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Picking and Leaving a Church

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Picking a Church and Leaving One
By Pastor Duane Smets

Over the years I have found myself in a number of conversations with people wanting advice about finding a church and/or leaving their current one. Common questions range from things like: How you pick a church? How and when do you leave one? What are good reasons and bad for leaving? How should you go about either task, is there a proper way?

Picking a Church
From talking to many people about this subject here is what seems to be the most common criteria on people’s minds when I ask them what they are looking for in a church:

• Impressive Musical Performance
• Attractive People for Dating
• Programs Specific to My Life (singles, children, etc.)
• Entertaining Preacher
• Service Time/Location Convenience
• Size (big or small)

If you are desiring to be a part of a church, then there is a choice to be made. It is unavoidable. But there seems to be something faulty about this question itself, or at least the way it’s framed. because it is almost inherently laden in an individualistic and consumeristic mindset. These popular reasons people give seem to be especially

If you are desiring to be a part of a church, then there is a choice to be made. It is unavoidable. But there seems to be something faulty about this question itself, or at least the way it’s framed. because it is almost inherently laden in an individualistic and consumeristic mindset. These popular reasons people give seem to be especially fixed around the idea of “What church I like and want to be a part of.” Like picking a church is like picking out a new pair of shoes or what you are going to eat off a restaurant menu... "I’ll have the burger, cooked medium, with extra cheese, no pickles please.”

Is that really the way God’s children are supposed to go about it? Something just seems wrong about that method. What if the question were posed in a different way...a less individualistic and consumeristic way. What if we asked this question: “What church does God like and want me to be a part of?” What sort of criteria would we come up with? I think if that was our criteria would most likely look something like this:

1. Solid Doctrine – Cares a lot about who Jesus is and what his Word says.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” – 1 Timothy 4:2 

2. Godly Leadership – Leaders are called by Jesus and live holy lives like Jesus.

“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” – 1 Peter 5:2-3 

3. Loving Community – Helps each other love Jesus both with tangible care and accountability. 

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

4. Missionally Minded – Longs and works hard for others to come to know and love Jesus.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” – Matthew 28:19 

5. Gifts Oriented – Has opportunities for you to use your gifts to love Jesus and one another.

“Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift...And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” When I ask the Bible the question of how you pick a church, it seems its list would be something like this second list. I just can’t imagine that at the top of God’s lists of cares and concerns about a church are the style of the worship in music band, the outward appearance of it’s members, how good the kids program is, how funny the pastor is, how easy it is to get there, or how big or small it is. All of those things on the – Ephesians 4:7,11-12

“Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift... And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:7, 11-12 

When I ask the Bible the question of how you pick a church, it seems its list would be something like this second list. I just can’t imagine that at the top of God’s lists of cares and concerns about a church are the style of the worship in music band, the outward appearance of its members, how good the kids program is, how funny the pastor is, how easy it is to get there, or how big or small it is. 

All of those things on the first pop culture’s list are things which can change and do not matter so much. The things on the second list are much stronger, much more long lasting, and have God as the first and primary concern. With that said then how do you know when you ought to leave a church and how are you supposed to go about it?

Leaving a Church
In my own personal life, I have been both on the side of being the one needing to leave a church and on the side of having people leave the church I pastor and planted. Both sides are equally as heartbreaking and difficult. One of the things at the very heart of being a church is that it is a family. When you really become a part of a church it actually does start to feel like that, which is why it makes it so difficult to leave or to see someone leave.

I’ve left two churches in my life. The church I was a youth pastor at and later the church I was a college pastor at. I am still in close relationships with people from both of those churches...they left a permanent imprint in my heart and it was so hard to leave when I did. On this side of now being a pastor, I have never forgotten a single person who has left The Resolved Church and I have a scar left for everyone. It is so hard when you truly love a person, pray for them, and work so hard to teach them...to see them go, whether it be for good reasons or bad ones.

So what are the good reasons and what are the bad ones? I could be wrong but I suspect that very few people leave churches for good or Godly reasons. Many times people leave because of the same reasons listed above that people pick churches...they want a church that has better music, more people or better looking to potentially date, better or more programs, a more funny preacher who tells better or more stories, a church that is easier to get to because of its time or location, or a smaller or bigger church numerically. In addition to these reasons I’ve also witnessed people leave churches for the following reasons:

• Have a conflict with someone
• Get confronted about a sin from someone
• Get tired of serving with their gifts (“burnout”)
• Don’t like the way the church is doing: service, mission, and/or community etc.
• Cannot submit to the church leadership
• Get a new job in a different location
• Break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend in the church
• Get a boyfriend/girlfriend who doesn’t go to church
• God “calls” them to a new ministry post or education

Some of these may be good reasons if handled properly, or they can be terrible reasons. The primary and most important reasons for leaving a church are the same as good reasons to pick a church. You can and ought to leave a church if they are in doctrinal error with false teaching, have ungodly leadership, have an unloving community, are not attempting to reach the lost, and/or they do not encourage people to use their gifts. In addition to those reasons a person should leave a church if:

1. They are living in sin and are unrepentant after going through the three steps of biblical confrontation.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone (STEP ONE). If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses (STEP TWO). If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (STEP THREE). And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (LEAVE). – Matthew 18:15-17 

“I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 

2. They are divisive to the church community and unwilling to follow the church leadership.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” – Hebrews 13:17 

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” – Titus 3:10 

How to Leave a Church
Many people may have good reasons to leave a church or have worked through the bad ones as best as possible and still simply need to leave. So if you are going to leave how are you supposed to do it? Does the Bible have anything to say about that?

1. A Last Resort
Leaving a church ought to always be a LAST RESORT after you have tried everything! We are not to avoid problems or difficulties but appeal to one another and if need be the church leadership.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” – Matthew 18:15 

“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 5:19

2. Self-Examinate
Scott Thomas (Former Director of the Acts 29 Network) has written, “After prayer and fasting...a careful self-examination to deal with personal selfish motives and divisive attitudes...should be made. A person must not neglect this step of self-examination. It is all too easy to take a step of separation with the wrong spirit (bitterness, rebellion or a factious spirit). Unfortunately, many people leave a church with a schismatic spirit that denies the unity of the body of Christ.”

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” – Psalm 139:23-24 

“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear(ing) with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:2-3 

3. Have A Godly Decision-Making Process
Don’t hear voices in your head and say “God is telling me.” That’s not how God calls us to make decisions.

“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 

Here’s how to be transformed by the renewal of your mind and thus make Godly decisions that won’t steer you wrong:

• Be Slow. "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty." – Proverbs 21:5 

• Be Careful . “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise...therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” – Ephesians 5:15, 17

• Be Prayerful. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6

• Be Counseled. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers (COMMUNITY & PASTORS) they succeed.” –  Proverbs 15:22

• Be Biblical. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises (BIBLE), so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” – 2 Peter 1:3-4 

• Be Sure. “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.” – Psalm 37:23 

4. Seek a Blessing of Grace from the Church
Nobody ever wants to leave on bad terms and it is just weird when a person disappears, especially when they are like family to you. Things shouldn’t be done in secret, instead if a person is thinking they may need to leave they should ask church members and/or leadership for prayer and counsel (being careful not to stir up dissension & division), so that when/if they do leave they can be released with love and blessing and not bitterness or resentment. Sometimes you have to let people go and entrust them to the Sovereignty of God.

“There arose a sharp disagreement, so that they (Barnabas and Paul) separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.” – Acts 15:39-40 

“Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18:21-22 

Conclusion
I pray this will serve not only the members of The Resolved Church but several others who need the guidance of God’s Word on this very important issue.

Pastor Duane