A few weeks ago, I wrote about the response I’d received from my article in Tabletalk - “Not So Fast” - which basically encourages most people to stay with their congregation during a difficult church situation rather than flee. Based on the notes I’ve gotten, some have misunderstood my suggestion not to be hasty in leaving a church (hence the title “Not So Fast”) as a hard, fast rule against ever leaving a church, no matter what happens.

Are there times when a Christian should not submit to their church’s leadership? Yes. Jonathan Leeman, in his excellent little book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesuslays out some of those times. He writes:

“All of us, at times, will be called to endure humbly a leader’s mistakes and sins.”

Most of us fit this category, I believe. Called to be patient with other people just as other people are called to be patient with us. He goes on:

“Nonetheless, should you find yourself in a church where the leadership is characteristically abusive, I would, in most cases, encourage you to flee.”

The key word here is “characteristically.” No one should immediately leave a church simply because something or someone in leadership has offended them. But when abuse is taking place, one ought to flee for the following reasons:

“Flee to protect your discipleship, to protect your family, to set a good example for the members left behind, and to serve non-Christian neighbors by not lending credibility to the church’s ministry.”

Then Jonathan helpfully points out some examples of abusive leadership:

How do you recognize abusive leadership? Paul requires two witnesses for a charge to be leveled against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), probably because he knows that leaders will be charged with infelicities more than others, often unfairly. That said, abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically

  • Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
  • Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
  • Play favorites.
  • Punish those who disagree.
  • Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
  • Recommend courses of action that always, somehow, improve the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
  • Speak often and quickly.
  • Seldom do good deeds in secret.
  • Seldom encourage.
  • Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
  • Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
  • Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.
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69 thoughts on “When You Should Flee Your Church”

  1. Clarice says:

    Thank you for writing this and for the article in TableTalk about leaving a church too quickly. Having recently experienced a church split in which it *seemed* that many people left in a huff (or worse), your words were encouraging to me that there are better ways to leave AND not all leaving is wrong. But it also gives me hope for staying–that God is sanctifying me and my family in the “darker” days (which are actually pretty sweet right now since everyone who is there is super excited about being there!) Thanks again.

    1. C. says:

      In my experience, what is often perceived as “leaving in a huff” is often not the case, it just means that the person doing the perceiving views it that way. I’m sure you did see people doing that, but because it *seemed* that way for others often means that they didn’t or couldn’t communicate the real reasons to you. There are real disagreements among church members and misunderstandings are rife. We were told once (long time ago) that we were in the wrong for leaving our church of many years, but we prayed and searched God only to find him truly leading else elsewhere. To this day, people maintain that we left under a shroud of gossip and sin. But the thing is, nobody ASKED us anything. They assumed and acted on those assumptions.

      The whole experience taught me that for people you’ve served alongside with for years, cried with, and worshipped with are the very people you should assume the best of whenever possible, even if they disagree on key issues. God still speaks to them and because they leave a church when you wouldn’t, doesn’t mean they are sinful gossips leaving the true church.

      1. Clarice says:

        Yep, you said just what I said, only with more words…”seemed” and “not all leaving is wrong.” Thanks for clarifying.

      2. Often if God leads us to leave the church we are in though I think it is a good idea to communicate why we are leaving. People won’t ask and often they will assume. Once God led us to leave a church we were really part of but there was a very good reason. We told our former congregation why we left and there were no hurt feelings.

        Maybe it isn’t always possible to tell why you are leaving, but if you can it is a good idea.

  2. Jules says:

    We fled our church last fall when our concerns over our 10 year-old being bullied in church were met with most of the behaviors noted above. It was, and is, a heartwrenching decision. My husband, an elder at our former church, said that the integrity of the pastoral relationship had been broken beyond repair.

  3. Kim says:

    Thank you for sharing this timely information. I am churchless right now because of a couple of church fleeings. In those church fleeings I had encountered many of the characteristics in your list. I did also meet humbly with leadership before fleeing to see if I was seeing the situation correctly. I have recently questioned myself for those fleeings but your article gives me affirmation in my decisions. Now to continue with the church seeking phase of fleeing.

  4. Richard says:

    Well stated.

    On the other hand, if ever one were to find the perfect church, don’t join it. It will no longer be perfect.

  5. Anonymous says:

    the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. He tends his flock like a shepherd and gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; and He will give us shepherds after His own heart, who will feed us on knowledge and understanding. Isa 40:10-12;Jer 3:15

  6. Mike says:

    Is this list in the Bible? Did Paul suggest that anyone leave the church at Corinth? How about the churches in Revelation, was anyone encouraged to leave? I understand there are situations where we should flee the church–essential doctrinal errors and so on. But if God lead us to that church and after much prayer we felt that is where God would have us to be, what changed? Was God ignorant of what was going to happen? I am afraid its more like things aren’t handled the way I think they should be handled so I flee.

    I am disappointed that you wrote a helpful article in “Table Talk” about slowing down and considering what God is trying to teach in the situation and not run, but now you are trying to appease those who disagree. And in the process you are affirming decisions that may not have been God directed.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Mike,

      I am not seeking to appease anyone. I’m just making sure that people realize that “not so fast” doesn’t mean “not ever.” When I came across Jonathan’s helpful list of abuses in his book on church membership (which likewise, takes a strong stand on staying with your church through thick and thin), I thought I would share it here.

      1. Kevin says:

        Trevin,
        I don’t think you answered Mike’s question. If you did then I apologize because I didn’t see it. Does Paul ever tell anyone at Corinth to leave the church? IS this list found in scripture?

        1. Melody says:

          Kevin,

          As I go down the list I can think of different verses that refer to these situations. So then that would be biblical even if it doesn’t come in the form of a list.

        2. chris says:

          In Paul’s day they had nowhere else to flee. there was only ONE church in corinth. thats why factions were made (not defending the divisions btw). but no, Paul doesnt tell them to flee

      2. Mike says:

        Trevin,

        In retrospect, I overstated the case when I accused you of trying to appease those disgruntled with the article in “Tabletalk.” I apologize and seek your forgiveness.

      3. Also, things change. Churches aren’t static. People come and people go. There are new dynamics always. Ministries change. I think people as a whole church hop way too much, but I also know there are times God leads His kids to leave churches to go to others or start new ones.

    2. Jonathan Leeman says:

      Mike,
      I love your question about whether or not the list is in the Bible. I also appreciate your emphasis on not giving up church membership casually. People today view membership far too casually.

      Something that I think evangelicals often miss is the importance of authority. That’s why you can find me writing positively about authority in a number of places. Take a look at 2 Samuel 23:1-4 or Psalm 72. What beautiful pictures of authority well used! Yet as we write and think positively about authority in homes and churches, as Christians, we must also be those who hate the abuse of authority the most! Authority abused misrepresents God heinously. So we need to know how to speak both affirmingly and critically about authority.

      What this list represents is the latter. Elders are told to watch their life and doctrine. And if I’m in a church where the elders characteristically do NOT watch their lives, as evidenced by the fact that they abuse their authority, then that is a bad place for me, my wife, and children to grow in knowing what our heavenly Father is like. How does someone know if authority is being abused? Well, this list is my “prudential” attempt to answer that question. I hope this is helpful. Blessings.

      1. Mike says:

        Jonathan,

        I have read your books and appreciate your ministry and 9 Marks stand on the church. And I understand that there are abusives of power. There is abuse of power in many situations (government, business). My question is if a pastor is abusive, is that a matter for the elders to handle? Should not our desire be for the good of the people of that church and not just my family. When I joined the church do I not share some responsibility to the other saints there and do I not owe the pastor help in overcoming these abusive patterns? I know people who have left their church and never told the leadership why they left. How can things be set right if there is no discussion?

        1. Jonathan Leeman says:

          Thank you for the encouragement, Mike. I would answer all of your questions here with a hearty “yes,” shout “amen,” and then slap you a high five.

          I guess what I would say is, I’ve witnessed (second hand) pastors who have become absolutely incorrigible and uncorrectable. It breaks the heart. They become proud. They cannot be corrected and they hurt many sheep. My first hand has been with those sheep in the aftermath. I’ve even worked with the children of these men for years as they’ve wrestled through the damage done in their own lives, one foot in the church, one foot out of the church. Am I making sense?

          Thanks for the conversation.

          1. Mike says:

            Jonathan,

            I have too enjoyed our conversation and I love you in Christ. I would agree with most of what you say and what we would disagree on would be technical and of unimportance. I know there are occasionally incorrigible and uncorrectable pastors who do great harm. But I would hope that the majority of pastors care about their people and want to advance them spiritually. Although in the process they make mistakes and are labled with the negative group of pastors. I think your advise to Aaron was excellent. Let’s encourage a desire to work out our problems in the love of Christ instead of pressing the eject button so quickly.

            Thank you for your time in speaking with me. It has been a pleasure.

          2. Mike says:

            Johnathan,

            How would you seek to reconcile leaving a church with 1 Corinthians 13, especially the part where we are to endure all things, does not insist on its way, and love is patient? Just seeking further clarity on this issue. Thanks!

      2. OFelixCulpa says:

        Jonathan,

        Very insightful list. I’ll have to read your book sometime :)

        Sorry to say, however, it seems like you must have derived the list by considering a particular church I know of :(

  7. Darius Segewick says:

    Trevin (or, anyone): We attend an SBC church, though our family embraces the five points of reformed theology. Our pastor recently called calvinism “heresy” from the pulpit (on two separate occasions). Is this reason enough to leave? I view church membership almost like I do marriage–it’s nearly a covenant in my book. I’m not sure what to do.

    1. Aaron says:

      Darius, we find ourselves in a similar situation.

      We’ve been members of a church affiliated with the SBC for about seven years now – ever since we moved to the area. A couple of years ago, I was nominated to be a deacon at my church by the chairman of deacons. As a part of the nomination process, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire that included a question about my views concerning the Doctrine of Election. Knowing that my answer might prove to be controversial, I afforded the chairman of deacons an opportunity to rescind his nomination based on my response to this question in particular. After exchanging a few e-mails, he decided to renege on my nomination.

      When it was evident that I would not be able to serve as a deacon at our church, I wondered if I would be precluded from serving in other capacities at our church. In particular, I wanted to know if I would be able to teach classes at our church which is something I had hoped to do. I was able to meet with our pastor and discuss these questions and of course the answer was no. He said they simply could not allow me to be a Sunday School teacher based on my “Calvinist” views. I understand that I guess.

      My pastor and I obviously have some theological disagreements but we do have a good relationship overall. Still, my wife and I feel “hand-cuffed” at our church and we feel like we are precluded from fully using our spiritual gifts with the blessing of the church. For two years we have submitted to the decision of our church staff and we have prayed that they would have a change of heart.

      Only recently have we decided to start visiting other churches and have contemplated changing our membership. Is this a legitimate reason for leaving a church or should we continue to submit to the decision of our pastor and church staff?

      1. R. Delaney says:

        Aaron,

        You’ve wasted 2 years of usefulness submitting to leadership that is at variance with your doctrinal convictions. You should have left when advised they wouldn’t allow you to serve in the church in a deaconal or teaching role.

        All of this could have been avoided had you not listened to errant teaching about when to leave a church.

        You definitely have a legitimate reason for leaving.

      2. Jonathan Leeman says:

        Aaron,
        Best I can tell, it seems to me like you have handled the situation very maturely: (i) you have been transparent with your views privately with the leadership; (ii) you have submitted to their instruction; (iii) and in all of this you have sought the unity of the church.

        This side of glory, Christians are going to disagree on matters of doctrine–on everything from baptism to eschatology to Calvinism. And where there are disagreements among brothers and sisters, we work to respond graciously and, where we can, submissively.

        Sometimes, it does mean that we agree to disagree, and even gather in different churches. Speaking for myself as a Baptist, I can love our Presbyterian brothers and sisters, but then agree to meet in different churches, just so that we’re not always tripping over one another’s feet on the matter of baptism.

        I think the same is true on Calvinism. In some circumstances, I think it would be okay for you to quietly seek out another church, where you do line up with the leadership on these matters (I’m speaking principally here; I don’t know your situation well enough to comment). But before you make that move–in fact, before you make up your mind–your first step would be to speak with the pastors of your present church. Ask for their counsel (which it sounds like you have an excellent pattern of doing). Should you decide to leave, ask them how they would like you to speak or not speak about it with others in the church. Then, as you go, leave blessing the leadership and the congregation in your heart, in your words to others, and in your prayers. Pray for their success and fruitfulness. Make a list of all the evidences of grace you’ve seen in that church, and thank God for them. Share that list with the leadership, too. And with others! Leave with peace, blessings, and love. I hope this is helpful.

  8. scott says:

    I didn’t read the previous tabletalk article. Where does false teaching fit in?

  9. Eric says:

    Great articles and discussion on a hard topic. I have only left a church once over concerns with the leadership, and it was a very hard decision that took a long time to make. I agree that we should not be cavalier in leaving churches as many seem inclined to do in our consumeristic society, but I also agree that there is sometimes cause to make a break. Thanks for sharing your insights.
    I have one question however: how would we know if leadership “seldom does good deeds in secret”? If things are secret, we shouldn’t know about them.

  10. R. Delaney says:

    There are far more reasons for leaving a church. In general, some of you GC guys are over-reacting to the church hopping that occurs in some evangelical circles. However, there is nothing wrong with leaving a church over how a situation was handled, or simply because you prefer the ministry of one pastor over another. I’m not sure why you would want a Christian to be “stuck” in one place because he can’t find a doctrinal error in the church sufficient to justify leaving.

    Btw, Paul didn’t suggest leaving one church to go to another because he understood the world he lived in. Traveling from Ephesus to Phillippi was not a practical suggestion. We now have cars and paved roads. Most of this outcry against leaving your church comes from folks who don’t want people leaving *their* church.

    In most cases, if christian relationships are properly developed and if the ministry is faithful you won’t generally have a lot of people leaving anyway. Don’t burden someone’s conscience by chaining them to one place when Scripture doesn’t…

  11. Mike says:

    How can it be helpful if it’s not Biblical? The Bible says be in submission. Are the things on the list real or are they perceived to be true? I am afraid that the list gives gives people non-biblical reasons to leave the church. Should I leave the church if I perceive the pastor is using the silent treatment on me. Is God not able to correct these problems? Do we not trust him to handle these things but instead take matters in our own hands. It has been my experience that those who have decided to leave do not want solutions they want out.

    1. R. Delaney says:

      Yes, the solution is to force someone to stay in your church, then bludgeon them with your understanding of Scripture so that they equate being a faithful Christian with conformity to the pastor/church. Which, in turn, crushes their spirit and damages their faith.

      Trust me, I’ve seen it many times….even in my own extended family.

      I appreciate your zeal, but it reveals that you have little church experience or pastoral sensitivity.

      1. Mike says:

        You know nothing about my experience nor my sensitivity. You just attacked me instead of my view. Nice job! My point is Biblically, we are to show forth love, patience, long-suffering, faithfulness, meekness, temperance–all fruits of the Spirit. How do we do that, if we are all too ready to bail. How is church discipline accomplished if there is no submission?

        1. R. Delaney says:

          We’re not talking about church discipline for a scandalous sin Mike, we’re talking about leaving one church to go to another one.

          We show forth love, patience, etc. by loving those who decide to leave and not judging them for the reasons, or not letting them go because we don’t think the reasons are sufficient. That is an abuse of authority.

          And I do know about your experience and sensitivity because I read your previous comments. If you care to repudiate them, I’ll happily adjust my comments.

    2. Jules says:

      Mike:

      Just out of curiousity, have you ever been in an abusive church?

      jules

        1. R. Delaney says:

          Mike,

          Please explain in general terms what the abuse was? I have yet to come across a believer who has been spiritually abused in a church who has as strong a position on this issue as you appear to.

          1. Mike says:

            In general terms I was under two pastors who would be characterized by most of the things on the list referenced above. It was during these years that I grew in Christ, discovered the doctrines of Grace, and learned how not to pastor people. I had numerous conversations with both of them that were unfruitful. I still was able to work with the young people in the church and several of those teenagers have thanked me for teaching them as they themselves have started families and are following Christ. I took my commitment to the the church and to those people seriously. I viewed it as akin to a martial commitment. I felt I should submit to the sovereignty placed leadership over me and trust him. I do not believe I wasted my usefulness, in fact I feel God used me in that situation.

            But of course, you already knew my experience and sensitivity.

          2. R. Delaney says:

            Mike,

            I’m glad that worked out for you and the Lord blessed your efforts. However, that was a personal choice you made and neither you nor the church has any authority in Scripture to force someone to make the same choice.

            Let me tell you what happened to someone close to me. She wanted to leave her church peacefully because, while the church she attended was doctrinally sound, the people were very judgmental (they even questioned whether she was a true Christian because she struggled with being to the services on time). Certain opportunities to serve at the church were not extended to her, she was not invited to other members homes for hospitality, etc. It exacerbated her struggles with assurance to be treated like this, and she wanted to be in a congregation that would encourage her faith rather than question it and make her feel like an outsider. However, the leadership in the church would not let her leave without a “biblical reason”. They wanted to have meeting after meeting. When she submitted a resignation letter and started attending another church, she was branded as “disgruntled” and as leaving in a disorderly way. Then her pastor passed this info along to the leadership at her new church. She ended up leaving that one because of it. She lives in a small community, and every place she went she got dogged by this. And her terrible sin? To be a part of a church that accepted and loved her without interpreting her weaknesses and struggles as signs of not being converted.

            Now, I’m completely convinced she’s a true believer and I know she loves the Lord. Can you advise how your position is different from the pastor of the church she left?

          3. Clarice says:

            There are two sides to every story.

          4. Mike says:

            R. Delaney,

            You have spoken several times about judgmental churches but you have done nothing but judge me. I think your being hypocritical. I have not felt particularly accepted by you. Maybe you need to absorb some of your own preaching.

            The difference between me and the pastor of the lady you described is that I would want to address her concerns. I would want her to come and share her concerns so that if they are genuine, they could be corrected. None of us are perfect and no church is perfect. We need to work together to make it better. All I am saying is before you jettison out, make a genuine effort to work out the problems. We are Christians, lets work out our differences and move forward.

            When people join a church (that is not in the Bible either but we do it) I think we make commitments to the church and the people and the church and the people make committments to the one joining. I just think we should take that commitment more seriously than we do, on both sides!

            I have no authority to keep anyone from leaving a church, that is between them and the Lord. But I don’t want to encourage that action until all means of correcting the problem are exhausted.

          5. R. Delaney says:

            Clarice,

            Don’t you mean three?

            Mike,

            I’m glad you would handle things that way. It is not always so. You should recognize this and not be dogmatic about it. Church membership is a commitment, but it’s not a life long one. Since it’s not a sin to leave a church to attend another, it ought not be treated like one.

          6. Mike says:

            R. Delaney,

            All those that leave church don’t leave because of abuse of power either, therefore should refrain from being dogmatic as well. While it may not be a sin to leave a church, it very well may be a missing out on God’s best for you. The Christian life often has lessons through the difficult and trying events in our life. I know we all want to escape hardship but it is not always what is best for us.

          7. R. Delaney says:

            Mike,

            I think we’re talking past each other. I’m not promoting the avoidance of trouble in the church by leaving at the drop of a hat.

            I’m pointing out the freedom we have in Christ to leave a church if we decide to, and that we only have to answer to the Lord with regard to the validity of those reasons.

            Our posture toward the brother or sister who leaves should be one of blessing and love, not a stern disapproval. It may be your opinion that one ought not to leave a church except for a “biblical reason”, or after trying to work everything out. However, that is just your *opinion*. As long as we recognize that, and do not assert any Scriptural authority in conjunction with that opinion I think we’re good.

            Blessings,

            RD

          8. Clarice says:

            RD,

            Well sure, three, a hundred, as many as there are people who have something to say. :) There are whole websites dedicated to allowing people to tell these kinds of stories of “abuse.” I guess my concern is that they are 1) one-sided, and 2) they seem to promote judgement and offense for the reader since what are we supposed to think but “what a horrible pastor!” and “what a poor victim!” When in reality, we don’t know all the details or what was actually said. So I think these stories tend to promote suspicion and judgement, rather than make a convincing argument for leaving a church. They certainly don’t promote peace and forgiveness from my perspective.

            I’d rather stick to humble applications of Scripture and wise Biblical reasoning.

          9. R. Delaney says:

            Clarice,

            Facts are facts, and I know the facts of this situation. I will leave you to judge them however you wish.

  12. Marc5Solas says:

    When your Pastor’s sermon is nominated for awards on “Fighting for the Faith” (Pirate Christian Radio), it’s appropriate to leave. ;)

    1. SirBrass says:

      Unless the award is for “pastor most often used as a foil to skewer the really bad sermons b/c his sermons are actually good and dead center on target.” :)

  13. I think the initial context of this is helpful to remember and dwell on a bit…These times to flee are overwhelmingly the exceptions to the rule. – “All of us, at times, will be called to endure humbly a leader’s mistakes and sins.”

    Most of us fit this category, I believe.-

    If we are honest our human tendency is to (whether dealing with an individual or church) have our most negative experience become our “watershed” for dealing with “All” later on.
    I think dealing with very destructive people is similar in that really only 1 out of a 100 people are truly “destructive/divisive/wolves in sheeps clothing” (I’m not stating a scientific fact, just observing over 17 years in ministry) but that 1 person’s episode in our lives tends to color our outlook for better or worse for the rest of our lives…so we then often take our defense mechanisms, baggage and coping skills to our other relationships/churches too.
    I’m not saying that the destructive church leader isn’t out there, just simply that they are in the vast minority and quite often the problem is ourselves and not them…they just tend to be easier to blame.

    1. Mike says:

      Paul,

      I certainly agree with your post.

      1. Kevin says:

        Mike and Paul,

        I am right there with you. I still see no biblical reasoning for leaving a church here in these posts. If a church is run by a plurality of elders then most of these reasons for leaving will not occur. Elders are there to hold each other accountable, to keep one another from becoming puffed up and conceited.

        Also Mike I am sorry for you being attacked.

        1. R. Delaney says:

          Kevin,

          Where in Scripture do you need a “biblical reason” for leaving a church?

          The issue simply isn’t addressed. The Scriptures are silent. You may make application of various principles taught in the Bible with regard to churchmanship, but it is not a sin to leave a church–even without a “biblical reason”, as long as you are a part of or attend a local church.

          I’m not saying you should leave a church because you don’t like the color of the curtains or the Pastor’s tie. However, Christians have the freedom to change churches for much more than the narrow reasons given by 9Marks and others of the same mindset…where you can only leave if the church is teaching grievious error. God doesn’t require your church membership to be Cradle to Grave in the same place.

          This is just another example of over-swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction in order to combat the “modern consumerism of church hopping evangelicals”. Rather than clamp down on everyone, how about we just follow what the Bible says?

    2. Clarice says:

      I definitely agree with this perspective, Paul.

      Leaders seem to be in a most difficult position of being subject to criticism of the greatest, deepest kind. I have had a small taste of it from being in a “deaconess” type position as a small group leader/wife. People (myself included!)have very high expectations of how they want to experience a spiritual leader. And their expectations are sometimes idolatrous or unreasonable or selfrighteous. It can make ministry very difficult, but not impossible. And this does not excuse a leaders’ insensitivity or sin. Yet, church-goers are each so unique in their experiences of life, church, the world…how difficult it must be to preach the truth in ways that reach the most, yet stays true to the Word. It seems inevitable that some people will be offended at some point and want to leave no matter how biblical the preaching, how humble the preacher. And it seems (I experienced this at least) that even when I have tried to walk out leadership in a way that honors the Lord and loves people, I will fail in some way that offends someone. I’m a sinner. That’s when we as Christians need to know and believe and practice the great love of Christ, his gospel, his forgiveness to sinners (the sinner and the sinned against!!) So much more could be said but…

      soap box done. :)

      1. :-) we wrestle with this in interesting ways here in NC because there is such a wealth of churches in our area that invariably people bounce around from church to church and most often it is over some very minor difference. When people come to our church from another church, we basically challenge them to truly be honest about why they are leaving, what they are expecting from us and then also why we’ll probably let them down in some way or form in the future. Then with the people that want to leave our church we try and have an “exit interview” (there’s probably a way to say it better) just simply to allow that person/family an open time that they can express whatever reasons they have for leaving…lots of times the “church hoppers” decline this, but often when they do desire to meet it is a good closure and we simply try and affirm them as being precious to us and that we’ll miss them…
        we pray for their guidance and simply let them know that we love them and wish them the best.

        1. Clarice says:

          I think that is a very wise and loving way for leadership to handle people leaving, Paul. It affirms the Sovereignty of God while caring for people’s souls.

  14. LilOleMe says:

    Thanks for your TableTalk article and this follow up! Our family of churches is going through a difficult time, and it has been so tempting to want to run away from all of the conflict and weaknesses. However, there are also many strengths…the Gospel is being proclaimed and sound Biblical doctrine being taught. Furthermore, in many of the areas where weaknesses lie, I can see growth in my leaders. I can also see how God has used the trial to help me grow in many ways…including judging charitably, guarding my speech (ex. building up rather than tearing down), examining my heart, etc. I wouldn’t say that I’ll never leave…but I would definitely agree that it shouldn’t be a decision made hastily and would love to see a more exhaustive treatment of the subject. Thanks again for starting the conversation! :)

  15. scott says:

    It would be helpful, at least to me, if someone would please identify the Scriptural basis for the admonition not to leave one body of brothers to join another body of brothers in Christ. I see a lot of preferences expressed and maybe some practical wisdom. Where is God’s will expressed on this? The burden is not on those who want to leave a particular body to sustain the validity of such a move. First, does Scripture speak to the duty to remain? There is so much tradition and experience being weaved into a doctrine here that it might be useful to establish the Biblical mandate.

    1. Clarice says:

      I wonder if it would be unwise to establish a “biblical mandate” as you say precisely because there is no clear scripture that says “thou shalt not leave a church after committing to membership…” There are principles of staying and going, however, which I think Trevin was seeking to apply in both this article and the Tabletalk article. We shouldn’t make up a mandate that isn’t there because that would be legalism. Probably one of the worst things a pastor can do to a person who is wanting to leave is to try to *make* them stay by binding their conscience with Scripture that isn’t there.

  16. Woody Bailey says:

    We left our congregation this winter after 40 years. Of which 32+ were with the same pastor. There have been about 5 upheavals in the last 12 years but the last one was too much as it involved our son and his wife. The leadership decided they couldn’t be trusted to lead a small group because they were too involved with another couple that left because of many personal problems with the pastor and this couple, especially the woman. It has been hard, but I think we made the right decision. The leadership at our old church strongly believes that God had specifically told them to hire several different people over the past 10-15 years and then when things didn’t work out, God told them to let them go. I guess you could say it’s God’s fault, eh? They don’t really say that but that is what it could imply.

  17. T.C. says:

    Hi there,

    I’m a member of a Baptist church in Europe with ca. 300 members. The pastor (who kind of fits the descriptions given above) says that *at the moment* he sees no necessity for the church to elect elders (besides him). Instead he rules with a board of deacons who are not able to stand him, neither rhetorically nor when it comes to doctrine or theology. Doctrinally he tends towards theological liberalims. Once he handed out a paper arguing “biblically” for the acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage. On Good Friday he preached a message denying the substitutionary atonement and the wrath of God against sin.Cners.

    What do you say? Leave or stay and fight?

    Thanks in advance,
    T.C.

  18. Dennis says:

    A lot of these comments refer to covenants and marriage and commitment. They can be confusing ‘a church’ with ‘the church.’ pastors are human and fallible and in positions of power often if their own making. We have no covenant except with God. We cannot apply modern aspects to all biblical teachings. The simple demographics of large cities and the geography of our lives is different than being a member of the church in Corinth. Do not stay where you are not being fed – or worse yet, where you are being poisoned, out of loyalty to man.

  19. Wow! I’ve been contemplating this very issue… I moved to a rural area about 10 months ago, and spent time checking out different churches and finally settled on one 5 months ago…

    My last church had 300+ members, several elders and a couple of deacons. The new church, on a day everyone shows up, is about 35 members. Since placing membership, I’ve discovered there are no elders or deacons. I thought it was odd, but decided to give them a chance. The first couple of months were okay, but I started to get to know a few of the members, I started questioning if this church is really the right one for my children and me. I’ve been experiencing turmoil within this small congregation and had been “comforted” by discovering a couple of individuals have discouraged many of the members throughout the congregation, on many occasions.

    I’d like to believe I’m grounded enough in my faith to hang in. However, it seems I’m dealing with less mature Christians (still need milk). Now some members are great, but at the same time, I don’t want to be the reason other people have a hard time growing. I’m a single mom, with a strong sense of my identity in Christ, but didn’t come to Christ until after my children were already born. I have often run into women who don’t understand my strength, but having been surrounded by a larger congregation, I was able to find the right support and grow into a greater support group. Now, being such a small church, I’m wondering if I will have enough support to get past these petty things.

    I don’t know if I’m suppose to stay and help them grow or if my staying will be a stumbling block for those who discourage the other members. Perhaps some of you can share your thoughts. I know in the end, God will help me make the best choice, but it would be nice to hear thoughts from other brothers and sisters.

  20. Chris says:

    http://churchlawcampaign.webs.com/apps/blog/show/2183945-how-to-identify-a-narcissist-pastor

    This is a great article on Narcissistic Pastors. If your pastor or anyone in charge exhibits even 40 percent of these traits, I would also leave – immediately.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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