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10 Things to Do before You Leave Your Church

  • Dawn Wilson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
10 Things to Do before You Leave Your Church

Christians leave churches for many reasons. For some, it’s simply a life change like moving to another community. Maybe they find a church that better meets their personal or family needs. Some never connect with believers and simply move on, always looking for meaningful relationships. Sometimes people are drawn away by good things, but then it becomes too easy to quit church altogether.

Unfortunately, some Christ-followers leave because they burn out in ministry, are embarrassed by a personal struggle or mistake, are deeply hurt by other believers, or get tired of unfortunate and ungodly power struggles in the Body of Christ.

Regardless of the cause, there are a number of things Christians should do before they leave their church. The first six of the following suggestions are for all believers. The final four pertain to those who were leaders or served in ministry in their church.

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1. Evaluate Why You are Leaving.

1. Evaluate Why You are Leaving.

Are you merely being reactionary? Do you have good reasons, or simply unwillingness to deal with struggles in the congregation? What are your motives? Do you have a track record of church hopping, or patterns of behavior that have led to a sudden urge to leave? Do you have solid, biblical reasons for leaving?

In our instant, reactionary culture, it’s too easy to just pack up and go when the going gets tough. Because Christians are commanded to love, encourage and serve one another, stir up one another  toward good works, and work for unity in the bond of peace, we have a great responsibility within the Body of Christ and must never take leaving a congregation lightly.

Never be hasty in leaving a church—no matter how much you’re confused, troubled or hurt. There may be a better option. Do you have all the facts? Make sure your thought processes are more along the lines of Philippians 4:8 than sinful, fleshly thinking and desires.

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2. Elevate the Process.

2. Elevate the Process.

We need to know God’s thoughts on the matter. Our thoughts are not always His thoughts, and our ways (plans and choices) are not always His either. We must elevate the process by praying and seeking the Lord, asking Him for wisdom before we leave.

We can also elevate the process by asking helpful questions and then meditating on biblical principles that can inform and confirm our decision. There are many scriptures that can help.

Are you trusting God in this decision? Do you desire to bring Him glory, even in this choice? What does God think about your inner motives for leaving? Are you seeking godly counsel, not trying to go at it alone in this decision? Is God giving you any warning signs about leaving? Are you looking at the big picture, carefully considering possible consequences for you and your family? Is this a choice of integrity that will build your family? 

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3. Examine Your Relationships.

3. Examine Your Relationships.

Before leaving, do you need to mend any broken bridges? The Bible speaks much about forgiveness in relationships. Church members can be unintentionally hurtful or sometimes, purposefully cruel. Sadly, some Christians are “debt collectors,” making a person who has wronged them an emotional hostage. The offended grow bitter, and in debt collecting they retaliate. “Our natural inclination,” wrote Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, “is to wish upon those offenders at least a measure of what they deserve. But if we are going to be true instruments of mercy in each other’s lives, we must deal in truth—God’s truth.”

The truth is, we can release our offender and choose to forgive. Forgiveness is not because our offender deserves it (or has even asked for forgiveness), but because God has graciously given us total forgiveness, and we can choose reconciliation rather than retaliation. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice, and God commands it of us.

Perhaps you have some blind spots. It might be helpful to allow a godly, trusted friend or church leader to speak into your life before you leave. This can help ensure you do not take harbor any attitudes that could hinder you as you follow the Lord’s guidance to a new church. 

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4. Express Your Gratitude.

4. Express Your Gratitude.

If, after evaluation, elevation and examination, you know God is leading you to leave your church, be sure to take time to express your gratitude. Many have helped you in some way during your time in the congregation.

First, thank God for your time in your church and the people you’ve met there. Then think of how the pastor, church leaders or teachers have fed or nourished your spirit. Even if they made mistakes, God has likely used them in your life in ways you may never have considered. Be joyful and creative in your gratitude. Show due respect and honor (Romans 13:7b).

Also, think of fellow church members who have helped to shape your life. How have they practiced the “one another” scriptures to build you up in your walk with the Lord? Who has encouraged you, served you, cared for you, shown hospitality toward you, prayed for you, comforted you, built you up, or loved you with the love of Christ when you were unlovable? Thank them!

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5. Exemplify Christlike Attitudes.

5. Exemplify Christlike Attitudes.

As you consider departure from your church, strive to be Christlike. The enemy would love to destroy your thoughts and behavior, and thus your testimony. Have the kind of mind Jesus has. Walk in the same way He walked.

Walk empowered by the Spirit so you don’t indulge in any fleshly attitudes. Walk in the light so you have unbroken fellowship with other believers. Walk in truth and love. Walk in wisdom, using your remaining time wisely. Walk in humility and gentleness—bearing with contrary people in love and striving to maintain unity and peace.

As you perhaps face difficulties during the days before you leave, guard your heart carefully to be sure you are exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. Determine to manifest the sweet fragrance of Christ.

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6. Establish the Guidelines.

6. Establish the Guidelines.

You won’t want to forsake the assembly of believers, so what are you seeking in a new church? Be sure your search will be God-centered with clear scriptural guidelines. Check out the foundation, function and environment of churches; look for a good “fit” so you can grow and serve.

Be sure the new church has a solid foundation, recognizing the Bible as the infallible Word of God. Is it doctrinally sound? Ask to see the church Statement of Faith. Be sure it recognizes the work of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perhaps you can visit the church to listen to preaching and also see whether spiritual maturity is developed through prayer, solid preaching and teaching, Bible studies and a spirit of cooperation with obedience to what is learned.

Is the pastor’s preaching topical, expository or evangelical in nature? Are the people being fed with high-quality, biblical sermons and lessons—the whole counsel of God? Does the congregation seem to be practicing the doctrines they claim to believe? Consider the church’s government and be sure it functions by New Testament principles and order

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7. End Your Ministry Well.

7. End Your Ministry Well.

One theme in the Bible is believers running their race in such a way that they end well. Jesus illustrated this in the Parable of the Talents. One day we want to hear our Heavenly Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The Bible says rewards await the believer who serves the Lord faithfully. Anticipating that, we want to know we’ve always served with excellence.

If you have served in a ministry in your home church, you will want to finish well. You’ll want to end with faithfulness, compassionate service and perseverance until you pull out of the church parking lot.

What do you need to do to wind up your ministry? Who do you need to talk to? What needs or concerns do you need to consider? As noted earlier, are there any broken bridges that need to be mended? Finish well!

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8. Edify Your 'Disciples.'

8. Edify Your 'Disciples.'

If you are leaving a ministry where you have spent time building up or edifying people (mentees, students, disciples, etc.), be sure to give a final word of comfort or encouragement before you leave. If you have done your job with love and faithfulness, people will likely miss you when you leave.

Sometimes people put Christians on pedestals. Though it is valid to say “imitate me as I imitate Christ,” we don’t want other believers to idolize us or look to us to meet their needs. Point people to Jesus, and remind them the Holy Spirit will still be their teacher and guide.

Encourage them that—no matter what happens—they will always have the promise of God’s presence. You are leaving, but the Spirit will never leave them or forsake them. 

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9. Enlist a Replacement, if Possible.

9. Enlist a Replacement, if Possible.

When leaving a ministry, it’s always helpful to enlist—or at least suggest—a replacement for your position. Moses mentored his replacement Joshua, and Paul taught Timothy (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; 2 Timothy 2:2). You have observed those in your ministry up close. Are there any mature “Joshuas” or “Timothys” you’ve taught or mentored who might pick up your ministry? Look for leadership traits: someone who is grounded biblically and understands the big picture of how the Gospel impacts our lives; someone who is faithful and trustworthy with good attitudes and habits; and a person who has the ability to listen and hear others’ needs, solve problems, delegate and use their time well.

But if you haven’t been in a leadership position—if you’ve been a fellow-servant in ministry—you can still look for a replacement. Who else in your congregation has a heart like yours for ministry and a heart for the Lord? You likely know some faithful “Lukes,” “Marthas” and “Marys” who can serve with hand and heart to take the ministry forward. God might lead you to talk to your leadership and determine together whether you should share your ministry experiences with people and invite them to step up to help.

Regardless, you will want to leave things in order, because that’s God’s way in ministry. You may want to leave helpful notes or an organizational framework for those left behind. Do what you can to transition smoothly.

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10. Encourage Faithfulness to God's Will.

10. Encourage Faithfulness to God's Will.

There may be some who will want to leave your church just because you are. They may have emotional ties, may have taken up an offense for you, or simply are looking for an escape or something new—and you are their excuse to leave. Discourage this!

Encourage their faithfulness to the will of God for their own lives. Remind them to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully in light of all He has done for them. To be faithful is to be reliable and unwavering. Answer a person’s questions and address their struggles if it’s prudent, but challenge them to give solid and biblical reasons for departing—not flimsy or emotional excuses. Encourage them to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” knowing their labor is not in vain in Christ.

When the time comes to leave a church, we will know we can leave in confidence if we have examined our hearts, sought the mind of the Lord and made proper preparations before we go.

Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach. 

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