You have likely noticed that changing churches in North America have become commonplace for Christian families. Many of the reasons are legitimate such as relocation to a new community. Obviously a family should seek a new place to worship and serve if they are compelled to move away from a former church. Sometimes the reasons are not so legitimate, such as not liking the music. However, the point of this article is not to judge whether changing churches or the reasons are good or bad, legitimate or illegitimate. I want to address what any Christian should do before leaving any church for any reason. Here we go:
- Have a conversation with your pastor. This is so important. I will say to pastors at this point that when this conversation occurs, you should never plead with the one who is leaving to stay. I wrote an article on this recently called “Leaders Never Beg.” I want to say to the member who is leaving that the tone of this conversation should be marked by the following characteristics: Christ-like, humble, honest, appreciative, and genuine about the reason for your departure. “We are moving to another city.” That makes sense and your pastor will want to encourage you as you prepare to move. “The Lord is leading us somewhere else.” Is that right? Be honest. If something is bothering you, your pastor needs to know. Here is why. Suppose seven families leave in the course of six months. Further, suppose that five of them leave for the same reason. The pastor may pick up on a pattern that needs to be addressed. In business, this is referred to as an exit interview. If you are departing, you need to take this initiative. Meet with your pastor personally before you leave no matter the reason for your departure. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. [Romans 13:7 HCSB]
- Seek reconciliation for any offense given or received. Are you upset with someone? Is someone upset with you? It happens. The church consists of people and where there are people there are opinions, personalities, decisions, mistakes, and often hurt feelings. It can happen to anyone. The Bible tells you what to do before you ever worship at another church. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matt. 5:23-24 HCSB] You may or may not get a resolution. You may still choose to leave no matter the outcome. But you do have a responsibility according to God’s word to do all you can to leave on the right terms with those who have offended you or those whom you have offended. I will add one other note on this point: The absence of a resolution does not absolve you of your responsibility and the privilege of worship and service in the context of a local body of believers. Don’t drop out. Their errors are not God’s fault. 3. Completely fulfill ministry commitments. I have known Bible study leaders who resigned one Sunday and were gone the next. I have known deacons who left in the middle of a three year term (commitment). I have known church leaders who did not show up to fulfill obligations without making appropriate arrangements to fill the gap in their absence. Your decision to change churches does not absolve you of commitments that you made. You may mutually agree with leaders that it is best to step aside immediately or very soon, but the key here is “mutually agree.” When possible you should completely fulfill your commitment. When you cannot, you should give substantial notice and insure that your responsibilities are not left uncovered because they are “yours.” A decision to change churches on your part does not constitute an automatic release from your commitments. When you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because He does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it. [Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 HCSB]
- Completely fulfill pledges. Have you made a financial pledge? The key here is the word “pledge.” You are the one that made it. You are the one responsible for fulfilling it. I appreciate that my opinion on this may not sit well with some people. Forget my opinion. Here is what the scripture says: But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one. [Matthew 5:37] When you leave do not fail to fulfill your pledges even after you leave. I will add another personal note at this point. I sometimes do not like what is happening in my church. But I never withhold the Lord’s money from ministries in my church and the missions’ support that flows from it because of the decisions of any individual, group, or leader. My money belongs to the Lord and I do not use His money as a weapon or to make a point when I am at odds with church decisions.
- Continue to exemplify what it means to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Sometimes people go to a new church and back up on their level of commitment and service. Surprisingly, some people stop going to church altogether. Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important. Do you remember the first and most important one? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. [Matthew 22:27] Those words from the Lord Jesus do not change when or if you decide to change churches and is certainly inconsistent with dropping out altogether. Don’t back up on your faith. Press forward with all that you’ve got. After all, Jesus is worthy of your best. Right?
You may need to change churches now or at some point down the road. Hopefully you can invest and serve through a local body of believers for years and years to come. But….if you must leave….don’t forget these five things that every Christian should do before they change churches. That will maximize your leadership!