Leaving a church badly

Archie Poulos

In my investigations of church plants I have noticed that, after going public, they often attract people who are deeply discontented with their past church experience.

So I have begun quizzing people about why they leave churches. My conversations have raised two questions.
1. What issues are important enough to leave a church over?
2. What is the best way to deal with unhappiness about a church you are leaving?

What you should divide over is a big question and is the subject for another day. Again, not always, but often the reasons distil down to the fact that we have absorbed the spirit of our age, where we relate to church as consumers not contributors.

The one important question though, is what you do when you are discontent in church?

Dealing with Discontent

The words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:26 are so helpful; "be angry and do not sin. Don't let the sun go down on your anger".

This advice is as important in marriage as it is in church life, because if a conflict is not resolved it becomes easy to justify your own position by seeing and imagining faults in the other person. If left for a significant amount of time the attitudes become entrenched, and resolution even more difficult and this gives a foothold to the devil. So my advice is to speak to the appropriate people when discontent begins, and don't let the sun go down on your anger.

If discontent persists and it impossible to remain in the church, many decide to leave and do it by just sneaking away. This is unhelpful. The ones leaving will continue in bitterness because the situation is unresolved. Those remaining are bitter because they weren't even given the courtesy of a goodbye, or of defending themselves, and neither party has the opportunity to express real love to the other. Things are sometimes made worse because those who leave and those who remain speak negatively about the other.

My advice is do not leave a church with unfinished business.

Finishing the business

Here are some suggestions about how to leave well.

"¢ when you speak with the appropriate people at the church you are about to leave use "I" statements. That is, rather than saying "you do this" or "you fail in", which assumes you know motive and have full knowledge of a situation; try thinking and saying "I feel like this when you" or "I expected". These statements are statements of facts about you and take the heat out of the discourse so that it is possible to speak accurately about the issues.
"¢ listen well to the other person, regardless of whether you are the one leaving or the one being left.
"¢ ensure you try hard to understand the true situation for the departure. Sometimes it is actually an issue other than what one of the parties may think.
"¢ seek to ensure the evil will not get a foothold in either party through lingering bitterness. Make sure the issue is dealt with and that you can pray for each other.
"¢ accept the resignation. To get to this point usually means the relationship is impaired, and unlikely to be remedied. If this is the case it is best to leave (although many people recount that once conversation has begun in a non-defensive way, and the resignation accepted, the door is opened for restored relationship and continued partnership).