JUST FOR LEADERS
-A monthly article for inquiring pastors and ministry leaders who are interested in building a grace-based church or ministry-
By Dr. Ron Woodworth
How to Leave a Church Home
with Integrity and Honor
Saying goodbye is sad enough, but to have to do so in an atmosphere of anger, suspicion, accusation, rejection and betrayal is never the appropriate way for the Lord’s people to transition in the will of God. The following are some practical steps that each grace-based church should establish and teach all their new members from the beginning1 so that the process of leaving can be approached from the spirit grace and understanding rather than from the work of the flesh and legalism.
- Ask the Lord to search and reveal your heart motives to you (Pr. 16:2).
i. Note: There are two kinds of pressure in the Christian life: amolding pressure and a moving pressure. Many of us think it’s time to move/quit when God is actually trying to get us to stay put and be molded more into his image. Impatience is a weakness of the entire human race. Conversely, other believers, who have sufficiently waited on the Lord need to be encouraged and given an honorable release to move on to the next place of God’s choosing.
- Make sure to deal with offenses with anyone in the church—through redemptive confrontation and/or forgiveness. (See my series onOvercoming a Spirit of Offense)
i. Note: Every believer in the Lord Jesus needs to be very familiar with the principles he taught Matthew 18:15-17 in relation to handling offenses with others, including:
1. Approach the seriously offending2 person privately with a genuine attitude to restore the relationship with him or her.
2. If unresolved: take 1-2 others with you so that they can also appeal for reconciliation and/or be witness to the continuing conflict.
3. If still no response, notify the leadership of the church who can review the situation to determine appropriate discipline. Such discipline can mean a confidential membership wide meeting (not in a public forum) to thoroughly inform the Church body of the situation.
4. Continued resistance of even the church’s appeal to repentance can, in extreme cases, result in loss of fellowship privileges for the offending believer.
- Do you know where you are going? Then, rather than leave outright, it is probably better to take some time (2-3 months) to rest and/or visit around to confirm your leading and timing. In such case the pastor should be gracious and willing to cover you during this time of sincere inquiry. You should not jump out of one situation and into another too quickly. Again, learn to be patient and pace yourself. But Ron, even Abraham left without knowing where he was going (Heb. 11:8)! True, but I doubt that most of our leadings in the Lord rise to the level of Abraham’s personal call to inherit the land of IsraelJ
- A good general guideline is that one should sincerely try not to leave a church home within the first two years of joining. Again, we need to learn to cultivate deeper roots and not to be flighty and unstable believers. Learn to persevere in relationships and commitments made. Unless necessary, you don’t want to have to keep starting over again. Have a mindset to build a legacy rather than be a church hopper.
- Share with—don’t just announce your decision to the leadership. Give them time to respond without pressure.
i. Every godly leader deserves an honest and accurate (rather than a spiritually pretentious explanation) as to why you are feeling led to leave their sphere of ministry. If you cannot explain it clearly then you most likely you are not ready to move on such vague leadings.
ii. Godly leaders also deserve an opportunity to respond to your concerns by making changes. After all, perhaps the Lord desires to use your commitment to help initiate needed adjustments in the life and ministry of the church.
- Ask for feedback to your concerns and see if there is sensitivity, flexibility, and a genuine willingness to listen and to change as the Lord directs them.
- Also ask for their prayer for your ongoing consideration.
- Wait to see what happens—usually 3-6 months is sufficient time when properly informed.
- Time gives God a chance to change hearts—theirs and yours. If you don’t know…don’t go—or at least go slow.
- During this time of waiting, the leadership should be willing to cover the member encouraging them to take a break and rest and/or begin to visit other churches to see what’s out there.
- Follow up
- If, after a time of waiting, you still feel directed to leave, then re-communicate with leadership to indicate your intention to leave with integrity, and to secure, if possible, an honorable release with blessing (Rom. 12:18).
- A letter (or brief note) should indicate your appreciation for their ministry and a personal commitment to only carry a good report about them and the church’s ministry.
- Make sure you first fulfill—or receive release from outstanding ministry commitments. It is inappropriate to just drop everything on others who are not yet prepared to take up the increased responsibility without a time to process things.
- Be released to follow the Lord to another church home.
- Leave with grace and honor–but do NOT invite or allow others to leave with you
i. Each person needs to secure an honorable release on their own rather than to join some kind of church division. Even if God is seeking to establish another church there is still a better way than making a mass exodus that is generally accompanied with a spirit of offense.
ii. Those who may be sympathetic to your reasons for leaving should also be encouraged to be loyal to the Lord, his leadership, and a godly process.
- A word to the wise: Remember not to burn any bridges that you might need to cross in the future. Selah.
The Lord of the Church be magnified!
 I recommend that every church consider incorporating some message like this in your new member’s class. In fact, an effective New Members Course will most probably include lessons on the Kingdom of God as foundational to the Church; an overview of the Church in the New Testament; what vital church membership looks like; what is the process of becoming a member; the infrastructure of the church; how to discover your spirit gifts and begin to serve in the church; how to leave a church with honor and integrity; the next step–including an application form, etc. If you are in need of such a course, RWM has a complete New Member’s Course called Finding Your Place in God’s House (FYP) 201.
 Serious offense could include sexual immorality, criminal activity, injurious slander or gossip, serious doctrinal heresy, drug abuse, etc.