How do I decide when it is necessary to leave my church?

Q: “I am not happy with a number of things at my church where I have been a member for several years. Some things are relatively small but others aren’t; like the pastor making comments in his sermons that seem inappropriately personal, and, I believe, embarrassing to his wife.  I know others feel the same way about this as I do. While I believe in the doctrines of our church and there aren’t really any good alternatives in my community for me to find another good church, when should I decide enough is enough and just leave? What other alternatives are available to me within the church?”

A: Since you apparently don’t have other alternatives for another faithful, biblically-based, Christ-centered church in your community you have, it would seem, a lot of motivation to bring health to your church. That strong motivation would include, I hope, even the courage it will take to speak personally and privately with your pastor about the things of greatest concern you now face affecting your worship.

I believe the best way to approach such a personal meeting is to first affirm the pastor by speaking of the things you hold dear as a member of the church. Next, you should be prepared to provide specific examples (date, time, setting, context, even the exact words if possible) of those things that are causing you distraction from worship and hearing the proclamation of God’s Word. Avoid accusation and ask rather then tell what affect the offending words or conduct was intended to produce in you in the context of worship or other Christian education. This approach will allow your pastor to reflect more deeply on his ministry and hear you as one not bringing a personal attack but as a faithful member bringing an honest inquiry. Then trust that God will use your words and positive attitude to plant seeds of change. If you don’t see immediate results don’t become angry or frustrated. Personal change is a process and frequently a long one. You want to lay a foundation with your pastor where he will welcome you with an open door so that additional dialog won’t be just a painful drip for him. Return as necessary in the same attitude of humbleness speaking only in the context of how your worship is being affected and not that of others. And remember to pray that God will be maturing you, your pastor, and all of your fellow worshippers as he builds His church.

-Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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