How NOT to Leave Your Church

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Like it or not, people change churches. There is no shepherd or sheep exempt from this scenario. The good and the not-so-good of both deal with departure. Sometimes a switch is Spirit-led; sometimes it’s self-serving. Assuming God is actually directing your move to a new local church, is there a best way to leave?

Frankly, there are probably multiple ways to leave correctly. But there is definitely one sure way to leave wrongly: without talking to your shepherds. Secretly. Anonymously. Backdoor-ishly. These are all synonyms for leaving covertly, which is, in all reality, leaving cowardly.

In a flock, sheep and shepherds must converse, and this is especially true when a member is considering changing churches. I’ve always appreciated those members who gave me a heads up about the “what” and the “why” when they sensed God leading them to find a new fold. It was a positive sign they had nothing to hide and were being courageously accountable and humbly transparent, rightfully aware of the pastoral responsibility I and others had to “watch for their souls” (Heb. 13:17). More often than not they were hearing God’s voice accurately. In those times when they weren’t, it was that very conversation that helped them steer clear of an unintentional and unhealthy misstep.

Allow me to raise the stakes of this issue. It’s my personal opinion that if you’re not willing to have a conversation with your current shepherds about God’s direction to leave, you’re not ready to have a conversation with your future shepherds about God’s direction to land. Remember, sneaking out is a sign you’re probably running from something instead of heading to something.

That’s why I always (strongly) suggest this specific tip to church members who sense God may be redirecting their faith family affiliation: Don’t walk till you talk. That’s right—before you visit a potential new place even once, have a conversation with your shepherds about what God is stirring in your heart. Kindly yet courageously laying out what you sense from the Holy Spirit will enable you to exit and enter in a way that is most beneficial to both flocks.

Moreover, own this responsibility. Don’t fall prey to the common cultural complaint, “I was gone for two weeks and nobody noticed or called.” That’s a set-up towards blame, not a step-up towards responsibility. Let’s be completely honest—there is no pastor able to read people’s minds flawlessly or track their attendance perfectly. Shepherds and sheep are both noticeably human with all of the accompanying limitations, and graceful communication is needed from both. If you’re thinking God is leading you to leave, take the initiative and communicate before you vacate.

This to not to imply that you can’t leave quietly. If God is actually redirecting your involvement to a new place, you shouldn’t want to leave in a manner that is alarming. This highlights even more poignantly the need for a “notice.” Truthfully, it’s the proper conversation with your shepherds first that helps you have the subsequent discussions with other sheep later. Humble, healthy conversations with your shepherds actually help you make the switch “in the light” and prevent unnecessary and disruptive—and destructive—assumptions.

It’s my prayer and desire that you don’t change churches. Long-term membership in one place is one of the most sanctifying tools God uses to build character in us and watch his work unfold generationally. But if God is truly directing you to transition to a different flock, commit to a conversation with your shepherds first. In this way you will prove to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

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2 Comments on “How NOT to Leave Your Church”

  1. We love America, and believe God does too We would really like to see our flag flown proudly at FFC. This is the first church that does not. America Need the Prayers of Gods people.

  2. We love America, and believe God does too We would really like to see our flag flown proudly at FFC. This is the first church that does not. America Need the Prayers of Gods people.

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