt and suffering? If so, and if they have not reached out, I would gently and kindly, and with sensitivity, talk to your pastor about how this has made you feel. Allow him to respond to you before you check out in frustration. Be ready to forgive. Churches are, after all, people. And the best of churches sometimes make huge mistakes in ministry omission.

    @Willie: If sinful lifestyles and selfish disruptions are occurring and the pastor does not feel it’s his role for loving confrontation, then indeed, there is a significant problem. I would encourage a time of prayerful intercession before you make the decision to leave.

  • http://agracioushome.blogspot.com/ Doylene Brents
    I think New Testament giving is what the Spirit leads you to give and not a tithe. Most of the time it will be more than the tithe. We should all pray and let the Lord lead us in what to give. Doylene
  • Amy
    I have heard so many different lines. I am being selfish by wanting other church members to help me up and pick me up when I am down. I am a church hopper if I leave a church because it is dead as a door nail and no one wants to help out unless it means something to them. ie: I’ll go to the bridal shower for the pastor’s daughter in law, but I’m not attending one a week later for another church member. Before a church can even so much as think about helping their community they need to learn how to help their brothers and sisters. Yes I know I was fairly new to the church and you were weary of me taking advantage of you, but don’t use the same excuse two years later. I think it’s time us christians sing this song to the church leaders as well as the dead in the church.

    Excuses, excuses, you’ll hear them every day.
    And the Devil he’ll supply them, if the from Jesus you stay away.When people come to know the Lord, the Devil always loses,So to keep them folks away from God, he offers them excuses.

  • http://www.newinklings.com Alxsteele
    First, I would recommend reading (and grasping the concepts of) “What is Your Church’s personality?” Many of the comments above seem to reflect a tension with ministry values and philosphies of ministry more than with theological issues.

    However, I would iterate one comment in a different way, by saying, “We need to ask whether we are running away from something bad, or running toward something better.” Too often it’s the former–and folks go from one poor situation to another. I believe we might leave churches less when considering that those to which we would run are little better (and maybe worse off)–putting us in a position to be an essential means of God’s gift of sanctifying and transforming grace in the context of a particular congregation (Eph 4).

    Joel

  • Ms. Andrews
    My family I joined this church and everything was fine. There was personal events that the Bishop and Pastor knows about. When they want to talk about somebody they say it in their sermons. When they speak you know who they talking about. However, I know that my family has been the butt of their sermons many of time. It had got so bad that I just left the church for a year or so and came back due the spirit telling me. I want to remove me and my children from the church again and never come back but I am confused. Here the reasons: In the beginning the Bishop had all church members to formed an gigantic circle holding hands. (seem to me witchcraft) 2. The Bishop yelled to the congregation “WHO IS YOUR FATHER!” They said, ” you are. He repeated it again and they said the same thing. I did not respond both time. 3. He had the congregation to read their bible at the same time and the sound of everybody off keys sounded really weird. 4. The Bishop sent some of his members to my house. One of the member could not touch my daughter, she almost dropped her. They begin to pray and one of the sister said, “come on let it flow.” That was little weird to me. You just don’t tell God what to do. Their finger nails and toe nails was painted black. I did not feel the spirit of God when they started speaking in tongue and all of a sudden God told me to start speaking in tongue as they were speaking. 5. Members of the church pretend to like us but is phony. The members that used to be nice to us. Now they don’t even talk to us and their children always picking at my children by making fun of them. I am in the Evangelist class and different teachers always saying negative things toward me. Are they trying to make me quit? When I came back to church it’s not changed. The members keep harassing me and children. The Bishop and Pastor continue to make remark about me and my family in his sermon. He want lay hands on my children at all. He made it cleared that he did not like my son in so many ways. He would greet another child and my son would be right there and he would pass him up. He criticizes everything that I give him and his wife. He pointed his finger at me and told me “You could been killed but God has you covered.” Why would he point his finger at me like that? I don’t socialize with nobody at church due to the treatment. I worship every Sunday, Faithful tithes, I helped the church when they are in need. I don’t talk about nobody in church. Recently, a member called me at the last moment to invite me to the church gathering, And, this was not the first time that they did that to me. I am trying so hard to do what God want me to do and I want to finish what I started. One more thing, The Bishop and Pastor only talk to people who is high class, drive a fancy car, have a house, has a fat bank account, name brand clothes and looks handsome or beautiful and married. If you are not married and don’t have those things I mention above. They consider you nothing. I don’t feel the spirit of God when I near them. I get these uncomfortable feelings. Am I putting to much into this or should I leave this church because, I don’t feel glad anymore. I dread going to church on Sundays now but I wants to finished what I started. Can you please shine some light on this picture. My children are being affected also. How long must I take this abused from some of the members and Bishop and Pastor. I know I am going to hear it this Sunday because, my daughter was crying loud while he was being recorded on a sermon Tuesday night that we was at. Thank you so much
  • lesele
    Hi Ms. Andrews,
    I too have experienced similar situaions in my church. But, the main point in everything that you have said is that the spirit Told You to go back. Was this the spirit of God telling you? Make sure. If it’s not then run!!!! If it was then God can be preparing you for a specific people to be able to minister to. I’m In no way telling you to stay but seek God and make sure that you are doing what He wants. In 2008 my daughter walked out of my church and committed suicide. Some of the church members were the cause of her death because they didn’t handle some things that went on in a godly manner. But because she was my child, I too am a licensed evangelist, she was preached about and talked about by the SAINTS, she was mortified,when we got home she hung herself from the shower rod.I was devestated and angry but I went back too this church because God didn’t want me to leave, I heard the Lord say, “Vengence Is Mine, I Repay.” In a way, I’m glad God wanted me to go back because I had to learn how to forgive and love the people that did her wrong. If we don’t forgive people then how can God forgive us. Now, since I stayed and obeyed God, I feel that God is releasing me. My Sister seek God, fast, and stay in the word, I know it’s hard but obey God and ask him to stregthen you for the work. Be blessed my sister!!! I’m praying for you. (READ LUKE 9:1).
  • Deborah
    I hope someone is still responding here. My son and his wife are Christians and have been married almost 7 years. The church they attend does not belong to any Christian association or over seeing church. The pastors of this church are all related, father, son and step-son. They broke away from the church they belonged to because they didn’t agree with their doctrine. My concern is this; My son is questioning some of their teachings and the lack of the fruit of the Spirit in the leadership. He is now under reproach and has been warned if he doesn’t agree with their teachings and doctrine then he should not come back. My son was told that in order to understand scripture, there are 10 certain criteria so one can understand the culture of the times and not take things out of context. With that being said, they said my son should not hold bible studies or book studies at his home because he may be misguiding people. My son met with them and the three of them basically said what they had to say and didn’t “hear” my son. My son found out that they spoke to two of his friends before speaking to my son about the bible/book study he had. My son asked them why they didn’t come to him first if they thought there was a problem and the pastor said they were within their right to ask. My son got so frustrated with the young pastor( he is younger than my son) that he swore and called him a F-ing hypocrite.He did apologize for speaking out of his anger. Now my daughter in law is taking sides with the church, texting and calling the pastor’s wives and not speaking to my son. She left tonight and had her mother take their daughters to their house. My son is confused. Neither the pastor’s wife nor the pastor is communicating with my son so he doesn’t know what they are counseling his wife in and his wife erased her texts so he could not read them. He is heartbroken and he doesn’t know what to do and has no one to turn to except for my husband and myself. All I know to do is pray. Do you have any thoughts or insight, I would really appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for listening. Deborah
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  • K. Michelle
    I am thinking about leaving my church. I have so many mixed emotions. I’m concerned about how my pastor will think of me afterwards. I am concerned about where I should go. I have had a LOT of Positive and Negative experiences in this church. I have been taught the Word of God, I have grown so much over the past 15 years. However there is this nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON! I feel I have been mistreated, overlooked and taken advantage of over the years. But, I love these people. This is where I was born again, where I met my husband and learned to know Jesus for myself. But so many things have taken place. I have seen so much that is contrary to who I am. I have negative thoughts towards my pastor when He is Preaching and think that he has some serious intergrity issues. I don’t know it’s a lot. But, on and off for the last 2 years I have felt like I NEED TO LEAVE. I truly want to know that what i am doing is what God would have me do. I sometimes fear the God will be displeased with me or that He will allow something tragic to happen to me or/and my family if we leave. I know that Faith is stepping out even when you are not sure (totally) But I think I need to make this move to go to my next level, even if it means coming back in the end to this ministry. Pray for me as i seek God’s will for my life.
  • http://www.journeyguy.com Jeff
    Michelle: Praying for you as you make your decision!

    I would also encourage you to dive deep into the Father’s love for you. He will not beat you with a baseball bat if you switch churches. Nothing “bad” will happen in that sense. You may experience some relationship crises or tension as a result. Make a commitment to take the high road, be gracious and loving in it all.

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